Designing the World of Film: Crash Course Film Production #9

Designing the World of Film: Crash Course Film Production #9


‘Mise-en-scene’ literally means “placing
on stage.” But in film, mise-en-scene encompasses everything
the camera is capturing. It’s the set and how it’s lit. It’s how the subjects are framed. It’s the actors and how they look and what
they’re wearing. It’s the props they’re holding and the
set dressing they’re moving through. Just as every line of dialogue and every shot
should be helping to move the film forward, everything in frame should be helping to build
the mise-en-scene. From the overall look and feel of the sets,
to the details in makeup on the actors’ faces, everything in a film is designed and
captured for a reason. [Intro Muic Plays] Sometimes mise-en-scene is pretty obvious:
think of the German expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, or any film by Tim
Burton or Wes Anderson. These films are clearly stylized — the audience
can tell that the sets, costumes, and makeup were all created and crafted by someone. But sometimes the mise-en-scene is more subtle,
like in the realist film Winter’s Bone, or films by Lynne Ramsay or Kelly Reichardt. The world portrayed in realist films might
make the audience wonder what a production designer even did to build the world, because
the scenes look so much like the world we live in. But look carefully at the world of a realist
film. Just as the cinematographer uses the language
of the camera to help tell the story, the teams creating the mise-en-scene structure
the set and the actors in specific ways to bring the director’s vision to life. The production designer creates the physical
world of the film. This person leads the art department, which
builds and decorates the sets. Early in pre-production, the production designer
is hired to work with the director to develop the look of the film. Depending on when and where the script is
set, they’ll probably have to research what to include, and exclude, when building their
world. For example, I was in a film that took place
in the 1970s, and there was a scene shot next to a building with corrugated metal siding. Because of his experience and research, the
production designer knew that the shape of that metal corrugation wasn’t developed
until the 1980s. So to make the scene accurate to the time,
he had the art department bring in old corrugated metal and hung it over the new metal. This might seem silly. I mean who, besides the production designer,
is going to know what year corrugated metal changed shape? But, even if we don’t know the year, subconsciously
we feel the differences. Imagine a scene in a classroom from your childhood. If you grew up in the 1990s and a film about
your childhood years included students writing on chalk slates or if you grew up in the 1960s
and the film included a smart board, both those things would feel wrong. So, as soon as the production designer gets
the script, they begin researching the time period and the location where the story takes
place, to get the feeling just right. It might even be a time period in the future
or a make-believe place. But they still start with research. After that, the production designer prepares
plans and drawings for the sets that need to be built. And they go on early location scouts with
the director so they can begin planning how they’ll use a location. Then they’ll present the director with their
ideas for designing the setting. Once they’ve agreed upon a plan with the
director, the art department gets to work. They work with the set decorator, also called
a scenic designer, to research and implement every detail they’ll bring into the world
of the film. While the production designer is creating
the look of the film overall, the set decorator is choosing the details and designing the
sets. The production designer also works with the
art director to budget and organize the department. They hire buyers who buy or rent set dressing
and props. Once the set is designed, the art department
builds anything that doesn’t already exist for the set itself, as well as any special
props that are needed. The art department masterminds what the physical
world of the story looks like, but if the characters don’t look and feel like they
belong in that world, then it’s all for nothing. The costume designer and the wardrobe department,
along with the hair and makeup departments, also play pivotal roles in creating the mise-en-scene. And the work of any designer starts, again,
with research. The costume designer uses pre-production to
study the setting and the time period, including the season when the film takes place. The costume designer’s most important job,
though, is to understand the characters and how they grow throughout the film. By developing a signature look for a character,
the designer can help convey the story’s plot and themes. Maggie Smith plays both Professor McGonagall
in the Harry Potter series, and Miss Shepherd in The Lady in the Van — two very different
characters with different backstories and goals. The wardrobe of the character can convey more
about them than their opening lines. And as characters change over the course of
the story, that change is often shown outwardly — and not just in makeover montages. In Jurassic World, for example, Bryce Dallas
Howard’s character Claire starts out in nearly all white clothes, implying that she
never is outside with the dinosaurs and is disconnected from the reality of the park
she works in. But the costume designer played with what
the audience already knew of the original Jurassic Park, and mapped out Claire’s wardrobe
changes to quote those of Laura Dern’s character from the 1993 film. That way, she becomes more connected with
the story and thus more capable in our minds. Design decisions like this help the audience
get pulled into the film, but they also help the actors get into the minds of their characters. The director Tom Ford, who started his career
in the fashion industry, has even sewn labels into his actors’ costumes so that they never
feel like costumes, but like the characters’ clothes themselves. This extra detail isn’t something the camera
or the audience will ever see, but when your job as an actor is to believe in a pretend
world while you’re surrounded by crew and lights, it makes the world a little more real
and your job a little easier. This is true not just of the clothes actors
wear, but also the makeup they use and how their hair is styled. Hair and Makeup, or HMU, are usually referred
to as a single unit on set, and they often share a trailer, but they’re two separate,
specialized careers. As with production and costume designers,
pre-production is all about research and planning. Hairdressers work with the director to develop
how they’ll style the actors’ hair. They’ll prep any dyes, wigs, extensions,
or bald caps they might need. Because films are rarely shot in order, hairstylists
need to be organized and plan how to maintain continuity throughout the film. This is often a reason wigs are used instead
of dying hair. If scheduling demands that an actor play a
grey-haired version of their character on either side of a dark-haired version, for
example, then it can be easier to work with wigs than back-to-back dying. And making a wig look just as realistic as
real hair can be tricky. If it’s a period piece, they’ll need to
know how to create a time-appropriate look, but with the safety and health standards of
the current times. This is true for makeup artists, too. Makeup artists need to understand each actor’s
skin and create a plan that keeps the actor as comfortable as possible while also creating
the look the film demands. Makeup is similar to lighting or editing,
in that it usually has to be seen, but not noticed. Whether you’re making a beautiful person
camera ready, or building a look out of latex and airbrushing, the audience needs to be
connecting with the character and their internal life, not getting distracted by their makeup. Some makeup artists specialize in special
effects makeup. But all makeup artists need to know how to
create certain illusions, like cuts, bruises, scars, bad teeth, and tattoos. Of all the departments on set, makeup, hair,
and wardrobe spend the most time with the actors. Each department has a trailer at basecamp,
but will also send a representative to set with the actors. When the 1st AD calls “Last looks,” they’re
telling these three people to check the actors’ makeup, hair, and clothing to make sure it’s
camera ready. It’s their job to make sure the actors don’t
have to think about these things and can focus on their work of being present in the scene. And of course, all the designers working on
a film need to communicate between departments to create the mise-en-scene and help tell
the story. A really bright example of how this can all
come together is the character Clementine, in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The costume designer, hair and makeup team,
and the production designer worked together to make the audience associate the color orange
with Clementine. Whether it’s her hair color or her bright
orange sweatshirt, they took inspiration from her name and the script and brought it into
the mise-en-scene. And if you pay close attention, they give
us a big hint about the end of the movie by aligning her character with that color. That movie came out over ten years ago, so
I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that it’s about removing the memory
of Clementine from the brain of her ex boyfriend, Joel. The costume designer and the set decorator
took great care in making everything in Joel’s world appear in greys and blues. But, when Joel wakes up from having his memory
erased, everything in the scene is grey or blue except one orange vase. Like every real character we come to love
in our favorite movies, Clementine isn’t completely erased. Today we discussed the teams that play the
biggest roles in creating the mise-en-scene of a film. We talked about how the art department creates
the world the film takes place in, and how the wardrobe department interprets the character
and the story through their clothes. And we learned how the hair and makeup departments
transform the actors into their characters on screen. Next time, we’ll talk about Grip and Electric,
one of the largest crews on a set and the teams that add that final touch of the mise-en-scene:
lights. Crash Course Film Production is produced in
association with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel to check
out a playlist of their latest shows, like Gross Science, Deep Look, and ACS Reactions. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in
the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of these nice people and our
amazing graphics team is Thought Cafe.

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