The most important thing to remember when watching a film critically is that every single frame and moment has been specifically crafted to have an effect on the viewer. In theory, nothing is an accident — whether it’s the way in which an actor is saying a line, the method in which the shot is setup for that moment, or even the specific type of lamp that might be sitting in the background.
Altogether, the construction of a film can be incredibly complicated, but the reasoning behind every decision nearly always comes down to how it is working with the story and how it is affecting the viewer. With that in mind, here are seven essential ways to break down a film in order to begin thinking about it from a critical viewpoint.
It’s best to think of the the director like a general. He or she hires all the key creative department heads and pushes them to fulfill his vision, but can’t possibly be in full control of every technical aspect that goes on on the film set. Instead, the director must keep a keen eye on the overall vision and make sure that it is being realized to the fullest extent at every moment.
A good example of a director’s role might be in a key, dramatic turning point in a film. Depending on how he or she imagined the scene, maybe the scene doesn’t seem to have the energy that was originally envisioned. The director would then go into problem solving mode: if it’s something performance-related, a discussion with the actors would be had; if the scene could be lit or shot a little differently, a discussion with the cinematographer will follow; or maybe a line needs to be changed because the script isn’t working as intended.
Even though the areas that follow are critical to a film’s success, it’s important to note that it is ultimately the director’s responsibility to communicate what he or she wants. It is the reason why the director is the first person to be praised for a film’s success and also the first person to take the heat if it is a failure. While a director could have the most talented actors and crew available, it is still the director’s job to make sure those pieces fall into place and to know when to make any necessary changes.