Montages — which have played an essential role in moving film plots forward for a very long time — are famous for being especially complex, containing a multitude of moving parts that need to work in concert to create a whole that leaves an impression.
To ensure that the script writer’s vision for the montage can accurately be translated to the screen, it is crucial to describe the planned montage in excruciating detail, while somehow also managing to remain succinct. How can this be done?
Understanding a Montage in a Script
A montage can be defined as a succession of images, which may move or be still (shots vs scenes) and are used to create a coherent whole that conveys information as well as a mood. Montages serve as a powerful tool in a wide variety of settings, including in movie trailers, commercials, and YouTube videos. In a script, montages are used across genres, where they can:
- Represent the passage of time, allowing the filmmaker to condense a scene that would otherwise be rather long, but simultaneously creating an artful and visually beautiful effect. These scenes often show people growing older and seasons passing, but they can also, for instance, be used to show a character looking for a lost dog. The TV series This Is Us, for instance, contains many such montages, contrasting the past with the present to effectively convey deep emotion.
- Allow the audience to be introduced to a set of new characters very quickly, often at the beginning of the movie or TV show episode. Indeed, such montages may serve as the opening of a TV show, and Scorpion‘s opening is a great example of a montage that gets viewers up to speed on who each main character is, and what role they play in the team.
- Quickly familiarize the audience with a character’s backstory (or “origin story”). In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, for instance, each Spider-Sona has their own introductory montage. That matters, because fans are already familiar with Spider-Man; just not these Spider-Men.
- Show progress toward a goal — a character finishing college, practicing guitar, cleaning up their house, or waiting for their loved-one at the airport, for instance. Rocky offers the perfect example of this type of montage.
Most montages in TV and film scripts don’t have voice overs — their power lies entirely in their visual representation, and while short pieces of dialogue may be included in a montage, script writers do not focus on dialogue, but rather on explaining what the montage should look like and how it needs to progress.
Common Types of Montages (with Examples)
Writing a montage in a script is a unique challenge, and before any aspiring script writer can craft a beautiful sequence that serves to advance the plot of the script, it is helpful to learn what types of montages are most commonly used. Aspiring script writers or students do not have to confine themselves to established types of montages, but can certainly draw inspiration from them as they decide how to put this technique to use in their script.
1. Training Montages
Training is hard work — nobody magically becomes ripped, and reaches the peak of their profession, overnight. It’s crucial to show the grueling reality of training, which is bound to involve its fair share of horrific failure as well as an ungodly amount of time, to make the audience understand just how hard the character had to work to get to where he is now. This is where montage can shine, because watching long training sessions is boring. Progression can be shown by showing the physical changes the character goes through, offering a glimpse of changing seasons, and changing the setting.
These montages appear on the big screen as well as on television, and besides the famous Rocky montage, you can turn to The Empire Strikes Back, Armageddon, and Cool Runnings for inspiration.
2. Flashback Montages
Flashback montages can serve to depict the triggers a character with post-traumatic stress disorder is confronted with, but they can also have an altogether more light-hearted aim — to familiarize the audience with the history between characters, or to clarify a plot point.
Fight Club uses flashback montages to great effect, as the audience comes to the (once) shocking realization that the narrator and Tyler Durden are one and the same. The flashback montages in the TV show Mr. Robot serve a very similar purpose, and deal with topics of mental health as well.
Sometimes, these types of montages let the audience know that a new character is now in on a big secret — in Spectacular Spider-Man, for instance, Venom introduces Eddie Brock to the fact that Peter Parker is Spider-Man by means of a flashback montage.
3. Parallel Story Line Montages
These montages offer the audience an overview of the actions different characters take at the same time, but in different locations — maybe two people about to go on a date are getting ready, maybe two opponents are training for a fight, or maybe executioner and prisoner are both preparing for a pivotal moment. These montages may also show a single character engaging in similar actions in wildly contrasting situations. In the famously cinematic TV series The Handmaid’s Tale, for example, June’s pregnancy with Hannah is contrasted with her new pregnancy in a dystopian future.
4. Metaphoric Montages
Soviet film maker Eistenstein’s Strike contrasts the cutting down of striking workers with the slaughter of a bull — creating a powerful metaphor that sends not only a very particular political message, but also allowed him to experiment with film techniques that were, at the time, completely novel. Metaphoric montages are typically reserved for especially intellectual cult films or experimental artistic films.
5. Passage of Time Montages
These montages are one of the most used — and even “exploited” — across the TV and film industry. In Pixar’s Up, a montage depicting the life Carl and his wife enjoyed quickly allows viewers to understand the depth of the bond between them. In the British dystopian TV mini series Years and Years, passage of time montages, usually set on birthdays, leave viewers with a rising sense of impending doom.
Common Film Techniques Used in Montages
The technique used to film a montage can broadly be divided into two separate categories — montages may contain a sequences of shots, which are still, or a series of scenes. In the latter case, the montage typically unfolds in multiple different locations. Once the choices between these two options has been made, script writers can further consider that montages may be:
- Rhythmic, during which continuous editing is employed in order to show montage progression. The content of the shots or scenes in the montage determine when the cut takes place.
- Metric, in which case the music to which the montage is set plays an important role in determining when each shot or scene should be cut.
- Tonal, a technique in which the timing is based on the emotions displayed within the scenes or shots.
- Intellectual, which decides on the timing of cuts based on the implied meaning the script writer wishes to convey.
How to Write a Montage in a Script: A Step-by-Step Guide
The steps script writers need to take to write an effective montage in a script all have a singular focus — to share the creative and emotional vision so clearly that translating the montage to the screen will be smooth sailing. This will require the script writer to first develop a well-defined framework for the montage. Once that is done, it is up to the script writer how much they wish to include; fewer details leave more creative freedom to the director or producer.
1. Brainstorming Montage Ideas
Script writers will come to the realization that a montage would be the best way to move the story forward quite organically — and because of that, it will also usually be immediately apparent what kind of information the montage needs to convey.
Let’s say that you’re writing a script with an aspiring script writer at its heart (very meta, no?). The script writer has suffered through rejection after rejection, and has had to work as a customer support worker to make ends meet. Despite their failures, they’ve never given up — and their hard work will finally pay off.
Unless your script focuses on the failures, rather than the eventual success, a montage could be the perfect way to show how your protagonist finally arrived. Your basic components include the passage of time, time spent working on script after script, hope that “this one will be a success”, rejections, scary utility bills, and… rinse and repeat.
Write all the initial ideas you come up with down, perhaps within an app, or maybe on a whiteboard (because some people prefer more tactile action during their creative process.)
Next, think about the ways in which you could illustrate all the points you are trying to make. In this example, you could visually demonstrate the passage of time by means of seasonal changes, different haircuts, changing outfits, weight changes, and perhaps visible signs of fatigue.
You could start thinking about the mood you want to set, too. In this case, the character has grit — she never gives up, even though she often comes close, because she believes in herself. She does get desperate, however, and you’ll want to show that.
Congratulations! Once you make it through your initial brainstorming process, you’ll know what kind of montage you want to create, and you know what it will accomplish:
- You have a rough idea of the type of montage you need — in this case, passage of time and “training”.
- You know the mood you want to set.
- You know where your montage will be set. In this case, multiple locations are going to be needed; the protagonist’s home, where she writes, her car, where she performs her full-time job, and perhaps the outside of her home, where the camera can look in through the window while capturing seasonal shifts.
This basic information is enough to keep you moving forward — onto the next stage!
2. Learning How to Format the Script for Your Montage
To discover how to format your montage, reading existing montages in scripts is indispensable. This will help aspiring script writers learn what structures work, as well as gaining further insights into the types of details that are helpful to include.
Generally speaking, montages in movie or TV scripts are clearly denoted. The writer would make the transition from the previous scene to the montage by creating an empty line, writing the word MONTAGE (where necessary, followed by slightly more information), and then proceeding to craft the script for the montage. Capital letters can be used to immediately draw attention to an important change.
To help you out, here’s an example.
Andrea and Max enter the wedding dress store.
MONTAGE OF ANDREA TRYING ON WEDDING DRESSES
SONG: Soldier by Fleurie plays over montage.
- a) Andrea tries on the first dress, a v-neck with bell sleeves, and hates it.
- b) [Insert more episodes in which the same basic action repeats — character tries on dresses, realizes they’re not going to work for her, and becomes more and more agitated as time passes.]
- c) Andrea finally realizes that she’s not going to wear a white dress for her wedding, and is portrayed in the leather biker outfit she first met her groom in, feeling happy and celebrating with champagne.
Do you have specific ideas to include? Do so! The time can be shown on the maid of honor’s smartphone as she texts her other friends about “bridezilla”, the shop assistant grows frustrated, too, and outside, the sun is setting! While it is possible to leave these creative details to the director, and some script writers do exactly that, it is crucial to write every detail you absolutely want to include in the script for the montage.
3. Including Multiple Locations in Your Montage
Montages that include more than one location call on the script writer to be clear about this. They can do so by leaving a line empty, writing the name of the location, and describing what need to happen in the next part of the montage.
In the famous Rocky training montage, for example, the locations — and the time within the montage — are denoted as follows:
- (that’s “interior”) GODMILL’S GYM — DAY.
- GODMILL’S GYM — LATER.
- GODMILL’S GYM — STILL LATER.
- (“exterior”) ART MUSEUM STAIRS — DAY.
Under each heading, the scene or shot would briefly be described. There is no need to include more detail than what you see here; the director, too, needs some creative freedom to work with!
4. Adding Dialogue to Your Montage
Does your vision for your montage include dialogue? If so, you will, as the script writer, need to write these lines out.
5. Including Details in Your Montage
Wherever a script writer has strong feelings about particular details that should be included in a montage to move the plot along or connect with the audience, these should explicitly be written down. Do you want a character to yell, yawn, or faint? Say so in your script. Should a character’s dog feature in the montage? Write that down. Are clothes and physical details important? Include those. Should your characters have a pile of unwashed dishes in the sink? Say that, too. If it’s essential to the script, and you are 100 percent sure that you need it to appear on the screen, include detail in the script for the montage.
6. Analyzing the Script for Your Montage
If you have followed along with all these steps to write an effective montage for a script, you are likely surprised at the simplicity of the wording used in most montage scripts. Somehow, excellent script writers manage to convey everything they need to in just a few words. They determine the core mood and progression of the montage, but leave the finer details up to the director or producer — who, indeed, runs with the script to create a montage that is often even better than the writer could ever have imagined.
After you have drafted your montage script, read back to analyze whether:
- Your script covers the essential framework for the montage, as you have envisioned it as the script writer.
- The script moves the plot forward.
- The script effectively communicates the information you need the audience to have.
- You have included the locations and dialogue you had in mind for the montage.
- You have conveyed the tone and mood of the montage, and added music suggestions (which can be vague, such as “upbeat music plays”).
Does your script tick all these boxes? Congratulations! You are now officially done! Leave the rest of the work to the director.
How to Write a Script for a Montage: Important Tips to Keep in Mind
Novice script writers, especially those who have previous experience in writing novels, short stories, or other forms of writing, need to take a few key tips in mind as they attempt to write an effective script for a montage. Your script can immediately improve if you:
- Remind yourself that you are not writing a novel every step of the way. Scripts, including scripts for montages, are surprisingly concise, and they do not include complex verbiage or beautiful language (with the exception of dialogue lines). They can be compared to technical manuals more accurately than to novels.
- Leave the director or producer, who will (hopefully) translate your vision to the screen, plenty of creative freedom. You create the framework, but because film and TV are visual media, it’s their job to make the story come to life.
- Learn from more experienced script writers — the scripts of many famous movies, which usually feature montages, can be found on the internet. Seeing how those who came before you committed their creative vision to paper will help you decide what you need to include in your script, and what can be left to the director and actors. Camera angles fall, as one example, outside the scope of the script writer’s job.