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Mise-en-scène (French: [mi.z‿ɑ̃.sɛn]; English: "placing on stage" or "what is put into the scene") is the stage design and arrangement of actors in scenes for a theatre or film production,[1] both in visual arts through storyboarding, visual theme, and cinematography, and in narrative storytelling through direction. The term is also commonly used to refer to single scenes that are representative of a film. Mise-en-scène has been called film criticism's "grand undefined term."[2] It has been criticized for its focus on the dramatic design aspects rather than the plot itself, as those who utilize mise-en-scène tend to look at what is "put before the camera," rather than the story.[3] The use of mise-en-scène is significant as it allows the director to convey messages to the viewer through what is placed in the scene, not just the content of the scene. Mise-en-scène allows the director to not only convey his message but also to implement staples and his aesthetic. With that, each director has his sort of mise-en-scène that is singled out for that one person. All in all, mise-en-scène refers to everything in front of the camera, including the set design, lighting, and actors. Mise en scene in the film is the overall effect of how it all comes together for the audience.

Definition in film studies[edit]

The distinctive mise-en-scène of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Germany, 1920) features jagged architecture.

When applied to the cinema, mise-en-scène refers to everything that appears before the camera and its arrangement—composition, sets, props, actors, costumes, and lighting.[4] The various elements of design help express a film's vision by generating a sense of time and space, as well as setting a mood, and sometimes suggesting a character's state of mind, whether that be happy with bright colors or sad with gloom and darker colors. [5] Mise-en-scène also includes the composition, which consists of the positioning and movement of actors, as well as objects, in the shot.[5] These are all the areas overseen by the director. One of the most important people that collaborate with the director is the production designer.[5] The directors, the cast, and the workers who control decorations and sound all have input on the Mise-en-scène and come together to make sure it fits in perfectly with the film.' a considerable amount of time before the actual photography even begins.[6] The production designer is generally responsible for the look of the movie, leading various departments that are in charge of individual sets, locations, props, and costumes, among other things.[5] André Bazin, a French film critic and film theorist, describes the mise-en-scène aesthetic as emphasizing choreographed movement within the scene rather than through editing.[6]

Because of its relationship to shot blocking, mise-en-scène is also a term sometimes used among professional screenwriters to indicate descriptive (action) paragraphs between the dialog.[7]

Key aspects[edit]

Set design[edit]

Mise en scène by Constant Puyo

An important element of "putting in the scene" is set design—the setting of a scene and the objects (props) visible in a scene.[8] Set design can be used to amplify character emotion or the dominant mood, which has physical, social, psychological, emotional, economic, and cultural significance in the film. Set design is often found to sway many themes or parts of a film. [5] One of the most important decisions made by the production designer and director is deciding whether to shoot on location or set. The main distinction between the two is that décor and props must be taken into consideration when shooting on set. However, shooting on set is more commonly done than shooting on location as a result of it proving to be more cost-effective. For example, in a set, you can create the entire background and arrange the props within it. On the other hand, with a setting, there is a natural background that you must film around. In that, if there is a boulder, barn, or field in the back of the film you don't wish to be there, you must work around it and find a way for it to intertwine. The most important part to set design is the set designer. This is somebody who follows the script carefully and creates a complex theatrical show. They do this by, creating space, mood, and character in just one setting. [5]


The intensity, direction, and quality of lighting can influence an audience's understanding of characters, actions, themes, and mood.[9][6] Light (and shade) can emphasize texture, shape, distance, mood, time of day, season, and glamour; it affects the way colors are rendered, both in terms of hue and depth, and can focus attention on particular elements of the composition. Highlights, for example, call attention to shapes and textures, while shadows often conceal things, creating a sense of mystery or fear.[5] For this reason, lighting must be thoroughly planned to ensure its desired effect on an audience. Cinematographers are a large part of this process, as they coordinate the camera and the lighting.[5] Lighting also plays a huge role because, it is the last factor of mise-en-scène that ties together texture, setting, and characters. This is so because, the light directs each scene, incorporating what the viewers should be looking at and focusing their attention on.


The representation of space affects the reading of a film.[10] Depth, proximity, size, and proportions of the places and objects in a film can be manipulated through camera placement and lenses, lighting, set design, effectively determining mood or relationships between elements in the story world. Space is the component of mise-en-scène that is often most looked over and doesn't get the attention it deserves. This is so because space adjusts whether the screen is too compact or on the contrary if it is empty. And all these factors often correlate to themes, characters' emotions, or major events. For example, a bland and empty scene may represent peace and an empty mind.


Composition is the organization of objects, actors and space within the frame. One of the most important concepts with the regard to the composition of a film is maintaining a balance of symmetry.[6] This refers to having an equal distribution of light, colour, and objects and/or figures in a shot. This is an idea implemented into many films because of how it pleases the eye. When things are aligned perfectly it creates an aesthetic like no other. Symmetry isn't just objects aligned though, it can also be an equal distribution of light, color, and figures in a shot. On the contrary, the use of misalignment is used very often too in cinema. This form of shooting can emphasize certain portions of the screen and distract the viewers from the background. This works because audiences are more inclined to pay attention to something off balance, as it may seem abnormal. Directors deliberately compose the frame in a way that controlsthe the narrative and induces viewers to pay attention to certain characters or points of interest in a scene.


The costume simply refers to the clothes that characters wear. Using certain colors or designs, costumes in narrative cinema are used to signify characters or to make clear distinctions between characters.[11] Although some people view costumes as a subtle component of Mise-en-scène, it is one of the primary reasons a film looks so good, there are even Oscars awards for best costume designs. Designers often use specific colors to enable emotions from the actors or the viewers, whether that be red to draw attention or light vs dark colors. Often, designs are used to attract the attention of the audience. The same goes with makeup when an actor or actress is seen as unrecognizable because of the makeup job that leaves a note in the viewer's mind. Costumes communicate the details of a character's personality to the audience and help actors transform into new and believable people on screen.

Makeup and hairstyles[edit]

While makeup and hairstyles often find themselves included in costumes and design, they indeed are their own thing. This is so because, one can create an outfit for characters, yet the makeup can take hours to apply every day. Actors are known to wake up 3 hours before shooting just to get the makeup applied, often it is even full body makeup.Makeup and hairstyles establish periods, reveal character traits, and signal changes in character.[12]


There is enormous historical and cultural variation in performance styles in the cinema. In the early years of cinema, stage acting was difficult to differentiate from film acting, as most film actors had previously been stage actors and therefore knew no other method of acting.[6] Eventually, early melodramatic styles, clearly indebted to 19th-century theater, gave way in Western cinema to a relatively naturalistic style. This more naturalistic style of acting is largely influenced by Konstantin Stanislavski's theory of method acting, which involves the actor fully immersing themselves in their character.[6][13] Acting is the performing art in which movement, gesture, and intonation are used to realize a fictional character for the stage, for motion pictures, or on television. This ties to Mise en scène because, the acting must align with the setting, themes, and all factors of the film so that the film is perfect.


It is a physical analog medium used for recording images made from celluloid and coated with gelatin emulsion. Light captures an image onto the film. Which is then later developed under a specific chemical process and produces the images.

Film stock is the choice of black and white or color, fine-grain or grainy.[14]

Aspect ratio[edit]

Aspect ratio is the relation of the width of the rectangular image to its height. Each aspect ratio yields a different way of looking at the world and is basic to the expressive meaning of the film. Essentially, it describes an image's shape. [15]: pp.42–44  Each aspect ratio yields a different way of looking at the world and is basic to the expressive meaning of the film.

Actor blocking[edit]

In theatre, blocking is the precise staging of actors in order to facilitate the performance of a play, ballet, film or opera. Both 'blocking' and 'blocks' we're applied were applied to stage and theatre as early as 1961. It is a set of instructions incorporated by the director to make sure the acting falls into line with all other aspects of the film. In contemporary theatre, the director usually determines blocking during the rehearsal, telling actors where they should stand for the proper dramatic effect, ensure sight lines for the audience and work with the lighting design of the scene.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "mise-en-scène". merriam-webster.com. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved April 20, 2020.
  2. ^ Brian Henderson, "The Long Take," in Movies and Methods: An Anthology, ed. Bill Nichols (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 315.
  3. ^ Corrigan, Timothy (2015). A short guide to writing about film (Ninth ed.). Boston: Pearson Education. ISBN 9781292078113. OCLC 1137242678.
  4. ^ Bordwell, David; Thompson, Kristin (2003). Film Art: An Introduction, 7th ed. New York: McGraw–Hill. ISBN 0-07-248455-1.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Barsam, Richard Meran., and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies: An Introduction to Film. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2010
  6. ^ a b c d e f Pramaggiore, Maria, and Tom Wallis. Film: A Critical Introduction. Boston: Laurence King, 2005.
  7. ^ Edgar-Hunt, Robert, John Marland and James Richards (2009). Basics Film-Making: Screenwriting. Lausanne: AVA Publishing. p. 71. ISBN 978-2-940373-89-5.
  8. ^ "Set Design and Locations". film110. PBworks. Archived from the original on 2 November 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
  9. ^ "Lighting". film101. PBworks. Archived from the original on 2 November 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
  10. ^ "Part 2: Mise-en-scene". Film Studies Program. Yale University. Archived from the original on 2002-12-24. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
  11. ^ Fourie, Pieter J. (2004). Media Studies Volume 2: Content, Audiences and Production. Lansdowne, SA: Juta and Company. pp. 462–463. ISBN 0-7021-5656-6.
  12. ^ Pramaggiore, Maria and Tom Wallis (2005). Film: A Critical Introduction. London: Laurence King Publishing. ISBN 0205433480.
  13. ^ "Acting". film101. PBworks. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
  14. ^ Kawin, Bruce (1992). How Movies Work. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. pp. 88. ISBN 0-520-07696-6. mise en scene blocking.
  15. ^ Sikov, Ed (2010). Film Studies: An Introduction. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-51989-2.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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