How to Write and Format a Series of Shots in Your Screenplay

Updated

If you want to be taken seriously by Hollywood’s screenwriting elite, it’s important that your screenplay formatting is impeccable. Especially when it comes to some of the trickier scriptwriting areas, like formatting a series of shots or a montage.

In this post, we’ll help you nail your montage formatting. You’ll be ready to create romance-drenched flashbacks of your protagonists falling in love, or a series of shots to show the passage of time. Perfect for movies, TV shows, or anything you’re making for the screen.

Don’t be scared if it’s your first time formatting a montage or series of shots. We got you.

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Definition of a montage or a series of shots

In the movie-making and screenwriting worlds, a montage or series of shots is a series of super short scenes that helps filmmakers give information to the audience in a fast, visual way. It’s a smart way for screenwriters to condense time and space, and move the story forward.

The Rocky film franchise contains some of the most famous montages in filmmaking, where we see our embattled protagonist Rocky Balboa punching meat, rolling logs, sprinting through the streets, and climbing stairs in his home city, Philadelphia.

Over the course of a couple of minutes and multiple different locations, these montages help to shift Rocky from training mode to the ring, while showing you his hard work along the way.

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Difference between a montage and a series of shots

While a montage and a series of shots can be pretty similar, with each showing the passing of time, there are some subtle differences to be aware of.

  • A montage is usually a series of short scenes about one specific theme
  • A series of shots is usually a more linear narrative that leads to a dramatic event or conclusion

How to write and format a montage

Your montage should be about one single theme. Therefore, all the shots in a montage should help to create and reinforce the same idea. This idea is often mentioned in the screenplay at the beginning of the montage.

Check out the screenplay format for this training montage from Rocky (1976):

This is how the training montage looks on screen:

As you can see, it’s a series of scenes that’s guaranteed to get the blood pumping and emotions rising.

One final note. While some screenwriters would format the above montage with a CUT TO: direction between each new scene, this is an unnecessary addition that can make your formatting look messy and create visual noise.

It’s best to keep your scene headings (also known as sluglines) to a minimum with montages. This includes directions like EXT., FADE IN, POV, INTERCUT, and other details that can muddy the waters.

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How to write and format a series of shots

Most of the screenplay formatting for a montage also apply when writing a series of shots, with a few tiny differences.

  • SERIES OF SHOTS replaces the usual master scene heading
  • When the series of shots is part of a scene, it becomes a secondary scene heading
  • You can indicate what the series of shots is about right next to the series of shots, for example: SERIES OF SHOTS - ROCKY PREPARING FOR FIGHT

Just like with a montage, the screenplay format of the description of the shots can start with letters, dashes, or descriptions.

The end of a series of shots is accomplished through a transition (e.g. a new mastery scene heading) or if the scene continues, with a RETURN TO SCENE or END SERIES OF SHOTS.

The use of dialogues and voiceover work exactly the same as for the montage.

Here’s an example of the formatting in action from A Few Good Men (1992):

Golden rules for formatting a montage or series of shots

Whether you’re creating a montage or series of shots, there are some essential screenplay formatting rules that always apply when you’re wrapping up your final draft.

  • Be consistent with your formatting (like whether you use letters or dash before the shots)
  • Be consistent with calling the scene either a montage or series of shots
  • Never introduce new characters
  • Never include a specific shot that’s significant enough to justify having its own scene

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