Creative Exercise 1: Mise en Scene
For this exercise, you will take on the role of a production designer (and screenwriter), constructing a fictional character through describing the mise en scene of their bedroom. Who is this bedroom’s inhabitant? What do we know about them based on this space? Your description of the mise en scene will need to communicate this to the film crew who will shoot the project and to the audience who will see the completed film.
Do not tell us anything about this character or their physical traits–only describe their room. Don’t tell us their name, their hair color, their voice, etc. Your classmates/TA/professor will need to be able to surmise who this person is by virtue of the mise en scene. Through your description, the reader should be able to have a very good picture of this person’s identity, personality, and maybe even goals, life story, etc.
You should create your own fictional movie character (not one from an existing film). Do not describe your own bedroom. You’ll need to negotiate:
- The character’s individual identity. Are they extremely tidy? Messy? Does this trait exist in friction with the usual associations viewers might have with setting (e.g., a grossly messy, beautiful, affluent suburban home, or an extremely luxurious dorm room)? What can you tell about their job from their room (student, priest, artist)?
- Their place within larger social and cultural structures. Is this space specific to a country or region? Urban or rural? Are there particular cultural markers? How would you create an environment that’s recognizable to an audience, while avoiding stereotypes? Keep in mind Shohat’s contention that ethnicities in film are ubiquitous, if often submerged. You may specify the location, or instead give hints for the audience to determine the location.
- The genre of the work this set would appear in. Is this science fiction? If so, what kind (space opera, art film)? Is it a gritty, realist portrayal of New York City life?
- Time period. When are we? New York in the mid-1970s would be very different from New York in the late 1980s, for example.
- Issues around stardom and casting. Who do you see playing this role? A known, unknown, or non-professional actor? Are you casting according to type? Against type? A performer at the height of their fame, or someone whose fame has faded, but who evokes a particular meaning for the film (e.g., John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, Winona Ryder in Stranger Things—see this Flavorwire article on “nostalgia casting (Links to an external site.):”).
Some advice provided:
You don’t have to create a teen or child character, but for other sources of inspiration, I would also point you to Adrienne Salinger’s photography book, In My Room: Teenagers in Their Bedrooms (Links to an external site.), which was photographed in the 1980s and ‘90s. Also, the James Mollison photography project, Where Children Sleep (Links to an external site.), offers a comparative view of children’s sleeping spaces (not all of them are rooms) around the world. It’s a remarkable project in many ways, but you can also consider whether it falls into certain stereotypes and how you might avoid doing so in your work. Reflect on how social class, gender, culture, and personality are evoked through the decor and objects. You can also consider the number of film professionals who would be involved in constructing the fictional versions of these spaces.