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Film Studies

film studies research guide



  • visual universe of the film
  • what is literally presented on-screen.  
  • source of mood and meaning
  • and this is put into place with setting, lighting, costume/make-up, acting.

Decor/Setting -  the objects contained in and the setting of a scene

Lighting - creates the way we see but also defines what we see.  

3 point lighting the standard lighting scheme for classical narrative cinema. In order to model an actor's face (or another object) with a sense of depth, light from three directions is used. A backlight picks out the subject from its background, a bright key light highlights the object and a fill light from the opposite side ensures that the key light casts only faint shadows.

  • natural light
  • low key lighting (noir, horror films)
  • hard-key lighting (realistic light)



Quality - As the critics at Cahiers du cinéma maintained, the "how" is as important as the "what" in the cinema. The look of an image, its balance of dark and light, the depth of the space in focus, the relation of background and foreground, etc. all affect the reception of the image. (Yale U, Film Analysis Guide)

Color - color is also used to create aesthetic patterns and to establish character or emotion in narrative cinema.

  • Contrast - The ratio of dark to light in an image.
  • Deep Focus - requires that elements at very different depths of the image both be in focus
  • Shallow Focus - A restricted depth of field, which keeps only one plane in sharp focus;
  • Depth of Field - depth of field refers to the extent to which the space represented is in focus

Framing -  The edges of the image create a "frame" that includes or excludes aspects of what occurs in front of the camera

  • Camera angle is often used to suggest either vulnerability or power.
  • Camera level is used to signify sympathy for characters who occupy particular levels in the image, or just to create pleasurable compositions
  • Following Shot - framing that shifts to keep a moving figure on-screen
  • use:  panning, tracking, tilting or craning
  • point of view shot - A shot taken with the camera placed approximately where the character's eyes would be, showing what the character would see; usually cut in before or after a shot of the character looking

Scale -  Shot scale can foster intimacy with a character, or conversely, it can swallow the character in its environment.

  • Extreme Long Shot - the scale of the object shown is very small; a building, landscape, or crowd of people will fill the screen.
  • Long Shot - A framing in which the scale of the object shown is small; a standing human figure would appear nearly the height of the screen. It makes for a relatively stable shot that can accomodate movement without reframing. 
  • Medium long shot, medium close-up, clse up, extreme close-up

Movement - There are many ways to move a camera: in fluid long takes, rapid and confusing motions, etc. that establish the rhythm and point of view of a scene.

  • Crane Shot, Handheld Camera, Steadycam, Panning (horizontal), Tilt (vertical), 
  • Tracking Shot -  a tracking shot physically accompanies the entire range of movement.


The shot is defined by editing but editing also works to join shots together. There are many ways of effecting that transition, some more evident than others. In the analytical tradition, editing serves to establish space and lead the viewer to the most salient aspects of a scene. In the classical continuity style, editing techniques avoid drawing attention to themselves.

  • Establishing Shot - A shot, usually involving a distant framing, that shows the spatial relations among the important figures, objects, and setting in a scene. Usually, the first few shots in a scene are establishing shots, as they introduces us to a location and the space relationships inside it.
  • Shot/Reverse Shot:  Two or more shots edited together that alternate characters, typically in a conversation situation. In continuity editing, characters in one framing usually look left, in the other framing, right. Over-the-shoulder framings are common in shot/reverse-shot editing. Shot / reverse shots are one of the most firmly established conventions in cinema, and they are usually linked through the equally persuasive eyeline matches. 
  • Long Take (Plan-Sequence) -A shot that continues for an unusually lengthy time before the transition to the next shot. The average lenght per shot differs greatly for different times and places, but most contemporary films tend to have faster editing rates. In general lines, any shot above one minute can be considered a long take. 
  • Continuity Editing - A system of cutting to maintain continuous and clear narrative action. Continuity editing relies upon matching screen direction, position, and temporal relations from shot to shot. The film supports the viewer's assumption that space and time are contiguous between successive shots. Also, the diegesis is more readily understood when directions on the screen match directions in the world of the film. 



Sound in the cinema does not necessarily match the image, nor does it have to be continuous. The sound bridge is used to ease the transition between shots in the continuity style. Sound can also be used to reintroduce events from earlier in the diegesis. Especially since the introduction of magnetic tape recording after WWII, the possibilities of sound manipulation and layering have increased tremendously. 

  • Sound Bridge - Sound bridges can lead in or out of a scene. They can occur at the beginning of one scene when the sound from the previous scene carries over briefly before the sound from the new scene begins. 
  • Source - Most basically, this category refers to the place of a sound in relation to the frame and to the world of the film. A sound can be onscreen or offscreen, diegetic or nondiegetic (including voice over), it can be recorded separately from the image or at the moment of filming. Sound source depends on numerous technical, economic, and aesthetic considerations, each of which can affect the final significance of a film.
  • Diegetic/Non-Diegetic - Any voice, musical passage, or sound effect presented as originating froma source within the film's world is diegetic. If it originates outside the film (as most background music) then it is non-diegetic.