How do you format a montage in a screenplay?

There is no hard and fast rule for how to format montages in screenplays. As with all formatting, the goal is to express what’s happening on screen as clearly and simply as possible, without breaking up the flow of the screenplay or taking your reader out of the script.

The following are a few montage formatting options. Any of them are okay, but a screenplay should pick a style and stick to it.

Montage in a single location

If the montage arises from a scene already in progress, slug MONTAGE, then list the elements of the montage — either as separate action lines, or as a bulleted list. When the montage is complete, slug either BACK TO SCENE, or END OF MONTAGE:

INT. TRIS ‘R’ US GYM – DAY

Sal walks in and sees the place is a mess. Noel isn’t far behind.

SAL

Day one, we clean.

NOEL

Sort of like a “Wax on, wax off” thing?

SAL

Ummm...yeah. Let’s go with that.

MONTAGE

-Noel drags a medium-sized weight. Sal walks by in the background, easily carrying three of them.

-Noel carries a bench-press bar, losing his balance. A few feet away, Sal bends over to examine the bench, ducking just in time to avoid Noel’s flailing bar. Neither notice.

-Without looking, Sal tosses medicine balls to Noel, who jumps out of the way like they’re dodgeballs.

-Sal drags a treadmill across the gym. Noel attempts to do the same, but can’t budge it; his feet move as if he’s walking, but he goes nowhere.

BACK TO SCENE

Sal stands in the newly-reorganized gym, proud.

SAL

That wasn’t so bad.

Noel tries to answer, but can’t catch his breath.

Montage in a new location

If the montage takes place in a different location than the previous scene, add MONTAGE to the scene header for the new scene. When the montage is finished, indicate END OF MONTAGE:

INT. BREAKFAST, BRUNCH, AND BEYOND – EVENING

Andrew and Sadie sprint down the supermarket isle, collecting ingredients.

Lee runs to them, flour in hand.

LEE

Let’s make magic happen.

INT. LEE’S KITCHEN – NIGHT – MONTAGE

-Andrew smashes a pumpkin.

-Lee preps the oven.

-Sadie mixes a bowl of flour, egg, and other ingredients.

-Lee and Sadie are elbows-deep in the bowl, kneading.

-Andrew tosses the pumpkin mush across the room; Lee catches it in another bowl.

-Sadie puts it in the oven.

-Andrew takes it out of the oven.

END OF MONTAGE

Lee cuts Sadie a piece, and she eats it off his fork.

SADIE

Delish.

Montage in multiple locations

If the montage takes place in multiple locations, you can handle it a few ways. One simple way is to slug “MONTAGE – VARIOUS,” and then bullet or letter your list of montage elements, starting each with a slug line:

INT. BARBAG’S HOME OFFICE – NIGHT

The printer finishes as Professor Barbag gets ready for bed. Whatever’s printing is coming out face down.

He walks over to the desk to turn off the light, and just before he does, he picks up the paper. He looks at it, smiles.

Lights out.

MONTAGE – VARIOUS

A) INT. THE CLASSROOM – DAY – Barbag sketches a diagram on the whiteboard. Students copy it down.

B) INT. HOME DEPOT – DAY – Sandra and Eli buy tools.

C) EXT. THE FIELD – DAY – Vince and his Crew steal bolts off the benches. Groundskeeper Wilhelm chases them away.

D) EXT. CONSTRUCTION YARD – DAY – Phil and Marco buy scrap metal.

E) INT. THE CLASSROOM – EVENING – As the sun goes down, Barbag and the class build.

END OF MONTAGE

EXT. THE QUAD – THE NEXT MORNING

Professor Barbag runs through The Quad carrying a paper sack full of bagels. He’s panting.

Some screenwriters are less specific about locations in montages, and don’t approximate scene headers:

MONTAGE – LANCE AND THE ORPHAN DRAGON GROW UP

A) Dragon’s Den – Young Lance hop-scotches while the newly orphaned infant dragon searches for her deceased mother.

B) Mountainside – Twelve-year-old Lance takes the baby dragon out of the cave for the first time. Her eyes adjust as she takes in the sight.

C) Beach – Teenage Lance jogs along the water as the young dragon practices flying, stumbling like a kite in a thunderstorm.

D) Woods – Eighteen-year-old Lance runs along side the gliding teenager, and he hops on. The dragon flaps her wings, and they take off.

E) Outside the Cave – Adult Lance is cutting a serving of meat off a freshly-killed cow. He whistles as he puts the cut on the fire. Responding to the whistle, the dragon pokes her full-sized head out of the cave. She devours the rest of the cow in one bite, smiling as she does.

END OF MONTAGE

A third method for handling multiple locations is to slug each one as its own short scene. It’s often the best choice, particularly if more than one thing happens in each scenelet.

With this method, you may choose to not even indicate MONTAGE, as the short scene descriptions may make it obvious.