by Michael Chasin
Screenwriting Mentor, IAFT/Miami
Film’s power is the result of that masterful mosaic of many distinct elements—story—acting—voice—visuals—colors—sounds—and music.
An equally important element is production design—the overall look of a film.
Within production design is set design—covering the space of a specific set.
And within set design is set decoration—the objects/props that are in the set.
Set decoration, while vital in adding plausibility, can—even more importantly—help tell the story.
Rocky, overtly about the championship fight, is really about the character Rocky’s resurrection—from loan shark thug—to someone who respects his own talents.
In the opening scene, Rocky is toiling in a club fight under the banner, Resurrection A.C. (athletic club). This brilliant set decoration literally stated the theme of the film.
In Raging Bull, Jake beats up his brother Joey, accusing him of being with his wife, Vicky.
Earlier in the film—a picture of Jake with Joey in boxing poses sits on a dresser—between the standing Jake and Vicky—foreshadowing their real fight later to come.
Thoughtful set decoration can also tell more about a character’s emotion—than words.
In Breaking Away, Indiana born Dave is obsessed with Italian bicycle racing.
After the Italians come to Indiana and sabotage him, he is seen silently tearing down the Italian bicycle racing posters from his bedroom wall.
For the low budget filmmaker, set decoration is an inexpensive—yet powerful tool—in helping to tell—and sell—the story.
Be thoughtful of what you put in your set. Sometimes objects speak louder than words.