Mise en scene is a filming element that simply refers to “putting into the scene”, it refers to all the things that the audience view and listen to in a final film. Mise en scene is an important element in film since it is what the film viewers are subjected to and at the end of it all; it is compared to a painting where primarily the final piece of art is what may make or break a painter.
According to Rabiger (2008), it describes all the aspects of directing that take place in the process of shooting, this ranges from blocking of actors in relation to each other, camera position in relation to actors and the set as well as action in relation to the set or location, another important element in mise en scene is the camera, what film stock should one use?, what it the best lens to use? How should the composition be like? How much one should shoot to facilitate editing and the like are only but among the questions to be asked during the shoot. There is also dramatic content as a factor to be considered under mise en scene, this refers to the rhythms, from who’s point of view should the audience identify with? Are there any motifs or leitmotifs, is there any aural metaphor? Finally, sound design, is the sound in the film diegetic or non diegetic? Does the sound relay an objective or subjective point of view? In order to have the best film, all this factors must be considered practically other than intellectually, Rabiger is of the opinion that an overall mise en scene of the whole script should be designed after which it should fit each scene with regard to the overall structure, he states that working with a creative and smart director of photography will go a long way in achieving desired results.
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In the movie Shawshank Redemption, there has been an excellent use of this film element. Shawshank Redemption is a movie directed by Frank Darabon that is based on Steven King’s novels Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, set in a prison, Shawshank features some of the best actors in Hollywood, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman play as Andy Dufresne and Redding respectively who are convicts in a new prison called Shawshank. The film follows the story of Andy a banker who has been convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover after he catches them in a compromising situation; he is arraigned in court and later charged with murder. When he reaches prison, he meets Redding who is a hardcore jailbird, he is the one who sells and supplies everything in the prison, at first Andy passes for this innocent person and on several occasions he is abused by the clique of homosexuals in the prison, Redding wonders how he will talk to Andy but at the end of it all they become very good friends.
This is a movie with a very simple story line yet I cannot help but praise the dramatic genius of Darabon, he employs a very formalistic approach of directing where he creatively, fluidly and with very unique swift shots from one scene to the other interweaves the entire scenes of the film. It is without doubt that Darabon allows the film to flow slowly therefore allowing every character to develop, he is keen on developing the characters’ traits other than pushing a variety of angles at the audience, for instance we see Andy grow from an innocent prisoner to a tough one who manages to find his way into the prison’s system that eventually allows him to escape, we see Andy and Redding growing from strangers to good friends. In this film, there is an intricate placement of the camera in each and every scene; every angle employed is purposeful as well as convincing, there has been a very good use of low angles for instance when the prisoners get out of their cells, high angles for instance when the boss is addressing the wardens and the prisoners during the welcoming if the new prisoners, crane shots have added a much desired variety in the entire film.
From the word go, the entire film looks like it was filmed using a blue filter, this filter packages the film with aesthetic beauty in the scenes and as such there is an enhanced dramatic feeling or effects necessary for the audience. Perhaps what makes the scenes even more beautiful is the fact that there is a unique blend of blue and brown in the entire film, for instance, the blue makes the prisoners’ uniforms appear more dramatic as well as the browns which make the walls of the prison buildings and its surroundings more captivating. There is one particular scene in this film where the effect of the brown and blue was effective, this was in the scene where the prisoners are having beer on the rooftop with the sun shining on their faces, unlike many other scenes where the prisoners have shadows on them, this particular scene was well illuminated to show the freedom that the prisoners were having in drinking beer. The blues and brown also provide dramatic irony in the very final scene at the beach, the colours that at one point in time represented fear, despair and lack of freedom has been used in this scene to show freedom and happiness.
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There is a very dramatic use of narration done by Redding which provides a connection between the audience and the prisoners; the narration has been done in a rather sombre mood throughout the entire film to show the lack of freedom in the prison. The narrative is also clever as well as the dialogue I the entire film; the narration enhances some feeling of fate especially regarding how Andy escaped. This film also employs high contrast lighting throughout the film except for the wardens who are constantly in shadows, dramatically; this has an effect as the guards are brought out as villains and the impediment to the prisoners’ freedom. All the violent scenes also take place in shadows to depict despair and violence. There are notable scenes in this film owing to the fact that there was keen observance of camera placement vis a vis the emotion and story to be told to the audience, when Andy while working in the prison’s library lays his hands on the record that has been sent to the prison from the state. He locks himself up in a room so that he is not stopped from playing the record to the entire prisoners though the intercom. There is a beautiful montage that the camera captures to show how far the record is reaching, there is a very functional use of crane shots to show the masses that is listening to the record, there is also a captivating use of close up shots of prisoners smiling to depict the freedom that the music brings to them since they yearn for the day that they will have the freedom to listen to music. The music adds a unique atmosphere to this particular scene to show calm. The reactions of the prisoners from surprise to their appreciation moves very realistically.
When Brook is feeding the pigeons, there is a feeling of loneliness and emptiness as the camera moves from a low angle of the pigeons eating, to a close up shot of Brook’s old face to a long shot of Brook seated alone on the bench with a non diegetic sound that enhances the entire emotion of this particular scene. The plot of this film is a very simple and realistic one with a very precise screen play; all the elements marry perfectly with character development. The plot has a very outstanding climax that is hard to notice until the end of the film when Andy escapes from prison, it only then that we realize that he left a sledge hammer in what we thought was a bible.
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In summary, Mise en scene is the most important production element that film makers should be keen to develop, according to Rabiger, camera placement is very vital in story telling as it is what determines what the audience sees and from what perspective, he is of the opinion that in making a film, one should make a brief content description of each scene after which one should turn the list into a story board showing each scene as it goes, this will be important in determining how the overall film should look like. In Shawshank Redemption, mise en scene has been effectively used to make it one of the all time favourite movies in the history of film. Darabon has employed a very careful and effective use of scene elements like the set design to the most important aspect of fluidity in camera movements coupled with functional sound and music to good acting to give this film an overall beautiful look. There is a variation in camera angles and the subject and as a result, the scene shows to the advantage on the screen. The costumes in this film were very authentic, for instance the prisoners aprons, the guards’ uniforms as well as the boss’ sharp suits made the whole film look beautiful to watch.