Montages Can Be a Useful Tool for Scriptwriters
If you’ve ever written a script for a movie or TV, you know the importance of having a variety of plot devices in your arsenal. Flashbacks, foreshadowing, and racing against time are all examples of devices that can propel your story forward (or drag it down if used incorrectly). One that gets used a lot is a montage, which you’ve doubtlessly seen used to great effect on both the small and big screens.
A montage is basically the scriptwriter’s equivalent of condensing something. What is that “something”? Well, it could be anything: time, a relationship, a variety of locations - anything that needs to be in the story but, if completely used, would drag the film down time-wise.
The trick, of course, is to use it well. In the right hands, it’s a useful plot device that can have a great effect on the audience. Use it incorrectly or too much, and your audience will probably feel cheated in some way.
Examples of Montages That Work
I’m going to throw some in here from a variety of genres so you can see how universal this technique is:
Up: Pixar’s 2009 animated classic has a moving montage at the beginning. The love affair of Carl Fredricksen and his wife Ellie is shown as a series of events over the course of their lives. The audience sees the passing of time and at the same time relates to the problems they experience. It takes only a few minutes yet is crucial to understanding Carl’s motivation when he decides to fly his house to South America.
The Karate Kid: Okay, yes, I know it’s old, but watch the big competition at the end, and I’ll beg you to tell me you didn’t find it exciting. Daniel fights his way through the rounds, taking down members of the Cobra Kai until he makes it to the finals, where he kicks the butt of his nemesis, Johnny. It’s a montage that shows the passing of time and is set to heart-pumping music.
Rocky (1976): Who doesn’t like watching Sylvester Stallone as he trains for his upcoming match against Apollo Creed? We admire him and cheer for him, secretly glad that we’re not the one pumping that much iron. Incidentally, I don’t know of a single kid who hasn’t seen Sly run up those steps at the end of the montage, pumping his hands in the air.
The Breakfast Club: Name one person who wouldn’t like to cut loose in the school library when no teacher or principal is around to watch? This famous montage shows how five teenagers with absolutely nothing in common ultimately bond on a Saturday afternoon in detention. As they dance their way around the library together, you get the sense that for just one split second, they have accepted each other’s differences and things really will turn out well for all of them.
What Montages Can Do for Your Story
I recommend being careful if you decide to insert a montage into your script. Make it pivotal to the story, as in the case of Up, or you will risk condensing information that is superficial and does nothing to speed the plot along.
The number one thing to remember is this: inserting a montage, no matter how well-conceived, will never replace quality writing. I have seen too many scriptwriters jump to a montage in order to avoid having to create well-written plot developments or dialogue. Montages should always serve a purpose. They should not be a crutch for you to get out of a jam.
As you write more and more scripts, you’ll develop an excellent sense of when to use montages, and you’ll see your movies be strengthened by their presence, not dragged down.