by Danny Groner/ Shutterstock
“The sounds of silence.” It’s a vivid refrain we’re all familiar with, thanks to Simon and Garfunkel. Behind this apparent oxymoron lies something more, a certain sensibility that all digital producers work into their final projects. Skilled professionals use silence to help establish, build, and propel their stories forward. That goes beyond reaction shots from main characters, though; acting can only take a film so far. Adding carefully-selected and re-purposed B-roll shots can carry the emotional weight to pack a real emotional punch onscreen. To push a story along, filmmakers draw on a whole slew of effects, which can include audio-less clips that still speak for themselves. Here are five areas where filmmakers can incorporate stock clips to maximize emotional impact:
Man washing car clip
If a film doesn’t start from the beginning, chances are at some point along the way it’ll feature a flashback to another time. These devices help viewers get much-needed context in a constructive and crafty way. Otherwise, characters would have to express revelations through awkward dialogue, and, worse, viewers would lose out on making connections that increase the depth of a story. Beyond highlighting attributes or trauma of a lead character, flashbacks can offer a glimpse into a different era. Pick a clip that both demonstrates an event, an episode, a season, or a time period, and drives the point home with emotion and mood that reinforces it.
Suspense relies on prolonging a feeling of mystery for as long as possible without alienating the viewer. The best directors achieve it thanks to a combination of great acting, steady camerawork, and a slow-burn pacing. To set the mood, they’ll allow a shot to go on for just a bit longer than others typically would, giving a clip enough time to marinate and resonate with the viewer. For instance, think about how Alfred Hitchcock masterfully lingered on a window, or on a dark bird, to give it a sense of importance. Watching it, you don’t know when it’ll come up or matter again. But it plants the idea in your head, handing you information that even the characters don’t have.
Confusion. Disorganization. Mayhem. They’re difficult emotions to display without having someone knock over a stack of papers or fall into a wedding cake. But digital producers must find ways to make everything seem crazed without losing sight of the plot. Yes, there’s an order to the disorder that must come through. Your best bet is to showcase stress and disruption through external effects first, such as crowded streets and people banging into one another, and then afterward to turn the focus onto the characters. People will naturally attach the emotions they see in one place to the one that immediately follow. That way, it’s not a reflection of the characters as much as the circumstances surrounding them.
This is one area where you must be careful to avoid cliches as we all associate certain places or objects with the same calming sense. However, settings like beach getaways can get in the way of telling a truly original and provocative story. Instead, the best filmmakers call on other ways to deliver the mood. One idea would be to zoom in on a blade of grass in the morning, slowly swaying in the wind. A closeup shot on something innocent and ordinary can soothe the viewer. The pace of motion in the clip also goes a long way towards communicating calm — keep it slow and your audience will find themselves in the right headspace for the action that follows.