We Need a Montage!

The communication of time can be an annoying constraint when making a film.  Viewers expect that time in a movie is continuous, or just like real life, unless you tell them otherwise.  Communicating the passage of time can be done explicitly, like when you see a clock spin or a calendar flip, or implicitly, by using long fades or moments of black to convey that time has passed.  As a rookie filmmaker, I was somewhat clueless on this aspect of filmmaking until I got to the editing room and realized these things were missing. 

One popular way to pass time in a movie is through a montage.  In general, within a scene, you expect time to be continuous.  Between scenes is normally when you pass time.  A montage is unique in that it takes a bunch of scenes and puts them in a blender, spitting out little clips along the way, few of which are continuous.  It's a very useful tool for a filmmaker as it provides a lot of flexibility to convey a ton of information to the viewer in very little screen time.

One of my many mistakes when writing and directing "Standards of Ethical Conduct" was having little appreciation for what it took to successfully use a montage in a movie.  When I wrote the movie, I had montages all over the place.  An ongoing joke on set was "we'll just montage it".  Some difficulty with continuity in the scene?  Fuggaboutit, we'll just montage it.  

Here's an example of a montage done correctly.  An editor can learn a lot about cutting montages just by watching this classic.  Simply breathtaking.


(If the video is missing, search for the montage song from Team America.)

I really love how the guy in that clip sings the word "montage".  Since I use that word profusely in this post, I'd suggest using the same pronunciation of "montage" while reading it.  It's quite enjoyable.

Anyways, when I wrote and shot the stuff for the montage (girl we want a montaaaaj), I didn't give much thought to how I would transition into the montage, or how the montage would be structured.  I simply shot a lot of what I thought was funny footage, and figured I'd just wave my magic wand over it during editing and it would become a montage.  I learned the hard way.  Probably 60% of the time I spent cutting the movie was on this damn montage (even Rocky had a montaaaaaj).  After creating 10 different versions of the scene, I finally found something that worked. 

In the previous montage, imagine that you take the music and the slow fades out of the scene.  You'd have the guys talking and then immediately one guy shooting a gun and then running on a treadmill.  That would be confusing. 

In order for it work as a montage, you have to use the "devices" employed in most montages to help viewers understand what's going on.  The montage above clearly shows what you need:  a blaring song, a fade-in, a bunch of rapidly cut clips and a fade-out.  Additionally, most montages focus on one character and convey a long time passing.

My montage did not have a clear character to focus on, and it was supposed to encapsulate minutes, not days, of real time.  Plus the normal fade-in and fade-out wasn't working for various reasons.  So in short I had no idea what I was doing. 

One of the first major revisions I made was to decide that Trevor Bagwell was going to be our tour guide through the montage.  A quick aside on why I chose Trevor Bagwell as his name.  You know how its common for sports players to be called their first initial plus part of their last name (ie Alex Rodriguez becomes ARod)?  There was a joke where Binger screams Trevor's version of that nickname from the kitchen in front of the military fella.  Go ahead, what's the ARod version of Trevor Bagwell?  Funny no?  Well, it didn't work as well as I hoped.  Yes, I have the maturity of a 10 year old boy.  Back to the story.

Once I decided to focus on Trevor, the montage had a structure that allowed it to work.  You start with Trevor and follow his reactions as the interview spins out of control.  However, transitioning into the montage was still difficult.  The fade-in wasn't working, so I needed some other way to go from continuous time to crazy montage time. After much experimentation, I settled on speeding up the cutting while sliding more and more non-continuous clips to transition to a full-blown montage.

However, I still wasn't happy.  I didn't appreciate how much the music helps the transition to a montage work.  I was cutting without the music as my composer (the talented Jay Brunner) was going to create the music after the cut was done. So I had to imagine what music would add.  This was what I had:



It wasn't working for me.  However, once I layered Jay's music on top, it seemed to pop into place.  Check out the final cut.



What do you think?  Does it work?  Could I have done it better?

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