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4 Different Types of Formal Film Analysis

The formal analysis of any film project is an integral concept that all filmmakers and aspiring producers should have a thorough understanding of. Examining the plentitude of lighting, sound, editing, transitional devices, and cinematic elements which go into the production of a film represents the essence of formal film analysis but certain types of formal analysis for film media will focus more heavily on particular elements than others. Conducting one of these different types of formal film analysis is an important step for any aspiring filmmaker to consider as they engage in new, heightened, understanding of the filmmaking process and the creative elements behind production.

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Semiotic Film Analysis

Semiotic film analysis represents the unique interpretation of a film in terms of the signs and symbols that are used in the story to form metaphorical connections and unique analogies.

Analyzing a film in this capacity results in a unique description of the ways that characters and other elements of the film have symbolism and underlying meanings.

Based on the particular overall culture or historical context of the story.

Symbolic Meaning

Essentially, semiotic film analysis is a way of explaining how an audience finds meaning and understanding in all the different codes and symbols represented within a film.

Moreover, studying the symbolic meaning of a film and deconstructing the signs and symbolism within the film through semiotic analysis requires strong attention to detail.

As it can be very difficult to make the connection between all of the hidden signs or symbols in some films.

Formal Film Analysis

Studying signs, codes and conventions to create meaning in a film is just one of the many ways to encounter formal film analysis.

In fact, of all the different types of formal film analysis, semiotics represents probably one of the trickiest and yet most profound.

Through semiotic analysis we see that the decoded meanings in many films are actually not our ideas at all but that of the producer or the director, or the filmmaker himself.

When examining or analyzing semiotics, ask the following:

  • Are there objects or symbols that frequently appear throughout the film?
  • What could the objects mean?
  • What steps does the director take in establishing the food, location, language, or other elements of the film in?
  • How are the symbols of the film relative to other symbols or objects?
  • How could the symbols associate with particular signs or historical elements in reality?

A Richness

A variety of films are rich in symbolism and can make excellent features of semiotic analysis. 

Narrative Film Analysis

One of several different types of formal film analysis, narrative analysis is probably the simplest to explain. In that it represents the examination of narrative structure.

Including the characters, plot, and overall narrative of the film. Narrative film analysis consists of reviewing the way a story is told, and examining things like:

  • How the film relates to the typical three-act-story structure.
  • What the individual acts of the film are.
  • How does the plot differ from the actual narrative structure?
  • What is the plot of the film?
  • What is the method of sharing the story?

The Director’s POV

 narrative analysis of a film may look at how the Director introduces characters and later creates individual character arcs to build the story.

For instance, if the story were told in a different way, would the characters have the same relationships or bonds?

Analyzing the narrative structure of a film certainly has advantages over some of the other different types of formal film analysis.

However it’s important to realize that when analyzing the narrative? You should not spend too much time rewriting or summarizing the original narrative.

Cultural & Historical Film Analysis

Analyzing a film through cultural or historical analysis represents one of the oldest options of all the different types of formal film analysis. 

Examining cultural tones, underlying historical elements and the broader context of a film can have profound benefits.

Theorists that seek to perform cultural film analysis can apply their examination to the particular historical, social, or theoretical elements of the story.

We can answer many questions via the cultural analysis of a film. 

Most frequently, through cultural analysis the following questions arise:

  • What’s the timeframe upon which the film was produced? During what era?
  • How does production during this period of history impact underlying elements of tone, storyline, and plot?
  • Would the biographical understanding of the film be different if it were produced during a different historic timeframe?
  • How does the date of creation impact your view of the film?
  • Do specific elements of film theory apply based on the analysis of historical balance of the film?

An Understanding

As you can see, historically, film analysis requires examination of underlying culture and historical views of a particular time in order to define understanding.

Mise-en-Scene Film Analysis

Of all the different types of formal film analysis, mise-en-scene represents probably the most complicated to explain for the non-film-professional.

Mise-en-scene, or what’s happening on the screen through the arrangement of compositional elements that make up the film.

Furthermore, to analyze a film in this capacity, the student explores specific scenes and elements of individual shots to define how they are juxtaposed by the Director.

Analyzing mise-en-scene involves the following questions:

  • What effects are in use for the creation of each scene?
  • What is the purpose of special effects, sound, or other elements within the scene?
  • How does each scene impact the thematic delivery of the film?
  • What kind of broad point expression in relation to the film’s plot is delivered through the scene?

The Takeaway

With all the different types of formal film analysis available? It’s no wonder most aspiring filmmakers struggle to come to terms with exactly where to begin.

In fact, it’s quite common for any formal film analysis to take several twists and turns. But as long as a detailed approach to the analysis is produced?

The focus can really be on these many possible elements – the sky is the limit.