The Kuleshov effect is one of the most important lessons of editing, putting it up there with the essential concepts in filmmaking. But why is it so important?
Movies are visual, and to tell the story, you can’t just speak it; you have to show it. This is where the Kuleshov effect comes into play. There are plenty of different concepts in filmmaking, but this one blows every other out of the water.
This is one of the most important lessons in visual storytelling you’ll learn, and that, my friend, is the Kuleshov effect.
In today’s article, we’re going to dissect it to understand what it is, and you can bring your story to life. It’s perfect for any filmmaking platform, any medium.
Let’s have a look at it in more detail below.
What is the Kuleshov effect?
The Kuleshov effect is a mental effect where the audience gathers more information from the two shots side-by-side than from one isolated shot.
Funnily enough, it was an experiment at first, but this experiment has been cemented in filmmaking folklore and is a mainstay when it comes to editing film.
Are you interested in editing? Why not check out our post-production section here to learn more about all things editing!
Who is Kuleshov?
He was a Russian filmmaker and potentially one of the first film theorists in history; he was one of the first film school founders with the Moscow Film School.
He was a pioneer of the unique filmmaking style known as the Soviet montage. As well as developing the Kuleshov effect, he was also the creator of “Creative Geography”.
Creative Geography connects different settings into one as the film cuts from shot to shot; it’s genuinely a fantastic concept and shows how sharp Kuleshov was.
His famous question stated in 1910 still lights up the filmmaking classrooms to this date:
“What made cinema a distinct art, separate from photography, literature or theatre?”
Interestingly enough, years after Kuleshov created the “Kuleshov effect”, Alfred Hitchcock took the idea and tweaked it. And there was born the concept of “Pure Cinema”.
Pure Cinema consisted of three shots:
- Close-up shot
- Point-of-view shot
- Reaction shot
I thought I’d tag that fun fact onto this, two legendary filmmakers with concepts that have travelled throughout the time of filmmaking.
How to use the Kuleshov effect
Firstly, Kuleshov proved his effect in an experiment. Essentially, the audience perceived the subjects’ facial expression when a second image was tagged on directly after the first shot.
The experiment was of a man who had a blank facial expression, and Kuleshov tagged three images on the end of these. The first image was of a child in a coffin. The second was a bowl of soup, and the final image was a woman lying on a divan.
Kuleshow then premiered these to three different audiences and mini-films and asked them what the man was thinking.
And this was how the effect was born. Here we will quickly look at best practices when using the Kuleshov effect and what you must look out for. First, here are a few tips to get the most out of the Kuleshov effect.
Let’s check them out.
Whilst you’re here, why not read our guide on Visual Screenwriting: How to write CAPTIVATING visuals
To emphasise emotions within post-production.
Having multiple close up shots on your subject and action shots will help the editor emphasise the emotion within the cut.
This gives the editor freedom on which shot they will use and which shot to use, leading on to complement one another. The more shots to choose from, the better; it allows the editor the freedom to stitch the story together in their experienced eyes.
Screenwriters MUST create big reaction shots within their script.
The screenwriter must develop scenes with significant reactions; this will help your editor mould the footage and apply the Kuleshov effect.
Screenwriters must allow the characters to react in a big way (This can be subtle) to key events. This makes the editors’ job much easier as they have a plethora of shots to pick from and stitch together.
These reactions are integral to the edit. So make sure you include some bangers!
Use close-ups for the key reaction shots.
Close-ups for reaction shots are the dream for any editor. The emotion they convey, the power they hold to wow, and engage an audience is next to none.
Make sure you include them and get plenty of them! It tells the audience how the character is doing in that given situation and how the character feels and portrays a strong emotion.
This is integral for the buy-in of the audience and keeping them entertained.
Here’s a guide all about shot composition: Our top tips for improving your shot composition: The ultimate guide.
Examples of the Kuleshov effect
Here are a couple of examples in modern-day cinema where the scene has utilised the Kuleshov effect to its best ability. Let’s take a peek below;
This is my favourite example of when the Kuleshov effect has been used incredibly well. It’s in Silence of the Lambs for an emotional reveal. It creates considerable tension as it pans back and forth from the FBI to Buffalo Bill.
Take a look here:
Here’s our second example, where cinema uses Kuleshov’s effect to its best ability. In this example, we are using the “It’s in the box” scene.
This scene is all about the reactions. It cuts to and from the box to each person reaction, and what’s brilliant is that it displays a different type of reaction per character. This is the perfect setup to engage the audience and allowing them to feel the emotion.
It shows the audience all of the points of view from each character by using the effect to go back and forth from each character to the box.
The final Cut – Kuleshov effect
To summarise, the Kuleshov effect is a filmmaking stalwart. It’s an excellent concept that derived from an experiment. It’s perfect for capturing the audience’s imagination and allowing them to feel the characters’ emotions.
We advise you as a filmmaker to try this out on your next film but don’t overuse it, as it may spoil the novelty.
If you have a core scene in your film, try this effect out whilst conveying the characters’ emotions back and forth to engage the audience.
Overall, the Kuleshov effect is an incredible concept to build emotion and grab the audience’s imagination. We highly recommend it!
We hope this article on “The Kuleshov Effect: Everything you MUST know” was helpful to you. Please let us know your thoughts below in the comments, and scroll a little further for our latest filmmaking blogs and resources.
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