Friday, May 11, 2007

Montage in Screenplays

Montage is a great tool in films. It can tell a lot of story in very little time. Add tension and drama through intercutting. Create tone.

The problem is... it is not a WRITER'S tool.

It really is an editor's tool. (Director too. Cause you know, he'll tell the editor, "Hey, nice montage" and take credit for it).

Here is the thing about montage in a screenplay.

It SUCKS to read.

The majority of the time when montage is used in a screenplay, it is because the writer is lazy. He wants to shortcut through necessary exposition with a montage, instead of crafting a dramatic scene/sequence. Or worse, supplements drama with a laundry list of things to "look" at.

In my experience, there are two types of montage.
  1. Symbolic Juxtaposition
  2. Series of Shots
When you link symbolic actions or items in a way that juxtaposes the images, the reader has to understand the meaning of the symbols and then figure out what the writer is trying to say by juxtaposing them. It is much easier for a reader to understand symbolism when it is placed within a scene, rather than just thrown at them.

The alphabetcal list of items in a series of shots often reads with a very sterile tone. More often than not, the reason to use montage is to CREATE a specific tone. Montage does a great job of creating tone on the screen. Montage on the page reads extremely flat.

If you are a screenwriter, your job is to create the tone of the movie on the page. Montage, more often than not, works against that goal.

1 comment:

Emily Blake said...

Interesting. I did a montage in my first two scripts and haven't done one since, probably because I learned how to do it better.

I hadn't even thought about that until right now.