What makes a good screenplay or a great film?
Complex characters, desires, opposing forces, revelations; the list is familiar amongst the people who regularly visit websites like this one.
by Joe Forrest
Objects in Cinema
So how do you convey these elements in an interesting, economic, dramatic way?
Here’s a quote from Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov:
“It is not the actor but the object that creates the greatest impression.
When filmed separately and edited into a series of scenes, a glove that has been forgotten in an empty hall, a flower sent to one’s beloved, or a shawl or ring that has been tossed down create a highly distinct impression and through their very shape and psychological import are “acting” every bit as much as a model does. In other words, the significance of a model and an object in film can be equal in a skilfully edited montage.”
It is not the actor but the object
that creates the greatest impression.
Objects can be powerful. I’m talking about the ones that you are going to mention specifically in your screenplay, because they are significant to the story and characters. They may appear once, telling us something noteworthy, or several times, playing a more substantial part in your larger story. Here are some examples of how they can factor into your story:
At the beginning of Rear Window the camera tracks across James Stewart’s apartment revealing a series of photos and objects that tell us he is a celebrated photographer who has been injured in a collision with a race car. It sets up his predicament without a word of dialogue.
There’s a very subtle moment at the beginning of Chinatown where private investigator Jake Gittes is comforting a broken man, Curly, who has just had it confirmed that his wife is cheating on him.
Gittes chooses to give Curly a glass of one of his cheap whiskeys as opposed to a more expensive one. It’s right there in the screenplay: “Gittes reaches into his desk and pulls out a shot glass, quickly selects a cheaper bottle of bourbon from several fifths of more expensive whiskeys.” It’s a wonderful touch that tells the audience a lot about Gittes.
In The Godfather a fish is delivered to the Corleone residence to signify that Luca Brasi has been murdered.
It drives the story forward as well as adding texture to the world and culture of these people.
Whether it’s the Maltese Falcon, the Holy Grail or an ambiguous suitcase in a Hitchcock film, a desired possession can give a story focus and direction.
Furthermore, through action you can reveal character by showing what your characters are willing to do to get it.
-Joe ForrestJoe Forrest is a graduate of the Northern Film School in Leeds, England, where he specialised in documentary and screenwriting. Since graduating in 2008 he has worked as a researcher for both drama and documentary. Joe has made several short documentaries, written short films and is currently researching new projects.