You can just watch a movie. Or read this one. And in the process get to the bottom of a video’s blueprint. Such an analysis has its own special charm. Because it opens up the view into the director’s brain. Here you will find a quick analysis for storytelling and image design.
Every language has its grammar. This is also the case in motion picture design and thus in video production. The film language is made up of conscious and unconscious decisions. They all submit to one goal: to tell a story in the most exciting way possible. Scene analysis will give you the key to directing.
You need to know that:
- Every film and every filmmaker follows rules. You can detect these by means of an analysis. Consciously or unconsciously, our gut tells us to an astonishing degree what is right (or wrong) in movie making.
- Because the majority of directors and cinematographers follow these basic rules when staging, you can draw conclusions. A film analysis gives you insight into the “construction” of a film and opens up a new understanding and perspective.
- You’ll find the seven most important rules of image composition here in this article, along with a quick guide to analyzing film and video.
How to analyze movies and videos
Here are the main rules for analyzing movies and videos:
- What is to the right of the camera has a more positive effect than if it is positioned on the left. This also applies to movements. What moves from left to right seems natural to us.
- The distinction between right and left even applies when it comes to the future or the past. Past is usually found on the left side. The future lives on the right.
- Likewise, what is in the foreground has a much stronger effect on the viewer than people or things in the background. Also, what is in the lower half of the picture moves us much less than anything in the upper half of the picture.
- Diagonals are automatically corrected by our brain when we tilt our head. Shots in which the camera is not oriented to the horizon therefore appear unnatural to us. The world is out of joint in shots like this.
- Movement, which is a major part of the power of film, is indisputably more powerful than static shots. Even if the camera shifts only imperceptibly, it lends spatiality to the film image. This is a principle that can be observed in almost every scene in high-quality feature films and series.
- It is also easy to understand that a camera looking down on a person will obviously make that person look smaller, while a position below the eye line will make a person look larger, but possibly also more dangerous. If the camera goes to extreme heights, the human being becomes a bug or an ant and is condemned to near insignificance. In contrast, the frog perspective turns people into godlike giants.
- The lighting design is more demanding. The film viewer is admittedly more drawn to brighter areas. However, dark image zones are necessary for this. But the resulting contrast can also act as a frame that directs our gaze. Possibly on low light zones far in the background.
Analysis means reading and understanding films
The great privilege of film and video is that you can watch them without prior knowledge or analysis. It doesn’t take a manual to understand moving images. Unless it is a highly artistic work, or one that is unsuccessful in terms of content and therefore incomprehensible.
Because films are made for people, their perceptual mechanisms follow the way we perceive, feel and classify moving images. Film analysis attempts to identify these patterns.
It was against this background that the well-known rules such as the golden section or the so-called 2-thirds rule came into being. They all share the intention of reinterpreting a perceived regularity into a generally functioning rule.
Proven rules of thumb and perception mechanisms
The positioning of a person in the film frame or the camera’s angle of view are good examples of how perception and creative rules of thumb interact. You can use these two points when analyzing film and also for video editing.
- For example, we feel that an actor standing slightly to the right of center in the picture is ideally positioned. At the same time, a person positioned to the right of the camera axis appears to us as friendlier (or more positive) compared to a position to the left of the center of the image.
- Conversely, a person who is accurately centered appears more objective. If two people are standing in the picture, the person on the right appears dominant to us.
The well-known film critic Roger Ebert therefore also speaks of a strong axis. He was the first to outline the movie rules presented in this post in an easy-to-understand way as a reading guide for movies.
Of course, such regularities do not claim absolute validity. In their analysis they follow a mixture of experience, feeling and their own perception.
Nevertheless, a surprisingly high number of these rules can be observed again and again. In fact, the majority of directors and film designers use it to direct the effect of moving images in a very specific way. The more movies and video you analyze, the more often you’ll discover these mechanics.
What happens to you when you can read movies
If you know these rules of filmmaking and analyze movies and videos regularly, several good things happen.
- First, you’ll look at videos with new eyes, realizing that there’s a lot less randomness than you think.
- Second, it gives you a simple way to get inside the head of the director or cinematographer.
- Third, you’re always hitting narrative meta-levels with it that are hidden from the normal viewer.
No rule without exception in film analysis
In conclusion, as always in the design of video and film, one may state: There are no principles that cannot be turned on their head. This is precisely what can create a particularly strong effect.
Of course, it is important to bear in mind that any rule-breaking is always done in the context of the action.
Because there are only sins in filmmaking, no rules. Whereby the greatest sin is ignorance. Also in the analysis of film and video. There is nothing more to add to this quote from Frank Capra.
Film analysis: Read more
- Understanding Movies, book by Louis D. Giannetti
- Film Art: An Introduction, book by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson
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