How To Make A Montage | 3 Helpful Tips


No matter what kind of editing you do, there’s a type of edit that we all will end up using over and over and over again.  The Montage!  It’s everywhere, from Narrative films to Music Videos, to Travel Videos, Corporate Videos.  But what exactly is a montage?

Alfred Hitchcock stated that:

“montage means the assembly of pieces of film which moved in rapid succession before the eye, create an idea.”

But how do you make your montage as effective as possible.  In a way that people will resonate with it?  I’m going to share 3 tips that I think can really help you create a better montage.  So let’s not waste any time and jump into it.  

Don’t Just Cut On The Beat

This one assumes that your montage is happening over-top of music.  And it might seem confusing.  I thought that you were supposed to cut on the beat of a song, I mean, we’ve even done videos here at Motion Array about how to actually go about cutting on the beat. Don’t get me wrong, this is an incredibly useful and a totally necessary thing to do to give your montage a tangible pace.  

You can feel that it totally works, but if we just keep going with that same exact method for maybe for a 5 minute video it just get’s boring, predictable, and makes the whole thing feel 1 Dimensional.  

So then what’s the solution?  Well the solution isn’t actually to not cut on the beat, but just not to rely on it exclusively.  What that looks like in practice is finding ways to break up that constant repetitive pattern. Maybe you have a clip is really nice and you let it last for twice as long as the previous clip.  Or maybe you’ve experienced when the music starts to build and the number of cut’s also speeds up in proportion. Or, maybe you actually don’t even cut on a downbeat at all.  

It’s actually okay to cut without motivation exclusively from the music.  In fact, I would argue that it’s necessary.  In order to keep people fully engaged with your video, you need to hold a balance between two things. predictability (your audience being able to follow along and expect some sort of continuity) and subversion of their expectations (something happening that goes against what they anticipate to happen next).  That second part is important because you don’t want your audience to feel like, yeah yeah yeah, I got it after the first 15 seconds.  Nice looking shots all on the downbeat 1,2,3,4, done.  

Learning to cut without relying on the music exclusively 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.   If you’ve always made videos looking to cut on the beat alone, this might be a bit of a hard thing to break away from, but once you do, we hope that you still feel the freedom to choose to cut on the beat.  Just know that intentionally choosing not to every so often, can actually make your film stand stronger as a result.

Use Matching Elements

We’ve said it before in a couple of videos, but learning to create flow is an absolutely essential skill.  This can take on a bunch of different terms; flow, pacing, momentum.  But what they’re all trying to articulate is this idea that you’re naturally being brought from the start to the end.  One of the quickest ways that you can create this flow is by finding or even creating, points of connection between two successive 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.  In our example here, we have a simple shot of a person walking forward.  The next shot is a completely different person in a completely different settings, but they’re still walking forward just like the previous person.  The result? They feel like they’re connected.  

There’s really no limit to what you can use to create this connection.  Maybe it’s a similar landmark in both shots, maybe it’s a different perspective on the same scene, or maybe it’s simply the motion of the camera staying the same, and everything else is different.

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

Be Selective

Ask yourself, Is each shot adding to the end goal?  I love Alfred Hitchcock’s explanation of montage:

“the assembly of pieces of film which moved in rapid succession before the eye, create an idea.”

So here’s the question. What’s your idea?  What I mean is why are you telling this story, and how are the clips that you’re choosing, contributing towards that?  

In the same interview Hitchcock would later go 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.  

People are hardwired to search for that meaning.   If you have a bunch of elements that are pointing towards different things, different tones, different ideas, then your audience is going to search for that meaning, and if there’s none there, then they’re going to be left confused.  But if you assemble clips together that together point towards a similar theme, an idea, even just a feeling, then your video as a whole is going to feel cohesive.   

Everyone’s got something that they want to express.  So ask yourself, what do I want to say?  What’s your idea?

We hope you found this video helpful.  If you did, we’ve got lots of other tutorials for Premiere Pro, After Effects, and filmmaking in general! If you have any questions, let us know in the comment section below.  

Thank you so much for watching and we hope to see you in the next video!

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