This video essay by Noah Yan reveals a handful of ways you can tell richer stories and develop more complex characters by using props:

Convey a character's inner feelings

Editing can play a big role in connecting your character to an item that communicates how they're feeling or what they're thinking. A great example used in the video is the plastic bag Ricky Fitts films in American Beauty. His character is aimless and empty just like that beautiful, beautiful piece of trash. (Thank you, Katy Perry, for revealing the bag's true meaning through song.) 

Character nuance

Patrick Bateman's business card, Juno's hamburger phone, Jules' Bad Motherfucker wallet, -- all of these props help tell the audience who these characters are. Patrick Bateman's is a skeleton of his true self ("That's bone,"), Juno is eccentric, and Jules is -- well -- he's a bad motherfucker. Ask yourself what kinds of objects would encapsulate your characters' personality.

Metaphors & Motifs

The spinning top in Inception, the snow globe in Citizen Kane, and the stuffed birds in Psycho are all examples of metaphors and motifs. But, how can they serve your story? They can be used to explain something complex without having to resort to a boring expositional scene. For instance, Kane's snow globe helps communicate his lost childhood, as well as act as a catalyst for the beginning of his story.

Psycho_birdsHitchcock used stuffed birds as a metaphor for not only Norman Bates' hidden predatory desires, but also as a hint that he masquerades as his dead mother in the same way the birds masquerade as living things.

Passage of Time

This is related with motifs. You can use the same prop throughout your film (three is the magic number for some reason) to represent a visual passage of time.

Performing with Props

Getting good performances might be easier for your actors to do with a prop. Think of how much more interesting (and natural) a dialog scene would be if your characters had stuff in their hands, or if they were hanging up their coats, or looking through magazines.


Using cut-ins are a great way to break up a block of dialog or action. However they should be motivated, because if you put special attention on an object, your audience is going to expect it to do something. (Remember Chekhov's Gun.) Props can also be used creatively to transition from one scene to another.

Can you think any other ways props can be utilized to serve your story better? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Source: Pictures Up