How to Write a Montage in a Script

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From Rocky, to the Avengers – montages have become a staple of cinema all over the world. With their unique ability to display decades, lifetimes and of course months of training in minutes – they are an invaluable tool in the screenwriters kit. 

In this article we’ll be exploring the power of the montage. What they are, why you should be using montages, we’ll break down some iconic montages, and finally give you some practical advice on how to write a montage in your latest script.

What is a Montage? 

A montage is a series of shots based around a central theme. Examples of them include the ‘training montage’ in Rocky and the ‘waiting for Edward'(ugh) montage in Twilight: New Moon. 

They are a great tool for screenwriters to do a lot of visual exposition. They are particularly useful for shorter projects as you can display a lot of information in very little screen time.  

Why Use a Montage?

The reasons to use montages are endless, but here are a few of our favorites: 

  • Montages to show the passage of time – showing leaves changing colors, beards growing out, kids growing older – all of these images make effective montages. 
  • Montages to introduce multiple characters – montages are great tools to introduce a load of new characters without having to spend very long doing so. 
  • Montages help us get to know one character better – Montages can be used as an intimate moment that the audience spends with the protagonist, where we see them struggle, and are able bond with them. 
  • Mortgages to show a backstory – This is a great way of creating a villain, or a hero for the audience without investing a lot of your screen time in backstory. 
  • Montages to show improvement/progression – no one wants to watch Rocky doing the same run every day, getting better a little bit at a time. However, put an electric guitar track on and show us a running montage and we’re hooked. 

Montage Inspiration:

Below we have collected three of the best (in our humble opinion) montages around. They all have very different tones but they are fine tuned, entertaining, and good uses of screentime. 

Rocky (1976)

It would be sacrilege to talk about montages and not bring up Rocky. This film’s montage shows us the perfect way to present the idea of repetition, time passing and improvement. It makes the idea of continuous practice and grind into something glamorous and inspirational. 

Rocky changed the montage game.

Up (2009)

Every Pixar film really is a masterclass in screenwriting  and Up is no different. This montage is possibly one of the most moving sequences of shots in cinema history. Pixar uses this montage to show us Ellie and Carl’s life together; their ups and downs, hopes and dreams, their love and their home. 

Within 4 minutes Pixar have given this couple’s entire life together, and have more importantly shown us why we should spend the two hours routing for Carl (no matter how he acts, or how mean he is to Russel).

Through this montage they create a hero that we can’t help but adore. A lesser film might have spent half an hour doing this. Pixar does it in under 5 minutes.

The Muppets Movie (2011)

Through the power of montage! 

We love this montage because it is a textbook example of what montages do whilst simultaneously taking the mick out of montages and how convenient they are for screenwriters. 

Here the filmmakers give the audience a knowing wink as they jump into a fabulously put together, hilarious montage. It does a great job of introducing you to characters, and building up who they are, whilst only giving them 5-15 seconds screentime.

How to Write a Montage: 

Let’s get down to the script. 

One of the fantastic things about being a screenwriter these days is that through the internet we have access to the scripts of almost every major movie. 

If you loved a film, we highly recommend finding the screenplay online and reading through it. You will learn so much from doing this. Don’t forget to make notes to refer back to later. 

As we mentioned above any Pixar script is definitely worth reading through.   

Boring practical note – if you are looking to submit your screenplay to an agent or studio make sure to do your research into the exact formatting they require, as this will vary from place to place. 

Key Terms

Slug line – A Slug Line is the gray scene heading that establishes the scene. It will normally look like this: 

INT. Hitch’s Kitchen. DAY – this shows your crew that this is an indoor scene taking place in the day, and which room it is to be set in. 

Beat – You’re story beats are the action you are trying to show in your script. They will look like this: 

Tony writes at his computer. 

Edward walks to his car. 

Dialogue tag – This is the name for the line that indicates who is speaking. It is normally centralised to make it easy to see on the page. 

Let’s make a montage:

Let’s recreate the above scene from Twilight as a screenplay montage. Just because everybody hates those movies, me included, and I like to torture myself.
Below the step by step guide, is my version of the full scene so you can see these techniques in action. 

Step 1 – Setting the scene 

INT. BELLA’S BEDROOM. DAY 

Through this your production manager knows what locations they will be filming at. 

Step 2 – Note the transition into montage. 

MONTAGE

Whenever you add a new slug line within the monage you will need to signify that the montage is continuing. 

(MONTAGE CONTINUED) 

Step 3 – Add your beats

 Bella is sitting in her chair, looking out of the window. 

OCTOBER – The leaves are turning brown. Children run past the window in winter coats. 

NOVEMBER – The leaves are falling. Charlie sweeps up leaves. A child walks by with a Thanksgiving Turkey. 

If there is a change in time it is helpful to note this. 

Step 4 – Add your dialogue (if you have any – dialogue is not always needed in a montage) 

BELLA

Alice, you’ve disappeared. Like everything else. Who else can I talk to, I’m lost. 

No new slug line is required, but make sure to add a clean dialogue tag. 

Step 5 – Add new slug lines whenever the location changes. 

As productions are a collaborative effort, it is important to make your screen play as clear as possible. 

The Script for the Montage in Full: 

INT. BELLA’S BEDROOM. DAY 

MONTAGE 

Bella is sitting in her chair, looking out of the window. 

OCTOBER – The leaves are turning brown. Children run past the window in winter coats. 

NOVEMBER – The leaves are falling. Charlie sweeps up leaves. A child walks by with a Thanksgiving Turkey. 

BELLA

Alice, you’ve disappeared. Like everything else. Who else can I talk to, I’m lost. 

DECEMBER – The garden is covered in 2ft of snow. No one walks past. 

BELLA 

When you left. And he left. You took everything with you. But the absence of him is everywhere I look. 

Bella is typing at her computer. Her inbox is full of ‘message failed to send’ notices. 

INT. CHARLIE’S LIVING  ROOM. DAY 

(MONTAGE CONTINUED)

Bella sits on her sofa. Charlie watches her. 

BELLA 

It’s like a huge whole has been punched through my chest. 

INT. BELLA’S BEDROOM. NIGHT

(MONTAGE CONTINUED)

Bella screams in agony. Charlie comforts her. 
THE END.

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