Study Guide

Dead Poets Society Production Design

Production Design

Natural Atmosphere

When a film has a cinematographer famous for films dramas like Rain Man, Cold Mountain, and Witness, it might come as no surprise that the film is atmospheric without being too flashy. All of John Seale's films do their best to tell the story without overshadowing the writing and acting…though they do have some pretty sophisticated methods of storytelling.

For instance, take the scene where Charles wakes up Todd and tells him that Neil is dead. We have a closeup of Charles' face, but not Todd's. Then we cut to a snowscape, with figures walking toward a big white expanse. Todd runs ahead of them. When we close in on the boys, he throws up into the snow, and they comfort him before we zoom out and watch him fade into the white, alone.

Oof.

Seale uses nature to tell the story of the boy's grief without resorting to much dialogue. Instead, he tells the story of Todd's disbelief and shock by incorporating the stillness and grimness of winter.

Despite setting much of the film inside Welton, the outdoors plays a huge role in establishing the locale (the East) and the seasonal changes. The film was originally slated to be shot in Georgia, but Weir wanted the snow scene to look believable, so they moved shooting to Delaware's St. Andrew's school.

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