Reading Film and Television Texts: Frame, Shots and Mise-En-Scene

To see a breakdown of the opening sequence to Skyfall (2012), click here. This post is a continuation of that post.

The Frame

Each individual still image that, when shown in combination at a standard rate of 24 frames per second, create the moving image.


The boundaries of the image seen on screen. We can use these as measures for the positioning of things within the frame: ‘right of frame’, ‘closely/tightly framed’.


The Shot

This is the core component of film and television texts. The uninterrupted moving image (a single take, no cuts). Shots can be very technically impressive when held for long periods. There’s a film that lasts 96 minutes taken all in one single shot (Russian Ark, 2002). Shots can create and maintain a sense of tension (e.g. an extended shot of someone staring out at us from the screen).


A series of shots edited together (often located within the same place or time, but not always. In Skyfall (see previous post), there are two locations unified though audio connection).


A series of scenes edited together, connecting to create a narrative.



Mise-en-scene is french for ‘putting into the scene’. This was originally applied to theatre but is now also used in describing the composition of film, television and video games. The composition of the image considers everything positioned within the frame. There are four key compositional elements that we can think about in terms of generating meanings and effects:

  • Setting
  • Costumes and Make-up
  • Lighting
  • Staging (includes the movement of the actors)


A location chosen for the purposes of filming, a set built for the production or a computer generated environment. Setting is best understood as another ‘character’: it is equally important in creating mood, meanings and effects. It can intensify the energy of a scene (e.g. a crowded, noisy bar as the location for a heated argument). It can generate a sense of tension and awkwardness (e.g. a quiet, civilised restaurant as the location for a heated argument). It can create a sense of scale and spectacle. It roots the action within a context.

Establishing Shot

The establishing shot often shows much of the setting as an introduction for a piece. It offers context and situates the action within a particular place. The establishing shot is often used at the beginning of film and television dramas to establish the world (diegesis) which has been constructed for us.

Costumes and Make-up

They tell us a great deal about a character before they even speakimage4 or do anything. They can play a key role in the action (e.g. Batman’s suit). They can signal a particular time or place (e.g. a US police uniform, clothes from the 80s). They can signal the transformation of a character. They can signal the passage of time or change in situation. Clever makeup adds to credibility (e.g. for the passage of time, makeup can age an actor to make it seem more realistic). Marked differences in costume and ‘look’ for different time periods signal significant changes and a characters’ emotional and psychological state.


This is incredibly important in creating a sense of mood and in reinforcing the nature of a character. There is no coincidence that heroes are often flooded in light and villains are cloaked in shadows. These are well-known components of film and TV language. However, you can use the lighting to subvert this e.g. Batman subverts the hero-is-flooded-with-light convention.

The source of the light is important: Natural or Artificial (even when we think its natural, its often artificially manipulated). The direction of the light is also important. Lit from above makes the subject appear angelic, innocent, good. Lit from underneath can convey a sinister nature. Lit from the side, the subject can appear ‘two-faced’ and untrustworthy. There will be a contrast between the lit and unlit sides of the subjects face.



The actors are important as they are the ones telling the story. The actors are sometimes our reason for engaging with the media text. Actors are not empty vessels. They acquire ‘background resonances’ or connotations which they carry from one text to the next. We often watch things purely because of the involvement of actors we like.

Staging includes the changing of accent.


Music can be used to reinforce the meanings and effects being communicated by image and dialogue (STRUCTURAL ASSONANCE). Music can also be used to challenge the meanings and effects being communicated (STRUCTURAL DISSONANCE). Music can be used to strengthen the overall unity of a scene and to join together images through communicating a unifying message or emotion.

These notes are from my semester one lectures and seminars.
I do not own the above images, they are from:,,, and

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