Pay special attention to how the relationship between shots works to communicate narrative and thematic
meaning. To that end, be sure to do a shot breakdown of at least part of a given scene so you can describe
how specific shots are set-up and composed to communicate such meaning in the scene through the
interior lives of the characters — this will include the relationship of the characters to each other, through
their arrangement together and with their environment, as well as in relationship to the camera and the
perspective of the viewer.
(Note: You don’t need to answer all of the following suggested questions, but here are some specific ideas
How do the compositional choices by the director delineate relationships between characters and their
states of mind within a scene? Think back to the large desk separating the two characters in the scene
from Little Caesar, or the way that young Charlie is framed in the window in the center of the image while
playing in the snow outside during the scene from Citizen Kane. What do the arrangement and position of
characters and objects in the frame communicate about their importance to one another and to us as the
audience? Are characters balanced in the frame or are they shown unequally, and what does this indicate
about power in the scene? And what of the lighting contrast and color palate? How do those elements work
to convey thematic meaning?
Pay particular attention to the camera choices the director makes — the angle of shots and the distance of
characters and objects from the camera, including whether characters are framed alone or together and
their arrangement in the frame, whether viewed from above or below or straight on, captured in a distant
long shot or close-up, a canted frame, with soft or sharp focus, diffuse light or hard shadows. Is there a
constancy to how characters are portrayed in the frame, such as from a particular angle or with particular
lighting, or does this depend on the relationship between the characters from scene to scene? Why might
the director make a particular choice in the framing of a character, or develop any variations for a given
Are there any POVs in the scene that convey the subjective view of a character? How does such a choice
create an emotional connection to the character or specific insight into the character’s state of mind to aid
your narrative experience of the film,? In what other ways does the director convey this kind of individual
subjectivity? Consider the use of light and color in this way.
Finally, what about camera movement? This can be key to the creation of meaning and the emotional and
thematic energy of a film. Is the camera typically static, or does it move with any characters within the
scene? Does the camera ever move on its own, guiding us through the world of the film? What do you think
motivates the movement of the camera at such times and how might such independent movement suggest
the presence of an omniscient cinematic narrator? Does the camera move for all characters, or just for
some? And does it move in the same way for each character, or in particular ways for specific characters?
What do these camera movements communicate about the relationship between the characters in a given
scene, and do any camera movements ever convey dramatic or thematic meaning to effect the way we
experience the film?
This Assignment will help you unlock the basic language and grammar of how the camera is used in a film
so that you can decode its power as a cinematic tool for influencing the narrative.