As many of you would probably agree, Lost is superb in every aspect. Story, mythology, characters, music, direction, set design, editing, cinematography, etc. Notice that as I went on I went more into what’s behind the camera. This is the first of a new, weekly analytical post delving into the filmmaking aspects of Lost. There are plenty of posts on plot, characters, and OMG moments. Every aspect of an episode plays into your interpretation of it, whether you realize it or not. Enter mise-en-scène.
Mise-en-scène is the artistry in everything you see and hear in any given filmmaking moment. Most importantly, it’s mostly about psychology. How do angles affect your feelings towards a character? What does fast cutting from shot to shot affect your heart rate during a chase scene? What affects do handheld shots versus more static cinematography have on what you take away from the scene? These are the types of observations I will write about. I hope to provide something new, fresh, and informative.
First, a bit of background on me (don’t worry, I’ll try to make it as quick and painless as possible). I currently work in Hollywood (Studio City to be exact) as an Editor and Post Production Supervisor for a feature documentary on Malaria in Africa. I’m finishing up my degree in Film Production with a Narrative Film Editing emphasis and have edited eight short films in the last two years. I’ve been on more than 20 film sets and for 3 of them, I was 1st Assistant Director.
Okay, back to mise-en-scène. What is it? I don’t know. And from what I’ve learned, that’s the point. It’s interpretable yet teachable; there are rules, yet you can break them as long as you know what they are. Confused? Me too. For some reason, I wanted to put a brief list of all the things I’ll discuss. Don’t be afraid to Google any of these terms if I accidentally don’t explain something. In any case, here’s a breakdown of that I will cover in my filmmaking-side of analyzing Lost:
As ridiculous as this site is, it’d probably help a lot.
- Handheld vs. Sticks (the on-set term for a professional tripod)
- Focal length (the ‘zoom’ of the shot)
- Camera Angles (low, med, high, bird’s-eye, P.O.V.)
- Framing (Long shot, Close Up, MCU, 2 Shot… the list goes on)
- Camera Movement (Pan, Tilt, Dolly, Tracking, Crane, Jib, Hitchcock Effect)
- Focus Pulls (Rack focus, etc.)
- Color Correction/Lens Filters (colors, the ‘look’)
- Overall Pace
- Cross-cutting (cutting back and forth between multiple scenes)
- Time extension vs. Time Distortion
- 180 degree line
- Sound Design
- Props (different department but let’s just put it in here anyway)
So, because I could spend a long, boring time disecting every shot (one of my professors made us do that to ‘The Graduate’ 3 times), I will just quickly go through notable scenes and point out an interesting facet of the mise-en-scène that impacted your interpretation/feelings towards the scene without you even knowing it.
Jin waking up in Jungle
We start out with an exciting Jib shot, taking us into the scene, back into the action. This isn’t at all like a continuation of a scene such as the ingenious ”Do you guys have any Milk?” line in Season 2. The next episode was a cold open right back at the scene. Here, it’s the start of a new chapter in the season. It’s as if the premise for the last 3rd of the season is now finally in motion.
The lighting is dramatic and dark. Now, you might say that “well, it has to be dark, the scene is at night!” Naturally. But why is the scene at night? What does that mean? Now, I know I’m starting out simple here because by the end I’m going to be talking about eyelines and match-cuts but I wanted to make this point clear: with the exception of the occasional prop error, every single thing you see on screen is controlled by one artist or another, be that a writer, production designer, cinematographer, director, anyone involved in the production. Thus, everything is fair game for analyzation, including the simplest fact that this scene takes place at night.
After Ben says “Please… help…” in the oh-so-creepy way reminiscent of Jacob in Season 3, notice the editing and how quickly it goes. I’m sure for the first cut of the scene, he put Ben in the van, closed the door, walked around, blah blah blah… here it’s BOOM BOOM BOOM. You don’t even think about it because you don’t need to see Jin do all those things. It quickens the pace by cheating time and thus creating more tension.
Okay, this next part might have you roll your eyes (if you’re still with me, that is). The simple direction a given character moves or looks has an impact on our psychology. Think about that for a second. More specifically, westerners read from left to right. When Jin gets in the car and drives away, which direction is he driving? From left to right. This is a friendly motion for our brains because our eyes are so used to moving left to right. It gives us the feeling that we’re with this character and feel for them. Now, obviously, one should not apply this to every single shot ever, but large movements in Lost (cars driving away, trekking in the jungle, etc.) nearly always follow this rule and it’s beautifully executed.
I hope I haven’t lost you to, “This guy is reading way too much into one simple shot.” However, the fact remains that they spend 10 days shooting a 42 page script (a minute of film is about a page of script). That’s about 4 pages per day. With the required set-up time, they probably spent half a day shooting this 2 minute scene. They put time into planning every shot and how to spend every moment.
Now, when a character is specifically moving from right to left, it sometimes doesn’t feel right. It feels like something is wrong and out of place. This could be a good guy in bad guy territory, designed to make you uneasy. The general direction the gang traveled to the Black Rock in the Season 1 finale was from right to left. When Jack was walking out to the dock where the submarine was in Season 3, he was moving left to right. Yet when Ben first came to the island, he was getting off the submarine and the director of photography made sure to film Ben moving left to right. Same location, but different characters and different contexts. In the Season 1 finale, what side did we primarily stay on the raft? Which direction was it always moving? I think you can guess. When Ben was running through the jungle in Namaste, he was running from right to left. These are all conscious choices made by the cinematographer/director to affect your unconscious interpretation of what’s going on.
Kate’s First Visit to Cassidy
Now, always keep in mind the vastly large camera techniques used in flashbacks/flashforwards vs. on-island cinematography. On-island jungle shots are 99% hand-held. Flashbacks are 99% on sticks (tripod) and any time there’s handheld it’s far less shaky than on-island handheld. This helps the viewer easily distinguish between the two parallel naratives.
There was an interesting cut here, going from Kate picking up Aaron to a steadycam shot of her singing to him. Notice the sound bridge, she ’starts’ singing when he’s still in the car seat then it cuts to her walking, singing the song.
Lost actually doesn’t do a lot of smooth steadycam shots like this. It conveys simplicity, fluidity, and is a non-confrontational camera movement. It’s conveying that ‘everything is alright’ because it is in Kate’s world.
This one’s pretty simple. Über-handheld shot to convey chaos and panic, much like every shot on the island (except those involving Locke, those are usually static, conveying he has control).
Sonic Weapon Fence
Once again, they’re driving left to right (friendly movement). We’re on their side, feeling their feelings. What direction are they walking when we’re in The Other’s territory? Yep. Right to left. Hazzah! The movement makes you feel slightly uncomfortable, even if you never consciously noticed it.
Notice the Dolly-In on both shots to add a ton of drama to the scene.
That’s all I got for tonight. Great episode. I hope you guys enjoyed the first of what will hopefully be a long-running series of posts delving into how Hollywood screws with your brains! In the off-season, I plan to dive into past seasons’ episodes. Let me know what you guys think in the comments!
By nato64 at docarzt