As a director, I’m always learning techniques, theories, and methods to communicate better with my collaborators on set. While researching movement for camera and performance, I came across Laban Movement Analysis, a system for observing and describing human movement. Laban Movement Analysis can be applied in filmmaking to help directors, actors, and choreographers understand and communicate the movement choices used in a film. Let’s dive in and explore more about Laban Movement Analysis and how it can help you become a better filmmaker.

Laban Movement Analysis in Filmmaking
Laban Movement Analysis in Filmmaking: Rudolf Laban
Rudolf Laban on trial in Berlin State Opera Ballet in 1934. (Source: REUTERS)

Who was Rudolf Laban?

Rudolf Laban was a Hungarian-Austrian dance and movement theoretician, dancer, and choreographer who developed a comprehensive system of movement analysis and choreography that has had significant impact on dance and related fields.

Mr. Laban was famous for his theories of movement and dance, including the Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) and Effort-Shape theory, which form the basis of modern dance notation and analysis and have been widely influential in dance, drama, physical therapy, and related fields.

What is Laban Movement Analysis?

Developed by Rudolf Laban in the early 20th century, Laban Movement Analysis has become a widely used tool in dance, drama, and physical therapy. Laban Movement Analysis is based on the idea that all movement can be broken down into four basic elements: body, effort, space, and shape.

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Body

The body element refers to the physical body and its structure.

Effort

Effort refers to how movement is executed, including the level of force, weight, and flow.

Space

Space refers to the location and trajectory of movement and the relationship between the moving body and the surrounding environment.

Shape

Finally, shape refers to the overall appearance of movement, including the positions and movements of different body parts.

Laban Movement Analysis in Film - Theatre Class

Laban Movement Analysis in Acting

Laban Movement Analysis is essential for performers to study. While exploring emotion through movement, actors understand their characters by communicating their feelings through movement.

Performers often struggle with defining a character’s body language and physicality. Through the study of Laban Movement Analysis, actors can gain a deeper understanding of their own movement choices and the movement choices of other characters in a scene. This can help actors make more informed and nuanced acting choices, ultimately enhancing their performances on stage and on screen.

How Laban Movement Analysis Relates to Filmmaking

One way Laban Movement Analysis can be applied in filmmaking is through “effort actions” to create expressive and meaningful movement. For example, a character who is feeling angry and aggressive may use a lot of pushing effort actions, such as this scene in Blue Valentine.

Blue Valentine

A character feeling sad and defeated may use a lot of carrying effort actions, such as in this scene with Rue explaining her drug use from Euphoria’s pilot episode. Note the camera, lighting, and editing use to further drive the actions of carrying effort. 

Euphoria

By understanding how various effort actions can be used to create different emotional states, filmmakers can use movement to help convey the emotions and intentions of their characters.

Another way in which Laban Movement Analysis can be applied in filmmaking is through “flow states” to create dynamic and engaging movement. For example, a fight scene may use a lot of explosive flow states to develop a sense of tension and energy – as utilized in the “fanny pack” fight sequence in Everything Everywhere All At Once:

Everything Everywhere All At Once

A love scene may use a lot of sustained flow states to create a sense of intimacy and tenderness, such as in the first kiss scene in 500 Days Of Summer:

500 Days Of Summer

By understanding how different flow states can be used to create different moods and atmospheres, filmmakers can use movement to help create a more immersive and engaging viewing experience.

Laban Movement Analysis - On Set

Finally, Laban Movement Analysis can be used to analyze existing movement in film, which can be beneficial for directors and choreographers to understand the underlying emotions and intentions of the characters.

Edgar Wright is a director who loves movement and motion, as demonstrated in this credits sequence of Baby Driver.

Baby Driver

Another fantastic example of a director who uses movement and motion to demonstrate the emotions and intentions of characters is Steven Spielberg. Here’s the “America” scene from his 2021 West Side Story.

West Side Story (2021)

Understanding Laban Movement Analysis

Understanding Laban Movement Analysis can help filmmakers create more dynamic and expressive movement sequences and can also be used to analyze existing movement in film to gain insight into the underlying emotions and intentions of the characters. It can be used by directors, choreographers, and actors to gain a deeper understanding of movement and emotions in the film, which can lead to more nuanced and well-crafted performances and scenes. 

Laban Movement Analysis in Filmmaking - On Set BTS

I learned much about Laban Movement Analysis, which will help me with my future films. Please take all this new knowledge about movement, blocking, and emotion into your movies to make them even better. Are there any performers or directors who utilize Laban Movement Analysis well? Share in the comments below!