The Art of Editing a Montage – Part 1
December’s issue of MovieMaker Magazine consists of its annual guide to making movies and once again contains an article I wrote, “The Myriad Uses of Montage.” You can buy the hard copy and read the article now or view it online in a few weeks. It’s a case of the editor being edited: My article was cut down a bit and retitled. To get the full benefit of my effort, I am running the entire article here over three posts. Today’s post reveals how a montage is conceived along with the purpose of a montage.
Show a lot of things happening at once.
Remind everyone of what’s going on.
And with every shot you show a little improvement
To show it all would take too long.
That’s called a montage (montage).
Oh we want montage (montage).
Song for montage scene in Team America and in South Park, Episode 3 Season 6
Montage. The word glides off the tongue of many a filmmaker, but what exactly does it mean? Derived from the French word “to mount,” a film montage is a succinct, self-contained sequence of images designed to convey or recap facts, feelings, or thoughts.
A montage arises from the script on a fiction show or the outline on a non-fiction show. Typically the script or outline will call for a montage with a line like these:
- A series of shots as Jack and Jill go up the hill.
- A progression of newspaper headlines revealing the murder.
- Archive footage of tornadoes in the Midwest.
A montage can also be dreamt up after the shoot by the director or editor such as opening teaser montage showing what your doc will be about. Most opening credit sequences on TV shows are montage scenes.
Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris starts with an dreamy montage of the city accompanied
by a drowsy jazz tune that sets up the movie. (Selected cuts.)
Purpose of a Montage
Documentaries, commercials, infomercials, news shows, dramas, and comedies – all types of shows – incorporate montages to get across information and move along the story that they’re telling. Montage scenes are self-contained and frequently serve as bridges between dialogue or action scenes. Most often a montage functions like a musical interlude as it bridges time, place, or knowledge with its evolving collage of images.
Montages are commonly relied upon to deliver exposition, flashback, or flashforward scenes. You can also employ a montage to stretch time or show a character’s interior thoughts. In the example below, we see where a desperate character’s mind goes when he’s immobilized in a canyon due to a boulder pinning his arm.
In this montage from 127 Hours, director Danny Boyle employs split screen shots to
deliver James Franco’s character thoughts of his family. (Selected cuts.)
Montage scenes invariably show and tell a lot of information in a short amount of time. Most often montages compress time, showing a week, a lifetime, or an era in a minute or two.
In Into the Wild director Sean Penn compressed time in this montage via postcard-like
text and music to show the main character’s journey to Alaska. (Selected cuts)
Part 2 of The Art of Editing Montage will give a brief history of the montage along and cover the rules for cutting montage including specific DOs and DON’T’S.