Along the almost three months of Short of Stories, we presented several short films in which OBJECTS are the main characters.
In the article for the Short Formats series on Narrative Film, i’ve pointed out how Spider, by Nash Edgerton, revolves around the events triggered by this toy spider. Then we have an entire discussion while i reviewed Dave Green’s Ham Sandwich on magical amulets.
Other short films like Plot Device and The Black Hole also use objects as plot defining elements. The later three examples use magical amulets, which means that these objects are the core of the plot and they have superpowers, inserting something fantastical to the narrative. Most important is that these films develop under the complications lead by the use of this magical amulet. Meanwhile, Spider is different and suits us best because it uses a mundane object.
The point about objects is that they don’t need further explanation. A chair is a chair. A toy spider is a toy spider. Unlike human characters as they demand explanation, empathy, depth. Spider works as a dark comedy because the actions derived from the object are completely unexpected from a toy spider.
Objects are tools, they don’t change, they just do. They don’t ask for a line of dialogue, neither for a conflict. But we must realize that as characters, main objects also put them into a change of values. All the example listed above make the objects turn from good/innocent to bad/guilty. Yet the objects don’t change, is just the way we see them after the incidents caused by them.
The friendship lasts even longer when we recall how good objects are as signs. They explain flashbacks and ellipses. What if you have a meeting of two characters whom used to know each other when children, but they don’t remember. Is a common object that will expose this recognition whenever it comes to the story.
You might have heard of the term MacGuffin, which is also a great device to abuse of objects, but there’s only a MacGuffin because there’s no need to explain objects. When you have a film in which the story surrounds on an unknown person, usually the entire movie is about it, as Carol Reed’s The Third Man and Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects.
Objects are portable symbols, so there’s unlimited possibilities, actually. Your main character received an object from his brother in the beginning of the film, but further revelations show some dirty skeletons at the brother’s closet and your main character must make a decision regarding him. That object can be the key to illustrate this turning point in the character.
Easily introduced, extremely malleable, objects are the duck tape for narrative issues. Keep them close, if you need an amulet to build something, make a list of candidates. Array your options. If you use them properly you’ll achieve a great solution for your screenplay.