How to analyze a scene in a film

How to analyze a scene in a film

Films are made up of scenes. If you are a film student, you may have to analyse many scenes of certain movies to get the proper understanding about filmmaking. Analysing a scene in a film involves a lot of effort as you have to keep a lot of things in your mind while doing that. If you are looking forward to analyse any scene in a film, you can take help from the given steps.

Things required:

– Movie of your choosing (VHS, DVD, or Blu-ray)
– Writing utensil
– A VCR, a DVD/Blu-ray player, or a computer with a media player
– Paper

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First of all, you have to study and understand all the characters which are involved in the scene. Knowledge about the characters is the most important things to take into account while analysing any particular scene. You cannot analyse a scene correctly if you don’t understand the characters. In addition, you also have to identify the strong and the weak characters in the scene. Keep your eye on every single person who is appearing on the screen in the scene and don’t draw your attention towards any particular person. In this way, you will be able to create a thorough understanding about the scene.

After analysing the characters, you have to understand the social setup of the scene. You cannot create a sound understanding any filmmaker’s work until you know the social setup of the scene. The social setup can be political, social, economical or religious.

You must pay special attention to the dialogues in the scene. Sometimes, dialogues are not enough as you also have to note down the expressions of the characters to create a firm understanding about everything.

It is extremely important for you to take the essential notes about the characters, social setup, dialogues and expressions which have been shown in the screen. You can note down the things on simple piece of paper by using a pen. You can also draw images or diagram to correlate and study the pattern of things in the scene.

Some scenes are really difficult to analyse as they are being portrayed in a different manner. If you can’t understand anything in the scene, you can take help from your instructor or any other filmmaker.

Films are similar to novels or short stories in that they tell a story. They include the same genres: romantic, historical, detective, thriller, adventure, horror, and science fiction. However, films may also include sub-groups such as: action, comedy, tragedy, westerns and war. The methods you use to analyze a film are closely related to those used to analyze literature; nevertheless, films are multimedial. They are visual media made for viewers. Films take command of more of our senses to create special atmospheres, feelings or to bring out emotions.

Along with the literary elements such as plot, setting, characterization, structure, and theme, which make up the text or screenplay, there are many different film techniques used to tell the story or narrative. Attention is paid to sound, music, lighting, camera angles, and editing. What is important is to focus on how all the elements are used together in making a good film.

Below is a list of elements and questions to help you when analyzing films.

Film Contents

Film Facts

  • Title of film
  • Year film was produced
  • Nationality
  • Names of the actors
  • Name of director


  • What main genre does the film fall under? – romantic, historical, detective, thriller, adventure, horror, and science fiction.
  • What sub-grouping does the film fall under? – action, comedy, tragedy, war and westerns.


Setting is a description of where and when the story takes place.

  • Does it take place in the present, the past, or the future?
  • What aspects of setting are we made aware of? – Geography, weather conditions, physical environment, time of day.
  • Where are we in the opening scene?

Plot and structure

  • What are the most important sequences?
  • How is the plot structured?
  • Is it linear, chronological or is it presented through flashbacks??
  • Are there several plots running parallel?
  • How is suspense built up?
  • Do any events foreshadow what is to come?


Conflict or tension is usually the heart of the film and is related to the main characters.

  • How would you describe the main conflict?
    • Is it internal where the character suffers inwardly?
    • is it external caused by the surroundings or environment the main character finds himself/herself in?


Characterization deals with how the characters are described.

  • through dialogue?
  • by the way they speak?
  • physical appearance? thoughts and feelings?
  • interaction – the way they act towards other characters?
  • Are they static characters who do not change?
  • Do they develop by the end of the story?
  • What type of characters are they?
  • What qualities stand out?
  • Are they stereotypes?
  • Are the characters believable?

Narrator and point of view

The narrator is the person telling the story.

  • Is there a narrator in the film? Who?
  • Point of view means through whose eyes the story is being told.
  • Through whose eyes does the story unfold?
  • Is the story told in the first person “I” point of view?
  • Is the story told through an off-screen narrator?


In films imagery are the elements used to create pictures in our minds. They may include:

  • Symbols – when something stands not only for itself ( a literal meaning), but also stands for something else (a figurative meaning) e.g. The feather in the film Forrest Gump symbolizes his destiny.
  • What images are used in the film? e.g. color, objects etc.
  • Can you find any symbols?


  • What are the universal ideas that shine through in the film (in other words, what is it about, in general)?

Cinematic Effects


  • includes both dialogue and music, as well as all the other sounds in a film.
  • enhances the atmosphere of the film (what effect does the choice of music have? Does it suit the theme?)
  • Are any particular sounds accentuated?

Use of the camera

  • A camera shot is based on the camera’s distance from the object.
  • The four basic shots used in films are:
    • a close-up – a very close shot where the camera lens focuses on some detail or the actor’s face.
    • medium shot – a shot where the camera lens picks up some background or upper half of the actor.
    • full shot – a shot where the camera lens has full view of the actor.
    • long shot – shot taken at a distance from an object.
  • What camera shots can you identify in the film? How are they used?
  • A camera angle is how the camera is tilted while filming.
    • straight-on angle – The camera is at the same height as the object.
    • high angle – The camera is filming from above the object.
    • low angle – The camera is looking up at the object.
    • oblique angle – The camera is tilted sideways.
  • Does the way in which the camera is held say anything about the character?


  • Lighting focuses the audience’s attention on the main character or object in a film.
  • It also sets the mood or atmosphere.
  • While high-key lighting is bright and illuminating, low-key lighting is darker with a lot of shadows.
  • What special lighting effects are used during the most important scenes?
  • Filters are often used to soften and reduce harsh contrasts. They can also be used to eliminate haze, ultraviolet light or glare from water when shooting outside.
  • Using color like red or orange can be used to enhance the feeling of a sunset.
  • Can you find any examples where a filter has been used in the film?
  • What effect did using a filter have on the scene?
  • What colors are most dominant?


Editing is the way in which a film editor together with the director cuts and assembles the scenes. The way the scenes are joined together creates the rhythm of the motion picture. Scenes can be long and drawn out or short and choppy.

  • Can you see a pattern to how the scenes are cut?
  • How would you describe the pace/tempo of the film?


When analyzing films for school work or projects, you may be asked to use some or all of the characteristics above. Link those elements together that seem most logical. Try to think of the film as a whole and how the elements mentioned above work together to bring out the main message of the film.

Basic Terms

SHOT — one continuous piece of film footage, ending with a cut to the next shot.

SEQUENCE — series of shots combined to represent a discrete set of actions or a coherent narrative section.

MOTIF — anything repeated more than a few times in a film. A motif can be visual (an image or film technique), sonic (a sound or piece of music), or rhetorical (a word, phrase, metaphor, etc.).

Analysis Categories

CINEMATOGRAPHY — a term used to define the ways in which the camera captures the shot. Under the heading of cinematography, we speak of such things as the different lenses used by the camera, how the camera frames the shot, the angle of the camera relative to the action, and how the camera moves.

EDITING — refers to how the individual shots are spliced together. The norm here is “continuity editing,” in which shots are put together to achieve narrative continuity—to make the action appear to flow logically and naturally from shot to shot.

MISE-EN-SCÈNE — literally meaning “put into the scene,” this term refers to the arrangement of actors and objects in front of the camera. Setting, lighting, costuming, and acting are aspects of mise-en-scène.

SOUND — refers to both the sounds that come from the scene itself, such as spoken dialogue or ambient noise, and the sounds that are imposed on the scene, such as voice-overs or musical scores.

Click to DOWNLOAD A PDF of the terms and concepts defined on this website.

Learn the lines and don’t bump into the furniture. We’ve all heard the quote, and we all know how untrue it is. Saying the lines without any motivation behind them leads to uninspired work and a lack of storytelling. In this article we are going to look at how to break down a scene and how to get the most out of a scene whether it’s for a showreel, TV show, film or theatre production.

Why Scene Analysis is Important to your Acting?

How is it that some movies can fly by in a heartbeat, but have run for 2 hours? But that tacky ensemble rom-com you watched was a torturous marathon while in reality, it had a brisk running time of 90 minutes?

It’s all in the way each individual scene breaks down.

There is an unwritten rule of script writing that a scene must always earn it’s spot in the plot. Unless it is absolutely necessary, then it needs to be cut. What makes a scene necessary is one of three things:

Character progression.
Plot progression.

If you are choosing material to perform as a stand alone scene, or for your showreel, then you need to focus on number one.

What NOT to look for:

It’s not advisable to choose a scene from a sketch show, even if they work without context. The reasoning here is that a sketch show is a very specific kind of genre, like improv. The success of a scene relies on the audience to be onboard with this absurd, abstract style of short form comedy. Sometimes the humour is coming from the edit, or the contrast between the sketch before it. Maybe it doesn’t appeal to the casting director’s sense of humour.

What to look for:

Character Journey. Let’s say it again: Character JOURNEY.

The key to making a scene work for you is having your character begin in one state, and end in a different state.

Popular ways of doing this, are having the character learn a new piece of information, realise a personal flaw, or solve a problem. This is why break up scenes are so popular. Family secrets, detective cases that have a eureka moment, proposals, anything that drags your character between dizzying emotional highs and crushing emotional lows.

Make your shortlist of scenes and for each one, identify the emotional change of state; for example, from frustrated —> euphoric, from triumphant —> hopeless. Then identify the source of conflict; for example, Jim wants to marry Liz/Liz wants to travel the world alone for two years. The detective needs to solve the case/the only known witness has turned up dead. If you can identify a verifiable source of conflict and an emotional shift, then you know your scene is a winner.

Plot Progression

Awareness of plot progression is an essential skill for every actor. When hired for a role, you may only receive your own sides, or be a featured extra, but you still have an awareness of where your character begins, and where they end up. As actors, it is natural to assume responsibility for more than our role. Sure, the look, the feel, and the direction of the scene relies on an actor’s performance, but at the end of the day, the writers might cut your scene, or shuffle something in the edit that changes the whole story. With this in mind, one way to improve your scenes is to let go of your responsibility to the plot. Let go of end gaming your story, and focus on your short term objectives.

Take out a copy of your scene and break it down into beats. For each beat, identify the practical actions. Don’t use actioning, intentions or justifications at this point. Explain what happens in the least creative way possible. Once you have the plot, you can step back and see how your character reacts to these external forces. More often than not, the most entertaining choices come when an actor allows the plot to happen around their performance, rather than intentionally driving the plot.

Take out another copy of your scene, and action it in every possible way you can that fights against the actions you found in the previous exercise. Chances are, unless you used a different script, your character will end up in the same place no matter what you do. You might even find some meatier choices along the way.

All this means is that you need to understand that the plot is seperate to your inner life. While, for example, you may die at the end of the script, don’t let this affect anything about your performance up until that point. Don’t imbue your actions with heroism or martyrdom, assuming that this will make your death ultimately more satisfying. Most of the time, the opposite is true. It’s almost always more powerful to watch someone hold back their tears than it is to see them weep. Don’t try to show all of your homework in your performance. Ever heard of an actor who keeps a character trait secret to themselves? This is another tool to maintain depth and distance between the inner life of the character and the plot.

The bottom line? The plot is a dry and emotionless beast, and it will happen inevitably whether you focus on it or not. Affect your fellow actors, and let the plot fall into place.

How to analyze a scene in a film


Now we’ll cover the difficult task of delivering an exposition scene. Often dramatically barren, with on-the-nose dialogue, exposition scenes are those which bring the audience up to speed with background information. More often than not, if you are dealing with an exposition scene, it is necessary to the project and not to your reel. Avoid exposition scenes for your reel or showcase, as they rarely offer an ideal dramatic scenario.

When performing in an exposition scene, keep in mind that the information is more important than the drama. Find a reason why your character wants to divulge this information. It can be tempting to act out the story you are telling rather than acting the reasons your character has for telling it. Action the script accordingly, and rather than inserting emotional responses in, really ask how your character feels about the current moment. Keep in mind that you wouldn’t cry when telling a story about someone else crying.

Regardless of the fact that we are letting our dramatic ego take a backseat, still find those moments of character progression: emotional state change, and source of conflict. Always ask yourself why you are motivated to explain this information. Most of the scripts on Home and Away and Neighbours are filled with exposition, due to the large cast of characters and fast moving plots. The audience needs to be able to catch onto the action even if they tune in halfway through an episode. Learning how to deliver exposition with purpose is an invaluable skill that will earn your character their moment to dramatically shine.

Scene Analysis Papers


In this paper, you’ll analyze a scene of your choice from any of the films we’ve seen in class. First, you’ll need to review the scene you choose multiple times, taking note of how each element of film is used to shape the scene’s meaning. Consider aspects of the mise en scène, cinematography, and sound in detail. If you feel ambitious, you are welcome discuss the film’s editing, too.

The goal of this project is NOT to learn what others have said about a particular scene or film, but to deconstruct a scene for yourself. I recommend that you do not do any research for this project. If you do choose to consult any outside sources, be sure to cite them in MLA style (that would include anything other than the film itself, i.e. any optional readings/viewings you might’ve done for class).

Your goals with this project are…
1) to develop an interpretive claim about how the specific scene you’ve chosen functions within the film as a whole.
2) to make clear claims about how various elements of mise en scène, cinematography, and sound contribute to the scene’s overall effects.
3) to develop detailed close readings of the scene to support your claims.
4) to analyze and better understand how various elements of film work together to produce meaning more generally.
5) to use film studies terms clearly, correctly, and fluently.

To be sure that you’re meeting all of the core goals of this assignment, please use the comment function in your word processor to…
1) mark what you see as your thesis statement. This will serve two purposes: it will help you focus your attention on this key component of your paper, and it will let me quickly and clearly see if we’re on the same page in our understanding of your main argument.
2) mark one paragraph that exemplifies the conventional strategy for organizing academic writing (see study notes 2-4 on p. 225-226 of the textbook).
3) mark an example of a passage in your analysis in which you develop your ideas by linking a specific detail in your scene to an earlier or later moment in the film and explaining how this point of comparison/contrast demonstrates the film’s strategic orchestration of detail (for an example, look at the third paragraph on p. 42—the one that begins “A reverse shot…”).

Length: 1200-1800 words (about 4-6 pages, not including any images you might include), 12-point double-spaced Times New Roman 1″ margins on all sides. Include a word count at the end of your document.

Due: 3/3 by midnight (submit to Moodle as a .doc or .odt file)

Screenplays are the blueprint that producers, directors and actors use to translate a story from page to screen. Before a screenplay is greenlit for production, it is read and analyzed by a myriad of readers, assistants and executives to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. Whether you are a reader trying to evaluate someone else’s script or a writer trying to find out if your own work is any good, analyzing the film script is the first step in evaluating the suitability of the work.

Step 1

Read the screenplay from start to finish. Have the script fresh in your mind and know all the details. It may even be useful to re-read the script a couple of times so you are more familiar with it. If you are easily reading through it multiple times, that is an indication that it may be good.

Step 2

Analyze the concept of the film. Ask yourself if the concept is original, easily marketable and full of emotion. The script must have a theme. Determine if the theme is important and one worth sharing. Also, the stakes must be high. If there is no drama, there is no story. The story must be logical and make sense within the rules setup for that story.

Step 3

Analyze the structure of the film. First and foremost, the screenplay must be properly formatted with scene headings, action lines and dialogue. The screenplay must also have a three-act structure — set-up, confrontation and resolution. Although some stories may not strictly follow the three-act structure, every story has a beginning, middle and end. There should be rising obstacles leading to the climax near the end of the film. The script must draw the reader in within the first 10 pages and keep the reader guessing throughout. The writing should be visual, “showing” (through the characters’ actions and words) what is happening rather then “telling” (through the narrator’s exposition). The script must also be of proper length, between 100 and 125 pages.

Step 4

Analyze the individual scenes of the screenplay. Every scene must be important to the story and move the story forward. If a scene does not develop story or character, it should not be there. Like the script as a whole, each scene should have a beginning, middle and end. The pacing from scene to scene must flow and the reader should never be able to guess easily what is going to happen next.

Step 5

Analyze the characters. The hero of the script must be likable. He should have wants and needs that must be satisfied and he should undergo change to achieve his goals. Characters should be multidimensional, with varying points of views, wants and fears. The antagonist must be stronger than the protagonist, making the hero’s journey more difficult.

  • Wordplay: Death to Readers
  • InkTip: How to Analyze Your Script Like a Pro
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Nick Miles has been writing since 2006, with articles appearing on the sci-fi and horror website FanCrush Networks. Miles holds a Bachelor of Arts in film and electronic arts from California State University, Long Beach.

Why use precious class time to watch clips when we are supposed to be reading? Doesn’t film dumb students down when teachers should be raising rigor? These are common objections to using film in the classroom; however, there’s a huge difference between popping a movie in to catch up on grading and skillfully using film to instruct. Film can be a great lead-in for complex texts providing a common shared experience in the classroom. With film being a student-friendly medium, barriers to teaching critical thinking skills are often removed building student confidence in analysis.

Before using film in the classroom, you should address a few questions. Should I use a film clip or a full film? What is the purpose of the film? Is it teaching a skill, helping students with characterization, or making a thematic connection? What standards does the film meet? How will I assess my learning objectives? Once these questions have been answered, try out some of the following ideas for using film in your classroom.

Anatomy of a Scene — This is a fantastic tool because much it allows the viewer to hear the director’s thoughts while watching and hearing the scene. A slider allows you to adjust the balance between the director’s commentary and the movie scene. I generally play the movie scene without commentary the first time and give students the opportunity to discuss what they think the director is thinking. We watch the clip a second time listening to the director. This activity helps students think about author’s choice of detail, character development, method of narration, and structure of a piece.

Literary Analysis — Thanks to Sylvia Spruill for introducing me to these clips and the use of film in the classroom in a summer workshop where I got the following ideas. The Fast and the Furious 2001 race scene can be used to teach several concepts. We watch the scene once and discuss what we notice then we watch the scene again taking notes. Depending on the level of the class, I may prompt the class to take notes on character development, how the director manipulates time, or how selection of detail is important and helps the viewer form an opinion. From this activity, we can easily bridge to a close reading of a passage from a novel using the same skills. The Carl and Ellie’s love story from Up is a great clip for discussing exposition and/or characterization. Other clips I often use frequently are the girl in the red coat from Schlinder’s List to teach mood vs. tone and “What a Wonderful World” from Good Morning, Vietnam to teach irony.

Teach Point of View — Point of view is important in teaching characterization, selection of detail, and method of narration; all of these change based on the point of view. When we are studying the importance of point of view in short stories, I show my students a clip usually from Remember the Titans but almost any clip can work. First, have students identify the point of view and write a summary of it.

Next have students rewrite the same scene using a different point of view. Assign different points of view to different students and share the results with the class. This activity can also be used to introduce and discuss narrator reliability. Movie clips and Wing Clips are two great sites to search for clips or YouTube always works.

Rhetorical Devices — The American Rhetoric website has an entire bank of movie speeches just waiting for teachers to use. After reviewing rhetorical devices, Aristotle’s argumentative appeals, and general principles of persuasion, I send my students to this website for a virtual scavenger hunt for examples. I show and model this example before they begin:

Independence Day speech – to teach repetition, rule of three, contrast, parallel structure, pathos).

Film is a student-friendly platform for teaching difficult literary concepts and themes, and if used correctly can help students grasp these ideas quickly. If you’re not using film to teach, what better time than Oscar week to start?

How to analyze a scene in a film

Writing a film analysis essay should be fun, right? You have a chance to watch a movie and then to write your impressions. Seems easy-peasy!

But, after watching a movie, you find yourself in front of a blank sheet of paper, without knowing where to start, how to organise your essay and what are the essential points you need to cover and analyse.

Knowing how to organise your film analysis essay is half the battle. Therefore, just follow this structure and you’ll be able to start writing without a hitch right away.


The introductory part of a film analysis essay contains some fundamental information about the movie, like the film title, release date, and director’s name. In other words, the reader should get familiar with some background information about the film. It would be good to research the filmmaker because it can reveal significant insights related to the movie which you can use in your analysis.

Also, you should point out the central theme or ideas in the movie, explaining the reason why it was made. Don’t hesitate to say what do you think; it’s quite desirable to express your point of view.

The last thing your introduction should include is your thesis statement and basically, explain what will be your focus.


After presenting the main facts about the film, it’s time to go deeper into analysis and summarise it.

The trick to making it more powerful is always to assume that your professor hasn’t seen the movie. In that way, you won’t leave out some important information. The best way to make sure you’ve covered everything in your summary is to answer great five Ws – who, what, when, where, why, and how, as well.

Likewise, you can discuss anything related to your opinion, structure or style. Just remember that you need to support anything you say with examples or quotes from the film itself. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a viable comment.


This is the core of your essay that involves your critical analysis of the film and impressions about it but supported by claims from the movie or any other relevant material.

Also, films are complex artwork that include many creative elements which are all connected and have their reason of existence. That’s why you should pay attention closely to these elements and analyze them too.

A good script has a logical sequence of events, completion of scenes, characters development, and dialogs. So, these are the elements you should analyze when it comes to the scenario.

After watching the film, try to reproduce the plot mentally and see if you understood the logic of events and the motives of the actors. If it’s difficult to explain or find reasons for some scene, then it isn’t such a great scenario.

The director is responsible for every aspect of the movie process, such as scenario execution, selection of the plans, and even tasks for actors.

In this part of the analysis, you can focus on the fact how the director realized the script or compare this film to his other films. It will help you understand better his way of directing and come up to some conclusions relevant to your thesis and analysis.

Casting is another significant element to take into consideration in your film analysis essay. Actors bring the script and director’s idea into reality.

Therefore, after watching the movie, think if the actors are realistic and if they portray the role of their character effectively? More importantly, consider how their acting corresponds to the main idea of the film and your thesis statement.

This represents an important element of every movie. It sets the mood and enhances some actions or sceneries of the film.

That’s why you should try to evaluate how music reflects the mood of the film or the impact it has on what is happening on the screen. Is it supportive or distracting?

Visual elements, like special effects, costumes, and make-up, also have a considerable role in the overall movie impact. They need to reflect the atmosphere of the film. It is especially important for historical movies because visual elements need to evoke a specific era.

Therefore, pay attention to costumes and special effects and analyse their impact on the film.

However, make sure you analyse only the elements that are related to your thesis statement, that can support it or help you make your point. Otherwise, you risk drifting away from the main argument.


In the end, re-state your thesis and offer a summary of the previously mentioned concepts in a new and more decisive way, making a case for your analysis.

Besides, you can recommend to your reader to watch this film or to avoid it completely.

Final words

Writing essays about films should be exciting and easy activity. Just follow these guidelines on how to structure it, details you need to pay attention to, and what should be the essence of your essay, so you’ll definitely look forward to writing your next film analysis essay and enjoy in the whole process.

How to analyze a scene in a film

Jacob Dillon is a professional writer and distinctive journalist from Sydney. Being passionate about what he does, Jacob likes to discuss stirring events as well as express his opinion about technological advancements and evolution of society. Find Jacob on Twitter and Facebook.