Never say never. There are definitely exceptions. For instance, in comedy sometimes deliberately doing this can be very effective. Although this usually creates a self-awareness and opens a door that can’t be closed. Breaking the fourth wall to poke fun at the film-making process, genre or as an inside track can add an extra dimension and layer to comedy. In most cases, the rule sticks… never… sorry, avoid telling your audience what they already know.
This insightful video essay from Filmmaker Magazine goes into detail about how Steven Soderbergh gives his audience information… breaking from the traditional into a more relaxed yet equally compelling style of visual storytelling. As with the visual component, audiences have watched enough content to understand genre and cues to build suspense… but these can work against a filmmaker when the audience jumps ahead of them. It’s an art of giving them just enough.
When it comes to exposition in your film, you’ve got to play it smart. There’s a definite art to using nuance, indicators and allowing shades of colour to appear when adding context to your characters, world or story. Unleashing a monologue or obvious fact-gathering dialogue appears clunky and can disrupt the flow and illusion of reality.
It’s better to inject cues that fill in the minutia rather than having to explain it. Over-explaining details, especially those that are self-evident leads to tautology and allow for a patronising feel to creep into your screenplay. Audiences are well-versed in film language and just like so-so CGI, will see through the veil when it comes to false moments.
There’s not much that irks an audience like spoon-feeding them with story. Rather risk some uncertainty than taking a heavy-handed approach to characterisation. Too much uncertainty can be problematic but a little helps create some mystery or forces audiences to engage by connecting the dots or filling in the blanks.
If you need to get up-to-speed quickly, try to come up with creative ways to introduce detail and try to be concise as possible. Inference can make up a great deal of the in-between spaces. For instance, authors will introduce a character and only comment on one or two significant details. Portraying them in this light, gives the reader or viewer a chance to let their imagination latch onto your story. Have a character who represents the audience’s point-of-view so that their learning process seems more natural and in keeping with the world you’re building.
These moments can derail a film, pull the audience out of the dream state – so it’s worth combing through your screenplay to minimise or eliminate any dialogue that comes across as too obvious or better told through visuals.