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Archive for February, 2010

Montage Format – Part 1 Feb 28

Montage Pt. 1Question

Jim Sarantinos asks:

Can you tell me how to format montage sequences?

Montage Definition

“A montage is a collection of very short scenes, sometimes only a single shot each, designed to show a series of actions over time.” – John August

Order of Operations

Correct formatting — whether it’s a montage sequence or any other element — can influence a reader’s perception of the quality of a script. So I thought it might be helpful to look at the process I follow, whenever I want to make sure I’m formatting something the “right” way.

  1. Search for tips
  2. Refer to Christopher Riley’s book, The Hollywood Standard
  3. Refer to David Trottier’s book, The Screenwriter’s Bible
  4. Consult my library of scripts and Scott Myers’
  5. Use what makes sense to me. Throw out the rest.

So let’s follow that approach with the aim of determining the correct format for a montage sequence.

1) Search

John August’s site is packed with comprehensive and authoritative information on all aspects of screenwriting. Since John is an extremely successful, highly respected, working screenwriter, his suggestions and insights typically trump all of my other sources for formatting advice.

In this article, John explains how to format a single location montage:

Depending on the needs of the sequence, there are a few different options for how to write a montage in screenplay form.

The easiest example is when all the action is taking place in one location. For instance, say you have a character trying on clothes — the infamous Changing Room Montage. It might read something like this:


Holly enters with a massive armload of clothes. Kyle’s eyes bulge. Holly pulls the curtain shut.


Holly emerges, dressed in different outfits, each more elaborate than the last. Kyle watches in horror and dismay, checking his watch as the madness continues.

And when it’s time to finish, a single line of “END MONTAGE” lets the reader know you’re going back to normal time.

In that same post, he also provides a similar approach to formatting chase-type sequences that fall within one master location.

But what if you have multiple locations, and different times (i.e. DAY and NIGHT)? We’ll explore that in the next post.

In the meantime, since we’re on the subject, here’s an infamous changing room montage from The Sweetest Thing. It even breaks the fourth wall!

Category: Formatting  | One Comment
Q & A with Michele Wallerstein Feb 26

Do you have a question that you’d like to have answered by a longtime Hollywood literary agent? Send it in!

Question: (Johnny B. Dunne)

My question is, do you believe video pitches are a worthwhile effort?  I know some pitching companies have sprung up selling their services of building video pitches, but didn’t know if it truly holds value.

Answer: (Michele Wallerstein)

I don’t really think that any major Hollywood producers will want to have projects pitched to them on video. Producers only take pitches from writers with whom they are familiar.  Either the producers or their development executives would have to have read the writer’s work prior to letting them pitch any new project.

New writers need to get their screenplays looked at through the more conventional methods of query letters, referrals and by going to pitch fests, film festivals, writers conferences and writers groups that have guest speakers and/or panels.  The best way is to make a contact at those events and follow up with a thank you letter which would include a brief paragraph about your project.  Some events such as the pitch fests give you a marvelous opportunity to pitch directly to the right people.

Show business is a business of contacts, connections and human interactions.  Make those personal meetings count with a great, upbeat, and positive manner when you pitch your project.

Michele Wallerstein is a Screenplay & Novel & Career Consultant and author of “MIND YOUR BUSINESS: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide To Your Writing Career“.

Web site:

The Usual Suspects Protagonist Feb 25

Dean Or Verbal?Initial Business

Okay, first — if you haven’t seen The Usual Suspects yet:

1) Punch yourself in the gut, because you deserve it.

2) Stop reading this article now — thar be spoilers… and this is one movie you do not want to spoil. [insert diabolical laughter here]

All right, now that that’s out of the way… I had the craziest conversation at my weekly screenwriters’ group meeting last night. One of our members was plotting a new thriller and was using The Usual Suspects as one of her story models. Possibly a risky move, but so far so good.

She was talking about how her main character is like Dean Keaton (played by Gabriel Byrne). That’s fine, but then she offhandedly referred to Dean Keaton as the protagonist of The Usual Suspects.

And then things really got weird.

Another member of the group agreed with her! And she has her Master’s Degree in Screenwriting from USC!

After my brain stopped exploding, I started going over the movie, and the criteria for a protagonist, in my head. I needed to remember why I believed it was all about Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey).

Verbal Kint — Protagonist?

Let’s look at the evidence for Verbal Kint as the protagonist of the movie:

He’s the one telling us the story of what happened — so it’s his story, and we’re seeing it from his point of view (or the point of view that he wants us to see it from).

He’s the central character. Verbal is the only character present in both timelines (the past chain of events starting with the line-up, and the current interrogation by Agent Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) — and connects the two together.

He changes the most. In the flashback tale, he goes from being a petty criminal to being an equal member of the gang of hardened crooks. In the interrogation story, he goes from being a wimpy guy trying to act tough, to a broken man who knows he’s just betrayed Keyser Soze, to… well, Keyser Soze, super villain.

He’s the one we’re rooting for. We learn at the beginning of the movie that Verbal (“a cripple”) is the only character from the group who survived, therefore we sympathize with him and are really rooting for him to make it out of this whole experience. If the other usual suspects had simply escaped, then a good case could be made for having a stronger rooting interest for Dean Keaton — the reformed baddie who’s found love.

He’s the one driving the plot forward. Verbal’s the one who convinces Dean Keaton to be part of the group. He’s the one who saves the day in the parking garage by killing the man in the car. And ultimately, he’s the one spinning the lies of the tale — which is tantamount to creating the plot itself.


Maybe brilliant writing is to blame for my group members’ belief that Dean Keaton is the protagonist. After all, there were enough key moments to make Agent Kujan believe that Dean Keaton was in fact the mastermind behind it all.

So Keyser Soze not only worked his magic on Agent Kujan, but also on my writing group buddies! However, in my opinion, Verbal Kint is the true protagonist.

In the end though, it only matters from an academic point of view who the protagonist is. The movie still kicks butt regardless.

But it’s always a worthwhile exercise to determine the protagonists (and antagonists) in movies so we can form a better understanding of what works, what doesn’t work and why. We can then apply that wisdom to our own scripts.

What’s your take? Who’s the protagonist of The Usual Suspects? Verbal Kint or Dean Keaton or both?

Category: Characters  | 18 Comments
That Guy! Feb 23

M. Emmet WalshWho is that guy?

Ever seen an actor in a movie or TV show and ask yourself: “Who is that guy and where have I seen him before?”

Well now there’s a web page that lets you identify the veteran character actor from his photo. All photos have links to the respective actor’s Internet Movie Database page.

I don’t know who the guy is who put this page together, but I sure am glad he did. Now he just needs to come up with a companion site — That Gal!


In the Photo: M. Emmet Walsh (That guy from my favorite The Outer Limits episode)

Category: Diversions, Links  | Leave a Comment
10 Brilliant Movie Recuts Feb 22

JFrater at Listverse showcases 10 brilliantly recut movie trailers. It’s amazing how a change of tone in music and narration, coupled with some clever editing, can give you a completely new take on a cherished classic.

This Mrs. Doubtfire recut is one of my favorites:

A similar spin, can be found in this exceptional recut of Sleepless in Seattle (which wasn’t on the list — but deserved to be):

Link to Listverse list

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Category: Diversions, Links  | 2 Comments