By Adarsh Govindan
When applied to cinema, mise-en-scène refers to everything that appears before the camera and its arrangement—composition, sets, props, actors, costumes, and lighting. The "mise-en-scène", along with the cinematography and editing of a film, influence the verisimilitude or believability of a film in the eyes of its viewers.
It starts with a simple question.
What do you want the audience to feel? Warmth? No.
Tension? Sounds good.
A film that disturbs the viewers, one that makes them shift in their seats.
Now here’s the tough part. The script needs to deliver this sensation while keeping the suspension of disbelief intact. Realistic dialogues and relatable characters are easy. Making the visuals for it, is what this is about.
Put together a budding revolutionary when it comes to cinematography, a producer who finally gets his chance to go at it, an editor who has a keen eye, a production designer who sees colour without light, a sound designer that paints as well, and of course, a director who is hellbent on making the audience squirm, you get a team that handles the usual conundrum without breaking a sweat.
“Where is everyone?? I don’t want to be here alone! This place scares me!”, said the unfortunate camera assistant who was waiting on set for the crew to come back from their lunch break.
We enter the studio in all-black attires as the crew. The light boys and the painters ready themselves for our needs and wants. We get to work with one goal in our mind:
The set has to be an achievement of its own.
The production designing team gets the dark-teal colour onto the walls, while the props themselves establish the elegance of the set. It was strenuous, but we got the job done.
Now for the best part: The lighting.
Using a spot-lighting tactic inspired by The Coen Brothers, the usage of numerous lights to achieve elegance was deemed necessary. It was the set of a graceful yet unpredictable art therapist’s studio flat. The wattage demands of the setup were demanding, much to the crew’s amusement. As the light was complemented by smoke, an eerie glow came about the set. God-rays pierced the floor of the set from the scaffolding above, where each light hung off of.
As the set contained a minimal set-up of props; that being a gramophone, an easel, a waiting area, but the most impressive feature being: six massive canvases inspired by the likes of Jackson Pollock, personally painted by the crew’s sound designer over the course of two days. Each of these paintings had their dedicated spotlight and colour identity. Every time the lights went on, the crew would get a solemn yet confident air about themselves, the ambience of the set imbuing a focused yet relaxed work attitude. The exhibition was the cherry on the top.
What really caught attention, from even the humble yet entertaining light boys and painters of the set, was the involvement of what is known locally as a blacklight, but also UV Light on more official terms. This light was special, possessing a ghostly purple glow (like lightsabers), casting a faint dark blue light meant to illuminate fluorescent paints. These paints radiated an intense, bright colour in the “darkness” of the blacklight. Even the crew’s teeth weren’t spared. The usage of the special paints and lights were to emulate a vivid dream-like, “mind’s eye” effect, making the entire crew forget what they were there to do as they fooled around, smiling and giggling.
Filming the spectacle was the reward for creating the set. As the cinematographer worked his magic with the track and trolley set up, the rest of the crew watched in quiet excitement as the contrasting lighting pulsated on the director’s monitor. A coconut was broken in celebration and worship. The producer was adamant. Tradition is a must apparently.
As the shooting schedule came to fruition, a dreadful lethargy washed over the crew by the next shooting day.
Who was to blame them? They had already completed ninety percent of the filming. Even the helpers noted the efficiency of the shoot. The debuting director’s smile went from ear-to-ear. The filming had been packed up three hours before schedule.
And that’s a wrap.
The shout resonated in the studio as everyone eased up from the group pictures insisted by the satisfied director. The light boys smiled the widest.