Mise-en-scene, from French „putting into the scene” is the arrangement of everything that appears in the framing and influence the verisimilitude or credibility of a film in the eyes of its viewers. It helps telling a story, generating a sense of time and space, mood or character’s state of mind. Key elements of mise-en-scene are set design, lighting, space, composition and movement. All of those have big impact of viewer’s impression of the film. For instance, this is how use of mise-en-scene was explained in “Film art, an introduction” (2010):
“While one film might use mise-en-scene to create an impression of realism, other films might seek very different effects: comic exaggeration, supernatural terror, understated beauty, and any number of other functions. We should analyze mise-en-scene’s function in the total film – how it is motivated, how I varies or develops, hot it works in relation to other film techniques.”
Composition is the arrangement of visual elements. In cinematography, is the organization of objects, actors and space within the frame, so how the elements of mise-en-scene
appear in the image.
One of the most popular compositional technique is rule of thirds. It’s a guide that states that arranging
the important features of an image on the intersections of two vertical line and two horizontal lines that divide the image into equal parts. That sort of composition is comfortable to the eye, thus the middle portion of the frame are kept clear.
Patterns and repetition also may be used to compose the image. Humans are naturally attracted to patterns and they will immediately attract viewer to the image. Also including the element that breaks the pattern will keep the image interesting and audience engaged.
Garden State, 2014
There are some other techniques to use composition in the film to make it more pleasant to watch. For example, if a character is looking frame left, then he should be placed frame right. This makes the framing comfortable because the subject is looking at the open space in front of him. This open space is called lead room or lead space.
Filmmakers use composition to guide viewer’s eye to specific place or object. These techniques are widely used in cinematography. Here I put some examples of interesting composition used in films over the years.
Raw Deal, 1948
We can see that there is used rule of thirds and interesting composition of lighting and shadows. This creates the sense of mystery, melancholy or fear.
Lawrence of Arabia, 1962
Point of interest, main character, is on the far right of the shot looking to the left. The space on the left suggest that there is a long way for character to overcome or he is wandering into unknown.
Symmetry is pleasing to look at. Lines that create lighting and characters dancing on both sides direct viewer’s eye to look in the middle at main character.
Spring Breakers, 2012
Color and shape used in this shot suggest that something dangerous happens and we follow these characters to see what they are going to do.
Directors and cinematographers think of composition more like painters or illustrators than like theater directors because camera can be used as a point of view of the audience, not like in theatre. This creates lots of possibilities to create interesting shots that sometimes look like a piece of art. Art is a mixture of science and imagination: a little bit of earth, a little bit of sky- Leonardo da Vinci and Fibonacci both making Mona Lisa smile.