Mise-en-scene (pronounced meez-on-sen) is french for “staging.” it covers everything we see in a frame–setting, camera angle, character(s) and their positioning, costumes and props, lighting–we mean everything!
The term can apply to both still and moving images, and includes both seen and unseen elements.
Producers, directors, writers, along with sometimes hundreds of craftspeople, artists, and technicians all work together to present one picture. mise en scene is, quite simply, everything that goes into the production.
Think about it this way: the total design of an image. Mise-en-scene is a great way to think about the elements of character & camera we’ve reviewed in our other lessons, but we can take each of these even deeper!
characters: costumes / props / performance
When it comes to creating a movie, lots of thought goes into creating characters. Costumes include everything from clothing to hair and make-up–from ruby red slippers to an everyday t-shirt and jeans! Similarly, props (short for “property”) may include iconic items like Thor’s hammer or even just a teacup used in a restaurant scene. And characters are nothing without their actors’ performance: how they deliver their lines, their facial features and body language, or simply their presence on screen. All of these character elements go into mise-en-scene!
camera: lighting & color
We often appreciate lighting in movies without really thinking about it, but it’s one of the most important elements of capturing a scene on camera.
3-Point Lighting is one of the most common techniques (as we see in the first example above). The key light registers most prominently in the frame, while fill lights help fill in some (but not all) of the shadows. Backlight helps give a definition to a scene, lighting the back portion of the subjects and helping to outline them.
Other times, lighting techniques are used to help tell the story. In the second example above, notice everywhere the light is shining–from the porch and the moon to the shed. What feelings does this lighting communicate? Mystery, anticipation, fear? How does this lighting create a sense of movement?
Movie lighting also helps to create color palettes, or combinations of colors. Look at the three examples above: how does each color palette make you feel? What does it make you think of? Do these colors work with or against each other?
films to watch
while you watch
Think about characters and camera, along with the new concepts we learned here. While mise-en-scene is important in every movie, we’ve selected examples from animation because sometimes it’s easier to appreciate staging when you think about all the work that goes into creating these movies! Animation is also a great way to study color and character design. In the documentary A Grand Night In, you’ll learn about how some animation is still created by hand using “stop-motion.” Missing Link is a recent example of this animation technique!