Thursday, April 21, 2011

Shot by Shot analysis of American Beauty

I did a shot by shot analysis of a scene from American Beauty for my film class. here's the scene:

Here is the shot-by-shot analysis

The last chance of the American Beauty marriage
            In a lot of movies, a character is given one last chance to turn things around before things spiral completely out of control.  The scene between Lester (Kevin Spacey) and Carolyn (Annette Benning) is that scene for American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999). Both of them are at a point where they are happier than they’ve been in decades and their happiness and relaxed air finally comes to a moment where it meets. Both are given a chance to fix things and use their happiness to make everything right between them and save their marriage. But it fails and things go drastically downhill from there. Many aspects of Mise-en-scene are used here to indicate how what the scene will be like. Lighting is often used in the scene to portray mood and costuming and props are used to portray what kind of people the characters are during the scene.
            Lighting is used to great effect here. In the beginning when Carolyn is singing to herself the sun is shining brighter than it has the entire movie showing how Carolyn is happier than she has been in decades. When she pulls into the driveway, she sees Lester’s new car and it is in shadow showing that it is not a good thing for her that this car is here. It is something for her that she knows will lead to confrontation because she does not want it to be there. When the camera goes inside the house, it is darker but it still is using natural lighting from the sun outside. The softer light in the house is used to represent Lester’s relaxed state.  
            Costuming is also used here. Carolyn is wearing a dress like she would wear to work showing that she is really formal and is still keeping up appearances. Lester, on the other hand, is wearing his pajamas and is barefoot with his feet on the table. He clearly isn’t concerned at all about appearances and is in a total state of relaxation. Not even Carolyn demanding an explanation about the new car fazes him.
Props are also a big part of the scene. When Carolyn enters the house after seeing Lester’s new car, she sees Lester playing with his new toy car and childishly running her over with it. The fact that he has a toy car shows that he is fully relaxed and has not a care in the world almost like a child. Also, there is a lot of trash on the table that he has his feet on such as wrappers and empty beer bottles. He is clearly not concerned with keeping his area clean. The most important prop in the scene, is the couch. It is because Carolyn is worried about Lester spilling beer on the couch that she snaps out of their romantic moment. The couch is something that it seems is all Carolyn’s. Lester probably had no say in buying the couch because it probably isn’t something he would care much about. So, Lester spilling beer on a couch that Carolyn needs to keep her image of a normal and well-to-do lifestyle brings her back to reality. The fact that she does that kills the last chance that Lester and Carolyn have of using their newfound leases on life to work together and fix their nearly useless marriage. One prop in the scene that is a motif in the rest of the film is the American Beauty roses that are on the table. The thing with American Beauty roses is that they are pretty on the surface but inwardly are rotting in the core. Their placement in this scene represents that on the surface level, life for Lester and Carolyn is going pretty well. They are both happier than they’ve been in years. But despite their happiness, which is unstable, there is something dark that is going to happen to shatter their happiness.
            Most of the sound in the scene is diegetic. The scene opens with Carolyn singing to a song that she has playing on the radio. The rest is talking and the sound of Lester’s toy remote control car as he is playing with it. But when they are on the couch together, there is some non-diegetic music in the form of soft music playing that fits with the semi-romantic aspect of their time on the couch. However, the music stops once Carolyn snaps out of their romantic moment to point out that beer is about to spill on their four thousand dollar couch. Their romantic moment has ended with the music and Carolyn abruptly snaps back to her reality and her image.
Shot #1-5 seconds.
Deep focus with everything in focus.
High key lighting. Few shadows.
The camera is at eye level.
The shot changes with a cut in to the car.
The camera pans right to keep up with the car when the car passes the camera. Tracking shot. It starts as a long shot with the car in the distance getting closer to the camera.
Sound is diegetic with the music coming from the radio.
Mise-en-scene-nice neat neighborhood and Carolyn’s clean well-kept car.

Shot #2-5 seconds.
Medium shot at eye level.
High Key Lighting. Shadows in the car but still bright outside.
Camera is still throughout the shot
Sound is diegetic coming from the radio
Mise-en-scene-Carolyn’s well-kept car and nice neighborhood outside of the car.
Scene changes with a cut out. To outside the car.

Shot #3. 8 seconds
Starts with a long shot of Carolyn’s car in the distance and the car is moving towards the camera. Tracking shot panning left to follow the car.
Sound is diegetic with music coming from the radio.
High Key Lighting. Very bright light outside. Virtually no shadow.
Shot changes with a cut in to Carolyn in the car.
Long shot at eye level.
Mise-En-scene-bright outside. Well-kept neighborhood and organized garden with a white picket fence.

Shot #4-9 seconds.
Still camera Eye level Medium shot.
Sound is diegetic coming from the radio.
Natural lighting coming from the sun outside, there is no other light.
Camera is still and doesn’t move.
Shot changes with a cut to inside the house.
Mise-en-scene-More of the neighborhood and the inside of her car. There is a bright new car in the driveway with heavy shadow over it

Shot #5. 2 seconds.
High angle shot of the floor and Carolyn’s feet.
Shot changes with a cut.
Sound is diegetic but no music.
Natural lighting
Mise-en-scene- Carolyn’s nice shoes and Lester’s red toy remote controlled truck

Shot #6. 30 seconds
Camera is lower. At eye level with Lester. It doesn’t move. It is a long shot with deep focus. It has Carolyn in the background and everything in the shot is in focus. Carolyn is in the doorway with her arms spread trying to assert dominance but because she is in the background she isn’t very threatening
Shot changes with cut to Carolyn
Sound is diegetic but no music
Natural lighting
Mise-en-scene-Lester is wearing his pajamas and he has a lot of trash on the table. There is a vase of American Beauty roses on the table continuing the motif of the roses. Toy car in the background showing Lester is being childish. Except for Lester’s little space, everything else in the shot is very well organized and clean

Shot #7-3 seconds
Low angle shot of Carolyn. She is trying to be dominant and in control of the situation. But she is still far enough away from the camera that she looks diminutive and not very powerful
Diegetic sound but no music
Natural lighting
Shot changes with a cut to Lester
Mise-en-scene-well-kept and organized house

Shot #8. 2 seconds
Medium shot. Camera is at eye level with Lester His feet are in the foreground but his head is in the background indicating he is relaxed. Carolyn is in the foreground to the right still trying to look dominant
Diegetic sound but no music
Natural lighting
Shot changes with a cut to Carolyn
Mise-en-scene-Lester in his Pajamas and his messy area with the American Beauty roses

Shot #9. 8 seconds
Long shot with Lester in the foreground with Carolyn in the middle ground
Shot changes with a cut to Lester
Carolyn sits on the couch in the background and the camera tilts down to keep her as the focus
Diegetic sound but no music
Natural lighting
Mise-en-scene-more of Lester’s messy area but outside of that we have the clean house such as the perfectly organized pictures on the wall.

Shot #10. 3 seconds.
Diegetic sound with no music
Long shot with Lester’s head in the background but his feet in the middle ground, Carolyn is in the fore ground to the right.
Natural lighting
Shot changes with a cut to Carolyn.
Camera does not move.
Mise-en-scene-Lester’s messy area with his pajamas and the clean house in the rest of the shot

Shot #11. 5 seconds
Lester is in the foreground with Carolyn in the background. Long shot with deep focus.
Shot changes with a cut to Lester and Carolyn sitting next to each other.
Natural lighting
Camera does not move.
Diegetic sound with no music.
Mise-en-Scene. Another shot of Lester’s space and the rest is the clean house.

Shot #12. 7 seconds.
Non diegetic sound. Music is playing in the background.
Natural lighitng
Shot cuts with a shot/reverse shot with the next shot.
Camera does not move. Medium shot at eye level with Carolyn and Lester.
Mise-en-scene. Lester’s pajamas and now he is holding a beer. Outside of that, it is still an organized house.

Shot #13. 27 seconds
Non diegetic sound with music playing in the background
Natural lighting
Reverse shot of the last one. Cuts to reverse shot.
Camera does not move and is at eye level with Lester and Carolyn. Medium shot.
Mise-en-scene-it doesn’t change from the last shot.

Shot #14. 35 seconds.
Non diegetic sound with music playing in the background
Natural lighting
Camera is at eye level with a medium shot but it zooms in to get a close-up of Carolyn and Lester.
Cuts to a shot of Lester
Mise-en-scene-no changes from the previous shot.

Shot #15. 3 seconds
Natural lighitng
Diegetic sound with no music
Camera is at eye level with Lester. Medium shot. Deep focus. Lester is in the middle ground with Carolyn in the foreground to the right. No camera movement
Cuts to a shot of Carolyn
Mise-en-scene-well-kept house and Lester with his beer

Shot #16. 8 seconds
Natural lighting
Camera doesn’t move. Eye level shot with Carolyn. Carolyn is in the middle ground while Lester is in the foreground to the left
Diegetic sound with no music
Cuts to a shot of Lester
Mise-en-scene-The couch

Shot #17. 5 seconds.
Natural lighting
Camera is at eye level with Lester. Lester is in the middle ground with Carolyn in the foreground to the right. It doesn’t move.
Diegetic sound no music.
End of scene.
Mise-en-scene-The clean house and Lester’s space.


  1. Man, you really should include screenshots in this post, it would be way better.

    Great work though!

  2. You're right. I don't know how to do that though.

  3. Well, you just have to put the film onto your pc, open it with a media player (such as vlc) and then take the screenshots.

    I suppose you can find detailed instructions just by searching on google.

  4. Great work man. BTW, I agree with Jack, it would be nice to see some pics on the scene ;)

  5. I haven't seen American Beauty, which is kind of embarrassing... well anyways, this is really great work Naseby. I very much enjoyed reading it! And if you get the chance, follow me on my blog as well!

  6. Excellent my good man. Easy to tell that a lot of work went into this.

  7. Hi,
    This is such a lovely post. I really enjoyed reading it. Very well written.

  8. Very nice work! I hope some day to go to a film class at university/college. Great work.