There's nothing more satisfying than an adequately executed montage. We all know how they look on the screen. But how do they look on the page?
What's the first montage you remember seeing in movies or TV? I think the one from The Godfather stands out for me. I was probably too young to see a bunch of mafiosos killed to the prophetic words of the Michael rejecting Satan, but hey, I turned out okay.
When your story needs to pick up the pace, maybe characters need to get things in gear, maybe someone needs to learn a skill quickly... well then you're gonna need...
The truth is montages are useful plot devices. The hard part is figuring out how to make them work on the page and not just in our minds eye.
Today we'll earn how to write montages in your script and look at a few montage examples in screenplays.
Cue the music!
What's a Montage?
According to Wikipedia, a montage is "a technique in film editing in which a series of short shots are edited into a sequence to condense space, time, and information. The term has been used in various contexts. It was introduced to cinema primarily by Sergei Eisenstein, and early Soviet directors used it as a synonym for creative editing. In French the word "montage" applied to cinema simply denotes editing. The term "montage sequence" has been used primarily by British and American studios, and refers to the common technique."
Chances are, you know a montage when you see one. They're usually cut to music and link a bunch of scenes or shots together to show the progression of a character.
How to Write a Montage in a Script
There are a few different ways to write a montage in your script.
How to Write a Montage that takes place in one location
The first it to write a heading like MONTAGE: And you'd number the scenes like this...
INT. APARTMENT - DAY
1. Jason writes an article on his laptop
2. Jason bangs his head on the wall
3. Jason drinks whiskey and lies upside down
How to Write a Montage that takes place in many locations
MONTAGE - VARIOUS
1. Jason writes in his apartment. GROANS.
2. Jason at a coffee shop. Still writing. SIGHS.
3. Jason boards a plane.
4. Jason in the Amazonian jungle, write. SCREAMS when he sees a snake.
Formulating your montage
You totally don't have to number your scenes. You can use bullet points and dashes. You can even skip writing "montage" and just write it like a SERIES OF SCENES: or you can write it like normal. With scene headers that later the director may decide could be jammed together in a montage.
The annoying thing about screenwriting is that the "rules" are all kind of bullshit. Sure, we have formatting and some other ideas, but when it comes to communicating to the audience, you just need to write clearly. The above tips will help you do that, but as we look at montage examples in screenplays, you'll see that's not always the case.
Let's dive in.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fn7MBGmHaa4
The Montage in Goodfellas
There are many famous movie montages, so I went with the one my group thread suggested to me first. The one in Goodfellas set to Layla. Holy crap is this an amazing montage. Basically, its purpose is to show a power shift within the mafia. Told via a voiceover and including a sick Clapton track, we understand that burying the evidence means burying some stiffs.
Now, as you'll note, we never see the words "montage" appear in these scenes. It's something that was built in the edit and not necessarily on the page. I think leaving it up to the editor is a fine way. This entire movie is written in a way where we'll be seeing a series of scenes over the voiceover anyway.
My biggest recommendation for writers is to write the story and let it flow. Let the edit take care of what needs to be a montage and what does not - but if you think you absolutely need them, we have other examples.
The Montage in Mud
Full disclosure, I think Mud is a masterpiece. It's a beautiful little move that is as deep as the river it fords. In the middle of this movie, we need Mud to build a boat with Neckbone and Ellis. That could take a long time, so writer and director Jeff Nichols use a series of images set to music to show the passing of time and the progression of Mud's plan.
Now, the exact music is not mentioned here, but you get the picture. We check in with all the characters in the story while also making sure the reader understands this formatted series of scenes will play in the middle of the movie to get the story forward. It's a clever short cut, and the descriptions give us just enough to picture it in our minds.
I couldn't find clips of this montage, but Mud is amazing so watch it.
The Training Montage in The Karate Kid
Come on; you knew you couldn't get through a post on montages without us talking about training. I wanted to pick Rocky, but I thought I'd go with one of its main influences, and the first montage I remember seeing as a kid. The Karate Kid inspired me to kick my brother in the face.
It also is a great screenplay that carries incredible emotional arcs for both Daniel and Miyagi.
Apologies in advance for the quality of the script pages. It's from 1983.
Again, no music specified here, but what matters is the way it's written. These dense paragraphs show us the passing of time and the progression of Daniel's mastery. We understand they are perfect to be edited into a montage, without beating the audience over the head with the information.
Download and read The Karate Kid screenplay to learn more.
What's next? Learn how to rewrite your screenplay!
We've all heard "all writing is rewriting" at some point in our lives, but what goes into rewriting your screenplay and how can you tackle it like a pro?
Click the link to learn!