The Truman Show (1998) • Mise en scene • This French expression is used to refer to the ‘look’ of the film, particularly the sets and locations in which the action takes place, the costumes and other objects on view (props), the use of colour and lighting and the specific shot types and framing being deployed.
The Truman Show (1998) • Mise en scene – sets, locations and narrative space • The Truman Show (1998) is unusual in that it is not only dominated by ‘sets’ – both internal and external – but that these are so stylised • Many films are use ‘real’ locations to give a feeling of ‘authenticity’, or at least backlot sets that mimic real cities or other spaces • The Truman Show (1998) does the reverse. It provides viewers with visual spaces that are all homogenised into a Disneyland-style prettiness
“The town needed a feeling of having been purpose-built, and built all at one time as with any television or movie set.” • Peter Weir (Director)
The Truman Show (1998) Mise en scene – sets, locations and narrative space Peter Weir, the film’s director, initially thought of using Los Angeles studio backlots to create the town of Seahaven from scratch however, as the previous quote reveals, this idea was quickly scratched.. The actual town used in the film is Seaside, a 90 acre planned community in northwest Florida USA, founded in 1980. Comprised of over 300 cottages, it is used by all-year-round residents and guests on vacation. Seaside features its own local post office, art galleries, antique shops, boutiques, bookshops and restaurants all within walking distance of each house. The residents of the community all conform to a specific building code to create the ‘storybook’ cottages they live in, and each of Seaside’s streets leads to the ocean. “It looked like it had been built far our show. I knew we could enhance it to create the ideal setting for Seahaven,” notes director Peter Weir.
The Truman Show (1998) • Mise en scene – sets, locations and narrative space • The major set, and dominant ‘space’ of the film is ‘Seahaven’, a town of wide, tree-lined streets, cute houses, brand new office buildings and shops • Interiors are the same – homely, discreetly luxurious, with cheery colours and all the fittings – like what you find in a housing display or mock home • Seahaven is the visual embodiment of the all-American dream of a perfect small town
The Truman Show (1998) • Mise en scene – sets, locations and narrative space • Christof states about the town that it is, ‘the way the world should be.’ • However, although it pretends to be ‘reality’, it is an idealised small town as imagined by Hollywood • The only serious alternative to Seahaven is the Lunar Room (Christof's space high above the Seahaven sound stage, behind the ‘moon’ that hangs in the Seahaven sky) • This is designed in a minimalist ‘heaven’-like way – all bright light and airiness – to connote Christof's God-like power over the show (and implicitly the control the media have over our lives in general)
The Truman Show (1998) • Mise en scene – sets, locations and narrative space • There are a number of ‘cutaway’ scenes showing the show’s audience in what purports to be the real world – the garage, the bar, the lunge room of the two old ladies, the bathroom of the fat man – but these are few and far between because they are not the central focus • A significant alternative space is Sylvia’s apartment , which is full of lifelike clutter, its walls plastered with ‘Save Truman’ posters and suchlike. • The visual and styling of these ‘real’ world spaces in in strong contrast to the bland prettiness of Seahaven, subtly underscoring Christof's point that the real world is disorderly and uncontrolled
The Truman Show (1998) Costume Wendy Stites, the film’s visual consultant, took her inspiration for the costumes from a variety of sources including Norman Rockwell paintings, Jean Cocteau, a book containing ‘Everyday Fashions of the 1940s’, the Saturday Evening Post magazines and photographs of the actor James Stewart. Working with costume designer Marilyn Matthews, Wendy set out to create clothing to reflect Truman’s world. Marilyn Matthews says, “Our challenge was to avoid making the costumes too cartoonish and also not to make them too tied into a specific period of time.” With this in mind Wendy and Marilyn avoided colours such as lime green and orange - which would have given the film a contemporary feel. They concentrated on using colours such as red, black, yellow and checked patterns, and rather than buying or finding ready-made garments, the costumes for the film were made to order.
The Truman Show (1998) Costume Wendy Stites says, “Truman Burbank is the only person on ‘The Truman Show’ that dresses himself- the others are all dressed by the wardrobe department of the television show - so I wanted his look to be a bit different, not quite as polished.” Peter Weir says, “I always thought of the film as taking place twenty years or so in the future, and that Christof the show’s creator would hove created an idealised environment for Seahaven based on elements from the past that he particularly admired.”
The Truman Show (1998) - Discuss Costume in The Truman Show (1998) – Discussion Points What elements from the past can you identify in the film? In what ways does Seahaven look like a storybook town? Would you like to live in Seaside (the real town)? Explain your answer. In what ways might the costumes be perceived as ‘cartoonish’? Do you think Truman’s costumes are different from the others? In what ways? How do the costumes reflect the personalities of the people within the community of Seahaven?
The Truman Show (1998) - Discuss Discussion Points There is another constructed world within the film The Truman Show (1998); that of the production centre and the audience watching the television series. Examine the image of the production centre. What sort of world is implied by the costume and set design? From where do you think it takes its inspiration? Does this confirm Peter Weir's vision of the film? How? How does this contrast with the world of Seahaven and the 'real' world of the television audience? What sets and costumes do we see from the world of the television audience? Redesign the world of Seahaven from its seemingly cosy, comfortable world and give it a sinister, nightmarish quality. Describe your ideas on how to achieve this. If you wish, start completely afresh, or use the existing sets and costumes and alter them.
The Truman Show (1998) Mise en scene – Film style Film style, particularly the use of camera angles, is an important indicator of where the action is taking place. One of the conventions of film is that we never see the camera. This works well in portraying the world of the production crew and television audience of ‘The Truman Show’ as it gives us the feeling that we are watching a ‘real’ world. Peter Weir wanted to convey the idea that Truman was being filmed under surveillance and enable us, the target audience, to distinguish when we are observing the world of Seahaven. To do this he used a variety of techniques: · wide angle lenses · unusual camera angles (not used in dramatic filming) · shooting through oval or circular ‘masks’ giving the impression that these hidden cameras are built into various parts of the landscape · special ‘cameras’ hidden in more mobile and surprising places (in a ring which Truman wears, another in his wife Meryl’s necklace and the ‘buoy cam’ bobbing along the surface of the water ready to capture Truman should he venture offshore)
The Truman Show (1998) Mise en scene – Film style – Discussion Points and Tasks The idea of having hidden cameras for surveillance scattered around the town of Seahaven influenced the way in which the town of Seaside was adapted to function as a film set. Certain buildings had architectural features added so that the miniature hidden cameras could shoot the story. The elegant piece of sculpture near the entrance of the insurance building, where Truman works, was specially designed so that not only could it house a camera, but also act as a sentry for the nerve centre of production for the ‘The Truman Show’ television series. What unusual camera angles can you remember in the film? Comment on the camera angles displayed in the images used to illustrate this section. Draw a diagram of the inside of Truman’s house in Seahaven. Mark up any places in particular where you can remember there is a camera positioned. Now indicate on your diagram all the other places where a camera would need to be. Think carefully about the positioning of certain cameras to give Truman some amount of privacy in his own home and not offend network audiences. Design a prop for the Truman set which would house a hidden camera.
The Truman Show (1998) • Mise en scene – camera angles and point of view (POV) • Placement of the camera is an important film technique. Most often the camera is placed at eye level with the actors to give the audience a sense of participating in what is going on and being said • However, shooting a character from above or below is also used to make subtle points
The Truman Show (1998) • Mise en scene – camera angles and point of view (POV) • When we are outside Truman’s house for the first time and we see him dressed for work as he greets his neighbours, we see Truman from high above – as the studio light crashes down onto the set beside him • This startling change of viewpoint is one of the early indications that Truman is a creature on a show, controlled from ‘above’ • Another such example is the crane shot used when Truman is driving Meryl to Fiji and he drives around the roundabout. Again his powerlessness – and indeed the absurdity of his situation (round and round meaninglessly) is visually reinforced
The Truman Show (1998) • Mise en scene – camera angles and point of view (POV) • Point of view (POV) is strongly underlined often in this film, and it reminds the audience that Truman is the object of people’s continuous gaze • The very first scene in which we see Truman shows his face inside a screen (which is itself onscreen). It is the bathroom mirror camera and he is looking into a camera lens – in other words it foregrounds the idea of a lens of spectatorship
The Truman Show (1998) • Mise en scene – camera angles and point of view (POV) • A number of shots are taken from highly unusual viewpoints • Think of the distorted ‘fisheye’ angle showing twins Don and Ron, obviously taken from the camera clearly visible at the top of the Kaiser Chicken advertising billboard, or the deskcamera showing Truman on the phone (but shot from below the desk) • At intervals throughout the film, particularly once the ‘secret’ is out (and Truman knows his life is being filmed), we see how Christof deliberately chooses a point of view. • Other unusual examples include the dashboard camera, the pencil sharpener camera and the mast camera.
The Truman Show (1998) • Mise en scene – shot types and framing • Long shots show a whole scene. They are typically establishing shots, as when we see Seahaven town square for the first time, or when we see Truman and Lauren (Sylvia) on the beach • These enable us to locate the context for the action to be shown in medium shots or even close ups • Extreme long shots are very rare
The Truman Show (1998) • Mise en scene – shot types and framing • Medium shots (the most common in the film) show part of the scene. They may be whole figure shots, as in many scenes involving Truman and Meryl or Truman and Marlon, or the shots inside cars. • Medium shots are a half way point between long and close-up shots, and are the most common to help carry the plot or narrative forward
The Truman Show (1998) • Mise en scene – shot types and framing • Close-up shots are for significant detail, or for highly involving moments. In these the camera moves right up to the characters, as if we could touch them. • They are used to great effect in the library scene in which Truman meets Lauren and the embrace scene in which we as the audience are only centimetres away from the lovers • In watching their reactions we are led to share in them, thereby enormously heightening our emotional involvement in the film.
The Truman Show (1998) • Mise en scene – shot types and framing • Framing can mean what type of shot is used , but it can also refer to what the director puts inside the view he presents • Truman is often shot in images with framing devices, like doorways and windows. While these items are naturalistic features and perhaps do not draw attention to themselves, they position him as ‘confined’ and controlled • Even more significant perhaps are those shots where the fact that a camera lens is involved is deliberately underlined. There is a long shot where a camera follows Truman in telephoto mode and in vignette (an area of black in a circle around the central image)
The Truman Show (1998) • Mise en scene – shot types and framing • During the scene where Truman buys a ferry ticket there are four separate vignette angles: • The approach to the jetty • The view of Truman at the ticket window taken from behind the ticket man’s head in the booth – the latter planning to follow Truman and revealing a glass prism effect around the image • The bollard camera (on the jetty next to the sunken boat) • The overhead camera (as Truman stops on the sunken boat)
The Truman Show (1998) • Mise en scene – shot types and framing • Most of the early shots when Truman visits the hospital to tell Meryl he is going to Fiji involve deliberate prism or dark vignette surrounds (to remind us that Truman is being filmed) • Most of the shots in the travel agency are taken from very strange angles, as if from hidden cameras built into the décor. These self-consciously stylised shots are reminders that Truman is the object of voyeuristic scrutiny • It is not normal for filmmakers to draw attention to their art. Characters do not look into the lens. Lenses are ‘signposted’ – they are used (‘invisibly’). The Truman Show (1998) breaks these rules as a way of pointing out the act of viewing itself.
The Truman Show (1998) • Editing • Joining two shots together makes a connection between them in our mind. It is also a key element in the way the director paces the narrative • It links the shots in time and space • The scene detailing the abduction of Sylvia is followed immediately by the bar cutaway scene in which the waitress explains to her colleague how Truman wanted to follow Sylvia but was prevented by his mother’s fake illness
The Truman Show (1998) • Editing • As the secret of Truman’s fake life is revealed and the connection between Christof and the plot is made explicit, we see some striking uses of editing known as cross-cutting • During the scene when Marlon declares to Truman ‘I’d never lie to you’ the audience are startled by hearing the same words uttered by Marlon and Christof, as Christof feeds his actor lines • Editing also has to do with a scene’s tempo. Consider the ‘storm at sea’ scenes which are ‘cut’ very rapidly to convey a sense of drama and peril. • In contrast the interview with Christof is long and leisurely to suggest control and power
The Truman Show (1998) • Sound • Films have a powerful visual and an auditory dimension. Sound is a signifier of meaning and a further way of manipulating the audience • Dialogue is important within this film as key psychological or thematic information is often located from exchanges between characters – the radio transmissions, the marvellous duplication of dialogue between Marlon and Christof – both making important points about artificiality • Non-verbal sound elements are equally important – the sound effects - the rip sound when Truman’s boat punctures the sea cyclorama; the music of the romantic piano track over the red cardigan scene; or the synthetic ‘weepie’ music over the reunion. These are all parts of cinematic language