I do a lot of coverage of screenplays these days. I see a lot of common mistakes.
The following are a series of concise screenwriting tips.
Montages serve two main functions.
They show a long passage of time in a short period of time.
They can either focus on one main character - or they can follow a series of characters.
There really is no rule.
The main thing to make sure that's happening in a montage is that there is a progression of events - that the story is being moved forward.
If you're focusing on one main character in your montage - then you want to show that character growing and learning - at the start of the montage they are unable to do, or are bad at doing something - by the end of the montage they have grown better at doing that certain something - quite often having mastered it.
There is another way to use a montage WITHOUT moving the story forward - this is when you use a montage to put forward your theme.
Just say your theme is the devastation of mining on the environment - you could have a montage of shots showing various mines around the world that have destroyed the environment.
In this montage the story has not been moved forward - but you have put forth your thesis - it's kind of like the writer or director or producer saying - this is what this story will be about.
In screenwriting it is important to SHOW not TELL.
Using a montage in this way is a much more effective way of conveying your theme, than having a character TALKING about the devastation of mining.
Hearing someone talk about something is only half as effective as seeing that same thing.
WRITING A MONTAGE
If your script is only going to have one montage in it - then you don't need to label your montage.
Then use a dash, or a double dash, and write how you'd like each scene to go. You don't need to write traditional slug lines in a montage. It slows down the read. It's okay to write locations in long form - as such...
- Football field - Day - Mike throws the ball. It falls short. His arm is still hurting badly from his injury. He gives up. Walks off the field.
- Gym - Day - Mike works with light weights. His face pained, his arm hurting badly. He gives up.
- Physio center - Day - Mike struggles with physio exercises.
- Football Field - Spectators stands - night - Mike watches his team lose a game. Anger and determination fills his face.
Now that you've setup the four major locations - you cycle back through those same locations showing a progression each time you revisit them.
- Football Field - Day - Mike throws the football. It falls short. His arm still hurting. But this time he walks to the ball, picks it up, throws it again. He's not going to give up.
- Gym - day - Mike works with light weights. It hurts, but he's determined to push through.
- Physio center - Day - Mike powers through his exercises. It hurts, but he's determined to do this.
Football Field - spectators stand - night - Mike watches his team play a hard game, but they lost by one point.
We then cycle through the locations two more times.
The third time Mike has made more progression, the fourth time he is almost as good as new.
When you've finished writing the montage you write...
If you have multiple montages throughout your script it's a good idea to label them.
MIKE'S TRAINING MONTAGE.
MIKE'S STUDYING MONTAGE.
MIKE'S TRAVELLING MONTAGE.
The main reason for this is clarity.
It's important to note that when a 'Reader' reads your script, at best they're going to read about 70% of it. You'll be lucky if they read that much. Odds are, that they'll speed read, which means that they'll read just enough to understand the story and the characters.
The reason for this comes down to just how many scripts there are to be read. If a Reader read every screenplay slowly and throughly, they'd be out of a job very quickly.
With this in mind, it's a good idea to clearly label your montages to avoid any confusion for your reader.