Interiors on Film:
Tips for Screening Observation
Use this list of questions to organize your screening observations and gather evidence (visual proof) for
the argument you present in your paper. (Explanations have been added in italicized blue.)
Remember that you have been asked to discuss TWO interior scenes, and your choice of these subjects will influence / be influenced by the arguments that you want to make in your essay. How will you
decide? Make every effort to choose film interiors that appear to be important either because the scene is long, or the spatial effect is emphasized. Further considerations might include: Are there key interiors
or types of interiors that are emphasized or returned to in the story? What is their use/function? Where
are they situated in the building? Do we know how the characters get there (transitions and spatial
boundaries)? What is the relationship to the other rooms in the building? What is the relationship to the
exterior (street or landscape)?
Date & Director:
Known Filming Locations (from research):
Summary of the story: When writing your paper, you can assume that your reader knows about the
general storyline of the film.
Key Interior Scene (two scenes are required)
Scene Synopsis: Briefly summarize what happens in the scene and why it is important.
Plot driver: How does this scene move the plot along?
Location/Interior: Describe where the scene takes place, making sure to establish how this location is
linked to the plot. Use clear room names, if possible, to designate function. This function may be
supported by the scene or at odds with it, and that should be relevant to the story.
Characters present: Provide character names and how they are related. E.g.: The Duke and Duchess,
husband and wife.
Entrances/Exits: Identify if the scene is shot entirely in the one room, or if we follow characters through a
suite of rooms, or if we see the characters enter and exit the space. Where are they coming from or going
to? Are there many characters coming in and out of the space?
Postures & Movement: What body movement can we observe in the scene? Do the characters lounge in
bed, rush in and out of doorways, sit formally around a table, or strike some other kind of pose? How the
characters move through the space and in-and-around furniture groupings tells us about the planning of
the space. The degree of informality supported by the interior can also be understood by the poses of the
characters in movement and repose.
Light Source/Effects: The interior should be well-lit enough so that you can observe the interior elements.
Describe the lighting (dim/bright/natural sources/artificial sources) Often lighting ’sets the scene’ and
can even change during the scene as is required by the plot or the cinematic effect sought.
Views/Adjacent Spaces: Describe what can be seen in the exterior or interior views. How is the interior
designed to support these views? Are the views meaningful to the story?
Interior Architectural Features: List the key interior elements that are part of the architecture (columns,
doors, windows/alcoves, ceiling heights, niches, fireplaces/inglenooks, etc.
Visible Focal Point: Has the cinematography been ordered to support an interior focal point? What is this
and how is the room arranged? For example: enfliade planning centered on a key sculpture; hearth with
elaborate over mantle mirror; monumental piece of furniture like a draped bed in the bedroom.
Materials: Use appropriate terminology as supported by your research.
Size/Scale: In film, the human figure is often the most important unit to establish scale. In period
interiors, size and proportion can be governed by theoretical principles, can establish wealth/affluence,
or even convey political positions.
Set Dressing (Furniture, Tables, Paintings, Textiles, and Accessories): Note whatever details you can
recognize. Improved research will support you here, as will careful, repeated viewing. You aim is not to
catalogue these details in your paper, but to analyze what you see. Why has the set been dressed in this
manner? What does it tell us that the characters are surrounded by these objects and finishes?
Colour Palette: Describe the colours used in the interior. Sometimes colour is important, other times it is
inconsequential. This may provide clues to the story or the historical context.
Research comments: What historical interiors come to mind when you viewed this scene? Add whatever
research comments that you feel are relevant.
When Evaluating Spatial Design, Consider:
• ceiling height (interior volume, scale)
• boundaries and/or walls (permeable or not; emphasized or not)
• windows (and window treatments) and doors (and door openings)
• spatial transitions or connections (visual/vistas or physical passages, changes in level)
• axial relationships
• enfilade (with monumental terminus)
• hierarchy of spaces (either by function, approach or decoration)
When Evaluating Interior Finishes, Consider:
• floor finishes
• wall finishes
• ceiling finishes
• built-in furniture
• visible elements of style
When Evaluating Furnishings & Accessories, Consider:
• furniture type (seating [pieces to support the body], tables & work surfaces [support things],
storage [contain things])
• accessory type (only focal point or meaningful props)
• decoration (heraldic symbols, classical architectural details)
• period style
• fixed, formal position (eg. against wall)
• flexible, moveable position (are users shown moving the furniture to where they need it?)
When Evaluating Lighting, Consider:
• visible sources of light
• evidence of technology (based on the period, what would you expect to see?)
• effects of light (dark and moody vs. clear daylight)
When Evaluating Function, Consider:
• How are people using or existing in the space? How does the space support human interaction?
o intimate refuge
o solitary place of introspection
o lively place of social interaction
o scripted ritual/ceremony
o functional space of labour or routine tasks
o space for comfort and relaxation – what body postures are supported by the furniture?
Eg. Do the characters flop down in the comfy chairs, or do they rarely sit and instead
prefer to pass through the space?