Saturday, November 05, 2011

Reading the Mise-En-Scene of My Life: Film Geeks & Mystics Are Welcome

My life is like a movie. No, really--it is. And I'm sure you agree with me if you've been following the stories of this blog. One of my favorite activities in my life movie is to be highly aware of my surroundings. How does it all look? What is my environment trying to tell me? How do the colors and arrangement of objects effect and reflect my being? Some may call this feng shui--especially when someone decorates their home. Others may call it awareness or the universal mirror because you can always, somehow, see yourself in the world and the people you attract.

Now I want to talk about this thing called Mise-En-Scene that I learned about last year in my film appreciation class. And yes, this will all tie together in a pretty little bow at the end. Brace yourself...

"Mise-en-scène (French pronunciation: [mizɑ̃sɛn] "placing on stage") is an expression used to describe the design aspects of a theatre or film production, which essentially means "visual theme" or "telling a story"—both in visually artful ways... For some, it refers to all elements of visual style—that is, both elements on the set and aspects of the camera. For others, such as U.S. film critic Andrew Sarris, it takes on mystical meanings related to the emotional tone of a film."-Wikipedia.

In short, Mise-en-scene, as described by my professor, means the look and feel of the film. Within the look and feel, there are visual elements that can point to the feelings and events of the film. The visuals tell a story. I like to call it film feng shui. The arrangement of everything visual can create a certain feel or energy. The look and feel can reflect who a character is.

For example, a director may reflect a character's chaotic emotions by designing a scene in a house where everything is messy and out of place. In a hypothetical scene, let's say that a man is hiding something from his wife--the director always shows the man in the shadows when he's on camera. When the man comes clean with his wife, the truth is reflected in the mise-en-scene because he is well-lit and surrounded in light.

Mise-en-scene can also be used to foreshadow events. The Shining is one of my favorite examples of this, in the scene (watch if you dare) where Halloran talks to Danny about his psychic abilities. Halloran starts to prod Danny about what he sees in the future of the Overlook Hotel. The scene is erie, and it's obvious that whatever is coming won't be pretty. When Danny asks "Halloran, are you scared of this place?" the knives appear above his head--notice the knives above Danny's head in the picture below. They foreshadow the horror that is to come, and one of those knives will be used later in the story.

And this is how mise-en-scene happens in my life...

One of the best examples of this was when I was on vacation in Nepal. I was living in Afghanistan at the time and I took a monthlong break. Everywhere I went in Kathmandu, I saw billboards that said, "Inspire Your World". It happened everyday, and all the time--it was like someone slipped me a psychedelic (as my friend Greg says, "I don't need to take acid, because I am acid!"). Because I saw this phrase everywhere, I knew that something would happen. There was a foreshadowing taking place.

And wouldn't ya' know it--two days after I returned to Kabul from my Himalayan vacation--I learned what "Inspire Your World" was all about :-) I received an email from a journalist who wrote for an American magazine called, "Inspire Your World" and he asked me to write an article about being an aid worker in Kabul. This was my first-ever article in an American magazine. Universal perfection, I tell ya... This is the beauty of my life. Does this happen to you? I'm sure you have a similar story, somewhere in the vault.

Fast forward to that moment when I first learned about mise-en-scene in my film class, and HOT DAMN!!! What a crazy mystic and spiritual moment that was. My teacher explained the meaning of mise-en-scene (scroll up the page if you forgot already :-) , and I thought, "Wait a minute!!!! That's how I look at life! This is how it looks to me! I get messages about people, how they're feeling, how I'm feeling, and what is to come just by observing my surroundings. My environment is an oracle, and the story appears before all of us. We just have to look closely.

So do you think the way I look at life will help me to be a good director one day? I sure hope so, because it's what I'm aiming for. I am surrounded by many amazing award-winning filmmakers these days--they fill the backdrop and foreground of my environment. So maybe...just maybe. We will see.

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