Mise-en-scene is a French phrase that translates to “placing on stage.” As the name implies, it the process of creating an atmosphere in a scene in film and theatre. Mise-en-scene is divided into several elements-
- Setting and props
- Lighting and color
- Hair, make-up, and costume
- Facial expressions and body language
- Blocking (positioning of characters and objects) and framing
- Film stock and aspect ratio
Setting and props
The setting of a scene is the situation in which it is set. This includes everything that affects the background of a scene. Few examples of things that affect the setting are time period, socio-economic status, and whether the scene is interior (indoor) or exterior (outdoor). A prop (property) is something that is used in the scene by the actor. A prop can be a part of the set, such as a vase that is broken by the actor, or not, such as a ball that is used to break the vase. A character prop is something that an actor carries with them as a characteristic such as a mobile phone.
Lighting and color
Two major types of lighting are high-key lighting and low-key lighting. Low-key lighting has more contrast between the bright and dark parts as compared to high-key lighting. Low-key lighting is commonly used in horror and thriller scenes, whereas high-key lighting is used when a positive message is intended such as in romantic scenes.
Color schemes help to create the mood of a scene. In order to understand color schemes, one must understand the color wheel. Warm tones such as yellow are used to showcase happiness, whereas cool tones such as blue are used to showcase sadness. Colors can also help denote particular feelings based on common associations such as red to highlight romance and green to highlight jealousy. A color scheme or color palette essentially refers to the placements of the chosen colors on the color wheel.
- Complementary colors
- Monochromatic colors
- Triadic colors
- Analogous colors
Hair, make-up, and costume
The hair, make-up, and costume combine to create the overall look of the character. This look is a reflection of their personality and can be affected by other aspects of their life such as the time period of the scene and the socio-economic status of the character. The look of the character also depends on and interacts with other elements of mise-en-scene. For instance, a pair of spectacles as a character prop will also be a part of their costume and impact their eye make-up. Another example is that in a monochromatic yellow scene, the characters’ costumes and make-up will also be yellow.
Facial expressions and body language
The facial expressions and body language of an actor make the acting appear realistic and are major catalysts in conveying the emotion that the scene demands.
Blocking (positioning of characters and objects) and framing
Having good composition in a scene is imperative to hold the interest of the audience. The depth and spacing of the frame and the proximity of the subjects can have a major impact on the atmosphere. For instance, a crowded mid-close-up can make the audience feel suffocated, whereas an extreme long shot with a single subject can make the audience feel lonely. Scenes can be balanced in terms of having a symmetric distribution of light, color, and blocking, while asymmetry can also be used to create an emotion of uneasiness or discomfort.
Film stock and aspect ratio
This element is particularly applicable to film. Film stock refers to the texture of the film, while aspect ratio refers to the dimensions of the footage. Vintage film textures and aspect ratios are often used to give the effect of a particular time period. Grainy film textures are also used to give a raw home video or found footage look.
The elements of mise-en-scene combine to create a final scene that can evoke the right emotions in the audience while bringing the image in the mind of the writers and directors to life.