The Power of Silence

Have you ever seen a film where the characters just talk…too much? I know I have, and it can get on your nerves. It can be most annoying when characters just start saying the most obvious things. I think that this can be a challenge for many first time filmmakers and screenwriters. They try to tell the audience too much instead of simply just showing them.

I believe that there can be a healthy balance between exposition and silence. You don’t want too much of either because then the film becomes unbalanced. However, the exception to this rule could be if you’re making a silent film…you simple can’t talk in that scenario (unless you decide to use too many intertitles).

In any case, silence can be a very powerful aspect of a film. In a horror film, silence builds anxiety and can create a very tense feeling in the audience. They will be expecting some big scare (it is up to you if you want to scare them). In a drama film, silence can make the audience think a little bit more about a certain situation, or even about a character’s mindset. One film which comes to mind is Bela Tarr’s 2011 film “The Turin Horse”. There is very little dialogue in that nearly two and a half hour film, but it definitely keeps you engaged (although I will admit it is not for everyone).

Sometimes we worry that the audience won’t understand what we are trying to convey in a particular scene so we decide to explain it to them through the character’s speech, but I think we need to give our audiences more credit. I like to write my films with the thought that my audience is smart and will figure it out on their own. And if they don’t? That’s okay too. That is what art is all about; we don’t have to answer all the questions we raise.


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