Segmentation in film refers to the method of analyzing a film’s narrative by creating a detailed outline of the story. This outline divides the story into significant parts in order to understand its narrative system. This process helps reveal the film’s overall structure and determine the thematic patterns, symbolism, and other significant details that put value to its story, style and treatment.
Choose the type of segmentation you want to use. You can do a segmentation per sequence, scene or even per shot. For a less detailed segmentation work, you can do a segmentation per act or per plot. A segmentation is done chronologically according to the order they appear in the film.
A sequence refers to a single narrative unit happening at one particular time and setting and is composed of a number of interrelated scenes. A scene refers to the group of shots happening within a single narrative flow. A shot is a single footage found in a scene and it is a film's basic unit. An act in film refers to its narrative structure’s beginning, middle and end. This divides the story into three parts. A plot refers to the significant progression of specific actions and events that drive the story to move forward. Sometimes, this can be the same as the sequence, but often times, it is composed of a group of sequences.
Begin the segmentation in large parts by listing down the film’s beginning, middle and end in your paper. Use the Roman Numerals “I,” “II” and so on to separate each one like in a typical outline, then make a sentence summary of each segmented act alongside the Roman Numeral, where the said part of the story falls. Do the same for the rest of the acts.
Make a per-sequence breakdown. Use capitalized alphabetical letters “A,” “B” and so on to separate each sequence. Place a description beside each alphabetical letter. Make sure that each sequence is also under the right act (Roman Numeral). For instance, when referring to the opening sequence of the movie, it should fall under act “I” and it should use the letter “A.” The sequence after that also falls under act “I” and it should use the letter “B.” This process usually requires watching the film again so you will not miss writing down any sequence in the film.
Make a per-scene breakdown. Use small Hindu-Arabic numerals “1,” “2” and so on to separate each scene. Place a description right beside each numeral.
Make a per-shot breakdown. Use small caps alphabetical letters “a,” “b” and so on to separate each shot. Place a description right beside each alphabetical letter. Make sure that each shot is under the right scene.
If you are making a very detailed segmentation of the film, this will take a long time to finish. For a typical two-hour film, a per-sequence segmentation would already require a few hours to complete.
- Ircam Centre Pompidou; Hierarchical Film Segmentation Using Audio and Visual Similarity; Bertrand Delezoide
- Slideshare: Film Studies Unit 1 Structure/Story/Form
- University of West Georgia: Segmentation Research Project
- Publication Database of the Vienna University of Technology: Scene Segmentation in Artistic Archive Documentaries
Rianne Hill Soriano is a freelance artist/writer/educator. Her diverse work experiences include projects in the Philippines, Korea and United States. For more than six years she has written about films, travel, food, fashion, culture and other topics on websites including Yahoo!, Yehey! and Herword. She also co-wrote a book about Asian cinema.