Scene Analysis Guidelines
Conduct a five (5)-page, approximately 1500-word analysis of a specific portion of a film and explain how it produces significant meaning. The portion of a film may be a single shot, or a short sequence of shots. It is highly recommended that you focus on a portion that is as small as possible. The “meaning” that you choose to write about should make key contributions to one’s understanding of the shot or the film as a whole. Explain, for instance, how filmmaking techniques have been used to:
Construct a portrait of a character, or posit a worldview,
Reinforce a theme,
Establish moods or emotions, and so on…
(Do not treat this list as a “checklist.” You can use one, all, or none of these suggestions.)
HOW DO I ORGANIZE THE PAPER?
A suggestion about the structure is to break the paper into three parts. The first part begins to introduce the scene/shot that you are analyzing by describing the technical aspects that are staged in front of the camera. Here you will describe, emphasize the clarity and terms, the cinematography, editing, mise-en-scene, narrative, etc. The second part will consist of a summary of what is occurring at this point of the film, in order to understand the constructed meaning of the first part. This will be the space to get the story summary out of your system. The third part will be the interpretation of all of these elements and how you see them work together to create a meaning or specific affective experience (emotional and moving). Unlike the first two parts, this final section will be predominantly a subjective take on the scene, taking from your own experiences and lens to close out how the concrete elements of production and story create meaning that you are experiencing.
A thesis statement is vital. Papers must make an overall point. For example, some of the sequences highlighted in class can be summarized by the following thesis statements:
Interracial argument in Do the Right Thing: “Shot scale and angle highlight the claustrophobic and nervous state of mind of a character, while the costuming choices serve to highlight political and cultural divisions.
FBI raid in The Silence of the Lambs: “The norms and expectations around parallel editing are used to produce suspense, and a shocking moment.”
Finale of The Godfather: “The sequence’s cross-cutting juxtaposes different spaces, rituals, and actions; the baptism and executions highlight Michael’s contradictions, and signify the perpetuation of violence in his family.”
Opening sequence of Ali: “The montage of culturally, politically, socially, and personally significant moments in Ali’s memory, conspire to tell us that his words and actions are influenced by that history.”
HOW DO I DECIDE ON A FILM TO WRITE ABOUT? HOW DO I COME UP WITH IDEAS?
Watch many films and take many notes while you do so, including mental ones.
Look more closely a film you already know, about which, due to what you have learned in this course, you have begun to notice the techniques or formal elements at work.
Look at your notes, and try to see if your observations about that film are related. If they are, see if they can be organized to a make larger point, or have a common purpose.
Keep in mind that a suitable choice isn’t necessarily kinetic, or “has a lot going on.” A slow-paced film with long shots and few camera movements often make for a great subject if those creative choices serve a purpose that allows you to write an interesting and convincing paper.
Papers that make more adventurous film choices (i.e. films older than 20 years, foreign, black and white, silent) will receive some consideration. But overall, a persuasive argument is most crucial. Do not force yourself to write about an older film in the hopes of extra credit, in favor of a recent film for which you have many ideas.
Taking on too much. It will be to your advantage to keep the object of your analysis “small,” and thus specific. Entire books are written about single films, so don’t try to say everything in 5 pages. Remember the content and objectives of this class when you make your choice. It should contain enough formal elements to make it easy to display your skills in identifying and interpreting film form.
Vague descriptions and insufficient details. Describe all relevant details. The “Pause” and “Rewind” buttons are your friends.
Irrelevant plot summaries and impressionistic adjectives. See above.
Scene Analysis Guidelines