For this task, you will be writing about your favourite scene from a film or television show. You’ve just learned about the different ways that camera can be used to tell a story, now it’s time to put that understanding into action by writing about something that you love. Keep in mind that you should choose a scene with an appropriate rating.
Planning your response
Before writing, you will need to watch the scene closely several times. This is not a task that you can do from memory. You need to look closely at the scene and think about how the director has used different techniques to engage the audience. Watch the scene with and without sound. As you are watching, take notes on how the filmmakers use the following elements:
- Camera techniques. What type of shot size, camera angle and camera movement has the director used? How does this make the audience feel?
- Acting. Make notes on the actors’ use of movement, gesture and facial expression. Does this make the audience feel for particular characters? When writing about acting, it is always a good idea to identify specific aspects of a performance and explain how they make the audience feel.
- Mise en scene. Mise en scene is a cinema studies term that literally means ‘what’s put int he frame’. It refers to the overall effect of make up, costume, props and colour within the frame. Find relevant examples of these elements and write about how they make the audience feel.
- Editing. Editing focuses on the way that sound and images are put together to tell a story and engage the audience. When watching the scene, consider when the director cuts from one shot to another and how this makes the audience feel. Is the editing slow or fast paced?
- Lighting. Although the lighting in film and television might look normal and natural, filmmakers carefully light each shot in a way that helps to tell the story and engage the audience. Some terminology you might use to describe lighting includes: key light, fill light, high key lighting, frontal lighting, back light, side lighting, underlighting, rim light, hair light, hard, soft, diffuse, chiaroscuro, three point lighting, natural, naturalistic, expressive, stylised, fluorescent, incandescent, warm, cool, contrast, shadow. Being as descriptive as possible, explain how lighting has been used in these scenes.
- Sound. Think about how sound effects, music and dialogue help to engage the audience.
You can start to think about your scene by downloading the A3 My Favourite Scene Planning Sheet.
Writing your response
- Italicise titles. When you are writing about the film, italicise its title, e.g. “The opening sequence of Hot Fuzz, directed by Edgar Wright, features a fast-paced montage to create both a sense of excitement and humour.”
- Structure. Your analysis should feature an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion.
- Director. Throughout your analysis, you should write about how the director has used particular techniques to engage the audience. The first time you mention the director, use their full name. Every time after that, use their surname, e.g. The Battle of Helm’s Deep is one of the most engaging and exciting scenes in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Throughout this scene, Jackson uses music and editing to make the scene particularly engaging.”
- Actors. When you write about a character for the first time, mention the actor’s name in brackets, for example: “The Frighteners is a surreal, offbeat horror film deftly crafted by director Peter Jackson. Frank Bannister (Michael J Fox) is a paranormal private detective who starts investigating a string of mysterious deaths, aided by a quirky ensemble of supernatural sidekicks.”
- Don’t praise. You are not writing a review and it is not necessary to praise the actors or director. Instead, focus on how the filmmakers have used cinematic techniques to engage the audience.
- Don’t retell the story. At the beginning of your analysis, it’s a good idea to give a short explanation of what happens in the scene but throughout your analysis you should avoid retelling the story.
- Proofread. When you complete your analysis, get a parent or older brother or sister to read over your work to check your clarity, spelling and punctuation.
Here are some words and phrases that might be useful when writing your review.
- Drama. Emotional, emotionally charged, gripping, thrilling, moving, riveting.
- Humour. Funny, comical, hilarious, humorous, witty.
- Action. Action-packed, exciting, heart-pounding, compelling, thrilling, exhilarating, enthralling.
- Romance. Romantic, sentimental, heart-warming.
- Suspense. Tension, anticipation, anxiety, apprehension, terror, fear, trepidation, dread, unease.
- In this scene…
- Throughout this scene…
- The most engaging part of this scene is when…
- Audience engagement reaches its peak when…
- One of the most absorbing moments is…
- …makes the audience feel…
- …creates a sense of suspense…
- …builds tension…
- …engenders sympathy for…
- …encourages the audience to identify with…
- …provokes an emotional response…
- …incites an emotive response from the audience…
Sample Response #1
The Battle of Helm’s Deep is one of the most engaging and exciting parts of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The scene, which occurs towards the end of the film, is a desperate battle for survival as Saruman’s army closes in on the outnumbered Rohan refugees. Throughout this scene, Jackson uses a combination of techniques – mainly camera techniques, acting, editing and sound – to engage the audience.
One of the things that makes this scene engaging is not the action but rather its focus on the helpless victims inside the castle. Before the action scene begins, Jackson shows the women and children being herded into a cave beneath the keep. In this part of the scene, camera techniques, acting and sound all help the audience identify with these characters. Cutting to the caves, Jackson tracks a group of women as they shuffle inside. Music plays an integral role in encouraging the audience to identify with these characters, Howard Shore’s emotive and mournful score rising in the background while a baby cries and the camera pans to reveal a long shot of how many people are crammed into the cave. Jackson then cuts to a close up of a woman, tearful, as she farewells her elderly husband. The music begins to rise as Jackson cuts to a slow motion shot of a solider tearing a young boy away from his mother, whose face is twisted in anguish. A third shot shows two young children huddling with their mother. This combination of editing, acting and music helps to engage the audience, compelling them to feel a sense of sympathy for these characters.
As the Rohirrim prepare for battle, Jackson uses a montage to engage the audience by conveying how the odds are stacked against them. The montage begins with King Theodin (Bernard Hill) reciting a poem as he is strapped into his armour. Throughout this montage, music plays a very important role in audience engagement. The sense of sorrow has been replaced by a sense of unease as the sound of dramatic male choir rises in the background. “To whatever end,” Theodin says grimly. Jackson cuts to a series of shots which show, dark backlit orcs marching across the landscape. “Where is the horse and the rider?” Theodin starts to recite, “Where is the horn that was blowing?” In this moment, Jackson’s use of shot size and editing helps to engage the audience by conveying how hopeless the battle is. He cuts to a series of shots: an old man sharpening a sword, a line of elderly men collecting weapons, a young boy being fitted with a helm, another receiving a battle axe, both with terrified expressions on their faces. “The days have gone down in the west,” Theodin says, as Jackson cuts towards another shot of the approaching orcs, then to another final shot of a young boy picking up a shield. “How did it come to this?” Theodin asks as the montage draws to a close.
Before the battle begins, Jackson takes another opportunity to build suspense. In this part of the sequence, the camera pulls back to reveal the men standing on the ramparts. Sound and sound editing is very important in this part of the scene to create a sense of anticipation and suspense. There are few sounds: the mournful sigh of the wind, the creak of battlements and, in the distance, the battle cry of an orc. Throughout this sequence, mise en scene also makes an important contribution to audience engagement. The castle is wreathed in fog and the moonlight casts a desaturated blue tone across the battlefield. There is a suspenseful clap of thunder and flash of lightning as the orc army marches relentlessly towards the wall. Jackson slowly dollies in on a shot of Theodin as rain begins to fall then cuts to several shots of the orcs, their weapons and armour clanking ominously, as they approach.
Throughout The Battle of Helm’s Deep, director Peter Jackson uses a number of techniques to engage the audience. It isn’t just the tense battle scene but rather the lead up to this which, through a combination of camera techniques, acting, mise en scene, editing, lighting and sound – helps to engage the audience.
Sample Response #2
In the climactic scene of Thor, director Kenneth Branagh uses a range of cinematic techniques – including camera techniques, acting, editing and sound – to engage the audience by emphasising Thor’s sacrifice and heroism.
The scene begins with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) confronting the Destroyer sent by Loki. Branagh uses a medium shot of Thor which emphasises the resolve on his face as he drops a useless shield to the ground. In this shot, Branagh also creates a sense unease by using a canted shot. Because this type of shot is unconventional, it contributes to the sense of unease that the audience feels about Thor’s fate. Branagh cuts to a close up of the shield as it clatters dramatically to the ground as the score becomes lower and more dramatic. Part of the effectiveness of this scene is the way Branagh cuts between Thor and his friends. Before Thor approaches the Destroyer, Branagh cuts to a medium shot of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who turns around in shock and yells, “Wait!” In the next shot, Thor walks slowly towards the Destroyer in slow motion with his friends watching helplessly in the background. To increase the drama, Branagh cuts to a handheld dolly-in on Jane as she says, “What’s he doing?!” This dolly-in increases audience engagement by emphasising the shocked expression on her face. Branagh cuts to a long shot of the street, the camera dollying up slightly, as Thor approaches the machine. The heroic score written by Patrick Doyle rises in the background which engages the audience by highlighting Thor’s heroism. At this point, Branagh cuts to an aerial shot of the street which emphasises how small and helpless Thor looks amid the destruction. Branagh again highlights the character’s heroism by cutting to a close up of Thor as he approaches the Destroyer.
Thor’s sacrifice is made particularly moving through the use of music, acting and dialogue. “Brother, however I have wronged you, whatever I have done that has led you to do this, I am truly sorry,” Thor says softly as the heroic music rises in the background. “But these people are innocent, taking their lives will gain you nothing. So take mine, and end this.” As Thor delivers this line of dialogue, Branagh lingers on a tight close up of the character to engage the audience by emphasising his sincerity and the nobility of his sacrifice. Before he finishes the line, Branagh cuts to a low angle shot of Thor standing in front of the Destroyer, emphasising its size and how helpless Thor looks in comparison. When he is struck down by the Destroyer, Branagh cuts to a slow motion shot of Jane running towards his body. The following conversation is filmed in tight close ups to emphasise the emotion of the moment.
The scene builds to an exciting confrontation when Branagh cuts to a flashback of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) saying, “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor!” As he says these words, Branagh cuts to a rapid series of shots which show the hammer breaking free from stone. He lingers for a moment on a tight close up of the hammer, stone breaking away. The music begins to build in intensity as it streaks towards the sky. Branagh cuts to a close up of the seemingly dead Thor as the music continues to rise. To emphasise the drama of the moment, there are loud percussive crashes as Thor reaches out and catches the hammer.
Throughout this sequence, director Kenneth Branagh uses a combination of camera techniques, acting, editing and sound to engage the audience by emphasising the nobility of Thor’s sacrifice.