Mise en Scene: Complimenting Props to Environments

Mise en scene means arranging the scene, and basically that means that things like the props and the costumes need to match the environment in which the actors are performing the drama. But, how can a scene be set up to ensure that the props complement the environment? Well, it does take some forethought and paying a lot of attention to detail.

Step 1: How to Use Props

Props should always add something to the action or tell something about the character. For example, if a character is walking around with a bloody broadsword and chain mail, it can immediately be assumed that the action is taking place sometime in the past and more than likely sometime during the Middle or Dark Ages. And, all of this is accomplished with a character never saying so.

Props should never be extraneous or frivolous. If they do not add anything to a scene, then they should be removed. There's nothing worse than a prop that could potentially confuse the audience.

Step 2: Using Props that Fit the Environment

The environment is where the scene takes place, and it is where the actors will be interacting with each other and creating the drama of the screenplay. To create the props that fit the environment requires a complete sketch of how the scene should look and where things should be placed. For example, to create the look of a sloppy household, items should be strewn, garbage should be overflowing, and clothes should be hanging from doorknobs.

But, there's more to making the props fit the environment than just placement. Props need to also set up the location, time period and status of a person.  For example, a wealthy person living during 17th century France would have gold-tinged lounges, vanities and stools.  Wallpaper with fleur-de-lis's would line the walls, and gilded doors would lead into more elaborate rooms.

Step 3: Costume Props

Costumes also set up the scene. To continue the French theme, ladies would wear large hats or headdresses with jewels dangling from every hand and piece of clothing. Men would be wearing knickers and vests. 

Costume props are just as important as what a person is wearing. For example, a drug dealer in modern times may stand in front of a Cadillac Escalade and have pockets full of pills or little bags of white powder. Just like props in a scene shouldn't have extraneous items, neither should the props on a person. 

Step 4: Telling a Story

Props should advance the story some way and tell a story in and of themselves. If trying to tell the story of war, a lost battle could involve broken weapons, torn flags and strewn armor. The props can support the environment that the storyteller is trying to relate and add something more to it.

Step 5: Be Aware of Unfitting Props

When filming in an uncontrolled environment, sometimes things show up in the shot that shouldn't be there. Filmmakers should try to control this as much as possible by removing as many items that don't belong as possible. But, sometimes these will have to be removed in post-production.