How to Study Film Craft through Analysis

How to Study Film Craft through AnalysisPeople are shocked to hear how often I watch movies. After I share that I’m not just watching, but studying the films, they become amazed at how I draw information from the greatest directors of our time. The steps are simple enough and the value of my findings exceeds that of what a focused film student can gain from a professor, so I’ve decided to share the steps of my analysis process.

  1. Watch the Film for Fun. The first screening is done for the purpose of entertainment and gives a solid overview of story and the emotional impact it makes. It reveals the obvious set pieces and whether it worked or didn’t. The structure of the story also becomes apparent.
  1. Analyze Favorite Scenes. The next several viewings are only of the best scenes that stood out during the first screening. These subsequent viewings allow for the analysis of the camera, set-ups, orchestration and editorial flow. Further focus can be placed on transitions, entrances and exits, character reveals, and over all cinematic presence.
  1. Ask Questions. Pinpoint a favorite sequence, segment and shot. Ask why it worked and what set up was necessary to make it work. Ask what the role of the camera, editing, acting, music and other key elements were in the successful creation of the scene. Then, ask “what if” questions and determine if the scene could be changed for the good or bad.
  1. Breakdown the Scene. Rebuild the scene from a preproduction perspective, making directorial notes that are executable. Determine the emotional scale of each shot, scene and sequence. Reduce the dramatic blocks and narrative beats to writing. Create margin notes for expanding an actor’s performance with verbs that can increase or decrease the performance for a potential reshoot. Find a way to be immersed in the emotional investment of the main characters and notate the highlights for a sequel treatment.
  1. Recut the Film. Capture favorite scenes and dreaded scenes to video and re-edit the segments for greater emotional impact. Shift the tone of the scene by changing the cutting pace, music or soundtrack. Or, take a weak film and cut it down to a half hour piece, dropping all slow segments and subplots, but maintaining the action plot beats.

These analysis steps put a director through several of the processes of making a film without making a film. It’s great for practice, but more importantly it gives the director experiential understanding of what works and what doesn’t – Leading to a more diverse tool belt for his next movie.

What steps do you take in analyzing a film?

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers

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