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Kuleshov Effect Essay

Montage is one of the three important steps in cinematographic creation, with pre-production and shooting. Technically, it is the action of cutting, pasting and putting together shots. It helps creating rhythm, meaning and order to the story. Montage is an art form : with the same shots, you can express thousands of different feelings and visions according to the montage used. Kuleshov, a Russian filmmaker in the 1920’s, is the first one to write about this theory, now known as the ‘Kuleshov Effect’. This theory is used everywhere now (advertisement, news paper…). The Kuleshov Effect theory is that every shot depends on the context, of what happened before and what will happen after.

Kuleshov discovered that the viewer creates his own interpretation of what he sees on the screen. For example, with the shot of a man with no expression on his face, he can create the impression of hunger when putting a shot with food right after, or of sadness with a shot of a dead person, or of kindness with the shot of a little girl playing. This theory can be summarized with the formula A + B = C ; ‘A’ being the first shot, ‘B’ the second one, and ‘C’ the meaning the viewer’s mind creates by putting those two shots together. So the Kuleshov Effect is very powerful.

When we had to work on a project using the Kuleshov Effect, with my teammates, Giovanna and Christian, we first decided to create a funny story. So we decided to do a funny final twist for our first work. The first shot, the ‘A’, was a boy running in the hallway, as if he was in a hurry to go to some very important place. The second shot was him looking desperately to something, and then the camera moved to the student store’s sign saying : ‘Closed’. So the emotion the viewer has when he sees the whole video is disappointment, because he was waiting for something very important to happen.

But if we had used the same first shot with another ‘B’ shot, for example a policeman running, or someone dying in a hospital bed, the emotion would not have been the same. For our second work, we chose to do something more typical, like what Kuleshov did for his own experiment. So we shot the face of a boy, with no expression, for the ‘A’ shot. Then we shot three different situations : a vending machine (B1), a Tic tac toe (B2), and a girl walking in the hallway (B3). The idea was to show that with the same ‘A’ shot, put with different ‘B’ shots, a different emotion could be created ; A+B1 shows hunger, A+B2 shows focusing, and A+B3 shows attraction.

To have the best shots as possible, we learned how to white balance a camera, which was not very easy since we had to do it manually ! When we started shooting, we had a very good time looking for how we should put the camera to have the greatest shot as possible ; it was very fun because we felt like real filmmakers. For example for our shot of the boy running in the hallway, we first wanted to use a pan and follow the boy running, but then we realized that the result was not as powerful as we would expect it to be, so we chose to use a steady shot instead, with an eye-level angle and a long shot to see the whole movement.

Then another interesting shot in my opinion was the one of the ‘CLOSED’ placard ; we decided to use a tilt movement of the camera down to up, which was a smart choice I think because it seemed that the boy who was squat on the floor after running was looking up to the sign. For the second part of the work, we only used steady shots because we thought it would be more powerful for the experiment of the Kuleshov Effect. The face of the boy with no expression is a Close Up and Eye Level shot, because we learned that a close up was the best way to show the expressions of someone, and the goal of this shot was for the viewer to create his own emotion for that particular shot. But shooting is not the easiest thing of the world, most of the time we had to do the shots twice because the angle was not good, or the camera not white balanced enough.

For the montage with FinalCutProX, we discovered that we could cut some of the shot we had, to reduce their length. That was a very effective feature for us because some of our shots tended to be too long for their purpose, for example to create suspense. Another really important feature of the software, of course, is that it allows you to place your shots as you want, and not especially in the order you shot them, which was great because sometimes we did not film our shots in the order we wanted them to appear in the final video. So montage is really a key step in the process of filmmaking.


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