BreMM19 | Zhang

Zhen Zhang
University of Technology Sydney | Sydney, Australia

The Segmentation Methodology of Classical Hollywood Film – A Multimodality Approach

This presentation will propose a top-down and a bottom-up two-direction-segmentation methodology which aims at facilitating the study of the structure and performance of classical Hollywood films. Proposed methodology is inspired by film practitioners’ and analysts’ investigations on script structure, narrative structure, acting preparation and rhythm structure (Benedetti 1998; Field 2005; Labov & Waletzky 1967; Van Leeuwen 1982, 1992). It suggests segmenting classical Hollywood complexes according to indicators such as change of location, setting, character(s), actors’ use of verbal and gestural means, rhythmic clues, change of camerawork, and editing method.  

The newly developed methodology can be used to disclose what actors and filmmaking teams are suggested to do as well as what they eventually practice within the broader semiotic organisation of a scene or even larger unit.  The macro level segmentation can reveal how genre and narrative structure are built whereas the micro level segmentation can disclose how the semiotic modes of dialogue, action and phase interact. Findings from segmentation practice can be used study of how meanings and structures are built up via semiotic resources progressively. This methodology, which primarily relies on the manual efforts of researchers, makes an original contribution to the multimodal film segmentation of defined genre.

William Wyler’s 1953 Hollywood film Roman Holiday,which is about a bored princess escapes her guardians and falls in love with an American journalist in Rome, is randomly selected to test the viability of the segmentation methodology developed by this presentation because for the purposes of the multimodal film performance study, any classic Hollywood film in principle could be selected. It finds that the methodology can be applied to scenes that differ in their use of verbal and gestural semiotic modes and can reveal how acting, art direction, cinematography and editing create the boundaries between performance units of multiple layers as well as the role each of them plays.


Benedetti, J. 1998, Stanislavski and the Actor: The Method of Physical Action, Methuen, Great Britain.

Field, S. 2005, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, Bantam Dell, New York.

Labov, W. & Waletzky, J. 1967, ‘Narrative analysis: Oral versions of personal experience. essays on the verbal and visual arts.’, Journal of Narrative and Life history, vol. 7, no. 1-4,pp. 3-38.

Van Leeuwen, T. 1982, ‘Professional speech: Accentual and junctural style in radio announcing’,Macquarie University, Sydney.

Van Leeuwen, T. 1992, ‘Rhythm and social context: accent and juncture in the speech of professional radio announcers’, in P. Tench (ed.), Studies in systemic phonology, Pinter Publishers, London and New York, pp. 231-62.


Dr. Zhen Zhang is a lecturer/tutor of international studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney. She is doing social semiotic film performance research and teaching design and cultural related subjects.

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