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Storytelling on film

Film language

Storytellers need a language through which they can articulate their story. Traditionally, they used the spoken word or song. At the end of the 19th century, the Kinetographic camera (the movie camera) was invented as a tool that could be used to tell stories through moving images.

The earliest films tended to lack a story structure, instead just capturing movement, but as the medium became more popular filmmakers developed a "film language" – or a set of grammar rules for how to tell stories on film.

There are grammar rules which writers adhere to – for example:

  • sentence structure
  • nouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs
  • capital letters
  • compound words
  • antonyms, synonyms
  • contractions

These are the written and spoken word tools that are used to tell stories.

Film has its own set of rules, called film language:

  • shot types
  • camera movement
  • mise en scène (what is included in the frame and why)
  • lighting
  • sound
  • editing

These are the tools that filmmakers use to tell stories on screen, shot by shot and scene by scene.

Key questions to ask about film language:

  • Using the Film High Five model, interrogate any film clip in terms of film language tools and how they are used to create the story.