What is a Montage and How Christopher Changes the Rules

One of the most fundamental aspects of the medium of film is the ability to edit and rearrange images and shots to create a story. The difficulty in editing and film in general is to be both effective and efficient at the same time. This enables the audience to understand the story while also being completely engaged. One of the most useful tools that filmmakers have to execute this is the montage. What is a montage and how do filmmakers use them? Let’s dive in.

Watch: What is a Montage to Chris Nolan?

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Montage Definition

First, let’s define montage

Before learning how to write a montage in a script, it is first important to understand the definition of a montage and why filmmakers use it in the first place. First, let’s define montage and dig into the various reasons to incorporate it into your next screenplay.

MONTAGE DEFINITION

What is a montage?

A montage is a series of separate images, moving or still, that are edited together to create a continuous sequence. Montages enable filmmakers to communicate a large amount of information to an audience over a shorter span of time by juxtaposing different shots, compressing time through editing, or intertwining multiple storylines of a narrative.

The word “montage” derives from French — meaning “assembly” or “editing.”

Common Film Techniques Used in Montages:

  • Music
  • Quick cuts
  • Voiceover narration
  • Minimal or no dialogue
  • Repeated camera movements

What is a montage used for? It may depend on the genre of the film. Other times it may depend on what information is being communicated to the audience. Here are six reasons why filmmakers use them with six montage examples to learn from.

What is a montage used for?

Speed up time

Firstly, what’s a montage good at doing in film? Few tools are more efficient at condensing the time of a sequence of events. This mainly works to communicate a lot of information to the audience over a short period of time. And this is great for providing both context and exposition for a film. So, what’s a montage example that does this?

The tear-jerking opening sequence of Pixar’s Up is a great example of this. The opening scene condenses an entire lifetime of love into a few emotional minutes. You can see how the scene from the Up screenplay is adapted to the big screen in this video below.

Up: Married Life  •  Animated Montage Examples

Montage editing can be incredibly efficient as it condenses time. The sequences created this way can make weeks, months, or even years appear on screen for less than a minute.

What is a montage used for in comedy?

Make ‘em laugh

Comedies effectively use montages for comedic effect. These sequences have been used both in the build up of a funny scene or as the punchline. The new found bond between Dale and Brennan in Step Brothers is a hilarious example.

Step Brothers

Moving away from comedies, what is a montage example from an action film? Just take a look at any Rocky film ever.

Character montage

Develop characters

Oftentimes, filmmakers need to communicate the transformation and growth of a character over a short amount of time. This can be important in setting up the rest of the film. Most commonly, this is found in the training montage.

For example, the famous Rocky montage is possibly the most classic iteration of this. But let’s take a look at an example that’s just as effective. In Mulan, characters train and practice for the war. They begin hopeless and end as warriors.

Mulan Training

In training montages, characters train for a big event in the story. So, how does a sequence like this affect a film’s tone? By building a gestalt.

What is a montage’s function?

Build a gestalt

The definition of gestalt is “an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.” Therefore, in the medium of film, various shots can result in gestalt that gives the audience a better picture of the film’s world or characters. This is beautifully done in the opening title sequence of 500 Days of Summer.

500 Days Opening Titles

By using short shots and images of the childhood of the film’s two main characters, the film gives the audience a better understanding of these characters are for the duration of the film.

What’s a montage used for?

Combine multiple storylines

Films that operate with multiple storylines often need to intertwine the different narratives within the same scene. This is especially effective to use multiple storylines together. Therefore, montages can drive home the theme of a film within one scene. 

It can also be used to heighten the intensity of a major plot point and affect every character within each storyline. For example, this is done in the film The Big Short  to show the reactions taking place in every storyline to the same event.

The Big Short  •  Shorts turn the tables on Wall Street 

This sequence ramps up the intensity of the entire film when the market isn't crashing as the film’s major characters expect.

Thematic examples

Create meaning with juxtaposition

Finally, juxtaposition is something that has been used in montage since it was made famous through Soviet montage theory. The meaning and information communicated rely heavily on how the shots are arranged and juxtaposed next to each other.

This is the basis of the Kuleshov effect. For example, the most famous scene that capitalizes on this effect is the baptism scene from The Godfather. The editing arranges the shots of the assassinations of different mafia leaders with the baptism of Michael Corleone’s nephew to communicate the christening of Michael as the new Don.

And so, had the scenes been separate, this would not have been as clear or as impactful. For this reason, Cinefix places this at number one as the best sequence of all time.

The Godfather

Montages can create some of the most memorable scenes in a film because of their unique ability to communicate vast amounts of information in a shorter amount of time.

In conclusion, understanding how a montage functions within a story will help you incorporate it to effectively engage your audience and communicate to them in the most engaging way possible.

UP NEXT

Writing a montage in a script

Montages are one of the most effective and efficient ways that a filmmaker can communicate information to an audience. Understanding how to write them in a script can save you pages that will make your story more engaging for the reader. Learn how to write a montage in a screenplay and add another skill to your screenwriter's toolkit. 

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