New directors should make horror movies! Don’t believe us? Read the scary truth below!
Written by Johnny Papan
Horror isn’t a genre often associated with prestige. In fact, only 6 freaky films have ever been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. One of the most recent being Jordan Peele’s directorial debut: Get Out. Despite this, horror films have always been a launching pad for new directors. Renowned filmmakers like James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi, Stephen Spielberg, and even Frances Ford Coppola have all honed their craft making horror films in their early career.
Making horror movies is a great way to develop your career as a film director. You have the freedom to experiment, there’s lower financial risk and you can turn your film into a franchise with a dedicated fanbase. Here are our top 5 reasons why new directors should make horror movies.
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What is mise-en-scène and how do you use it in your films? See how Psycho and Dune expertly use mise-en-scène to develop the overall look and feel of each film.
by Sophia Lin
Have you been wanting to know what is mise-en-scène and how to utilize it? A commonly used film term, on the lips of filmmakers, critics, and audiences alike, is mise-en-scène. You’ve probably heard about how a film has fantastic mise-en-scène or seen the term mixed in with other popular buzzwords like visual storytelling. And if it all seems a little wishy-washy after a while, we’re with you! As it turns out, mise-en-scène is a complex concept with more than a few layers to dig into. In fact, it covers multiple elements of filmmaking.
So let’s get into the nitty-gritty of it all. It’s one thing to grasp the definition of mise-en-scène, but entirely another to use it in your work or build it into your film analysis stratagem. To help you further understand what is mise-en-scène, we’ve included an in-depth analyses of two very different films. See how the iconic Hitchcock film Psycho and the recent Oscar-winning film Dune have both made use of mise-en-scène in some of their most pivotal scenes. How does mise-en-scène foster symbolism? In what ways do directors use mise-en-scène? And exactly how did it work together with the cinematography?
One of the greatest instruments in a filmmaker’s toolbox is mise-en-scène. We’re here to show you how to use it to its full potential!
What is mise-en-scène?
Getting a good handle on the core definition is always a must. To start, mise-en-scène is a French word, literally translated into “putting on stage”. Appropriately, its definition involves the arrangement of some kind in front of the film camera.
Mise-en-scène is composed of the following four elements:
Each contains a couple more sub-elements, so to speak. Staging, for instance, encompasses actors’ performances and blocking. But we’ll be breaking all that down soon enough. For now, these four neat terms will make it easy to remember.
The first element to analyze when it comes to understanding what is mise-en-scène is setting. A film’s setting is where the story is set. In the realm of mise-en-scène, it almost always refers to the setting of a specific scene. For example, we would consider the interior of a character’s bedroom in one scene, rather than a broad setting for an entire film, like the city of New York. The setting also always includes any props or set design visible on-screen.
Settings can be used in a variety of symbolic and figurative ways. For one, they can act as an indication of a character’s personality. Or, if the setting undergoes changes as the film progresses, it can be an outward display of a character’s interior development. In more complex cases, settings can reflect a character’s psychology or motives.
How Is The Setting Used In Psycho?
Norman Bates from Psycho
Mise-en-scène is used often in horror films. When we first meet the antagonist Norman Bates from the horror film Psycho, he invites Marion Crane, the female protagonist, into his parlour. At the time, he seems charming and innocent. But look closer — in this scene, Alfred Hitchcock cleverly uses the setting to reflect Norman’s eventual villainy.
One key example is, whenever Norman appears on camera, several taxidermy birds appear behind him. But they aren’t just any birds — they are predatory birds, from owls to eagles, showing Norman’s true nature as a predator preying on innocent victims. On the other hand, Marion is shown on-screen surrounded by small birds, sparrows and such, which points to her fate as the prey of Norman.
As we’ve mentioned, staging refers to a couple extra sub-elements as well:
The first is performance. At the end of the day, the actors are the star of the show. As a result, the specifics of their performance help to make up the mise-en-scène. How are they delivering lines? What is their body language? This goes as far as incorporating the style of the actors’ performances, such as whether it’s naturalistic or theatrical acting.
Second comes blocking, a term that refers to where the actors are physically placed and how they move relative to the camera. For that reason, the camera placement is often considered part of the blocking as well. One intriguing example is that a character moving from left to right past the camera is seen as a symbol of change in a positive direction.
How Is The Staging Used In Dune?
Helicopters from Dune
One of the most visually stunning scenes in Dune is when the protagonist Paul Atreides sees Arrakis, his new home planet, for the first time in a helicopter. Arrakis is known for its precious Spice, and the overhead view of the desert planet serves as an unforgettable introduction. But that isn’t all it is.
During this scene, the blocking is intentional and carefully considered. Paul sits behind the glass window of the chopper, with the camera placed on the other side. This creates the unique effect of the desert reflecting off that glass, making it look like the sand dunes are overlaying or overlapping Paul’s face.
An actor’s face is also a clear symbol of identity. Director Denis Villeneuve uses the blocking to tell us that Arrakis will become a foundational part of Paul’s identity, perhaps even to the point of inseparability.
A third element to understanding what is mise-en-scène is how the film is lit. Lighting is one of the many parts of filmmaking that we typically don’t notice. Gaffers, who are responsible for the lighting of a scene. You can use lighting to create realism, so the shots appear natural and never tip us off to the fact that it has been fabricated. But because it is fabricated, it leaves many options for how the lighting can be used to enrich a film’s message.
There are two main types of lighting to get to know:
One is low-key lighting, which means the contrast is high, with the dark parts of the shot being very dark and the bright parts very bright. To no surprise, this lighting is favoured in horror, thriller, and noir films for the harsh look it creates.
Another is high-key lighting, which is low contrast with few shadows. There won’t be much of a difference between the darker and lighter parts of the shot. This creates a brighter look overall. In contrast, this lighting is often found in rom-coms and musicals.
How Is The Lighting Used In Psycho?
Norman Bates from Psycho
Remember the scene in the parlour with Norman? Well, turns out the setting isn’t the only noteworthy part. Filmmakers aim for each scene to contain multitudes of meaning, and Hitchcock is no exception. Lighting-wise, Norman is lit from the side in this scene. As a result, this creates shadows on one side of his face but not the other.
This results in a curious two-face effect. With a split down the middle, this lighting technique suggests a light half and a dark half to Norman’s character. Or in other words, a sense of duality. As the film goes on, it becomes clear that Norman is not who he appears to be. (Spoiler alert!) As we come to find out, there are, in fact, two personalities within him. This whole scene also acts as a perfect illustration of how the various pieces of mise-en-scène can work together to send multiple messages within one idea.
The final piece to understanding what is mise-en-scène to the costuming of the film. This aspect of mise-en-scène refers to anything the actors are wearing, including hair and makeup. Costume designers will spend their time looking over the exact details of outfits, styles, shoes, and accessories that will be true to a character. This will also convey meaning on a second level. As we know, what you wear says a lot about who you are.
Interestingly, costumes can be another way to track a character’s development and their relationship with those around them. The lending of a jacket, for instance, can reveal much about how two characters feel about one another. Beyond that, how costumes are worn is also considered. For example, a disciplined character may have ironed clothes and tied-up shoelaces, while an absent-minded one will wear a half-tucked shirt.
How Are Costumes Used In Dune?
Harkonnen tribe from Dune
Rather than observing a specific scene, costume analysis is often more overarching. Throughout its entirety, Dune is filled with elaborate and ground-breaking sci-fi costuming in nearly every scene. Some costume choices reflect the climate of a particular planet, while others were chosen for reasons of practicality. An example of this is how the stillsuits had to be able to preserve moisture.
A true prime example of costuming being used to the peak of its creative capabilities is the costumes worn by the opposing Harkonnen tribe. Their armour is hard-shell and darkly coloured, with repetitive textures and bands that resemble those of insects. In fact, the costume designer based it specifically on the look of beetles, ants, and spiders.
Wait a second, beetles? If that sounds familiar in any way, it should be — Dune features a one-off scene of Paul simply watching a small black beetle crawl up the sand. Beetles are pests, invading and harming any environment they intrude upon. In this case, the Harkonnen costumes create a parallel, foreshadowing their tribe as the colonizing parasites that will invade Arrakis.
As you’ve seen by now, understanding what is mise-en-scène isn’t a quick and easy task. It’s versatile, subtle, and leans towards the abstract. But once you’ve studied and practiced it, employing it in your film will become second nature. Many refer to it as a language in and of itself – mise-en-scène conveys hidden ideas on another level working together with the dialogue and plot events.
And so, learning a visual language like this takes time, and close film analysis is a must for understanding what is mise-en-scène. With that in mind, there are some famous examples to dig into. Some that come to mind are the use of light in Parasite, the red jacket in Rebel Without A Cause, the blocking in The Shining’s climatic scene, and the googly eyes in Everything Everywhere All At Once.
So get into it! Before you know it, you’ll be watching films in a whole new way, seeing more with every rewatch. And if you’re a filmmaker, you’ll find yourself sprinkling fresh ideas into the mise-en-scène of your own films, making the most of what the art of filmmaking has to offer.
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Vancouver International Film Festival 2022 will be taking place from September 29th to October 9th. Check out some of these great films and events at VIFF 2022!
By: Kennedy Randall
One of the most recognized film festivals in British Columbia is back again. Vancouver International Film Festival continues to bring the best films and engaging public programs to the city. This year VIFF 2022 will be presenting over 130 feature films and 100 short films. With this in mind, there will be no shortage of viewing material and something for everyone.
Vancouver International Film Festival’s public programming is fully stacked this year with an exciting lineup of VIFF Talks. From directors to costume designers, the many panels VIFF will be presenting will paint a full picture of the film industry. These great panels help to inspire fellow creators, filmmakers, and industry professionals.
Listen in on Clement Virgo, one of Canada’s leading film directors, working on Empire, The Wire, The L Word and The Book of Negroes. Learn about his new film and insights on his experiences being a director and writer. Those keen on costume design can also peek into an exciting conversation with Deborah L. Scott. Deborah is best known for her work in Avatar and James Cameron’s blockbuster Titanic. She was also awarded the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for her work in these films. Hear about her process designing costumes for action movies verses period pieces as well. Attendees will also learn about the creative teamwork needed to pull off the director’s vision. Check out all the VIFF Talks here.
Costume designer Deborah L. Scott
VIFF will also be partnering with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra for a special musical performance. From this partnership, attendees can enjoy a performance of two-time Emmy-nominated composer Michael Abel’s music at the Vancouver Playhouse. Abel is known for the unique scores that have filled the cinematic worlds of Jordan Peele’s films Get Out, Nope, and Us.
After two years of the pandemic, Vancouver cinemas have returned to full capacity. Every one of the official selections for VIFF 2022 will be screened in person as a result. The festival will open with a screening of Bones of Crows by Métis filmmaker Marie Clements which follows an epic account of Cree matriarch Aline Spears life.
“Bones of Crows” by Marie Clements
Other anticipated films include director Kore-eda’s Broker, an entertaining crime story set in South Korea following Song Kang-ho (Parasite; The Host) who heads a half-baked baby adoption scam. Kang-Ho also took home Best Actor this year at Cannes Film Festival.
“Broker” by Kore-eda
For local Vancouver sports fans, The Grizzlie Truth will peak their attention. In this film, director Kathleen S. Jayme sets out to solve a true crime of a different nature: who robbed Vancouver of the Grizzlies? Jayme recounts the short-lived history of the Vancouver Grizzlies and also reconnects the audience with the Grizzlies heroes and villains.
“The Grizzlie Truth” by Kathleen S. Jayme
This year’s VIFF will also include Soviet Bus Stops, directed by Kristoffer Hegnsvad. Soviet Bus Stops follows Canadian photographer Christopher Herwig who sets out to document a piece of urban architecture in former Soviet Republics that may be considered ordinary and benign – bus stops.
With dozens more films on their program, head over to the VIFF 2022film program to find your niche or to learn something new at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival.
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Coming up at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival is Soviet Bus Stops. Read more about VIFF and the film below.
By: Kennedy Randall
After much anticipation, the Vancouver International Film Festival is returning at the end of the month. In the past 41 years VIFF has become one of Vancouver’s most beloved film festivals will be running from September 29th to October 9th showcasing over 130 feature films and 100 short films.
InFocus Film School has partnered with VIFF to showcase Soviet Bus Stops, one of many fantastic films screening this year. Directed by Kristoffer Hegnsvad, Soviet Bus Stops follows Canadian photographer Christopher Herwig. From Ukraine to Uzbekistan, Armenia to Far Eastern Siberia, Herwig sets out to document a piece of urban architecture in former Soviet Republics that may be considered ordinary and benign – bus stops.
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From the 1960s and 70s, the architecture of the Soviet Regime was largely utilitarian and mass-produced. What Herwig finds on his travels is profoundly different; bus stops that are creative and whimsical. Architecture within the Soviet period was highly monitored and totalitarian following a uniform style. However, bus stops are often a negligible part of the urban landscape, and these revolutionary structures ended up being overlooked. Therefore, these roadside fixtures artistically represent a place and time in history, built as quiet acts of creativity against overwhelming state control.
Although, despite their radical nature and innovation, these bus stops are seen by many as strange or embarrassing. This is, unfortunately, leading many of them to be torn down. “These bus stops are disappearing so fast. If I come back a year from now, they could be gone, demolished, or rebuilt. These pictures may be all that’s left in the end. I want to give them some kind of immorality,” Herwig reflects.
Shot over seven years, Soviet Bus Stops follows Herwig on his journey to capture these bus stops and memorialize them through film. He meets some of the humble and eccentric bus stop creators from various former Soviet Republics to hear their stories about how these unique structures came to exist.
Herwig’s photography books of the bus stops have become bestsellers around the world. Hegnsvad’s documentation of this process turns this unusual journey into an engaging film about human connectivity, photography, politics, and history. In so doing, Herwig and Hegnsvad both commemorate the stories of these bus stops through their chosen medium, sharing a relatively unknown subject with wider audiences.
The stories of individuals who created small acts of resistance are embedded in the poetry and art of the remaining bus stops and become honoured, protected, and celebrated in these mediums.
InFocus Film School is proud to be the community partner for such an unforgettable film. Purchase your tickets for either screening on October 2nd at The Cinematheque or October 4th at International Village 8 here.
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