Writing Montages: A Simple Guide for Every Situation

writing montages

So, you’ve got the itch to write a screenplay montage, huh? You’re in luck because, despite being a bit old-fashioned, montages can still be a powerful storytelling tool. While some argue against their use, filmmakers like Edgar continue to incorporate them seamlessly into their work. If you’re set on including a montage in your screenplay, we’ve got some helpful tips to guide you through the process.

Understanding the Basics: How to Write a Montage

Writing a montage in a screenplay is straightforward. Simply use the word “MONTAGE” to signal the montage sequence, describe what you want to be displayed, and cap it off with “END OF MONTAGE” or “BACK TO SCENE.”

Exploring Different Montage Forms

There’s more to montages than meets the eye. Let’s delve into various forms such as those with voiceovers, flashbacks, dialogue, and more. Each adds a unique flavor to your storytelling arsenal.

Decoding Montages: What Are They and Why Use Them?

Now, you might think you know what a montage is, but let’s clarify. A montage is an editing technique employed by filmmakers to propel the story forward rapidly. It’s a crucial tool when certain events need to happen but aren’t central to the main narrative. Think of it as a way to make the most out of your audience’s time.

Essential Components of Every Montage

Every successful montage shares a couple of key elements:

  1. Detail: Even in a fast-paced montage, details matter. They contribute to the richness of the narrative and keep the audience engaged.
  2. Compression of Time: The essence of a montage lies in its ability to condense time. It helps to smoothly transition through events that, while significant, don’t need extensive screen time.

How Pro Screenwriters Cash In Today?

Montage Formatting

Formatting a montage involves a few crucial steps that lay the foundation for a seamless cinematic experience. Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started.

Step 1: Scene Setup

Begin with the standard scene heading, indicating whether it’s an interior (INT) or exterior (EXT) location and specify the time of day. This helps establish the context for your montage.

Step 2: Introducing the Montage

When you’re ready to launch into your epic montage, use bold lettering for impact. You can opt for “MONTAGE” or the equally effective “SERIES OF SHOTS.” The latter has gained popularity recently.

Step 3: Handling Multiple Locations

For montages spanning various locations, the format should be “MONTAGE – VARIOUS” or “SERIES OF SHOTS – VARIOUS.” This ensures clarity in transitions.

Crafting the Montage: A Closer Look

Step 4: Action Sequencing

Each action within the montage should be clearly separated. For shorter montages, commas work well, while longer ones benefit from each action having its own line. The stylistic choice of using dashes (—) or ellipses (…) is up to you.

Step 5: Managing Location Changes

In cases of various locations, introduce a mini scene heading for each change. Use an additional dash for clarity. For instance:

  • Beach – Lisa builds an elaborate sandcastle.
  • Café – Lisa shares a warm conversation with a stranger over coffee.

Step 6: Wrapping It Up

Conclude your montage with a definitive statement: “END OF MONTAGE” or “END OF SERIES OF SHOTS.” No need to specify “end of series of shots – various” for montages in multiple locations.

Putting It Into Practice: An Example

Consider the following example for illustration:


EXT. CITY PARK - AFTERNOON
Chris, a laid-back skateboarder, rolls into the park amidst laughter and chatter. Spotting a vacant half-pipe, he approaches.
Chris: Mind if I join?
Skater 1: Go for it, dude.
Others step aside, creating a circle.
SERIES OF SHOTS
- Chris drops into the half-pipe with effortless grace.
- He executes a series of flips and tricks, earning cheers.
- Close-up: His focused face as he lands a perfect 360 flip.
- He seamlessly transitions from one trick to another.
- The sun begins to set, casting a golden glow on the skatepark.
- Chris ends with a stylish slide, bringing the crowd to applause.
BACK TO SCENE
Chris (grinning): Thanks, everyone! Same time tomorrow.
He cruises out of the park, leaving behind a buzz of excitement.

This example, although not a conventional montage, serves as a formatting guide in a different scenario.

Unraveling the Flashback Format

Flashbacks add a unique layer to storytelling, and crafting a flashback montage demands a specific approach. Here’s a guide building on the principles outlined in your article.

Step 1: Initiating the Flashback

Similar to your general flashback guidelines, begin with “FLASHBACK:” to signal the transition. This maintains consistency with the formatting you’ve previously explained.

Step 2: Coordinating the Montage

Coordinate the flashback montage following the methodology detailed in the initial flashback article. This ensures a smooth and coherent narrative.

Step 3: Crafting the Conclusion

Unlike traditional scenes, flashbacks don’t necessarily need to revert to the present day. Conclude your flashback montage with a decisive statement like “END FLASHBACK” or “BACK TO PRESENT DAY” to guide the audience seamlessly back to the current narrative.

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Applying the Method: An Example

Consider the following example to illustrate the technique:

This tailored example maintains the flashback montage format while introducing new characters and a different setting.

Unlocking the Power of Dialogue in Montages

Montages can transcend mere visual sequences when infused with dialogue. Here’s a seamless approach to incorporating spoken words into your montage scenes.

Step 1: Initiating Dialogue Montage

Commence the dialogue-infused montage in the same manner as previously explained in this post. Follow the established format, and when you wish to insert dialogue, proceed as you would during any other scene with spoken words.

Step 2: Syncing Shots with Dialogue

Enhance the cinematic effect by synchronizing shots with specific pieces of dialogue. This technique emulates how it would appear on the screen, creating a rhythm that engages both the eyes and ears of the audience.

Introducing Narrated Montages: A Parallel Concept

The concept of a narrated montage closely mirrors that of a dialogue montage. Determine the narrator, whether a character within your script or an anonymous voice (“Narrator”). Replace character names accordingly.

Montage vs. Series of Shots: Deciphering the Nuances

Though often used interchangeably, a montage carries a creative, detailed essence compared to the more straightforward “series of shots.” Both terms can convey a rapid narrative pace, with “series of shots” gaining contemporary favor.

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