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The Use of the ‘Mise-en-Scene’ in TV Shows and Movies

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 3695 words Published: 9th Sep 2021

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The mise-en-scene has been a huge part of film and television throughout the last century and it has vastly improved during the last fifteen years. TV series such as AMC’s the ‘The Walking Dead’ (2010-) and HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ (2011-) have created a cinematic universe, that can actually compete with block buster movies such as, ’28 Days/Weeks Later’ (2002/2007) and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (2001/2002/2003). I am going to identify how the use of mise-en-scene in these two television programs have affected the production values and semiology of recent television series, compared to the five noughties movies.

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Semiotics, or semiology is the study of signs and symbols and how they are interpreted by someone (Monaco, 2000). A sign is composed of two things: the signifier and the signified. The signifier is the form of the sign, whilst the signified is the idea or concept in which it is related to (Saussure, 1959). Using a trichotomy of semiotics, Saussure explains how there are three concepts of a signifier: the object – what the sign is, the sign – what we see, and the interpretation – the meaning/ metaphor behind the sign (Saussure, ibid). For example: using the following image from ‘Game of Thrones’ of The Wall (Appendix I), the object would be that the Wall/ and Castle Black from Game of Thrones, the sign would be that is a giant wall, and the interpretation would be that the wall was built there to protect Westeros from The Others, White Walkers and Wildlings beyond it. ‘The Wall’ can be seen both as denotative and connotative. They are the first and second orders of signification. Denotation is the most literal meaning of signs, whilst Connotation is more subjective and interpretive (Barthes, 1977). Furthermore, denotation is what the image significantly represents and connotative is what the image suggests as a symbol. For example: in ‘Game of Thrones’ using denotation the Kings Hand’s pin (Appendix II) represents a very high and important person next to the king. However when connotative, the pin is a circle with a hand in it, which symbolizes the ‘Hand of the King’.

Language is a structure of symbols that prompt ideas [3] (Saussure, 1959). Ferdinand de Saussure was a semiotician whose ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in semiology in the 20th century. His modest yet well-designed idea was ‘to view language as simply one of a number of system of codes of communication’ (Monaco, 2000:58). Semantics, then became merely one area of the more general study of systems of signs. Codes come a number of areas: unique codes, established art forms and cultural codes. Unique codes tend to be a montage of the process of time moving forward. Established art forms are signs and symbols through artwork and theatre performances. Cultural codes is something that is done on an everyday basis, which ends up being the norm for people. ‘Codes are critical constructions – systems of logical relationship… A great variety of codes combine to form the medium in which film expresses meaning’ (Monaco, 2000:175).

Semiotics are used in television shows and movies to help the audience identify the meaning of what they are watching. For example: In the movie ‘The Lord of the Rings’, audiences can use the mise-en-scene such as, bows, swords, species and costumes to recognise that the film is a sort of medieval fantasy film in a un-real universe. Taken from the French meaning ‘to place in a scene’, the mise-en-scene is everything that appears in front of the camera and its arrangement (Monaco, 2000). For example: shot types, sets, props, actors, costumes, lighting etc. The mise-en-scene helps the audiences to learn about the film and television program without watching much, if not, any of the media. For instance: audiences can discover the genre and production values, just by the decoration of the costumes and sets. In the mise-en-scene, there are two diverse types of shots, the diachronic shot and the framed image. The Diachronic shot is the movement in shot, therefore the emphasis is aimed at the type of shot, focus, angles, and points of views. The framed image is one shot where the emphasis is aimed at colour, aspect ratio, compositional planes, and lighting (Monaco, ibid).

Depending on the genre and whether the media is of a film or TV program, the mise-en-scene, furthermore the production values get altered and become completely different (Monaco, ibid). For instance: ‘Lord of the Rings’ is the fantasy/ adventure genre, so it could have a high budget because of the massive use of different locations, props, and special effects. Whilst, ‘The Walking Dead’ is the horror genre, meaning it could have different or less expensive use of the mise-en-scene. ‘Lord of the Rings’ is a film, and ‘The Walking Dead’ is a TV program, so naturally the use of mise-en-scene will be is completely different. The production value/budget of a film is very useful in pre-production. ‘The first phase is preparatory—the script is written, actors and technicians hired, shooting schedules and budgets planned’ (Monaco, 2000:128). Budgets tell a director/producer if the movie will be possible or high quality. Producers set a budget in preproduction, however the budget may increase by the end of the whole production because of un-expected circumstances such as dropped out actors, and expensive use of the mise-en-scene [1] (Monaco, 2000). Similarly, the genre is worked out during preproduction. Genre is useful because it is not only easy to write the story around a certain genre, but it also invites the correct audiences to watch the film, creating the fandom (Monaco, ibid).

Research methods are split into two methodologies, primary and secondary. Primary research is research that is completed by a researcher, for instance: watching/ reviewing films, and reading newspaper/ magazine articles. Secondary research on the other hand is research that is gathered from an existing primary source, for example: surveys, and academic books/ journals. Content analysis can be both primary and secondary as it relies on a qualitative and quantitative technique. Qualitative research asks, what and why, and it is based off merely the beliefs and attitudes of a subject. Whilst, quantitative research asks, how many, as its data is formed by statistics and facts of the subject (Jensen & Jankowski, 2002).

As a quantitative method, content analysis’s finding usual are sorted into numbers and percentages (Jensen & Jankowski, ibid). For example: the research of the amount of times a character is killed off in ‘Game of Thrones’, will be done using content analysis, by watching how every episode and counting every death, putting the results in categories, such as men killed by men, women killed by men, women killed by women, men killed by women, child death, murder, suicide, and race. This may take a while, but the results will tell the research the statistics of the different deaths in ‘Game of Thrones’. Results of this could look like the following, ‘in the first season 100 people died, 70% was a murder of men by men, whilst, 30% was a murder of women by men’. Some strengths of quantitative content analysis is that it is an inexpensive research method, that doesn’t really acquire much, if not any contact with people. Researchers can learn much about a media production’s target audiences and financial support (Macnamara, 2005). Weaknesses of quantitative content analysis is that the study is inadequate by availability of materials and movements in media may not be an accurate reflection of reality (Macnamara, ibid).

Content analysis can be used as semiotic research by watching and analysing films and television to come up with facts about the research topic/ question. Semiotic research looks into the mise-en-scene and creates a conclusion by investigating the meaning or metaphors behind a symbol such as a prop, etc (Monaco, 2000). Strengths of qualitative content analysis are that it offers a good interpretation and explanation of a person’s personal experience of a situation. It is useful for studying a limited number of cases in depth, and it can conduct cross case comparisons and analysis (Brennen, 2012). Weaknesses are that researchers find investigating rather difficult to test theories with larger groups and the results of the research are more easily influenced by the researcher’s personal prejudices (Brennen, ibid).

Film and television are full of semiotics, that create metaphors and meaning to the programme/movie. As they’re the zombie horror genre, ‘The Walking Dead’ and ’28 Days/Weeks Later’ need to set a certain tone to attract the correct audience and to give the precise symbolism to show history and maybe important information about locations, characters, and props. I’ve researched into this by watching season 1 and 2 of ‘The Walking Dead’ and both ’28 Days’ and 28 Weeks Later’. One of the things that I found is that they both show symbolism through their types of zombies. ‘The Walking Dead’s’ zombies are slow, and they only have one type, which is the typical decayed zombie corpse. This could symbolize that it is an incurable infection, more than an illness. However, the zombies in ’28 Days/Weeks Later’ are more fast paced, deadly, and with a more human look than ‘The Walking Dead’ zombies. This could symbolize that, unlike AMC’s zombies, it could be a mental illness like rabies. The Music of ‘The Walking Dead’ and ’28 Days/Weeks Later’ both signifies the tones of the scenes in the media. While watching the series 1 episode 4, ‘The Walking Dead’ uses fast pace music in a scene where the characters are trying to get a bag of weapons from the streets of Atlanta. Because the rest of the episode was without music, this created an atmosphere of tension for this particular scene, and identified that something bad could happen. Similarly, ’28 Weeks Later’ does the same in the scene where there is a zombie outbreak in the safe zone, and people are running around panicking, and dying. This doesn’t just give a tone of tension, but symbolizes that all hope of survival is lost.

As ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ are both a completely different genres, which are Adventure and Fantasy, they will have different uses of signs and symbol. Both the movies and the series have many uses of semiotics, but while watching the media, I was most fascinated by the locations used and the characters. ‘Game of Thrones’ uses up to 26 filming locations to accomplish a cinematic use of the mise-en-scene (IMDB, 2011-). Locations such as the Hverfjall volcano in the Lake Myvatin region of Northern Iceland, which was filmed in most of the icy scenes that was beyond the wall (Appendix III & IV). However, unlike ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ only uses the whole of New Zealand to film the movies. One location being Tongariro National Park, which was the main setting of the Land of Mordor (Appendix V). Both ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ use these locations to indicate a realism in a fantasy universe. ‘Game of Thrones’ has a lot of characters with unique personas. The Lannister’s are very unique characters, with their golden hair, and smug looks, they can symbolize a lot of things (Appendix VI) and they have a phrase that could imply two things. ‘A Lannister always pays his debts’, this phrase could mean either a threat to or about enemies, or a sign of loyalty, and however in most cases in the show, it is used as a threat. Cersei Lannister is nothing but a bad person, and by looking at an image of her could imply her personality. In a scene with her, she might raise her eyebrows and stare deep in to person she is talking to eyes. This could symbolize that she is deceitful, and ready for revenge. Similarly, ‘Lord of the Rings’ characters use looks and phrases to symbolize their persona. Golem/Sméagol is a sick little creature, who has multiply personality disorder. He constantly talks to him, and has the ongoing phrase of ‘my precious’, as he talks about the one ring. This could symbolize the illness of greed and selfishness that comes with the ring. Golem is obsessed with the one ring and is dishonest and double crossing, whilst Sméagol has a more friendly and playful personality. Has both personas have the same appearance, the only way to tell apart is his facial expressions. A creepy and demeaning face will show if Golem is speaking (Appendix VII), whilst when Sméagol is speaking, an innocent and approachable face appears (Appendix VIII) [4].

The mise-en-scene effects the production budgets of a film and television programme (Monaco, 2000). The television ‘The Walking Dead’ has its similarities and differences to the film series ‘28 Days/Weeks Later’. According to an article by Anthony Ocasio on Screen Rant, ‘The Walking Dead’s’ production budget in season 1 was $3.4 million for six episodes. The budget was decreased in season 2 to $2.7 million to increase the number of episodes to thirteen (Ocasio, 2013). This of course altered the mise-en-scene majorly, from having season 1 of the show based in many locations such as a city/ forest/ town/ etc, to having season 2 of the show in less locations such as the high way/ farm/ etc. Similarly like AMC’s series, ’28 Days Later’ had a smaller budget from its sequel. According to Box Office Mojo, ’28 Days Later’ had a budget of $8 million with a runtime of 113 minutes (IMDB, 2007), whilst ’28 Weeks Later’ had a budget of $15 million with a runtime of 100 minutes (Nash Information Services LLC, 2015). This effects the mise-en-scene by the improvement in the acting and the special effects, however, the budget is still low, so the locations are pretty much the same.

‘The Walking Dead’ and ’28 Days/Weeks Later’ are examples of low budgeting in film and television. The HBO television series ‘Game of Thrones’ and the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies are both highly budgeted. According to an article on ‘Winteriscoming’, ‘Game of Thrones’ had a budget of $60 million in the first season, with 10 episodes, whilst in season 2 it increased by 15% to $69 million with 10 episodes (WinterisComing, 2012). There is not much difference of mise-en-scene in each series, as the budget started high, so the sets/locations were good to begin with. As the production values increased each series, so did the sets, props, and extras. Similarly, the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy’s budget started off high in the first film, but it didn’t increase by much in the other two films. In ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, the budget was $93 million with a 228 minute runtime on the extended edition (IMDB, 2001). ‘The Two Towers’ had a budget of $94 million with a runtime of 235 minutes on the extended edition (IMDB, 2002). Lastly, ‘The Return of the King’ also had a budget of $94 million with a 263 minute runtime on the extended edition (IMDB, 2003). As the budget was high to begin with, the mise-en-scene was barley altered. The only explanation of the $1 million increase is the other two films had huge battle scenes, which needed the extra money for special effects, extras, and expensive camera shots [2].

In conclusion, the use of mise-en-scene has been affected in film and television during the last fifteen years, due to the increase in production values. The movies will always have a greater budget, compared to television, but there are still similarities. In both film and television, the budget can increase/decrease due to the amount of footage of a production, which can alter locations, props, actors, and any other uses of the mise-en-scene [2]. ‘Producers set a budget in preproduction… expensive use of the mise-en-scene’ [1] (Monaco, 2000). Language is used in ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to symbolize meaning and metaphors for different characters [4]. ‘Language is a structure of symbols that prompt ideas’ [3] (Saussure, 1959). Lastly, ‘The Walking Dead’, ’28 Days/Weeks Later’ and ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ are all completely different genres of film and television, but they all use the mise-en-scene in some way to create meaning and metaphors behind different signifiers of the film or television.


Barthes, R. (1977) Image-Music-Text. London: Fontana Press

IMDB. (2007) 28 Days Later. http://www.boxofficemojo.com [Accessed on 13/04/2015]

IMDB. (2001) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. http://www.boxofficemojo.com [Accessed on 13/04/2015]

IMDB. (2002) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. http://www.boxofficemojo.com [Accessed on 13/04/2015]

IMDB. (2003) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. http://www.boxofficemojo.com [Accessed on 13/04/2015]

IMDB. (2011-) Game of Thrones Locations. http://www.imdb.com [Accessed on 18/04/2015]

Jensen, K & Jankowski, N. (2002) A Handbook of Qualitative Methodologies for Mass Communication Research. London & New York: Routledge.

Monaco, J. (2000) How to Read a Film. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nash Information Services, LLC (2015) 28 Weeks Later. http://www.the-numbers.com [Accessed on 13/04/2015]

Ocasio, A (2013) ‘The Walking Dead’: Why Frank Darabont Was Fired & The Chaotic Aftermath. http://screenrant.com [Accessed on 13/04/2015]

Saussure, de, F. (1956) Course in general linguistics. New York: The Philosophical Library.

WinterisComing. (2012) The finances of Game of Thrones. http://winteriscoming.net [Accessed on 14/04/15]

Appendix I


Appendix II


Appendix III

For the icy scenes, programme makers favoured the Hverfjall volcano in the Lake Myvatin region of Northern Iceland

Appendix IV

It is also recognisable as the Beyond the Wall area, the large area of Westeros in the hit show

Appendix V

Mount Ngauruhoe and the South Crater

Appendix VI


Appendix VII


Appendix VIII


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223974262014/2015Mark Clintworth


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