Screenwriting: How To Write Montages

Almost all movies contain a montage sequence, and good screenwriting can be done effectively or badly. Take the time to learn how to write it well so the montage helps the movie and doesn't slow things down. Montages are used to show events that have happened over a long time period. The actual definition of the word montage is a collage. For movies, this is a combination of several short shots that when combined can have a symbolic meaning or show the passage of time.

Step 1: Consider Placement

Inserting a montage all over the place is not an effective tool. Half the battle is finding when a montage can most help the story move along. Go through the script and determine if the story at each point can be told in any way other than a montage. If only the montage fits, then this is the spot for it. Most writers will use montages to show a personal relationship develop quickly or to show a long passage of time. Montages are also used to build up repetitive ideas.

Step 2: Continuation of the Story

Ensure that the montage will keep the story moving. Many times montages are used as a visual joke or several gags usually found in comedy films. Even if the montage is used to display a joke, it should still contribute to the story in some way. The use of the montage should result in progress of the story in some way.

Step 3: The Visual

Because a movie is a piece of visual work, it is important to write visually. Most montages will not contain dialogue and be a series of shots with music. The story at this point is told in pictures and not words, and if you can find the right picture then you can convey plenty of information to the audience. When condensed into words, the montage might be only a sentence but the actual sequence can last for a few minutes. 

Step 4: Know What to Avoid

Montages are about visuals, so having a voice over does ruin the purpose. The pictures will be telling the story, and if the montage cannot be understood unless a voice over is added, then the montage needs to be fixed. Alternatively, if the montage is not working, then changing it to a short scene may be better.

Step 5: Length

Montages should be short, about 2 to 4 minutes. This might seem like a long time, but it is not. Normally 1 minute equates to about 1 page of the screenplay. This is a short amount of space to fill up so think of the pages like an outline rather than a fleshed out scene. In essence, a montage is an outline of what occurred over that period of time.

Step 6: The Format

There are several different ways to format the montage on the page. Most of the time, the different elements are numerically numbered, though letters can be used instead. To show the end of the montage, most writers will have 'end of montage' at the end. Normally, the more detail that is included, the better the picture. The less detail, then the more freedom the director will have interpreting the script.