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Understanding the Language of Movies: Composition

July 31, 2019

When we're trying to understand a film's story, there's much more to it than just the actor's dialogue. A lot of how we follow a movie comes down to the director's decisions on composition. Whether it's the scenery, the props or how the actors are positioned, composition is the art of organising each element so that the audience can easily follow the progress of the narrative on-screen. Below, we've broken down the basics of composition so that you can go out and start filming your own flicks today.

The emergence of modern composition in movies 

The beginnings of cinema during the early 20th century remained much like the stage theatre that came before. Most camera angles remained static and the dialogue was delivered to the audience straight down the camera. But early directorial pioneers soon discovered that the audience didn't lose track of the narrative if they changed the framing or shifted the focus away from a character that was speaking. This newfound freedom gave rise to films that portrayed characters as multifaceted and realistic, while technological improvements also allowed directors greater flexibility when it came to capturing all the action.

At its core, a film's composition is imperative to storytelling because it conveys precisely where the audience should focus their attention. When there are numerous people in the scene, but only one person you should be paying attention to, good composition makes it obvious where you should direct your attention. Meanwhile, thoughtful composition also gives directors the chance to create their own style as adding creative flair builds a unique visual language that can become instantly recognisable by audiences around the world! 

Thoughtful composition leads to great films!

When it comes to making your own films, many factors relate to composition and how your story is visually conveyed. But one important consideration is the type of lenses you use. Wide-angle lenses are ideal for small spaces when you need to include more information about the setting that surrounds your subject. Telephoto lenses are useful for producing stylistic shots that offer an appealing shallow depth of field. Whatever choice you make, by carefully reflecting on where each frame guides the audience's attention, soon you'll be making your own top-notch cinematic productions.

Check out these directors for some inspiration on composition: