Part 12: How to Analyse a Film Step-by-Step | Free Planner

Do you need to sharpen your film analysis skills? Don't worry. In this article we will show you everything you need to know to analyse film.

Beginners-guide-to-acing-hsc-english-how-to-analyse-films-mobile-image

Let’s learn how to analyse film for HSC English! We will go through film types, film genres, features unique to film and provide you with a step-by-step process to analyse film and a free film analysis planner!

 

Table of contents:

 

What is the difference between film analysis and literary analysis?

There are lots of similarities when you analyse film and literary texts.

For example, you need to critically analyse techniques, evaluate how the composer conveys meaning, looking at themes and ideas and lots more!

However, the major differences between film analysis and literary analysis are in the mode, media and form!

‘Mode, media and form’ might sound a bit familiar to you… That’s because they’re in your syllabus!

 

So, what are the mode, media and form of film?

Unlike literary texts, film is an audiovisual form.

This means that films represent meaning by combining both visual images and audio.

So, when you analyse film, you have to examine lots of different elements like:

  • Literary techniques (like symbolism and motifs)
  • Rhetorical techniques from the character’s dialogue or sound (like repetition and anaphora)
  • Narrative style (like framing or narrative structures)
  • Characters and characterisation
  • And most importantly, film techniques!

 

This means that you have to be comfortable with all of these elements to analyse them in your assessments and exams.

This also means that you need to be able to evaluate the most effective and relevant techniques that will support your ideas, since there are so many to choose from.

However, ensure that you analyse a substantial amount of film techniques. Don’t focus on dialogue, you’ll miss the richness of other aspects of representation in the text. You want to be able to show your ability to evaluate a film’s modes, media and form!

 

Note: In this article, we provide you with a list of features that are unique to films. Take a good read of these techniques so that you can easily identify them in your films.

Beginners-guide-to-acing-hsc-english-how-to-analyse-film-mode-media-picture-of-a-camera

Analyse film like a film critic and impress your markers!

 

How to analyse film – Step-by-Step

In Part 1 of our Beginner’s Guide to Acing HSC English, we went through how to analyse English text.

However, now, let’s get into the gritty details of film and see how to analyse films for HSC English!

beginners-guide-to-acing-your-hsc-how-to-analyse-film-how-to-view-and-analyse-your-film-flow-chart-1

 

 

1. First viewing: Comprehend the big picture

We know. It’s tempting to just watch a film once and analyse it straight away.

However, your first viewing is very important.

You need to watch the film uninterrupted to get a holistic understanding of the whole film.

This means that you should not be taking notes, going on your phone or getting distracted in your 1st viewing.

 

Beginners-guide-to-acing-hsc-english-how-to-analyse-films-english-matrix-method-step-1-comprehension

A[InlineContentDownloadForm]t Matrix, students are taught the Matrix MethodTM to analyse texts and writing about them. This is our 1st step.

In this viewing, you need to:

  • Enjoy and appreciate the text
  • Form an opinion about the text
    • Did you like or dislike the text? Why?
    • Were you moved by the stories or challenged?
    • Did you feel any emotional or psychological responses?
  • Understand the plot and events
  • Know the main characters and their characterisation
  • Figure out the overall themes, ideas and genre

 

After you do this, feel free to do some research to get a better understanding of your text, and the context of the text & author.

english-guide-11-12-how-to-analyse-film-film

 

 

2. Make basic notes

Writing notes early is a good habit to get into.

When you write notes, you are not only consolidating your understanding of the film, but you are preparing yourself for your exams.

You cannot possibly remember all the techniques in your film 3 months after you watched it.

So, your notes will serve as a quick reminder of what you know about your text before your assessments!

This is why you need to make consistent notes throughout your whole analysis process.

 

Let’s see how we can write our notes after our first viewing.

  1. Write your initial thoughts and opinions about the film
  2. See how your film connects to your module
  3. Summarise your plot
  4. Write quick descriptions of the main/important characters
  5. Jot down the film’s themes and ideas

 

english-guide-11-12-how-to-analyse-film-notes

 

3. Second viewing: Finding meaning in the film

Now, it’s time to rewatch the film again! But this time, you can have your pen and paper with you.

In this step, you are seeing how the film creates meaning and developing your understanding of the film’s core ideas.

This means that you need to see how individual scenes fit into the wider narrative.

It is important that you look at the film’s holistic features and its key episodes in this step.

Note: You don’t need to unpack the film for techniques yet! However, if they do jump out at you, just jot them down! You don’t want to forget them.

 

Beginners-guide-to-acing-hsc-english-how-to-analyse-films-english-matrix-method-step-2-meaning

 

What are the holistic features? 

Holistic features are techniques that run across the whole film.

These include:

  • Motifs
  • Film style
  • Structure
  • Characterisation
  • And more!

 

What are the key episodes? 

Key episodes are important scenes in the film.

This means that they strongly convey an idea or is an important point in the plot.

 

So, what are we doing in our 2nd viewing? 

  • Identify and make a list of key episodes in the film
  • Consider how the different elements develop the plot
  • Identify recurring motifs, symbols and other holistic features
  • Figure out the characterisation and character arc of your important characters
  • Link your findings to the film’s themes, ideas and your module

 

Remember to jot down all of your findings in your notes!

english-guide-11-12-how-to-analyse-film-character

 

 

4. Third viewing: Unpack the details and look for examples

Don’t worry! You don’t need to watch the whole film again (unless you really want to).

In this viewing, we are watching your film’s key episodes and unpacking the gritty details!

This means that you need to look for specific examples, analyse them, see how it reflects the film’s themes and ideas and link it to your module.

 

Beginners-guide-to-acing-hsc-english-how-to-analyse-films-english-matrix-method-step-3-analysis

 

Remember, different techniques have different values.

You should always be looking for higher-order techniques and examples that strongly convey an idea.

 

For example, a simple crosscut between 2 scenes is a technique. But it doesn’t serve an important role in conveying the film’s message.

On the other hand, a series of quick crosscuts used with discordant non-diegetic music can become symbolic of the character’s deteriorating psyche.

As you can see, a technique can be used in different ways for different purposes. It is up to you to find these complex examples.

 

Note: A simple way to identify a higher-order technique or a strong example is seeing the complexity of its representation.

The more complex it is, the more effective it is in your essays!

 

So, what are we doing in our 3rd reading? 

  • Identify specific examples that strongly convey an idea – quotes, scenes, sound etc!
  • Analyse these examples – see how meaning is created
  • Link your findings to the film’s themes, ideas and your module
  • Rate the value of your example

 

Remember, feel free to do some research if you are curious about your text.

You should look for some scholarly articles and see if there are any interesting comments about your film.

english-guide-11-12-how-to-analyse-film-analysis

Let’s unpack our text and dig up hidden meanings!

 

 

5. Tabulate your notes

It’s exam time.

You don’t want to skip through your whole film to find techniques again.

You also don’t want to lose sections of your notes because you weren’t organised.

This is why you need to tabulate and organise all your notes into one safe place!

 

If your notes are typed, make sure that you have a copy on your USB and another on your laptop or computer.

If your notes are handwritten, keep them in a plastic sleeve or folder in a place that you will remember.

You don’t want to spend the night before your exam panicking because you lost your notes.

 

By now, you should have 3 sets of notes from your 3 viewings (and some class notes from your discussions about your film).

Collate all your findings into one document!

Remember, we are NOT asking you to rewrite your notes! We are asking you to organise them.

This means that you need to copy and paste or organise your sheets so that you have a table of examples for each main theme or idea.

For example,

Theme / Idea / CharacterExampleTechniqueAnalysisEffectResearch
What to doIdentify your theme, idea or characterFind all relevant and strong examples that support or relate to your selected theme/idea/character.

Screenshots or a description of what is happening is always a good idea.

Identify the technique(s) used in the exampleExplain how the technique creates meaning.Take note of how the example shapes or affects your understanding of the meaningIdentify what critics say about your example.

 

Organising your notes based on your film’s themes, ideas or characters will help you prepare for your assessments and exams.

This way, you can quickly identify relevant and effective examples that can support your arguments.

 

 

 

Types of film

You might have come across different types of films in your studies.

Each film type has different distinctive features that you need to know to effectively analyse them.

Remember, film type is NOT the same as genres. 

 

Let’s see what some common film types are:

Film typeWhat is it?Example
Short films A film that usually runs for less than 40 minutes.
  • The Funk Brother’s Looms
  • Disney Pixar’s Piper
Feature filmA film that is around 75 – 210 minutes long. They are usually standalone movies that are screened in cinemas or released direct to streaming (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+) or video-on-demand (like Google Play or the Apple Store)
  • Stephen Daldry, The Hours
  • Jane Campion, Bright Star
TV showsA series of episodic films, often with one major narrative running through them. Each episode tends to be released weekly.
  • Stranger Things
  • Mad Men
Documentary A non-fictional film that consists of documenting real-life events or people.
  • Agnes Varda, The Gleaners and I
  • March of the Penguins
Animated filmsFilms that are made of moving graphic drawings. Actors do not appear on the screen and act.
  • Disney Pixar’s Frozen
  • Dreamwork’s Shrek

 

 

Genres in film

It is very important that you know different genres of film and its conventions.

This is because certain genres use certain film techniques, narrative style, stock characters and even explore similar subject matters.

When you have a strong understanding of different genres, you can quickly identify these conventions and their purpose in the film.

This will help you create strong analyses.

 

What is a genre?

Genres are used to describe categories of film.

According to film theorist, Thomas Schatz, film genre is “genre incorporates a sort of narrative shorthand whereby significant dramatic conflicts can intesify and then be resolved through established patterns of action and by familiar chracter types” (Hollywood Genres).

In summary, films in the same genre deal with similar conflicts and are also made up of a series of repetition.

So, if you look carefully at films of the same genre, you will see different aspects being repeated in different ways.

Beginners-guide-to-acing-hsc-english-how-to-analyse-films-comedy-genre

 

 

So, what are some common film genres?

GenreWhat is it?Common film techniquesCharactersCommon subject matters / conflictExamples
Docu-dramaDocudrama is a re-enactment of a event or issue. It looks like a documentary but it is fictional.Interviews

Vox Populi

Archival footage

NarratorHistorical events

Social issues

Important person’s life

George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck

Al Pacino’s Looking For Richard

DramaDramas deal with real life issues and emotions with realistic characters. However, these themes can be dramatised.Over the shoulder shots

Modern, normal clothes appropriate to the story world’s context

Realistic characters

 

Real-life situations and conflicts

Intense social interactions

Stephen Daldry, The Hours

Joe Wright’s Atonement

Film noirFilm noir explores dark, pessimistic and fatalistic subjects.Chiaroscuro lighting

Cheeky dialogue

Omionous facial expressions

Flashbacks

Antihero

Femme fatale

Crime and investigation

Order vs disorder

Dark subject matter

Howard Hawk’s The Big Sleep

Michael Curtiz’s Mildred Pearce

Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat

HorrorHorror aims to create fear and terror in the audience.Extreme close-ups

Dutch / Cant angles

Point of view shots

Eerie sound effects

Monster

Evil / psychopathic characters

 

Paranormal subjects and events

Typical fears

The unexplained

John Carpenter’s The Thing

Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity 

John Leonetti’s Anabelle

MusicalsA genre of film where song sequences are used to propel the plot. Here, actors break into a dance and sing along.Music scores

Dance movements

Protagonist usually has a dream or big goalHappy subjects (tends to gloss over darker issues)

 

Randal Kleiser’s Grease

Disney’s Lion King

Period films / Historical dramaFilms that are set in a historical time or eventRealistic costume and props

Realistic and appropriate era settings

 –The plot tends to focus on love, relationships and family.Jane Campion’s Bright Star

Julian Fellowe’s Downton Abby

RomanceGenre of film that focuses on a love story between two charactersLow-key and soft lighting

Warmer hues

Everyday clothing that are appropriate to the film-world’s context

Two characters who fall in love, where one pursues the otherLove storyJosh Boone’s The Fault in Our Stars

Thea Sharrock’s Me Before You

Sci-fiA genre that deals with futuristic concepts about science and technologyLow-key lighting

Techno sound effects

Close up of technological / futuristic elements

Controlling goverment

Strong hero protagonist who searches for the truth

Space travel

Time travel

Post-apocalyptic world

Ridley Scott’s Alien

Wes Balls’ Maze Runner 

David Cronenberg’s EXistenZ

WesternWestern genre is usually set in the American WIld West during 1860s – 1910

Some Westerns transpose this to other settings, such as Samurai epics

Long shots of desert land or shoot-out

Stereotypical costumes (black vs white clothes)

Sound effects

 

Outlaws and cowboys

Traditional Western hero

Native Americans

Order vs disorder

Violence and crime

American myth and ideals

Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch

John Ford’s Stagecoach

James Mangold’s Logan

Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress (The basis for Star Wars)

ActionAction films tend to have fast-paced plots with violence and ‘action’Quick cuts

Extravagant visual effects

Slow-motion editing

Strong hero is often ex-military or someone with a questionable past

Stereoypical bad guy

Violence

[Car] Chases

Romantic subplot

Gary Scott Thompson and Vin Diesel’s  Fast and Furious 

Tony Gilroy’s Bourne Legacy

ComedyThis genre aims to make the audience laugh or find humourLow-key lighting

Lots of establishing shots

Montages

Main protagonist who is best friends with an awkward, dorky idiot character

Villain

Good vs bad

Friendship

Conflict

Phil Lord & Chris Miller’s 21 Jump Street

Todd Phillip’s The Hangover

Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator

 

Features unique to film

When you learn how to analyse film for HSC English, you MUST analyse film techniques.

You will get poor marks if you solely focus on narrative devices or literary techniques in dialogue.

Instead, you need to show that you understand how your form and media conveys meaning.

We have an extended list of film techhniques and examples in our Film Techniques Toolkit.

Let’s quickly go through the common and important techniques that you must know to analyse films.

 

Camera Angle

Camera Angle refers to the tilt or direction of the camera in relation to the scene and characters.

Let’s see the different types of angles used in film:

  • Low angle: The camera is tilted upwards toward the subject. It establishes the subject as powerful.
  • Eye-level: Subject’s eyeline matches the audience’s. This allows audiences to get personal with the character.
  • High level: The camera is tilted downwards toward the subject. It makes the subject seem vulnerable and small.
  • Worm’s eye: From the position of a worm (very low). It presents the subject as very large/powerful.
  • Canted / Dutch angle: The camera is tilted to the side. It creases a sense of unease and tension.
  • Bird’s eye: The camera is directly above the subject and looks down. It establishes the shot, scene and character positions.

 

 

Analyse a Cinematic Text Angle Types

 

 

Actions / Gestures / Facial expression

The actor’s body language, gestures and facial expression play a large role in conveying meaning.

It can set the mood, atmosphere or tone of the scene.

However, it is important to note that these techniques are often not complex enough to support a whole argument.

Instead, you want to think about how these work together, perhaps with dialogue, to develop meaning. For example, consider this well-known clip from Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver starring Robert De Niro:

 

It is the combination of actions, gestures, facial expressions and dialogue that characterise Travis Bickle as a troubled person.

So, when you are learning how to analyse films for HSC English, only use these techniques to support another example.

 

Colour

Colour is very important because it helps the filmmaker convey a particular mood or tone.

This means that you have to figure out why the composer chose a particular colour palette, and which emotions are associated with it.

For example, red creates a warm and ferocious atmosphere that indicates danger.

Whereas, blue is cold and isolating.

Consider these stills:

Beginners-guide-to-acing-hsc-english-how-to-analyse-films-colour-red

Red creates a sense of danger.

Beginners-guide-to-acing-hsc-english-how-to-analyse-films-colour-blue

Blue seems very sad and lonely.

 

You can also go into more depth and analyse the purpose of the film’s saturation or hue.

 

 

Costume

A costume doesn’t need to be extravagant and fancy. In film, a costume is what the character is wearing.

Sometimes, characters have costumes that are symbolic of their personality or what is happening in the film.

For example, bad characters tend to wear black whereas good characters tend to wear white.

 

 

Editing: Cuts and transitions

Cuts refer to how a shot moves from on shot into the next shot. Transition refers to how a scene moves into the next scene.

Cuts and transition are used to depict how visual and aural elements are edited together and combined to make the film flow (or not flow).

 

Let’s take a look at different types of film cuts: 

  • Crosscut: Alternating shots from different sequences
  • Jumpcut: When the filmmaker cuts to a different time on the same shot. Usually used in montage sequences
  • Match cuts: A cut between two shots that are very visually or verbally similar

 

Now, let’s see different film transitions:

  • Fade in: Begins with a black screen before an image slowly appears on the screen
  • Fade out: When the shot slowly disappears into a black screen.
  • Wipes: A shot is replaced by another shot in a ‘wipe’ motion
  • Dissolve: An overlay where the first shot slowly disappears as the second shot strengthens invisibility.

 

Watch this video to see these film cuts and transitions in action:

 

 

Dialogue

We analyse dialogue separately from sound because it contains important information about the plot, themes and characters.

You can analyse literary techniques in dialogue, like repetition, metaphor, anaphora and lots more!

However, you can analyse dialogue from a filmic perspective too!

Here are some elements that you can look at to analyse dialogue:

  • Vernacular: Refers to the character’s language and word choices. It usually indicates their age, status, culture and context.
  • Accent: This usually represents the character’s background and where a film is set
  • Tone: This suggests a character’s emotion or mood
  • Volume: This refers to how loud or soft a character’s dialogue is. It usually represents the character’s personality or mood/
  • Pacing: This refers to the speed that the character is speaking in.
  • Intonation: This refers to the rise and fall of the character’s pitch.

 

Lighting

Lighting refers to how much light is in a scene and its angle on the subject.

Filmmakers control lighting to create a certain atmosphere or tone.

For example, if we use low-key lighting on a man’s neutral facial expression, he will seem like a murderer. Whereas, if we use fill lighting on this same face, then it looks like a passport photo.

As such, lighting plays a very large role in creating and conveying meaning.

 

Here are different lighting types that are commonly used in films:

Lighting TypeDefineExample
Low-key lightingCreates a high contrast between shadow and lightenglish-guide-year-11-12-how-to-analyse-film-lighting
High-key lightingCreates a low contrast between shadow and light; softBeginners-guide-to-acing-hsc-english-how-to-analyse-films-high-keylighting-1
Fill lightingLess intense light used to eliminate shadows and soften the imageBeginners-guide-to-acing-hsc-english-how-to-analyse-films-fill-lighting
Soft lightDiffused and ‘soft’ lookBeginners-guide-to-acing-hsc-english-how-to-analyse-soft-lighting
Hard lightClear defined shadows, crisp textures, sharp edgesBeginners-guide-to-acing-hsc-english-how-to-analyse-films-hard-lighting
Frontal lightingLight shining in front of the subject; eliminates shadowsBeginners-guide-to-acing-hsc-english-how-to-analyse-films-frontal-lighting
Side lightLight shone on the side of a subject. It sculpts the character’s featureshow-to-analyse-film-11-12-side-lighting
BacklightingLight shone from behind the subject. It creates shadowsBeginners-guide-to-acing-hsc-english-how-to-analyse-films-back-lighting
UnderlightingLight shone from below the subject. This distorts featuresBeginners-guide-to-acing-hsc-english-how-to-analyse-films-under-lighting
Top lightingLight that is shone from directly above the subject. This creates a glamorous imageBeginners-guide-to-acing-hsc-english-how-to-analyse-films-top-lighting

 

 

Mise-en Scene

Mise en Scene refers to how the composer stages and presents the film for the camera.

They manipulate different elements to create a certain atmosphere and subsequently, meaning.

The elements of mise-en-scene include:

  • Setting
  • Props
  • Costume and make-up
  • Lighting
  • Staging / Blocking

When you analyse mise-en-scene, you need to also analyse the elements of mise-en-scene.

 

Shots

Shots refer to the distance of the camera in relation to the subject or scene.

An easy way to determine the shot type is by seeing how a human is framed in the scene.

However, if there are no humans in the shot, don’t fear! You can always picture a human in your frame, relative to the scene!

 

Let’s take a look at different shot types:

  • Extreme long shot (LS): Human subject is positioned extremely far from the camera
  • Long shot (LS): Frames the human from head to toe
  • Medium long shot (MLS): Frames the human from the knees up
  • Medium shot (MS): Frames human from the knee up
  • Medium close up (MCU): Frames human from mid-chest up
  • Close up (CU): Frames the human’s face from mid-neck upwards
  • Super close up (SCU): Frames a part of the human’s face
  • Extreme close up (XCU): Frames a particular facial feature, like the eyes
Analyse a Cinematic Text Shot Types

 

 

Sound

The sound of the film can help set the mood, tone and atmosphere of the film.

Sound can be divided into:

  • Diegetic: Diegetic sound refers to any sound that can be heard in the world of the film
  • Non-diegetic: Non-diegetic refers to any sound that only the audience can hear. These are sounds like orchestral soundtracks that add a dramatic effect to the film.

 

There are also different types of sounds that are used in films:

  • Sound effects
  • Music
  • Dialogue
  • Silence
  • Voice-over.

© Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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