Film ReelBy utilizing various structural techniques, filmmakers evoke different feelings and give more depth to the content. Film’s structural elements tone the content in different ways. Content proves unappealing and ineffective without proper structure. Structure evokes emotion and gives a deeper understanding of the content by revealing, or not revealing, certain scene elements.

The director creates the scene with color, light, and camera angle/position to best evoke the feeling he seeks. “Structural design results from a filmmaker’s inevitable need to choose one or more sets of techniques and tools, based on an organizing design concept” (Prince, p.39). A low camera angle causes the characters to appear monumental. Conversely, a high camera angle gives the impression the character’s significance. These techniques often correspond with plot elements.

Though possible to alter color in post-production, often times elements are introduced into a scene to evoke certain emotions. Structural elements can even take on different meanings within the same movie. In Zhang Yimou‘s Raise the Red Lantern, housekeepers raise red lanterns each night outside the concubine’s house that the master will sleep with. In the beginning, red means passion and success. However, as the movie progresses, the color completely changes meaning. Red signals deception and failure.

Film lighting typically emulates a sort of realism, in the Hollywood sense. The ability to see clearly during the night or lack of any type of shadow exemplifies the ideal form of realism. Yet, some movies can even be characterized by their lighting. For instance, film noir’s whole premise involves using high contrast and very little grays. This style delivers the bare minimum visual information needed to understand the content. Using traditional 3-point lighting for film noir would not evoke the same feeling of mystery and suspense.

Editing provides a crucial tool for assisting the viewer understand the content as well as setting the pace. In film, presentation comes first. A scene’s content can be interpreted completely differently depending on presentation. In addition to space, editing also “is an art of time” (Prince, p.10). Cutting between quick shots will increase the scene’s internal structural time. A director must evaluate the content and audience and determine an appropriate pace. To draw out emotions, dramatic films utilize a slower pace, with much fewer cuts in a given scene. In comparison, action movies have a faster pace. These conventions allow audiences to choose a movie with certain expectations about the movie’s pace.

Many times directors have an overall “look” in mind when starting a movie. Filmmakers have infinite ways to structure a scene. Narrowing the options and knowing when to apply certain techniques in filmmaking is like painting a picture. By simply changing the film stock, Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan captures a completely different look and feel than Schindler’s List despite the fact that they’re both WWII films. The use of black and white in Schindler’s List gave it a more historical and dramatic feeling of the Holocaust. In comparison, Saving Private Ryan is in color, but by preflashing the negative and using Technicolor’s ENR process to preserve a part of the silver emulsion of the film, it achieves more vivid patterns and heightened physical effects for war scenes. (Prince, p.37)

Prince, Stephen R. Movies and Meaning: an Introduction to Film. 3rd ed. Allyn & Bacon, 2003.

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4 Responses to “Importance of Structure in Film”  

  1. 1 Grant Pitel

    The title of your article is the importance of structure in film. However, without properly defining what structure in film is and it’s contributing items, the article itself lacks structure. I recommend starting the article with its definition in the first paragraph.

  2. 2 Adam Pitel

    Structure is how the scene is composed with color, light, camera angle/position, etc. You say it lacks definition when basically the entire article is a definition of the different facets composing film structure.

  3. 3 Grant Pitel

    If you are interested in improving the article we can talk about it on the phone.

  4. 4 Adam Pitel

    Thems fightin words.

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