NARRATIVE STRUCTURE IN FILM
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NARRATIVE STRUCTURE IN FILM

How Film Tell Stories

Narrative form is the structure through which movies tell stories. When we talk about „going to the movies” we almost always mean – we are going to see a narrative film- a film that tells a story.

The film is a story that the creators tell us with the help of the illusion of moving images. Let’s try to focus for a moment on the rules by which this story is built. It is similar to the language you use every day to provide information to others. Basic element:

Movie image frame, i.e. a single movie image. It’s a fragment of the space that the camera lens covers. When shooting, you can see the image to be recorded in the viewfinder or on the camera display. Selecting the image to be filmed is cropping. Also, you, when you are filming or photographing something, you choose the right frame, i.e. you perform the framing action. The frames is something a little different than a film frame. A film frame is a technical concept, while the frame is the smallest element, a component of a film as a certain work. The composition is a combination of elements that make up the whole. We are talking about the composition of a literary, artistic or film work, but also, for example, about a floral composition! Also, a single image that we want to record with a camera has its own composition, because it consists of all the elements that are visible in it. In the composition, not only these constituent elements are important, but also the way they are combined.

Frame composition

Many rules are used in frame composition. How they are applied has a decisive influence on the style of the whole film, on how the film story will be told. Sometimes these rules are sometimes broken by filmmakers on purpose (in order to achieve an interesting effect), but this does not mean that they do not know them or cannot use them.

Sometimes it is worth placing the most important point of a given frame in the center of the frame (for example, the character of a movie hero to emphasize his distinctiveness, otherness or importance). Often, however, much more interesting and better are those images (also film ones), whose authors apply the rule of three-division, which is a somewhat simplified version commonly found in nature, known since antiquity and used in architecture and painting for so-called the golden ratio.

In composing film stills (both individual and their entire series), rules related to directions, i.e. division into right and left are also used. In our part of the world, we’re used to looking at images („reading them”) from left to right.

The perspective of certain operations is to cause a flat image to give the impression of depth, three-dimensionality. This is achieved thanks to the proper construction and operation of closer and further plans in the image (frame). What is in the foreground, and therefore closer to the camera, is larger and draws the viewer’s attention more than what is further and smaller. Thus, the most important characters or objects (props) will usually be in the foreground.

The term „film set” says what part of the space can be seen in the frame (that is, let’s recall – the image we will see through the viewfinder of the camera). What you will see depends not only on where the camera will be placed (straight, above or below), but also on how far from the filmed object it will be (and also on what lens will be used in the camera and how illuminated and arranged the space that is being filmed).

The distant plan (also called total plan) is a comprehensive view of the landscape or film decoration. People may not be there at all or they can only be seen in the distance. A distant plan serves to inform the viewer where the film action takes place, which is why shots in this set usually appear at the very beginning of the film, and then at the beginning of the stage or a series of scenes (sequences) taking place in some new place. If the film was, for example, a primary school, then at the beginning of the film there will probably be a distant view showing the school building and the courtyard, where the characters of children with school bags and backpacks will be visible in the distance.

The general plan usually presents an interior or open air, in which entire silhouettes of actors are visible. The shot in the general plan usually serves to show the hero of the film in certain conditions, surroundings and the relationship of a given character with that environment. In our example with the school, such an overview in the general plan could appear after the distant perspective and show the class together with students sitting on the benches and a teacher entering the room and standing in front of the blackboard.

The full plan shows the entire actors (from head to toe) against a background of a fragment of decorations. In our example, it could be a shot depicting the entire teacher’s figure against the wall on which the board is hanging.

The American plan depicts the character of the actor or actors from the knees up. Shots in such a plan are usually used in scenes where the characters talk to each other. Thanks to this, we can see not only their face and gestures but also a fragment of the environment in which the scene takes place. Why the American plan? Because it was invented and used eagerly in America. Apparently, this kind of plan was invented by Western creators. The idea was to see the revolvers the cowboys wore holsters on special belts! Returning to our example about the school, this plan could be used when filming a teacher’s conversation with one selected student.

The medium plan (also called semi-full and belt) shows the characters from the waist up. Like the American set, it is used to film dialogues but allows you to focus a bit more on the facial expressions of the characters.

The close plan (also called a semi-close-up), in turn, shows the actor’s bust against the background of a fragment of decoration. We can say that this is a film portrait in which the most important person is presented. Using our example, a close-up approach could be used to continue the student’s conversation with the teacher. Thanks to that we could focus even more on the details of this conversation and the character’s reactions.

The great plan (also called close-up) presents the actor’s face or an object (object) in such a way that this image fills the entire space of the frame. Thanks to this approach, the viewer can very closely observe the actor’s facial expression or the filmed object. Returning to our example with the school: in such a great plan could be shown the jubilant face of a student who during a conversation with the teacher learned that he had won the inter-school competition for the best holiday film.

The detail (also called a great close-up) shows some part of the object being filmed. It can be a fragment of a human body (e.g. hand or mouth), an object (prop) or a fragment of a decoration. This image fills the entire screen. This kind of shot focuses in particular on the presented object. In our example, in the plan called detail one could present the moment when the teacher congratulates the student with a handshake (a great close-up would show the laced hands of the teacher and the student).

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