In 2019, Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s film “Parasite,” swept the Academy Awards. It became the first non-English language movie to score the coveted Best Picture award and won three other awards in that ceremony. Over the course of the year, “Parasite” would go on to win 300 other awards.
The near universal acclaim the film garnered has spawned film analysis videos and articles. These analyses look for meaning in the movie “Parasite,” exploring the language used in the dialogue to even the decadent foods showcased in the film.
The film deserved its acclaim because of how Bong Goon Ho masterfully utilized the different film tools available to movie makers. These tools don’t refer to the cameras other physical equipment used in production. Rather, they refer to techniques such as the different types of lighting in film, the use of diegetic sound to set a scene or switching to an aerial perspective.
Learn how a great filmmaker can use these filmmaking tools to create a sumptuous visual experience.
For the first few decades of its existence, film was dominated by silent movies that used vaudevillian techniques to showcase their stories. Actors like Charlie Chaplin, Theda Bara and Lon Chaney made their debuts by overexaggerating their characters to convey their emotions without spoken dialogue.
But when “The Jazz Singer” came out in 1927, it marked the rise of the talkies. Since then, most filmmakers have used dialogue to convey information, narration and themes in their movies.
When discussing films, it is almost impossible to discount the dialogue used.
Here are some tips on how you can use dialogue efficiently in the film.
- Avoid using too much expository dialogue. This refers to dialogue that only serves to dump information on the viewer.
- Dialogue, in general, should be organic and natural. Unless the scene or characterization calls for stilted and awkward dialogue, the words should flow naturally.
- Invest in subtext and insinuation. Not every piece of dialogue should be laden with subtext, but what isn’t said in a scene can be just as important as what it stated.
- Sometimes the absence of dialogue can be just as meaningful. Be sure to include scenes where the non-vocal performances of your actors shine.
Most films are undeniably artifice, carefully crafted illusions designed to entertain or evoke thought. Everyone understands that the actors on screen don’t really resemble their actual personas. Although there are still films that don’t have dialogue, all films need performances from actors.
Conveying the correct thoughts and evoking the right emotions from an actor is one of the most powerful film tools a movie maker has, especially the director. It is their vision and their eye that guides the performances of actors and without determination and a clear goal, performances can fall flat.
- Facial expressions matter just as much as how people say their lines. The most meaningful bit of dialogue can be rendered silly when paired with the wrong facial acting.
- Body language and movement can add so much to any performance. The way a character moves can convey their confidence, state of their health or even their mentality.
- Don’t discount the actors‘ contributions to their performances. They can offer valuable insight that could enhance the way they act on screen. Improvised dialogue or gestures could lend more authenticity to any performance.
- The way they say things can be analyzed heavily and many film discussions often revolve around the speech patterns of characters. Take note of their accents and emphasis when directing performances.
Even before the advent of film dialogue, sound was already a huge part of cinematography and filmmaking. Pianists would often be hired by movie theaters in the 1920s to play pieces to accompany the films being screened.
The first film showing in 1896 was screened with a pianist playing accompanying pieces. When film evolved to include not just dialogue but sound effects and background music, it added another layer of complexity to making films. It also provided directors and movie makers with a new filmmaking tool they could use to create great works.
Sound in movie is categorized between diegetic sound and non-diegetic sound. Diegetic sound refers to any sound or noise that occurs in the film’s setting.
For example, a car honking its horn at the protagonist, the scream of a horror movie victim and the sound of rain in a stormy scene are all diegetic because they occur in the setting.
Non-diegetic sounds are sounds that are reserved only for the audience. The tense music as the shark approaches in the movie “Jaws” cannot be heard by the would-be victims. The narration at the beginning of a fantasy epic is told to no one but the audience.
Learning how to use both types of sound is crucial in creating a convincing and realistic movie environment.
- Equipment matters in creating great sound design and you should invest in microphones that can clearly capture rich audio.
- Editing is crucial in making sound effective in the movie. You want to dilute as much background noise while keeping the dialogue and important sound effects at optimum levels.
- Sometimes the absence of sound can be great for emphasizing emotions. A scene can be more impactful without swelling background music as it makes audiences listen to the characters, not the soundtrack.
There are different types of lighting in film, all of which can be important in setting mood and tone. Even before movies transitioned to full color in the 1930s, black and white filmmakers understood that the masterful use of lighting as well as shadow were crucial film tools.
For example, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” released in 1920, used painted shadows and white makeup to create evocative appearances. In modern films, lighting can heighten mood and create all sorts of effects from evoke fear, inspire whimsy and even set a time period.
- Avoid flat lighting that is unflattering to everyone. Flat or harsh lighting should be reserved for scenes that emphasize starkness, brutality or pessimism, not used throughout.
- Find the lighting that suits your themes best. Note that theme does not necessarily mean genre. You can have an effective horror movie, a genre predominantly shot in darkness, that takes place in well-lit spaces.
- Find colors that work well with the lighting you use. A character dressed in bright colors in dark scenes will stand out while a character in muted tones will fade. Use the interplay of color and light to make interesting emphasis.
- Never rely entirely on postproduction when editing lighting. That can lead to scenes looking washed out or too intense. Always create optimum lighting conditions when shooting for the best appearances.
The camera acts as the eye of the director and by extension the eye of the audience. The only things that an audience member can see are the things recorded by the camera and thus it is essential that a lot of thought is put into determining not only what but how these images are captured.
No one can discuss films without bringing up the different camera angles and perspectives used by a director.
- Be careful of what you don’t show in a film. For example, off-screen events can be more impactful if their presence is foreshadowed by sound or lighting.
- Unusual perspectives help showcase the breadth of the film that normal views can’t. Aerial perspective shots can reveal dramatic landscapes. Extreme closeups can make a conversation more intense. A split diopter shot can evoke panic and dread.
- Make sure the perspective and angle used in a shot fits the tone of the scene. For example, the famous tilted Dutch angle evokes uncanniness and dread which would make it out of place in a straightforward conversation.
- Sometimes being still is enough. Shaky camera work and closeups are useful film tools but sometimes static is best.
Filmmaking combines the performance of theater, the rigor of sound design and the magic of photography. Learning every film tool available to movie makers takes time and practice. This guide can be your best shot at starting your film career the right way.