An understanding of how filmmakers achieve emotional impact is an essential skill for critical viewing. Shot design, soundtrack, music, lighting, costumes, sets, and editing — all affect the message of any film. The materials linked to this web page have been written by John Golden, a leading expert on the effective use of film in the classroom. They will assist in introducing these concepts to students.
- Introducing Theatrical and Cinematic Technique (an article that can be used as a student handout or the basis for a teacher’s lecture); and
- Student Worksheet.
Teachers should review the two documents and determine how best to present this topic to their classes. TWM believes that a full exploration of cinematic and theatrical techniques in film is worth at least four class periods because students will be watching screens many hours a week, virtually all their lives. There are few subjects in the curriculum which will be more relevant or have more of an impact on students than learning to analyze the techniques used by filmmakers.
In addition, most English Language Arts curriculum standards require that students be taught to analyze and appreciate media and screen presentations.
There are many ways that these materials can be presented to a class. Teachers can divide students into groups of no larger than four individuals and assign each group one of the topics presented in the article. Each group should be instructed to select from their favorite movies several short examples (usually no more than three minutes) of the technique assigned to them. They will present the information from the article that relates to their topic to the class and illustrate their presentation with their examples. (Instruct students that they may not present examples showing violence or sex and to screen the examples in advance.)
Another possibility is for teachers to present the information from the article, either by having students read the article or through a lecture or, perhaps, through a combination of these techniques. Then the class should focus on scenes from a popular movie which demonstrates the use of the various cinematic techniques. Have students fill out the worksheet and discuss the techniques used in the film. This avoids the necessity of showing a film or a clip relating only to cinematic technique and increases the time spent on the film. Discuss the different responses in class.
Teachers should also add to the analysis any literary devices employed by the filmmakers in telling the story of the movie, such as irony, flashback, foreshadowing, subplot, character development, and so on.
Another alternative is to stop any film shown to students for another purpose to show a sample of the filmmakers’ technique. If teachers use more than one film in a term, the instruction for each film can focus on a different set of techniques rather than presenting the full panoply of the filmmakers’ art in one movie. This way, the teacher will be able to bring a stronger focus to each individual technique.
There are many other ways to present these materials to students and most of them will lead to interesting classes. Students will be interested in the topic; it has something to do with their own lives.