The Top 5 Things to Look for Next Time You Watch a Movie

I’ve been meaning to type up a blog on some sort of movie-related topic, without it actually being a review, so this little ditty is the byproduct of that.

I have mentioned this before, but I fully believe that people should pay close attention to the movies they watch. There is so much more to a film than one might expect. The countless thousands of hours that go into production is nothing short of utterly astounding. There is far too much meticulous detail put into every second of what you see on-screen. I have prepared a short list of things you might keep in mind the next time you watch a movie (preferably nothing with Adam Sandler)…

It is also pure coincidence that nearly all of these begin with the letter “c”. This was completely unintentional and hopefully not too gimmicky.

1. Color

Color stands out to me as one of the most important pieces that completes the puzzle of cinema. Since the introduction of Technicolor and graded film strips, color has become one of the most important facets of moving picture. Color has the unique ability to convey or illicit emotion without doing much work.

Perhaps you may have heard of the term “color correction” before. This refers to placing multiple shots next to one another in the editing timeline of a project, and then ensuring that the colors match from shot to shot. Maybe one shot was a bit overexposed and then the next one is a little dark. The idea is to make the shots look compatible with one another.

Once this is done, the next step is called “color grading”. This is where movies like “Gangster Squad” get their signature look. This is why horror movies usually have more crushed out blacks and are a bit more desaturated than other movies. Have you ever noticed the subtle tints of the color blue in “Inception”, or the abundance of the color red in “Goodfellas”?

Notice the cyan tint in the shadows and the orange highlights.

Notice the cyan tint in the shadows and the orange highlights.

These colors represent something and help to tell a story. It’s unfortunately not always done well in the script, so color helps to get the point across.

2. Conflict

Drama is one of the most fun things in the world. Despite whatever those extremely dramatic high school girls would say, “I hate drama! <3” They actually do enjoy drama, and to be quite honest, so does everyone else. We thrive on the unknown, in the case of movies, we are held captive by plots that just keep thickening.

Luke Skywalker had it pretty easy until he got punched in the face by a tusken raider. Then he met old Ben Kenobi. Suddenly he finds out Ben knew his dad. Suddenly a frickin’ hologram lady pops up out of a droid he just bought asking Ben to save her. His tiny little life problems on Tatooine just got a lot bigger, and suddenly galactic. Before Luke knows it, he finds out his aunt and uncle were slaughtered, he has to somehow find a ride off of Tatooine, and he gets hassled in a cantina. Meanwhile, Darth Vader is trying to interrogate Leia, and they start blowing up planets, etc.

Luke in the front and a landspeeder in the back. Things are happening!

Luke in the front and a landspeeder in the back. Things are happening!

The point here is pretty simple. Drama keeps our attention. We want Luke to become a Jedi from the beginning, but there is a lot of crap that needs to happen before he can get there. When he finally decides to go on his journey, tons of things keep coming at him to stop him. Bunches of obstacles. That’s what keeps us engaged.

3. Continuity

Continuity can refer from anything like the placement of a cup in one shot, to the lighting on someone’s face in the next. Even if it’s quite subtle, the audience can pick up on tiny little details like this. Maybe that coffee mug had little more coffee in it after he sipped it, which didn’t really make sense. These problems are called continuity errors, and even if it makes you feel good and observant when you spot one, it takes you out of the movie, and you suddenly realize that it is just that.


Its always the little things.

Its always the little things.

Take this shot from “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”. There is an orange blanket that magically teleports from shot to shot. Many times there are people who are hired to ensure continuity for situations like this. However, sometimes these things are not noticed until late in the editing suite, and by then, there just simply isn’t any time or money to reschedule a shoot to fix the problem. Some editors are talented enough to completely remove objects or digitally recreate them in extreme circumstances.

4. Cinematography

Cinematography includes the entire process of capturing video into the camera. This is the method by which an image is collected. It includes the kind of camera used, the kind of shot, and even the space and subject being shot, as well as how it is lit. Lighting, camera angles, and dozens of other variables are taken into consideration while planning out a shot.

A close up on a character’s face will help us to feel more relatable to that person. If we are farther away from a character who is crying–perhaps the camera is physically moving away–we might be given the impression that there is truly nobody there for them. Even the camera is moving away. We feel distant.

The angle and movement of the camera tells a lot about what is happening. Watch a movie like “Mean Girls” and you will see that for the most part, the camera itself tells very little to us. Each shot is usually pretty simple and not very complicated. I don’t mean to degrade “Mean Girls”, but let’s be honest for a moment… It’s quite funny and not inherently a bad movie, but I’m not watching it to better my craft.

One of my professors in college loved using the Copacabana scene from “Goodfellas” to help describe film critique and cinematography. This is one single tracking shot from the anti-hero Henry, leaving his car with a girl, and taking her through a long and winding path through hallways and a kitchen, and into the club. The camera twists and turns and we are given the impression–albeit, very subtly–that Henry is a slimy character, almost like a snake.

In Orson Welles “Touch of Evil”, the opening tracking shot begins with a criminal planting a bomb on a car that moments later, an innocent couple gets into. The next few minutes is one single shot, gets closer and then farther away from this car. We can hear the ticking in our head, and every time the car comes back into frame, we expect it to explode. Being aware of what is on-screen and how it is presented to us is crucial.

Opening Sequence to Touch of Evil.

Opening Sequence to Touch of Evil.

5. Auteur Theory

This is somewhat of an undefined and defined term in cinema which essentially states that a director is considered the “overall true creator” of the film. Everything within the movie is a result of the director’s work.

Some consider the title auteur to be very prestigious. A few more well-known auteurs would be David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, Terrance Malik, etc. but I would argue that someone like Michael Bay is also an auteur.

My understanding of a director being an auteur comes from a redundancy of elements that carry from film to film. Tarantino is a great example as many of his films include the theme of revenge. As you see in the picture below, Tarantino uses POV shots from the trunk of a car quite frequently. His films almost are always filled with long, juicy, passages of dialogue between character to character as well. These are all things that they share in common. Michael Bay’s films usually include tons of scantily clad women, over eager explosions, and nonsensical plots.

A collection of Tarantino Trunk POV's.

A collection of Tarantino Trunk POV’s.

Okay, so my Michael Bay example may be a little extreme, but you should get the idea. Next time you watch a movie, take note of the director and start looking for similarities between their films. It’s absolutely fascinating.


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