Brow Beat

How Directors Use Ensemble Staging to Manipulate the Audience’s Attention

Much of directing deals with telling the audience where to look. Usually, this is done through close-ups and editing—we’re either placed near the main characters, or we get back-and-forth cuts that highlight who and what is important at a given moment.

Then there’s ensemble staging, wherein a director crams several people into a single frame and uses subtle tricks of light, focus, and action to guide your attention. The latest installment of Every Frame a Painting, Tony Zhou’s brilliant video essay series, details the nuance of this approach, with particular attention paid to Bong Joon-Ho’s 2003 hit Memories of Murder. It’s a sharp, revealing study of how a director can be most powerful when you barely notice his hand.