3 Tips to Make a Thought-Provoking Montage

Filmmaking July 8, 2019 4 min read

No matter what kind of films and video you create, there’s a type of edit that we all end up using frequently — the montage. It’s everywhere! From narrative films, music videos, corporate videos, and much more. Despite its ubiquity, do you know how a montage is defined? 

Alfred Hitchcock said, “Montage means the assembly of pieces of film which, moved in rapid succession before the eye, create an idea.” Basically, this means that a montage is a story told in visual form. The clips you choose and the way you put them together will create an idea in the mind of your viewer. 

Although, this is easier said than done. Here we’ll share three tips that can help take your montage from monotonous to monumental. You’ll learn how to make your montage as effective as possible and resonate with your audience. 

Helpful Video Montage Tips to Try

1. Don’t Just Cut on the Beat 

This tip assumes that your montage is happening to music. It might seem confusing, as it’s quite natural for us to want to cut on the beat of a song. Of course, cutting on the beat is useful and necessary to give your montage a tangible pace. The problem is, if you keep going with that same method for a few minutes, your video will get boring, predictable, and one-dimensional. 

What’s the solution? To not rely on cutting to the beat exclusively. Instead, mix your edit up a little. 

What that looks like in practice is finding ways to break up that constant repetitive pattern. It’s okay to cut without relying on the musical at all. In fact, we would argue that it’s necessary. To keep viewers fully engaged, you need to hold a balance between these two concepts: 

  • Predictability: Your audience being able to follow along and expecting some sort of continuity. 
  • Subversion of Expectations: Something happening that goes against what your viewers anticipate will happen next. 

The second point is important because you don’t want your audience to start feeling like they know exactly how this is going and what’s coming next. 

Learning to cut without exclusively relying on the music can be a little tough to get used to. There could be a hundred different places where the footage itself is motivating you to cut, regardless of what the music is doing at that time. 

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can never cut on the beat. Just throw in a few unexpected and creative cuts, and you’ll keep your audience engaged and waiting to see what comes next! 

2. Use Matching Elements

Learning to create flow is an absolutely essential skill. This can be referred to by a bunch of different terms: flow, pacing, momentum, or anything similar. What each word is articulating is the idea that a viewer is naturally brought from start to end. 

One of the quickest ways that you can create this flow is by finding (or creating) points of connection between two clips. The idea is that you’re taking an element from one clip, changing the whole shot to something else entirely, but still retaining that one element from the previous clip. 

A simple example would be a shot of someone, from behind, walking slowly through a forest. Your next shot could be someone from behind, walking through a crowded office. The settings are different, but the movement is the same.  

There’s no limit to what you can use to create this connection. It can be something in the shot, or the way it’s shot. Consider using the following to create this effect: 

  • A similar landmark in both shots.  
  • A different perspective on the same scene.  
  • The camera motion being continuous through both scenes. 

The idea is that these clips aren’t just randomly placed in any order. Even if they’re not “chronological,” there’s still a natural sequence that you’re creating. By providing these kinds of sequential similarities, you’re almost telling a smaller story without words. It’s all there in the visuals. 

3. Be Selective

Ask yourself if each shot is adding value and building upon the idea. Keep Alfred Hitchcock’s definition of a montage in mind: center your montage around an idea.  

You should be able to answer these questions: 

  • What’s your idea? 
  • Why are you telling this story? 
  • How have your chosen clips contributed to this idea? 

In the same interview, Hitchcock went on to explain that two or more pieces of footage put together can give more meaning than any of those clips in isolation. Whether you intend to or not, every time you put multiple clips side by side, you’re saying something bigger than if you just played any of them alone. 

Make sure that your selected clips create that meaning, that idea. People are hardwired to search for meaning. If your idea is coming together nicely in their minds, your montage will have the desired effect. 

If you have unrelated elements that all point to different things, your viewer won’t be able to find that meaning. Instead, what will happen is that they’ll be left confused. Nobody wants a confused viewer (or to be the one to confuse them), so be sure to compose your montage in a meaningful way and avoid extraneous clips that don’t contribute to the story’s cohesion.

Everyone’s got something that they want to express. What’s your idea? What story do you want to tell? As film and video makers, we have the perfect platform to share stories with the world. A montage is a classic way to express those ideas if composed with intention. We hope these three montage tips will help you better construct your grand idea and wow your audience.