One of the great things about being a communication major at USG is having access to the digital and visual communication classes. They’re interesting classes, and more useful than ever!
One of the classes I’m taking this semester is COMM 373: Digital Visual Narrative, otherwise known as Movie Directing. It’s all about the basic building blocks of making movies: different camera angles, storytelling guidelines, choosing background music, and so on. Taking this class has changed the way I’ve been watching movies lately and I’d like to share the experience with you. It’s kind of like digging for buried treasure!
Let’s have a look at this clip from Legally Blonde:
Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) has gotten into Harvard Law School and just walked into her ex-boyfriend, Warner (Matthew Davis). If you haven’t seen Legally Blonde before, Warner dumped Elle because he didn’t believe that a girl who likes fashion as much as Elle could be “serious” enough for him. She studied her brains out and got into Harvard to convince him to take her back. Knowing that, what do we see in how this scene is constructed?
1. Color! Color psychology is my favorite movie magic trick. Here we see Elle as the only student in the building wearing green (sparkly green, at that), while everyone else is wearing muted colors like khaki and gray. According to Colorpsychology.org, green represents growth, balance, and soul-searching. It’s the perfect color for a character who discovers her self-worth like Elle!
2. Cinematography! Elle’s conversation with Warner is filmed at a medium close-up. Medium close-up shots are designed to be vaguely uncomfortable, just like the characters. Elle may look calm and collected—I know a few people who would love to have confidence like that—but inside, she’s doing several dozen cartwheels and Warner doesn’t need to see that. Warner, meanwhile, is not collected. Not one bit.
3. Music! Listen to the background score. It stops while Elle and Warner are talking and doesn’t pick back up until she walks away. When the music does come back, it starts with a low horn sound before jumping back into the happy music. It’s like even the score is holding its breath during an awkward conversation, then exhales as Elle leaves: “Whew! Glad that’s over. Girl, you nailed that!”
See what I mean? The more you know about how movies are made, the more you can appreciate the little touches. If you’re a communication major, and you thought this was interesting, ask your advisor about taking Professor Nixon’s courses this Spring! Registration opens up on November 12th. If you’re not a communication major, ask your advisor anyway. There’s no harm in trying! You can also check out Understanding Movies by Louis Giannetti. There are several editions available online for only a few dollars, and the older versions are just as good as the newest one. Have fun!