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Film Codes and Conventions

Revision of codes and conventions with examples.

Kayla McCarthy

on 26 March 2018

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Transcript of Film Codes and Conventions

Media Codes and Conventions
Can be used to further the plot or as a symbol for something. Connotations are often considered when using props and objects.
: All colours have connotations depending on their context. For example: White generally symbolises good, where as black is often used for bad/evil.
: Assists in creating characters and era.
For example: The costumes in
Downtown Abbey
to show it is set in the early 1900's. Can also help in creating visual representations of stereotypes.
: Creates a sense of time and place.
For example: In
Scott Pilgrim
(Wright, 2010), the setting is very obviously given to the audience. Most films are more subtle.
Music -
used to assist with the creation of atmosphere. For example, high pitch strings often signal tension or building of suspense.

Dialogue -
is used to convey the narrative. When characters are speaking.

Sound - split into two categories:
is sound that would be expected from the film. If the actor can see, touch or hear it then it is diagetic; such as a door closing.
: are sounds that are added that the audience can hear but the characters in the film cannot; such as a soundtrack.
Audio Codes
: used to create a specific atmosphere. Dark lighting for an ominous feel and light and bright for a cheerful connotation.
Norman and Marion in 'Psycho'
(Hitchcock, 1960).
Chuck and Sarah practice their vows in 'Chuck vs. The Cliffhanger' (McNeill, 2011).
Technical Codes - Camera

: when the camera is following the subject.

: When a camera is mounted on a tripod and moves horizontally (left to right).

: When a camera is mounted on a tripod and moves vertically (up and down).

: "A dolly is any sort of moving platform that a camera is mounted on. A ‘dolly in’ is when the camera moves closer to a subject, a ‘dolly out’ is when it moves further away." (Brett Lamb)
Written codes assist in anchoring meaning to an image.

: assist to narrow the interpretation of an image. They appear in large type at the top of an image and are often written by the copy editor to suit the target audience of the publication.

: appear beneath an image and assist to clarify meaning.

: a title sequence is the way a television show or film presents its major cast, crew and the title, the closing credits repeat and cover
the remaining cast.

Speech bubbles:
used predominantly in comics
to convey the narrative.

words that are describing the sound they make. Such as boom, pow, zip. See
Written Codes
Watch -
The Dark Knight
(Nolan, 2008)
Extras: Sound with Hans Zimmer
Sound whose source is visible on the screen or whose source is implied to be present by the action of the film such as: voices of characters ; sounds made by objects in the story; music represented as coming from instruments in the story space. Diegetic sound is any sound presented as originated from source within the film's world.
Sound whose source is neither visible on the screen nor has been implied to be present in the action such as: narrator's commentary; sound effects which are added for dramatic effect; mood music. Non-diegetic sound is represented as coming from the a source outside story space.
Facial expressions help the audience read the characters' emotions. Look at the actors eyes and what they are telling you. this is a clue to the emotions they are expressing to the audience.

How the actor is standing and the body language used can show the audience the characters feelings or thoughts. Are they standing tall? Are their arms crossed? Another key aspect to remember is that this actor was instructed by the director during the making of this film.

Each actor was hired to play a role based on the ideal body shape needed to portray that particular character. This can involve gaining / losing weight or becoming very fit. A clear example is Christian Bale dropping almost 30kg to play the role of Trevor Reznik in The Machinist (Anderson, 2004), and then gaining 20kg for his role in American Hustle (Russell, 2013).

How an actor uses
their voice can give the audience a quick
insight into their character's background
and culture. It is very common for an
actor to have a voice coach to assist them
in mastering an accent. Have a think
about your favourite actor and how many
roles they have undertaken that required
a different accent. Another part of voice includes the tone / volume of voice. This can communicate emotion with the audience - is the actor whispering or shouting their lines? What impact does this have on the audience and relationships with characters?
Mise en Scene
Mise en Scene is a french term that translates to 'staged'. It refers to everything we see within the frame. This includes: the set, costume, colour, props and overall lighting. It also refers to how these items are places within the frame. Nothing is there by accident.

Mise en Scene can help the audience piece together the story. It sometimes gives us clues as to where the story is going to go, as well as the genre of the film.

This includes scenes in films such as montages - we see a lot of quick shots of something that might have occurred in the story world over months and we the audience see it in a matter of minutes: think Rocky becoming super fit and watching his crazy training.
We, the audience, don't need to see every minute of every character's life. We can piece together the parts that are not shown. Some films take place over weeks and others years. By time being collapsed we the audience can see a two year long story take place in 1.5 hours

This is when time is slowed down. This give the audience a moment to stop and take in what has just happened. This is a common edit technique when something dramatic had just happened. Think of major fight scenes in films. As the punch is blown the film slows down so we the audience can take it all in. In some cases, the punch is then shown from multiple angles, to further engage the audience. This is the editing technique of overlapping editing.

Within the element of editing we need to look at the editing or vision AND sound. To put this basically, editing is completed in post production and it is when the film is put together. Again with this element there are several small elements for us to focus on:

: this is one of the most common edits, cuts from one shot to another. If a sequence has lots and lots of cuts this can be referred to as quick cuts.
this technique is used when the subject is in motion and the camera stays in the same position. A subject is in motion and we the audience see the subject 'jump' forward.
there are a few fades. Fade in: Screen is black/white and slowly the image begins to appear. Fade out: Screen has the image and slowly begins to disappear into black or white.
Similar to a fade but instead of fading to black or white - the screen dissolves from one scene to another.
The screen wipes from one side to another.
The screen has multiple frames in view.
multiple events are occurring at the same time and the edits keep cutting between these multiple scenes.
Camera techniques and qualities refer to how the camera is used to record the narrative. Below is a list of camera techniques used in film.

Camera also includes the format used for filming - 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, IMAX, Black & White, Colour, Video, Animation and Photography.

Camera Movements
Lighting within a film is the responsibility of the cinematographer also known as the Director of Photography (DOP). Lighting is used to create mood and atmosphere.

Here are the common terms of lighting that you will need to refer to:
Warm -
Lighting that has warm yellow/orange tones.
Cool -
Lighting that has cool green/blue tones.
Naturalistic -
This is the term to use when the lighting looks natural.
Key light -
The main source of light in a scene.
Fill light -
The secondary source of light in a scene, often used to reduce shadows.
High key lighting -
A scene that is well lit with few shadows.
Low key lighting -
A scene with little light resulting in shadows and darkness, often used in horror and film noir.
Backlight -
A light positioned behind the subject, often casting them into darkness.
Rim light -
A light positioned above and slightly behind the subject which helps to define the edge of the figure. Sometimes referred to as a hair light.
Hard light -
A lighting source that casts harsh shadows.
Soft light -
A diffuse, ambient light. Can be achieved with soft boxes.
Chiaroscuro -
Any shot that uses low key lighting, high contrast and shadows.
Three point lighting -
The common use of a key, fill and backlight.

Extreme Long Shot -
Used to show the subject from a distance, or the area in which the scene is taking place. This type of shot is particularly useful for establishing a scene (see Establishing Shot) in terms of time and place, as well as a character’s physical or emotional relationship to the environment and elements within it. The character doesn’t necessarily have to be viewable in this shot.
Long Shot
(aka Wide Shot) Shows the subject from top to bottom; for a person, this would be head to toes, though not necessarily filling the frame. The character becomes more of a focus than an Extreme Long Shot, but the shot tends to still be dominated by the scenery. This shot often sets the scene and our character’s place in it.
Full Shot
- Frames character from head to toes, with the subject roughly filling the frame. The emphasis tends to be more on action and movement rather than a character’s emotional state.

Medium Shot:
Shows part of the subject in more detail. For a person, a medium shot typically frames them from about waist up. This is one of the most common shots seen in films, as it focuses on a character (or characters) in a scene while still showing some environment.
Medium Close-Up:
Falls between a Medium Shot and a Close-Up, generally framing the subject from chest or shoulder up.
Fills the screen with part of the subject, such as a person’s head/face. Framed this tightly, the emotions and reaction of a character dominate the scene.
Extreme Close Up:
Emphasizes a small area or detail of the subject, such as the eye(s) or mouth.
: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/video/tips-and-solutions/filmmaking-101-camera-shot-types
conventions of a genre are the

elements that commonly occur
in such films. They may include things like characters, situations, settings, props, themes and events.

For example, a convention of the
science-fiction genre
is that the story often includes robots, aliens, time-travel or genetic manipulation. 

ultiple Storylines
stablishing & developing relationship between characters
tructure of time

ause & Effect
pening, development and resolution of narrative
oint of View
Camera angles are all used to imply meaning. Different shot types create different feelings. An
(left) is when the camera is directly above the action. Usually used in an establishing shot, however, not always. A
high angle shot
(middle) is used to make the subjects look smaller, often indicating a lack of power. An
angle (right) is most commonly used as it gives the audience a sense of realism as we see the characters on a 'regular' level.
The Avengers (Whedon, 2012) The Grand Budapest Hotel (Anderson, 2014) The Breakfast Club (Hughes, 1985)
low angle
(left) is used to make a character appear larger and more powerful. The camera is positioned lower to make things seem bigger. An
(middle) is when the camera is placed underneath the subject. This is often matched with POV shots if a character is looking up at something. A p
oint of view
shot (right) is used to show something from the character's perspective.
H.P & the Philospher's Stone (Columbus, 2001) Jaws (Spielberg, 1975) Online image.
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