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Archive for March 3rd, 2010

Montage Format – Part 2 Mar 03

Montage Pt 2Recap

Jim Sarantinos had asked: “Can you tell me how to format montage sequences?”

In Part 1 of this article, I started off my response by listing the order of operations I usually follow for exploring any type of script formatting issue:

1. Search JohnAugust.com 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’
    GoIntoTheStory.com
5. Use what makes sense to me. Throw out the rest.

We covered number 1 last time, with John August’s recommendation for formatting single-location montages.

But what if you have multiple locations, or different times (i.e. DAY and NIGHT)?

Formatting Guides

There are two industry-standard script formatting guides that address both these scenarios quite nicely.

The first is Christopher Riley’s, The Hollywood Standard. After all, it’s the book that finally convinced John August (at least for the time being) that he didn’t need to write about screenwriting format any longer.

The second is David Trottier’s, The Screenwriter’s Bible. It’s a little older, but also provides numerous examples to help you understand the points being made.

MONTAGE vs. SERIES OF SHOTS

A quick word about these two devices. Both guides will tell you that MONTAGE and SERIES OF SHOTS can be used interchangeably, however MONTAGE is much more commonly used.

In general, a MONTAGE is used for those longer sequences that you typically see set to music, and usually focuses on a theme or concept (e.g. JACK AND DIANE ENJOY THE BEACH).

A SERIES OF SHOTS is typically comprised of quick, short shots to rapidly convey a story segment (e.g. TIMMY SNEAKS OUTSIDE). So if it’s helpful, think MONTAGE (MUSIC) / SERIES OF SHOTS (SHORT STORY). And when in doubt, just use MONTAGE.

But honestly, either way, no one’s likely to throw your script out just because you used MONTAGE instead of SERIES OF SHOTS or vice versa. While some purists may disagree, there are no hard and fast, right and wrong rules here.

FORMATTING EXAMPLES

Remember, when considering all of these examples, we need to heed John August’s words:

My advice is to pick the simplest version that gets the point across. You may find that you’re using two or three different formats in a single script, depending on the needs of each sequence.1

So I’ll try to move from basic to more complex…

Example 1: Basic

MONTAGE

Jack and Diane stroll arm-in-arm along the sidewalk.  They see a contorted mannequin, its head faces the wrong way.  Diane winces.  Jack laughs.

They share a plate of spaghetti at a patio restaurant.  Diane dangles a single noodle from her lips, wants Jack to play along.  He grabs the other end of the noodle in his mouth.  Slurps it up in one quick motion.  Cheers like he’s just scored a touchdown.

An old romantic film plays at a theater.  Diane rolls her eyes at the screen.  Turns to Jack.  He stares, riveted, teary eyed.  She smiles.

END MONTAGE

Notes:

1) If the montage is short enough (as above), you can simply use a new scene heading to denote that it has ended (instead of END MONTAGE).

If you feel like adding a little descriptor of what the montage is all about, that’s common/acceptable as well. For example, the above montage header I could have written something like: “MONTAGE – JACK AND DIANE’S FIRST DATE”

Example 2: Indented

Here, double lines are used.

MONTAGE

-- Jack and Diane stroll arm-in-arm along the sidewalk.  They see a contorted mannequin, its head faces the wrong way.  Diane winces.  Jack laughs.

-- They share a plate of spaghetti at a patio restaurant.  Diane dangles a single noodle from her lips, wants Jack to play along.  He grabs the other end of the noodle in his mouth.  Slurps it up in one quick motion.  Cheers like he’s just scored a touchdown.

-- An old romantic film plays at a theater.  Diane rolls her eyes at the screen.  Turns to Jack.  He stares, riveted, teary eyed.  She smiles.

You can also have some fun with this method and make sure the secondary lines match the indent of the first line:

MONTAGE
-- Jack and Diane stroll arm-in-arm along the sidewalk.  They see a
   contorted mannequin, its head faces the wrong way.  Diane winces.
   Jack laughs.
-- They share a plate of spaghetti at a patio restaurant.  Diane dangles
   a single noodle from her lips, wants Jack to play along.  He grabs the
   other end of the noodle in his mouth.  Slurps it up in one quick motion.  
   Cheers like he's just scored a touchdown.
-- An old romantic film plays at a theater.  Diane rolls her eyes at the
   screen.  Turns to Jack.  He stares, riveted, teary eyed.  She smiles.

Example 3: Scene Headings

Some production companies and studios like you to list a location for each shot…

MONTAGE

-- Sidewalk – Jack and Diane stroll arm-in-arm .  They see a contorted mannequin, its head faces the wrong way.  Diane winces.  Jack laughs.

-- Patio restaurant – They share a plate of spaghetti. Diane dangles a single noodle from her lips, wants Jack to play along.  He grabs the other end of the noodle in his mouth.  Slurps it up in one quick motion.  Cheers like he’s just scored a touchdown.

-- Old theater – Diane rolls her eyes at the romance on screen.  Turns to Jack.  He stares, riveted, teary eyed.  She smiles.

See how I had to change up the descriptions a little to avoid the redundancy of the location?

If you’re already adding in locations, and you want to be sure to indicate the shift in times, you could also do the following:

MONTAGE

-- EXT. SIDEWALK – DAY -- Jack and Diane stroll arm-in-arm.  They see a contorted mannequin, its head faces the wrong way.  Diane winces.  Jack laughs.

-- EXT. PATIO RESTAURANT – NIGHT -- They share a plate of spaghetti. Diane dangles a single noodle from her lips, wants Jack to play along.  He grabs the other end of the noodle in his mouth.  Slurps it up in one quick motion.  Cheers like he’s just scored a touchdown.

-- EXT. OLD THEATER – NIGHT -- Diane rolls her eyes at the romance on screen.  Turns to Jack.  He stares, riveted, teary eyed.  She smiles.

END MONTAGE

Again, here I changed things slightly, adding a double dash after the more official scene heading. I also used the END MONTAGE just to avoid any confusion as to where the montage ended (because full scene headings were used inside the montage).

Example 4: Series of Shots

SERIES OF SHOTS – TIMMY SNEAKS OUT

Timmy’s eyes open.  He yanks his bed covers off, already dressed with sweats and shoes.

Gentle footsteps, as he makes his way down the hallway.

He searches the fridge.  Stuffs his face with cookies.  Looks around.

At the front door.  He pulls on a woolen facemask.  Looks like a midget bank robber.

He tiptoes outside.  Turns back to look at the house.  Trips, CRASHES over two bags filled with CANS.

All the lights in the house turn on. His mom peaks her head out the window.

Remember, a SERIES OF SHOTS typically tells a short contained story segment. As with MONTAGE I could have left off the “TIMMY SNEAKS OUT” part. It just depends on the flavor of your script and if you want to use the heading option for clarity.

An alternate method is to use alphabetized letters to delineate the shots:

SERIES OF SHOTS - TIMMY SNEAKS OUT
A) Timmy's eyes open.  He yanks his bed covers off, already dressed
   with sweats and shoes.
B) Gentle footsteps, as he makes his way down the hallway.
C) He searches the fridge.  Stuffs his face with cookies.  Looks around.
D) At the front door.  He pulls on a woolen facemask.  Looks like a midget
   bank robber.
E) He tiptoes outside.  Turns back to look at the house.  Trips, CRASHES
   over two bags filled with CANS.
F) All the lights in the house turn on.  His mom peaks her head
   out the window.

Of course, you could also call it a MONTAGE and use the lettered approach as well.

MONTAGE - THE FIRST DATE
A) EXT. SIDEWALK - DAY

   Jack and Diane stroll arm-in-arm.  They see a contorted mannequin,
   its head faces the wrong way.  Diane winces.  Jack laughs.
B) EXT. PATIO RESTAURANT - NIGHT

   They share a plate of spaghetti. Diane dangles a single noodle
   from her lips, wants Jack to play along.  He grabs the other
   end of the noodle in his mouth.  Slurps it up in one quick
   motion.  Cheers like he's just scored a touchdown.
C) EXT. OLD THEATER - NIGHT

   Diane rolls her eyes at the romance on screen.  Turns to Jack.
   He stares, riveted, teary eyed.  She smiles.

And that’s enough for montages for another day! Just save this series so you’ll have it to refer to when you need it.

In the conclusion of this thrilling three part saga, we’ll consult my script library and check out Scott Myers’ web site gointothestory.com.

We will need it for handling some tricky montages that include dialogue and span multiple days or years. There will also be some formatting surprises from well known montages used in films.

Until next time… I’ll leave you with the video that taught me everything I know about montages. 🙂

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