The Film Techniques Toolkit

Love film but don't know how to analyse or discuss it? In this Guide, we give you the toolkit to identify and discuss those must know film techniques.

film-techniques-how-to-analyse-a-cinematic-text

All about the Film Techniques Toolkit

Films take us on journeys; we become immersed in worlds beyond our own. The best films lead us to ask questions about our world as well as ourselves. However, sometimes it can be difficult to translate our reactions to film into meaningful English analysis. The table below provides some of the key film techniques for writing about cinematic texts.

Go to technique:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

Important Film Techniques

There are a huge number of techniques that are used in films to convey meaning. Below are some of the must-know techniques that are included in the glossaries of Matrix English Theory Books.

Angles

Camera angles refer to the tilt of the camera in relation to the scene and the characters. Unusual camera angles can emphasise an action sequence, disorientate the audience, and suggest the relationship between characters.

The main angles are:

  • Low – Establishes the power of the character or object
  • Eye-Level – Allows the audience to get personal with the character(s)
  • High – Presents the subject as vulnerable or lacking in power
  • Worm’s Eye – Presents the figure as very large and/or powerful
  • Canted (also known as a Dutch Angle)- Develops psychological unease or tension.
  • Bird’s Eye – Often used to establish a shot and characters’ relationship to it
Analyse a Cinematic Text Angle Types

Examples of various shot angles

Bridging Shot

A shot that marks the passage of time in a film. This is sometimes a series of newspaper headlines, a calendar, tress going through seasonal changes, or the hands turning on a clock.

guides-english-film-techniques-toolkit-bridging-shot-candle

Animated GIF: This bridging shot marks the passing of evening. Note the fast turning of the clock hands and rapid melting of the candle.

 

Colour

Colour, especially the choice of colour palette or scheme, can reflect the mood of the piece. Colour in a scene can also be enhanced through lighting.

For example, in The Great Gatsby (2013), the use of a vibrant colour scheme reflects the opulent lifestyle of New York elites in the 1920s.

You can learn more about colour symbolism at Studio Binder.

Cinematic-Techniques-Colour

Colour Palette Analysis by Movies in Color of Baz Lurman’s The Great Gatsby (Warner Bros. 2013), Cinematographer: Simon Duggan

Cucoloris

Cucoloris is a lighting technique where an object is placed between the light source and the subject in order to create a patterned shadow. A staple of film noir.

Techniques-for-Analysing-cinematic-texts-cucloris

Filter used for Cucloris. Image and device by Henry Nelson.

Cross-Cutting

Is an editing technique where actions are established as occurring at the same time. The camera will cut away from one action to another action elsewhere to suggest these things are occurring at the same moment.

Dialogue

A conversation between two characters is called dialogue. Written by scriptwriters to convey the film’s plot, dialogue is also useful in conveying character.

Dissolve

A transition that moves between one shot and another by overlaying one shot and fading the first image out while strengthening the second shot. This can denote daydreams, memories, the passing of time, or signify phone conversations and long-distance communication.

Consider this example from Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice (2014):

guides-english-film-techniques-toolkit-cross-dissolve-inherent-vice

Animated GIF: In this dissolve, we are taken to one of Larry “Doc” Sportello’s memories that are triggered during a phone call.

Dolly Shot

A dolly is a wheeled cart that the camera and operator are seated on. A dolly shot is a shot where the dolly is pushed along to move with the action. This is similar to a tracking shot, but without the tracks so that the camera can have a broader range of motion.

The video below discusses the difference between dolly shots and zooms and how they can be used (or even combined) to create effects and meaning.

Editing Sequence

The order of each shot and how they have been put together to create a scene. This is usually based upon the storyboard used by the director.

However, some directors such as Werner Herzog refused to use storyboards, and shoot many scenes which they edit together by trial and error.

Editing Wipes

In editing, wipes are used to transition between scenes in a variety of ways rather than just cutting. Types of wipes include:

  • Horizontal wipe – the wipe moves horizontally across the screen
  • Vertical wipe – The wipe moves vertically across the screen
  • Diagonal wipe – The wipe moves diagonally across the screen
  • Star wipe – The wipe is the shape of an expanding star to demonstrate something special happening
  • Heart Wipe – The wipe takes the shape of a heart expanding or contracting to illustrate romance or friendship
  • Clock Wipe – The wipe is a circular motion like a clock arm to illustrate the passage of time
  • Matrix wipe – a patterned transition between scenes

Establishing Shot

A type of extreme long-shot that establish the context – time and setting – of a scene or film. Often establishing shots use famous landmarks or places, like the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Eyeline Match

A type of cut where the shot of a character looking at something cuts to a shot of the thing they were looking at the same level. This type of cut is used to show the audience what they were looking at.

Fade In/Out

An editing technique where the shot fades out from one shot going to black before fading into a new shot.

Flashback

Images that refer to previous events in the characters` lives. Flashbacks can be used to foreshadow future events.

Intertitle

Text which is printed on a background and placed between filmed scenes through editing. In silent films, intertitles can convey dialogue and exposition.

how-to-analyse-cinematic-text-intertitle

Intertitle from Metropolis Dir. Fritz Lang (1927)

Iris

Similar to other editing wipes, this is a type of transition where the screen irises closed around a particular thing on screen. These can be used to signify daydreams, provide a dramatic transition, or signify the end of a scene.

 

Jump Cut

A cut that moves fractionally forward in time. These shots focus on the same subject but either use a different angle or have the subject in a different position to illustrate that time has moved forward in time. Jump cuts are usually used to show time passing forward.

Lighting

Lighting contributes to the mood of a film and suggests interpretations of a character. Are they good? Are they nefarious?

Low key lighting emphasises the shadows in a shot, while lighting from above or below can suggest that a character possesses sinister qualities.

Analyse a Cinematic Text lighting from below

An example of a sinister cat lit from below.

 

Analyse a Cinematic Text Low Key lighting

An example of shadows from Low Key Lighting.

Long Take

Also called a sequence shot (and occasionally referred to as a one-shot)

Match Cut

Jumps from one shot to another similar shot that matches the composition of the first shot.

Mise en scène

Mise en scène translates as ‘what is put into a scene’. This French expression refers to the composition of a scene, including placement of characters, costume, makeup and setting.

Montage

A montage is a type of editing sequence where a series of shots play rapidly to create a narrative. Often a montage will be accompanied by a unifying piece of music to convey the dominant mood connected with the sequence.

Analyse a Cinematic Text Montage

Animated GIF: A montage from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927)

Mood

Mood refers to the feelings suggested by the combination of all the elements on the screen and the accompanying sound. Another way to refer to the mood is to discuss atmosphere.

Music

Music can convey the theme, mood and atmosphere. There are different types of music in films.

  • The score is extra-diegetic music composed for the film, designed to evoke the film’s desired mood for the audience.
  • Music heard by the characters in the film is called diegetic music.

Over the Shoulder (OTS)

A type of sequence shot or tracking shot where the camera follows a character by following them and shooting over their shoulder. Like a Point of View shot, an over the shoulder shot focalises (that is, focuses in on) on the characters experience.

One-Shot

Also referred to as a Long Take or Sequence Shot. A one-shot is actually a type of long-take or sequence shot where the effect of being one shot is created through editing. For example, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s 2014 film, Birdman uses careful editing to give the appearance of a single take.

In some cases, a one-shot is used to refer to whole films made in one take, such as the 2015 film German film, Victoria.

Panning Shot

A shot where the camera swivels horizontally around a fixed point to follow the subject.

Point Of View Shot (POV)

A shot that is taken from a character’s point of view, like a first-person video game. Point of View shots focalise (that is, focus in on) a character’s experience.

Rack Shot

A shot where the camera shifts the focus while holding the same shot to bring another object into focus. Rack shots change the depth of the shot.

The example below is from the TV series Sherlock. In it, the focus shifts from Sherlock to Watson.

guides-english-film-techniques-toolkit-rack-shot-sherlock

Animated GIF: In this rack shot, the focus shifts from Sherlock in the foreground to Watson in the background.

Scene

A unit of narrative used to divide up a dramatic text or film. A scene usually takes place in a single location and focuses on a single action in one moment of varying length.

Setting

The place where the action of the film occurs.

Sequence Shot

A sequence shot is a single long take shows a series of actions happening one after another within the same shot. Sequence shots are occasionally called long takes and one-shots. Sequence shots are very hard to do and can develop quite a lot of meaning.

A famous example is Martin Scorses’s Copacabana shot from his 1990 film, Goodfellas.

This shot illustrates the Henry Hills’ wealth and connections while he shows off to his date. This take combines over the shoulder and point of view perspectives.

Shot type

Shot types indicate how close or far the camera is from the characters. Shot types range from Extreme Long Shot (XLS), where the characters may be very small and embedded in a landscape, to Extreme Close Up (XCU), where part of the character’s face makes up the whole shot.

The shots are:

  • Extreme Long Shot (XLS)
  • Long Shot (LS)
  • Medium Long Shot (MLS)
  • Medium Shot (MS)
  • Medium Close Up (MCU)
  • Close Up (CU)
  • Super Close Up (SCU)
  • Extreme Close Up (XCU)

 

Analyse a Cinematic Text Shot Types

Image: Examples of various shot types

Sound

The sound of a film helps to create atmosphere – this can include:

Like music, sound can be divided into:

  • Diegetic: occurring in the world of the film
  • Extra-diegetic (occurring outside the world of the film)

Symbolism

An object used to suggest ideas in addition to, or beyond, their literal sense. For example, the glass slipper in Cinderella symbolises the opportunity that Cinderella has to live a different life. Watch films carefully to spot symbols and their potential meaning to the plot. If a symbol recurs throughout the film it is a motif.

Analyse a-Cinematic-Text-Symbolism

Animated GIF: This GIF is from Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999). The dancing plastic bag symbolises how beauty is found in things that are often discarded. The bag is rubbish to many, but its dance in the wind is beautiful.

Steady Cam

A type of camera that is used in action sequences. A steady cam rig allows the camera to be worn by the operator so they can follow an action sequence without the shot become overly jerky.

Transitions

A way to transition between shots. Transitions involve cuts, fades, and wipes (see above for specific definitions).

This is a good video that explains these various techniques.

Tilt

When the camera tilts in shot to show the subject away from the horizontal axis.

Title Card

See intertitle

Tracking Shot

A shot that follows a subject as they move.

Two Shot

A shot that features two characters and is used to establish or develop their relationship.

Zoom

The camera zooms in or out to focus on an object or to show how far away it is. Zooms can be used for dramatic effect or can be used to show objects in relation to each other for scale.

See Dolly Shot above for a video discussing the difference between Zooms and Dolly shots.

 

Need more help with textual analysis?

Use the Matrix Textual Analysis Planner to Analyse your English texts and produce insightful notes for your next assessment task. Download your FREE Textual Analysis Planner.

Year 11 English Textual Analysis Planner

 

© Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au, 2018. 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.

 

Get free study tips and resources delivered to your inbox.

Join 27,119 students who already have a head start.