How to Analyze a Scene in a Film

Опубликовал Admin
24-12-2017, 07:00
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Analyzing just one scene in a film can be both fun and enlightening! Since you’ll focus on just a short part of a movie, you’ll be able to take a deep dive into the details and get a great understanding of the filmmaker’s decisions. Before you pick your scene, watch the entire film to make sure you understand it. Then watch the single scene several times and take notes to break it down. Finally, you can turn your notes into a formal written scene analysis for a class or your own use.

Choosing and Watching the Scene

  1. Watch the entire movie before you pick your scene. A single scene in a film is just one part of a whole story. To fully understand the purpose of that part, it’s important to think about the movie as a whole. Ask yourself what the major themes of the film are, take note of the main characters, and think about the general mood or tone of the film.
    • For example, if you’re going to analyze a scene in On the Waterfront (1954), you’d want to know that an overriding theme of the movie is a brotherly love that’s undermined by shady political alliances.
  2. Choose a scene that has a clear theme or purpose. The scene should be between 2 and 5 minutes long. To pick a scene that’s important enough for your analysis, consider what the film would be like without it. Would the movie make sense? Would a theme be left unexplored? Go for a scene that makes the viewer more clearly understand the purpose of the movie or the conflict between the main characters.
    • If the scene could be easily deleted from the film, it’s probably not a good pick for your analysis.
    • For example, imagine Jaws (1975) without the opening sequence! This scene introduces us to the film’s mysterious deep-water villain (one so scary it has its own musical theme).
  3. Watch the scene several times without taking notes. Empty your mind and focus only on what’s on the screen in front of you. This will let you absorb the scene without looking away from it or pausing the sequence to write something down. It’ll also allow you to better experience the scene’s mood.

Breaking down the Scene

  1. Re-watch the scene several times while taking notes. Grab a notebook and write down all of your big-picture observations (like the theme), as well as the small details (like the lighting). If you plan to do a written scene analysis, these detailed notes will help you write an organized and well-supported essay.
    • While you write, pause the film to ensure you don’t miss anything. You can also rewind if you feel like you need to rewatch a small piece of the scene.
  2. Take note of every decision the director made to create the scene. Nothing that’s going on in the scene is by accident! Every little detail counts. Put yourself in the director’s shoes to think about how those details contribute to the overall purpose and message of the scene (and the movie as a whole). Write down your impressions so you don’t forget them.
  3. Think about each character’s motivations, costume, and lines. Start by taking note of which characters are present in the scene. Since you’ve watched the whole movie, you should have a good idea of those characters’ desires, personalities, and strengths and weaknesses. Narrow in on what’s going on with the characters in this single scene. How does this scene contribute to their overall development?
    • For example, are any of the characters undergoing a major transformation? Are they realizing something they hadn’t thought of before?
    • Pay close attention to what the characters are wearing. Perhaps their dark clothing mirrors their sinister deeds. Or maybe a character who’s just stopping being a wallflower is all of a sudden decked out in bright colors and a huge hat.
  4. Decide why the director cast certain actors for different roles. Directors generally choose to cast a particular actor because their characteristics match those of the character the director wants to put on screen. Notice how the actors bring the film’s characters to life. Take note of the actors’ unique mannerisms and physical traits and see how those elements affect the scene.
  5. Consider how the setting affects the scene. Where the director choose to have the scene play out matters. If the scene is taking place in a car, for example, the characters might be looking ahead instead of at each other. If the scene is in a graveyard, the viewer might automatically feel like something bad is about to happen.
  6. Notice the way each shot is framed. Framing is an important part of the mise-en-scène, or the physical arrangement and composition of parts on screen. Pause the scene on a single shot. What’s centered and what’s off screen? Is the light bright or shadowy? Is it a closeup shot? How does the framing affect the full scene?
    • Analyze each frame by asking yourself these questions.
    • The mise-en-scène also includes the props, sets, character position(s) on the screen, and costumes. This term encompasses all of the visual components of the film.
    • For example, consider the absolute terror communicated by Janet Leigh’s shower scene in Psycho (1960), which includes several frames that only show the main character’s wide-open screaming mouth.
  7. Take note of the effects of various camera angles or shots. Camera work is a huge part of filmmaking. Different techniques can completely change the mise-en-scène and overall mood of a film. Consider whose point of view the camera represents and how the camera is set up. Some of the most common shots and angles include:
    • An extreme close-up shot, in which the subject is larger than the frame.
    • A close-up, in which the subject fills the frame.
    • A medium shot, in which the subject can be seen either from waist up or in their entirety.
    • A long shot, in which the subject is small in comparison to their surroundings.
    • A wide shot that displays the setting and establishes where the film takes place.
    • A low angle, which places the camera below the subject to make them appear large and important.
    • A high angle, which places the camera above the subject to make them appear small and insignificant.
  8. Watch how the camera moves. In addition to choosing particular shots and angles, directors also make decisions about which movements to use to make their camera capture the scene. Some common camera movements include:
    • A tilt, which involves moving the camera’s lens up and down without moving the camera itself.
    • A pan, which involves moving the camera from left to right on a fixed tripod.
    • A zoom, which makes the camera’s lens focus in or out on a subject.
    • A pedestal, which involves moving the whole camera up or down.
    • A dolly, which involves moving the whole camera (not just the zooming the lens) towards or away from a subject.
    • A truck, which involves following a subject from left to right on a moving track (rather than a fixed tripod).
  9. Listen for music, a narrator, or other sound effects. Replay the scene once more, this time keeping your eyes closed. Focus on the music the director chose. Ask yourself how it adds to the scene. Then, pay attention to any other effects, like a voiceover, off-screen noises, or even deafening silence.
    • The musical score and sound effects are especially important to a scene’s mood. Triumphant music, for example, can communicate to the viewer that something positive is about to happen -- maybe even a happy ending!
  10. Do outside research to understand the historical and cultural context. Find out in which year the film was made. Go online or use your local library to see what was happening in the world in or around that year. Consider whether there’s any connection between this outside context and what’s going on in the scene you’re analyzing.
    • You can also look up details about the filmmaker to see if something in their personal life affected their filmmaking.
    • For example, Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) is a satirical anti-war film that tells the story of a nuclear holocaust that occurs by mistake. This dark humor makes much more sense if you know about the intense nuclear standoff between the United States and Russia that happened in October 1962.

Writing a Scene Analysis

  1. Start by formulating an argument about the scene. This argument is also known as your “hypothesis.” It should be a simple, declarative statement that you’ll need to support with evidence from the scene.
    • For example, let’s say you decide to analyze the post-murder scene from Rear Window (1954), in which Jimmy Stewart’s character witnesses the aftermath of a murder while he’s looking out his back window. Your hypothesis could be something like: “The director, Alfred Hitchcock, used a combination of simplistic closeup and point-of-view camera shots to make the viewer witness the mystery through Jimmy Stewart’s eyes.”
  2. Write an introductory paragraph to state your argument. Your introductory paragraph should also state the title of the movie, the director, and when it was released. This paragraph will prepare your reader to jump into the main content of your scene analysis.
  3. Include at least 3 supportive paragraphs. Your written analysis doesn’t need to include every little detail you noted down while you were breaking down the scene. In fact, it shouldn’t! Those notes could probably fill 20 pages. Instead, choose a few key pieces of evidence that “prove” your argument.
    • For example, in your analysis of the post-murder scene in Rear Window, you might have a supporting paragraph on how Hitchcock placed a black circle on the outer edge of several frames to represent the camera lens Jimmy Stewart used to spy on the murderer.
  4. Tie together your points in a concluding paragraph. Don’t directly restate anything from the introduction or your body paragraphs in your conclusion. Instead, briefly demonstrate again how the points you made support your argument. Then, end by answering the “so what?” question. Why does your argument matter, and why should the reader care?
    • For example, you might conclude by stating that Hitchcock’s choices in the post-murder scene in Rear Window demonstrated that seemingly simple camera shots could provide a foundation for an entire film’s storyline.
  5. Edit your piece for errors, length, and flow. Your analysis should be between 2 and 5 typewritten pages. Read the paper aloud to ensure that everything makes sense. If any sentences are confusing or too long, break them down. Run the analysis through spellcheck.
    • Spellcheck won’t catch every spelling and grammar mistake! The best way to prevent these errors is to read the paper aloud at least once, if not twice. This will also help you avoid missing and/or misplaced commas.
    • If this is for a class, your teacher has probably given you a recommended length. Be sure to stick to their recommendation! If your paper is too short, they may consider it an incomplete assignment. If it’s too long, they’ll feel like you didn’t spend enough time editing.


  • If you’re writing your scene analysis for a class, don’t forget to correctly cite the film! Ask your teacher what style they prefer (such as MLA or Chicago).
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