Directing Styles: How Mr. Robot Uses Unique Framing To Build Drama

You’ve got a fresh story–original characters, unique plots, a daring setting. But without a distinct directing style, your film can feel as boring as Manchester by the Sea. How you frame a scene can give your script new meaning or skyrocket you to one of the great auteur directors.

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In his video essay on ‘Unconventional Framing,’ James Manning offers up some unconventional ways of directing and how they can be used to make your story jump off the screen using Mr. Robot as an example.

Watch the video essay

Break the conventional "rule of thirds"

Most directing styles frame by the “Rule of Thirds,” which basically means placing characters off to the left or right of frame slightly. Like this shot.

4 Unbelievable Ways Directing Styles Improve Story - in-frame Elliot

Mix up character placement or explore the visual space of your frame by placing characters in unconventional spots. Auteur directors make worlds seem unique, like this more interesting shot from Mr. Robot.

4 Unbelievable Ways Directing Styles Improve Story - Hack Plan

Develop characters through visuals

Where your characters fit in frame signals where they fit into the story. Elliot’s character in Mr. Robot is constantly in the lower third of the frame, highlighting his character’s isolation without a word of dialogue.

4 Unbelievable Ways Directing Styles Improve Story - Mr. Robot Framing and Composition

Visually relate your character’s’ traits and personality through their framing within scenes and sequences. Directing styles can add layers to the story’s script.

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Build theme through the frame

One of the many themes of Mr. Robot involves the disconnect between Elliot and the world around him. The unusual framing of dialog between characters is a great example of exploring theme through framing, and why Mr. Robot employs some of the best modern directors.

4 Unbelievable Ways Directing Styles Improve Story - Unconventional Framing

Avoid having your character SAY what they’re feeling or experiencing; show it through framing. Typical directing styles don’t do this, which puts a lot of stress on the writing.

Establish tone through film editing

Mr. Robot exists in its own world, and it shows. As soon as an episode starts, you can’t look away due to its quick editing.

Separating itself from all other film editing styles, Mr. Robot demands attention by jerking its viewers from scene to scene with the same energy of the plot.

4 Unbelievable Ways Directing Styles Improve Story - Mr. Robot Unconventional Framing

Set the mood of your story, world, or characters by editing scenes in a novel way. Is your story or character unsettling? Make them appear unsettling.

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Wrapping Up

Framing can make or break your story, as can color palettes and film blocking. The director trademarks of Mr. Robot place its characters around the frame to achieve NEXT LEVEL storytelling only seen in mise en scene movies and TV.

Want to learn more storytelling through framing? Check out why the first and final frames in movies are so important.

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Jason Anderson
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Jason Anderson

Film and TV Writer at Fire Over Water Pictures
Jason Anderson is a born and raised New Yorker. He is now a Brooklyn based writer who has created a TV series (The Creators Character Sizzle) , penned another pilot based on his novel and has a feature in the works. With a wingspan and insatiable desire to create countless more stories, his drive more than anything is to make people cry, laugh and feel something. An entrepreneurial spirit by nature, he's started three companies, two in the event spectrum, including representing emerging visual artists throughout New York and showing their work at a variety of spaces.
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