Archive for January, 2016

The Art of Editing a Montage – Part 3

January 16th, 2016

Having explained the purpose of montage, its history, and the guidelines for cutting a montage, this last post details the types of montages and then has some fun looking at how some montages have become clichés and been parodied.

Types of Montages
Montage scenes have many themes – dramatic, comic, news – to list a few primary categories. The following table charts the major categories types of montages and gives examples.

Type of Montage Example
Grief or recovery The character walks the old, familiar path on the beach or in the city, stares out the window on a rainy day, or lies in bed unable to move. After the montage, the character returns to life by taking a first step or making a choice of some kind.
Love The lovers enjoy sunsets, romantic dinners, rolls in the hay, etc. before emerging from their cocoon and addressing the realities lurking around the corner.
War A soldier goes through the travails of boot camp, acquires helmet and weapon, and sets out for the field of battle. The montage sets the scene for battle and the testing of the soldier.
Success A rock band plays for the local Elks club and by the end of the montage is headlining at Madison Square Garden.
Learning and training A student studies for the test. A skier practices for the Olympics.
Job A college grad is interviewed by a series of bizarre employers.
Dating A woman goes out with a string of loser dates.
Clothing A man tries on a succession of ridiculous ties.
History Immigrants arrive in Manhattan and erect the city.
Process A reporter travels to different holy sites, seeking enlightenment.
Search A man tries on a succession of ridiculous ties.

Some well-known examples of movie montage can be seen in: Rocky (the training sequence ending with his runs to the top of the steps), Scarface (rise to power montage cut to Push it to the Limit song), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (visiting the museum montage), Clueless (makeover montage) and Lord of the Rings – Return of the King (lighting of the torches in different lands montage). Even animated movies contain great montages such as Toy Story II (Jessie’s backstory), the expositional opening, and Cars (see below).


In Cars a montage with voiceover takes the audience on a trip down memory

lane to the glory days of the hamlet of Radiator Springs.

Spoofs of Montages

The hours approaching, just give it your best
You’ve got to reach your prime.
That’s when you need to put yourself to the test
And show us a passage of time.
We’re gonna need a montage (montage)
Oh it takes a montage (montage).
Song for montage scene in Team America and in South Park, Episode 3 Season 6

A few montage themes have reached cliché status and become parody material such as the “Getting over the loss of a love” montage, the “Getting fit” montage, and the “Preparing for the big event or showdown” montage. So you can have fun creating montages that make fun of other montages or scenes from movies. The Montage song and scene in Team America by the producers of South Park who repeated the song with different images in South Park, Episode 3 Season 6 is one example of this. Here’s another.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Jump cuts, a sunset, and a roll in the waves spoof clichéd lovemaking scenes in this

montage from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. (Selected cuts)

Final word: Have fun pulling pictures, sounds and music together to assemble a montage – and make sure it counts toward moving your show’s story forward.

Editing practices, Editor’s role, History/research, Technical & process

The Art of Editing a Montage – Part 2

January 16th, 2016

The last post introduced montage and talked about the purpose montage serves in fiction and non-fiction pieces. Today’s post summarizes the history of montage and goes over the important rules to keep in mind when you’re actually cutting a montage.

A Brief History of Montage
To best understand montage it’s important to know its history which evolved through three distinct definitions and theories in three different countries during three different time periods.

1) Soviet Union – 1920s
To revolutionary Soviet filmmakers, montage was synonymous with editing and meant the
Vsevolod Pudovkin,the filmmaker and film professor who greatly influenced this generation of Soviet filmmakers, saw montage as the linking of ideas through the linking of one shot to another. His student, pioneer filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, viewed montage as the conflict of ideas derived from the opposition of one shot to another. Eisenstein wrote: “The general course of the montage was an uninterrupted interweaving of diverse themes into one unified movement. Each montage-piece had a double responsibility to build the total line as well as to continue the movement within each of the contributory themes.”

2) France – 1950s
The French New Wave filmmakers and theoreticians including Andre Bazin, Agnes Varda, Francois Truffaut, and Jean-Luc Godard rejected Eisenstein’s montage theories for their own theories of “realism” which they implemented in shooting and editing their films. Realism reflected the social and political movements of the day due to its transparent visual, narrative, and editorial approach. It anticipated today’s reality shows with its rapid, documentary style pf shooting, hand held shots, jump cuts, defiance of the 180° rule, improvised dialogue, and breakdown of the fourth wall between actor and audience. Montage in the credits of a French movie means editing and stands for the editor; son montage is the sound editor.

3) United States – today
Montage has come to be defined as a sequence of images used to convey facts, feelings, or thoughts that functions as a transition in time, knowledge, or place. Montage is a way to succinctly deliver or sum up a lot of information and can be used to inform, entice, amuse, and always, to advance the story.

Montage Editing Rules
The rules for editing a montage are the same as for editing anything else: Each cut should be motivated (have a purpose) and advance the story you’re telling. How you cut a montage scene is similar to how you cut an action scene in some ways. In both types of scenes the visuals drive the action, flow, and storytelling. Sound (music, voiceover, and sound effects) underscore the scene’s action.

However cutting a montage differs from cutting action in three major ways. First, action scenes tell a story linearly with shots from the same time and place. Conversely montage scenes can pull footage from any place (cities, countries, planets) or time (prehistoric, modern, future, fictional). Second, action scenes normally use straight cuts to drive the action. The shots in montage scenes are usually separated by dissolves, wipes, or other types of transitional cuts. Third, montage scenes are rarely silent; most are set to music and/or involve wild sound recorded at the scene or deliberate, recurring manufactured sounds. Narration habitually replace dialogue in montage scenes. Often you’ll cut the montage to music. But just as often you’ll create the montage and add the music later.
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Fahrenheit 911

In Fahrenheit 911 Michael Moore rejected music and narration in this montage, employing

only ambient sound to document everyday life in pre-war Baghdad. (Selected cuts)

Putting a Montage Together
Composing a montage is freeing and rewarding as you work to assemble a cohesive whole and stumble across random connections. You may put shots together from a variety of sources (dailies, news reel footage, YouTube, TV shows, archival sources, etc.) as well as variety of locations, eras, and angles. The juxtaposed shots will delight you and lead you down cutting paths you never imagined. Accidentally, you’ll insert a shot at the wrong place and be happily surprised by the result.

Some montages are a blend of images that are marvelous, soothing, gorgeous to behold such as a bevy of images of our national parks. Other montages serve up a collision of images where shots clash, disorient, or disturb viewers, e.g. a montage of exposing the pristine and poisoned lakes of our land. Either way, make sure that the audience will make the desired connections from your scene.

To get off to a good start cutting your montage, clearly organize, label, and describe your shots. This way you can ensure that they fit what you’re trying to say and show – and you can quickly grab them and throw them on your timeline as you’re immersed in the process of creating the montage.
Here are some specific DOs and DON’Ts for constructing a montage:

  • DO pay attention to pacing. Choose shot content, focal length, and duration to maximize information, engagement, and the story you’re telling.
  • DON’T make every cut the same duration. Choose each shot’s length – frames – to seconds – by how much information it needs to convey. Once the shot’s played out (is no longer engaging), cut away to something new. Often you’ll notice that the cuts tend to get shorter as the montage progresses.
  • DO freeze shots, speed them up, or slo mo them to communicate their content the most effectively.
  • DO feel free to use multiple visuals such as split screens, supers, layered shots to increase the information and pace of your montage.
  • DON’T use every type of wipe or dissolve in your digital editing machine’s toolbox. Unless you want to look amateur or are making a parody montage.
  • DO make sure that the sound you use – music, sound effects, and/or words – supports your montage.
  • DON’T cut on every beat of every of the music. Borrrring.
  • DO use color correction to adjust shots from different time periods, places, or sources for readability and aesthetics.

When you finished editing the montage, you’ll find you’ve created a scene that is much bigger than the sum of its cuts.


The long montage which Spike Lee inserted at the beginning of When the Levees Broke:

A Requiem in Four Acts serves as an elegy to the city of New Orleans. (Selected cuts).

Coming Up
In final blog on the art of editing montage, we’ll look at the types of montages and how in some cases they’ve become so clichéd that great spoof montages have been created.

Editing practices, Editor’s role, Technical & process

The Art of Editing a Montage – Part 1

January 16th, 2016

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.

frames from Midnight in Paris

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.

frames from 127 Hours

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)

Coming Next
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.

Editing practices, Editor’s role, History/research, Technical & process