Film Study


The film version of To Kill a Mockingbird was released in 1962 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and was acclaimed by the critics and general public, winning three Academy Awards. Harper Lee loved the film and called the screenplay "a masterful piece of craftsmanship". She was especially impressed by Gregory Peck's portrayal of Atticus Finch who brought sincerity and intelligence to the role and created a masterful portrait of Atticus. Harper Lee has not allowed a re-make of the film as she believed that it would be impossible to make a better version.

The following activities and tasks will allow you to explore the film and how it presents the issues and characters. You will need to be constantly aware of the importance of how the following film techniques are used to create effect:
• acting
• sound effects
• set design
• costumes
• direction
• camera angles
• lighting
• music


Find out more about the film:
View film credits for To Kill A Mockingbird and the movie trailer
A rich resource for helping students see the importance of camera angles, lighting, sound effects and more in telling the story in film as opposed to text, see Film Study Guide for To Kill A Mockingbird: Seeing the Film through the Lens of Media Literacy.
Activities Tasks
How did viewing the film compare to the experience of reading?
Some people think that an adaptation should be faithful to the book in letter or in spirit. Others think that a film should be faithful only to the art of film, refashioning the story in its own terms. What obligations do you think the film maker has to the original source? Consider: How does the film differ from the book? How have the screenwriter, director, and actors reshaped the material of the story to make the film? Do you agree with their choices?
Analyse how the pictures and soundtrack in the opening titles of the film indicate what the film is going to be about.
The director (Robert Mulligan) deliberately chose to make To Kill a Mockingbird as a black and white film. His reasons were:
• to give the effect of Scout's memory of the past
• to focus on and enhance the racial issue
• to escape from the natural realism and heighten dramatic qualities
(a) Which of these do you think is the most effective feature in the film?
(b) What effect does the black and white cinematography have on the viewer's understanding of the issues in the film? Would it gain or lose impact if it were filmed in colour?
The use of shadow is an important technique in the film. Explain the effect of the following use of shadows:
• Boo on the verandah at the time of the raid
• Bob Ewell's hand at the car window
• The trees blown by the wind
What contribution does the soundtrack make to the effect of these shadows?
How does the director show us in Bob Ewell's first scene that he is the villain of the film? Consider camera angles, framing, character positioning, soundtrack.
Using the guidelines in question 6, create a table listing the name of each main character, the way we are introduced to them and what this communicates to us about them.
Which scenes of the film are seen from the children's point of view and which from a general and impersonal point of view? How does this affect our interpretation of events?
Tom Robinson was shot 17 times in the novel; in the film they say he was shot dead when they were trying to wound him in the leg. In the depiction of this violent end to Tom in the film, why was this changed? Someone had to make the decision to leave out the fact that he was shot 17 times. Why?
What other films does To Kill a Mockingbird remind you of? How are they alike? How do they differ?
Compare Scout's memories of growing up in Alabama during the 1930s to your own experiences of childhood. How does the film compare to the images of childhood represented in other movies or television programs you have seen? How do you account for the differences and similarities?
View each of the following film clips from To Kill a Mockingbird and write a short analysis of their significance, noting the use of film techniques and how they enhance meaning.
  And/or, Visit YouTube and select your own scenes from the film to analyse here.
Listen to the following musical items from the soundtrack of the film.
audio-gif "Main title" (the film's main theme music)
audio-gif "Creepy Caper / Peek-A-Boo" (when Jem, Scout and Dill sneak up to the Radley house for the first time)
audio-gif "Assault In The Shadows" (Jem and Scout are attacked coming home from the school pageant)
Discuss how the music captures the mood and tone of the episode. Consider:
(a) What styles of music are used in the soundtrack? Is there a pattern with how the styles are employed?
(b) What music components are employed to help establish the main ideas or themes of the film, the characters and moods?
(c) Is there a recognisable theme that is used each time a particular character, mood, and situation appears? If so, describe the theme and how it helps support the characterisation, mood and situation. Consider elements such as:
What instruments are playing?
How would you describe the timbre of these instruments?
How does the timbre help support the mood and overall 'theme' of the episode?
Is the harmony dissonant? Consonant?
Is the melody lyrical, disjointed, large/small pitch range, easily hummable, not easily hummable, long/short?
Is the rhythm fast, slow, moderate, steady beat, dotted beat, swung, even groupings, uneven groupings?
The novel and the film are two entirely different texts. Imagine you are the screenwriter adapting the novel into the film script and you are asked to justify the changes you have made to Harper Lee and the film director. Script your conversation.
Choose a scene from the novel not included in the film and create a storyboard showing how you would film it.
Using ICT tools choose a scene form the film and script, perform and film it for the class.
Imagine you are doing a remake of To Kill A Mockingbird now. Prepare a 'pitch' for a major film studio persuading them to give you money to make this film. Consider the genre, cast, script, locations, film techniques, audience and budget. Remember to justify all your choices. Produce your written pitch. You may, if you wish, record your 'pitch' as a podcast.