The Devil is in the Details: Why Props & Costumes Matter in Filmmaking
In filmmaking, sometimes it's the little things that count the most.
How often do you hear people talk about a film's excellent direction, cinematography, or editing? All the time! But how often do you hear those same people talking about how effective the props, wardrobes, and set design were? Not often enough, especially considering how powerful these small details are when it comes to "world building," a concept explored in this enlightening video essay by Isabella Cuevas Pierson.
Plenty of us have watched and/or made plenty of amateur films, and one thing that you see in almost all of them is this inattention to detail. Costumes, makeup, and hair often don't fit the characters the actors are playing, settings don't match up with the atmosphere or even the overall world of the film, and props are often unintentionally placed or nonexistent.
Now, to some degree, this is to be expected, because most beginner filmmakers are just trying to make due with what they have. However, if you're trying to make a film about a haggard private investigator who doesn't play by the rules, your parents' million dollar home in the suburbs may not be the best choice of location for his home—at least not without significant modifications and redesigns.
But this video essay certainly drives home the point that the little things, like props and costumes, are actually quite big in terms of significance to the story. They help make the cinematic world more believable and give the audience more of a chance to suspend their belief. Take the wardrobes Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) wears in Winter's Bone for example: it doesn't look like the filmmakers hired a professional actress from a metro area (Louisville), but rather a local girl from the Ozarks.
Lawrence's costumes consist of materials that make sense for the setting: cold, harsh, and poverty stricken. Her clothes are often oversized, as though she wears hand-me-downs or whatever is available. Her hair and makeup are also consistent with the setting, as well as the type of character she plays—disheveled hair, no makeup, an inelegance that fits the locale.
So, when you begin planning your next film, be sure to carefully consider the props your characters interact with, what kinds of things a viewer will see in their homes, offices, and other settings. Be sure to be intentional about their costuming, because what they wear will tell the audience who they are.