Routledge

Student Resources

Study Skills: How to study film

Film studies as a subject requires you to undertake:

And the study of:

In film studies this can be separated into micro and macro elements; we could also refer to it as:

And

The ability to do this successfully relies on the development of particular study skills — which will also be useful across your other subjects.

Developing a system of study:

Whichever film you are studying, the following categories are a useful way of organising your knowledge and ideas:

Film Language

The identification of film language techniques is a very important foundation for your wider understanding of the film.

Identifying film techniques is an example of primary research and involves detailed study of specific aspects of the chosen film.

First viewing

Before you make detailed notes, start your study be asking more general questions about the film style e.g.:

These types of general questions will help you to decide which areas to focus on in your more detailed analysis of techniques.

Sequence analysis

The sequence should be chosen for a reason:

Note taking

To identify the techniques you need to make focused and selective notes. Decide which aspects you are going to study and only make notes on that technique. Some people find that using a table is helpful.

Sample analysis: Film language techniques in the opening sequence from The Descent (Marshall, 2004)

Technique Example
Framing Variety of extreme close up and long shots.
Reverse zoom shot in the hospital corridor.
Lighting As Sarah stands in the hospital corridor a green light surrounds her.
Costume Hospital gown, wild hair and staring eyes.

These notes could then be developed to consider the effect of the technique on the audience and the way in which they contribute to the meaning:

Technique Example Effect/Meaning
Framing Variety of extreme close up and long shots.
Reverse zoom shot in the hospital corridor.
The close up on the rushing water and the faces of the women emphasise the mood of exhilaration.
Disorientating effect on the audience.
Lighting As Sarah stands in the hospital corridor a green light surrounds her. It is not clear if this is a real experience or not, links to horror genre for first time.
Costume Hospital gown, wild hair and staring eyes. Represents Sarah's grief (madness?), links to the horror genre with reference to Carrie.

Beyond the effects and meaning created by the film language you need to consider the way in which films may also:

This is still connected to techniques e.g.: the frequent use of close ups of the two main characters in Dirty Pretty Things humanises the central characters and makes us feel close to them (important in terms of representing refugees in a positive way).

However you will also need to consider relevant theoretical approaches:

The study of theoretical approaches is secondary research. You will need to read and make notes on the different approaches to be sure that you understand them. Remember, once you have understood the theory you will then be able to apply it to any film — you do not need to look for work on your specific film.

Context

Film language techniques, messages and context overlap and affect each other. Context would include:

This diagram, a mind map, is one way of outlining — and keeping track of — your findings and analysis. A mind map can also help you to see the way in which the different areas overlap.

The Next Stage

It may be that you do need to study all the areas of the diagram above, or you may want to focus on a particular area; again a mind map can help you to identify an approach to structure your study.