Montages and Series of Shots

Writing tools often used by screenwriters are the Montage and the Series of Shots.

Many screenwriting experts don't take the time to differentiate between the two (perhaps they don't know how) and say they are basically the same thing.

Other screenwriting experts vehemently argue there is a definite difference between the Montage and the Series of Shots and spend a great deal of time and book space explaining the difference. Of course, among these experts, none of them can agree on just how to distinguish between the two.

I'll be brief.

Montages typically are accompanied with background music (and, no, you shouldn't indicate which music should be used in the script), show a passage of time during which something significant occurs (maybe someone learns a skill or two people fall in love), and may have multiple locations.

A Series of Shots usually covers less time, may not have background music, and may be enclosed within a single scene or location. A scene briefly showing someone getting ready to go out on a date might be done with a Series of Shots.

All that being said, both Montages and Series of Shots are formatted EXACTLY the same way.

And there are MANY ways to format them, each of which I'll painstakingly show you below, paying homage throughout to likely the most famous Montage in film history, Rocky's training in Rocky III.

You'll notice that each example gets increasingly complex and formal.

Formatting the Montage and Series of Shots:

Example #1 is the simplest way to format Montages and Series of Shots:

The Montage above is introduced with a simple Subheading (yes, I'm calling it a Subheading) followed by the content that the reader can expect to read in the Montage (TRAINING FOR THE FIGHT).

Following the Subheading is a series of quick paragraphs separated by spaces that show the action of the Montage.

Most of the time, you don't need a formal ending to the Montage or Series of Shots as they'll end with the introduction of the next scene with a new Master Scene Heading. However, if you want to call out the end of your Montage or Series of Shots, here are two ways you can do it:

The first example ends the Montage with a simple Subheading on its own line. The second example ends the Montage with a Transition along the right margin (ending in a period).

Example #2 is another way to format the same Montage:

Pretty much the same as the first example, only this time I've added dashes (hyphens followed by spaces) in front of each paragraph. I find this helps to break the Montage from the rest of the content of the page.

Example #3:

This time rather than dashes, I've separated the paragraphs as an alpha list. I could have also used numbers instead of letters.

Example #4:

In this example, I again use dashes to separate the paragraphs, but I also give a brief, informal location indicator to be sure the reader knows where the action of each paragraph is taking place. The writer may also place the location in ALL CAPS.

Example #5:

This is similar to Example #4, only I've formalized it a little more by creating a small heading at the beginning of each paragraph that includes a Location Indicator AND a Time Indicator. This is helpful if the writer feels the time of day is important and doesn't want to leave it to chance.

Example #6:

This example is the most formal of all, separating each section of the Montage using an alpha list (again, I could have used numbers instead), and giving each section it's own heading on its own line with action paragraphs between them.

This is the longest and most cumbersome way to format a Montage or Series of Shots, and it takes up much more precious page space than do the others. I don't recommend it.

However, if you format Montages or Series of Shots in this manner, I suggest giving them formal endings as well in one of the manners indicated above to be sure the reader doesn't get confused with all the headings on the page.

Of all the choices for formatting Montages and Series of Shots, I personally prefer the first three. Unless the writer REALLY feels the location and/or time call outs are completely necessary, the first three provide you with all you need.

By the way, don't overuse Montages and Series of Shots. There is usually room for no more than one in each screenplay.