By definition, a prop is an object used by an actor in a film (for films) and that can be held. (Understand, a swimming pool is not a prop). They are the seemingly ‘little’ details that will enhance the world your character lives in, making it believable or not and giving layers to your story, or not.
Funny enough, many people think that props are found during pre-production by the art department, and do not necessarily take time to introduce significant props in their screenplay (unless it’s a gun or a bag full of cash, two props to possibly ban from your story.)
The video below, by Pictures Up, evokes different ways props add to your story.
Think about Morgan Freeman’s character in Se7en, starting the metronome and how much it revealed about his relationship to time.
Or just look at the picture opening this article: if you’ve seen Brokeback Mountain, just the sight of this shirt on a static frame will likely trigger the full story behind it.
That’s the power of props and one you can use when you create your characters on paper, asking yourself: what object can help enhance, reveal, trigger her/his personality on the screen and without words?
This will also help make your writing much easier and a lighter exercise. We often focus too much on words, when a prop can say more with less. (Check How Did They Write It for successful examples of props use in scenes).
The video below says it well: “This is what makes props so fascinating. Because by themselves, they are nothing, but once they are attached to a character’s emotions, they gain power.”
How Props Help Add Depth to Your Characters and Story
#1 – Use props to show someone’s true feelings: Figure out someone inner’s feeling, then show it through a prop.
#2 – Use props to add nuance to your characters: The more unusual prop a character has, the deeper the impression they leave on an audience.
#3 – Use props as metaphors: Specific props can bring you back to a previous scene, causing you to recall the detailed moments and reawakening sentiment in the audience’s past.
#4 – Use props to help your actors performing the part.
#5 – Use props to transition from one scene to another or one shot to another. (this is maybe the only point that can’t be written on the page while you craft your story)