Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Movie Montages

It's a prickly situation: you've brought your characters to a certain point, having effectively developed their hopes and dreams, but you aren't quite sure how to proceed in a time-efficient manner. Maybe you have to condense a year's worth of training into a three minute span. Perhaps you're looking to establish a motive for an otherwise inexplicably hardened criminal character. Or maybe, just maybe, a ragtag group of local kids just want to clean up the old rec center with a coat of fresh paint and a gloss of idealistic optimism. We can only hope.

Whatever the major plot hole, you can always enlist a dependable movie montage to plug these troublesome leaks. It's a sort of screenplay all-purpose grout to eliminate the cracks in between well-thought out plot points. We all know actual story development is tough--too tough, sometimes. Yes, we could probably have spent some time delving into the deeper issues and motivations at play, but montages do the trick in a pinch.

If you're looking to amp up your film's soundtrack, the montage is also a source of great musical inspiration. If you ever want anyone to listen to your movie's soundtrack while training for a marathon or somehow otherwise dreaming the impossible dream, it's imperative you back up your inspiring montage with an equally inspirational song. Imagine the Karate Kid montage without Joe Esposito's "You're the Best Around" blaring in the background. Nothing, right? Now add the song. Ahhh. Perfection.

Still lost on when to insert a montage into your roughly edited film project? Here are some handy hints from our friends from Team America: World Police:

If you're still looking for clarification on how to insert a cop-out montage to illustrate a major point in your film, try your best to adapt your montage vision to one of the following categories:


This is the most common montage, and with good reason: how else are you supposed to illustrate the ups and downs of a trying training period in a short period of time? Real time training footage would be brutal--watching people lift weights is, honestly, incredibly boring. Plus, I can do it at the gym for free. Even then, I'd prefer to have a pump-it-up song playing on my iPod. It just works.

The training montage has many recognizable hallmarks, such as general physical exercise, excessive sweating, and repeated near-miss attempts to achieve some seemingly unattainable martial arts move/dance step/boxing feat. This last device is supposed to leave us in suspense about whether or not our hero will reach this particularly challenging goal, but its presence in the montage is a sure sign they absolutely will.

As Seen In: The Karate Kid, Dirty Dancing, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and of course, all of the Rocky Movies--they practically invented the inspirational training montage

Falling in Love

In real life, meeting your mate is rarely a linear process. In movies, however, we've got to keep things moving for the sake of our viewers' sanity. Instead of experiencing a series of ups and downs over a long period of time, some films conveniently repackage the lengthy process into a mere two or three minutes. It may not be entirely accurate, but it's can be significantly more palatable than watching the full drawn-out process post meet-cute.

As Seen In: The Lion King. Can you feel the love tonight? They could. Montage style.

It's All Good

Everything going well, but you don't know how to convey it to the audience? Don't worry, there's a montage out there for you. The "It's All Good" model was designed specifically to portray a general Era of Good Feelings in your story. It's pretty boring to just watch a successful business run its day-to-day operations, so why not invest in some cheesy cut-together footage of the whole gang high fiving at their victories? It sure beats watching them change the office thermostat and answer the phone.

As Seen In: Ghostbusters, subverted and played for laughs in The Naked Gun

Let's Build Something Together

This is a pure 80s montage trope, exuding cheesiness from its every frame. According to the background music, all it takes is "One Foot in Front of the Other" to call to arms your mismatched group of social outcasts. Apparently with enough editing, even the nerdiest among us can look like construction experts and painting pros.

The Revenge of the Nerds scene was mocked mercilessly in an episode of Family Guy where the guys try to fix a dilapidated bar. To be fair, Family guy mocks everything mercilessly and this montage totally deserved it. You can't put out something this cheesy without an openness to endless parody.

As Seen In: Revenge of the Nerds

Overcoming Obstacles/Achieving Once-Impossible Goals

I know, I know, it sounds suspiciously similar to the training montage, but bear with me here for a few moments as I take you on a journey through the magical world of meeting our potential by being our honest selves. Sounds boring, right? It is. that's exactly why we need a montage--to move things along at a watchable speed.

In some cases (see: Back to School, Legally Blonde, other school-heavy movies) a montage is really your only out. Studying in itself is not a suspenseful or exciting activity, so if can show a clock spinning past the hours that would really help move things along. There's only so long the audience will tolerate watching a main character read quietly to himself. Don't push it.

Not all examples are quite so low-key. In Teen Wolf, Scott believes in himself--basketball montage style--just enough to resist "wolfing out" during the big game. What's that? That made no sense? Don't worry, it doesn't help if you've seen the movie. That actually might just make it more confusing. Either way, Scott defies the standard werewolf-to-human degeneration of basketball prowess and wins the big game. Hooray!

As Seen In: Legally Blonde, Teen Wolf, Back to School


nikki said...

Rocky IV contains the best montage scene ever. And it was just fantastically parodied on the Family Guy season finale.

Melanie's Randomness said...

The Ghostbuster one rules!! Yeah I miss movie montagues.

lissa said...

I like montages, it moves the movie along without having us to see the slow process plus it kind of tells us what's going and how the characters are doing

Anonymous said...

This is so not 90s, but when I think of a cleaning montage, I think of Accepted. Everything about that movie is genius, but when they're trying out the electro-shock device during the montage, it's the best. :)

bibberly said...

My favorite studying montage / school year progressing montage is the one in Real Genius.

Jennifer said...

YES! The Real Genius montage is the best. The classroom attendance is slowly taken over by people leaving tape recorders on desks and eventually the professor leaves a tape recorder. Classic.

Veronica Montebellucci said...

Movie montages are made and broken by their choice of montage tune. The best studying montage music is in Summer School set to "Mind Over Matter". Clearly, nothing beats "You're the Best" from Karate Kid for a training/competition montage.

"You're the best! Around! Nothing's gonna ever keep you down.."

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