Elements of Design
Director Ridley Scott without prior notice showered his cast in real internal organs purchased from a local butcher to create authentic screams from his cast, in the ???chest burning??? scene in his 1986 production of Alien (Greenberg, 1993). Successful movies are made when the cast and crew can make a movie believable, even if its fiction. What the movie viewer sees on screen is a collaboration of several people, not just the performance of skilled actors. The mise en scene is what the viewer sees on screen, the lighting, the props, the costumes, and placement of everything in between. These decisions are made from the artist involved in production including the director, the production designer, and the art director along with several other crewmembers. The following is an example of the mise en scene- the lighting, the set, and the costumes- and how each aspect influences the two-minute movie clip, Harry Loves Sally, from the movie When Harry Met Sally.
When Harry Met Sally is a romantic comedy written by Nora Ephron, directed by Rob Reiner, and Produced by Andy Scheinman in 1989. The story is carried out over several years starting in 1977 when Harry and Sally meet and drive cross-country together. The two have different views on friendship and love and choose to part ways after the trip. Every few years, the two run into each other, catch up, and then continue disagreeing about love and friendship. Over the years, the two develop a strange attraction to one another but choose to ignore the feelings until the scene, Harry Loves Sally. The scene shows Sally at a New Years Eve party, Harry has rushed in, he confesses his love to her, and Sally accepts his love and the scene ends in a New Years Eve kiss (IMBD, 2011).
The director Rob Reiner was in charge of telling the actors what to do and how to do it. Reiner along with the co producer and the writer, Nora Ephron, would title the movie and choose the cast. Nora Ephron wrote the story and co-produced the movie so that she would continue to have a voice in the outcome of the movie. The producer Andy Scheinman was in charge of funding the movie, hiring personnel, and arranging the distributers for the movie. There are several other crewmembers listed in the staff as well, all with important jobs. The cinematographer was Barry Sonnenfeld, he was in charge of the lighting, and how each image was captured. The production design was done by Jane Muskey; she was in charge of the overall look of the set and the characters. No one particular part is more important to another in the movie making process each aspect of the mise en scene is very important (IMDB, 2011).
The lighting of a movie can tell the audience a lot about the movie. The lighting can also set the mood for the entire scene. In the clip, Harry Loves Sally, the lighting is not overly dramatic it is more subtle and calm. Prior to Harry??™s entrance Sally was lonely and a bit sad. The lighting in the scene plays on these emotions. The scene could have had bright shining lights and disco ball reflections on the dance floor because it was a New Year??™s party, however that would give the viewer the wrong emotions. The audience needed to feel just as unexcited about the party as Sally did, and this feeling was achieved. The set is just as important in creating this mood (Reiner, 1989).
How does one make a set for a New Years Eve party that is not exciting Well, in this clip, this is achieved by packing several people into the small room with very dull colored walls. Nothing in the room stands out; there are no bright decorations, or props, that would draw attention away from Harry and Sally??™s conversation. There is no clear light source in the scene rather a careful use of three- point lighting to eliminate deep shadows. The background appears desaturated, or blurred but not completely distorted. The people dancing in the background are just props and not meant to distract the audience. The camera shots in this scene begin with medium close up shots and get slightly closer until the scene ends on an extreme close up of the Sally and Harry kissing, the exact motion of a couple moving in for a kiss. The most important part of this scene is the song in the background, Auld Lang Syne, which has to do with old friends. The set designer created a party with in the set, but was able to keep it from exciting the audience and distract from the intended emotions. Lighting and set design are not the only tricks used to set the mood, costumes also play a key role in this as well (Reiner, 1989).
Costumes help set the mood of the story and can reveal many things to the audience. The party attendants were all dressed in formal attire but no one person was flashy. Sally was wearing a black strapless dress, making her stand out against the black and blues hues of the background people. Wealth and status can also be set by costumes. Sally??™s formal dress suggests that she is middle class; she is not under dressed nor over-stated. The rest of the cast appear to be in similar style clothing to suggest a middle class gathering. These observations are not detrimental to the success of the movie but they do help tell the story. Costumes also set the time a movie is intending to suggest, for instance one might assume this movie is set in the 80??™s by the style of clothing worn. Makeup and hair are also important in keeping within the theme of the movie (Reiner, 1989).
Makeup and hairstyle can be realistic or stylized to emphasis the movies theme or style. When Harry met Sally is a more realistic type of story set in the same time that it was produced. The hair and makeup follow the normal trends for the 1980??™s. Sally??™s makeup was minimal but accurate for the 80??™s including shiny pink lips and blue eye shadow. Her large permed hair was normal style for women of the 80??™s. Harry was dressed casual and only wore make up to help with shadowing. His outfit was typical of an 80??™s person, a T-shirt, spots coat and jeans. His hair was short but did not appear fresh cut, or styled. Both Sally and Harrys makeup and hairstyle are intended to suggest that they are just average people (Reiner, 1989).
The elements of design, or the mise en scene, created in the scene, Harry Loves Sally, all work perfectly together to create cute love scene. The entire movie leads up to this moment, will they or wont they end up together. The lighting, the set, the costumes, makeup and hair all work together to tell a story of two average people and the journey they take to finally admit their love for each other. The scene could not have taken place anywhere else with this much affect because it has meaning from a previous part of the movie. I believe the cast worked well together and the production team was happy with the results of the movie. The movie and its cast was nominated for several awards including ASCAP, Oscar, American Comedy Award, BAFTA film award, Golden Globe and several others (IMDB, 2011).
IMDB (2011). When Harry Met Sally. Retrieved on July 3 2011, from
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Reiner, R. (1989). When Harry Met Sally: Harry Loves Sally. Retrieved from