Media Theory

When analyzing a film, it's important to understand that the film is not only a form of art, but also a product made to appeal to a certain group of people in order to make money. Most people think of movies as just art and forget the business part. To be truly media literate, we should analyze a film with both things in mind. There are various elements of a film we can analyze in order to fully understand it. Here are just a few things we can analyze.

1. Genre

The film's genre, or category, says a lot about that film, including the standard set of elements that make up that genre. Here are some questions to ask yourself about a film's genre:

  • What is the genre? How do you know?
  • What elements define the genre?
  • What kinds of themes constantly appear in this genre?
  • Who is the audience?

Think about the genre of some of your favorite movies. Why are they categorized in the genre that they are? Here are some of the most popular movie genres:

  • Drama
  • Comedy
  • Horror
  • Romance
  • Action

2. Cinematography

A film's cinematography helps contribute to its style and overall effect on the audience. If the movie is darkly lit, with lots of shadows and gritty images, it feels different than if it was brightly lit with lots of bright colors. Here are some other cinematographic elements to consider:

  • The camera's movement
  • Framing - close ups vs long shots to convey emotion vs location/proximity
  • Lighting to help convey emotion

3. Editing

A film's editing style says a lot about how we feel about the action happening on screen. A film with an edit every 10 seconds will appear to move more slowly than films with an edit every 2 seconds. Most films will mix this up, using long uninterrupted shots to instill calmness or focus in the audience, and shorter shots to make the audience feel anxious or otherwise uneasy.

4. Music

A film's music score is there to convey a message, just like every other element. Music can help drive or support the on-screen action to make the audience feel an emotion. Here are some emotions we might feel while watching a film, and the music we might associate with that emotion:

  • Happiness - upbeat, uptempo, fast, bright, major keys
  • Sadness - downbeat,  slow, minor keys, slow violins
  • Anxiety - uneven tempo, simple percussion

5. Controversial Elements

Most modern films involve some controversial elements in order to make it more interesting for audiences. Here are some of these controversial elements and how to think about them:

  • Sex – is there too much? Is it increasing in films, does this reflects onto society?
  • Violence – is there too much? Is it increasing in films, does this reflects onto society?
  • Language – Is it more coarse? How much bad language is too much?
  • Health – characters don’t eat healthy, they smoke, they drink.

The Lion King

This final scene from the Lion King makes it easy to analyze all of the elements mentioned here. Think about the genre, and how the cinematography, editing, and music make you feel.

Scene from The Lion King (YouTube)

You can learn a lot more about this topic by buying our book, Practical Media Literacy: An essential guide to the critical thinking skills for our digital world. You would be supporting our work so that we can bring you more great resources.

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Media Literacy: 3rd Edition

media literacy 3rd edition

Media Literacy is a critical skill students must learn to succeed in today's tech-driven, media-saturated society. This book helps students understand media literacy, and how to implement and share that knowledge with others. As an experienced media literacy expert and professor, Nick Pernisco provides a well-researched guide for learning this important critical thinking skill and using it in everyday life. This is a must-read for anyone interested in learning how to interpret the enormous amounts of information we are exposed to every day, both in traditional media and online. Buy it now!