What's the best way to format a sequence where you show the same character in the same location but with quick snippets of dialogue from different conversations?
My character works in a call centre and I want to show her at work before getting into a conversation with one particular caller. I've tried writing it as a series of shots like you'd do for an action sequence, e.g. -
SERIES OF SHOTS of Julie at her workstation:
Blah blah blah.
- but it looks weird. Does anyone have a better way of doing it, or can anyone suggest a film where something similar happens so I can check out the script?
I think what you’re describing here is a brief montage of your character at work before you get to the phone call that really matters. Montage sequences are usually used to visualise a certain passage of time that represents something dramatic and/or transitional for the relevant characters. The most common examples of this are ‘characters going out on a date’, ‘writing the book’ or ‘stuck in a coma’.
In ‘characters on a date’, you’d typically have a series of shots of the guy picking her up, then the couple sitting in the restaurant, the date going reasonably well, then a walk along the river, the girl linking his arm, the music swelling and a kiss goodnight at the doorstep, good work fella.
‘Writing the book’, lots of cross-fades and Murder She Wrote piano music of writer breaking through her block to get the chapters down and the book done. Etc etc.
I think there is no ‘set’ way to write montages in scripts. I’ve seen them written in a variety of styles and fashions, some more effective than others. What’s most important is that the reader completely understands that the montage/transition sequence is taking place, otherwise he may end up feeling dissatisfied after reading a quick series of shots that disconnected him from the narrative.
The most basic way of ensuring this is to head your sequence with ‘MONTAGE’ and list the separate shots. Then, once it’s finished, type ‘END OF MONTAGE’. This is basic and effective, if a bit cold and direct. However, there can be no doubt that the reader has visualised exactly what you wanted them to see, and in what style.
Alternative and more creative ways of writing a montage require a higher appreciation of craft from both writer and reader. Occasionally, a script will generate a smooth pace and structure for its story, and make a natural transition into a montage sequence so that the reader doesn’t feel a thing but is still seeing the images in the way the writer intended. These montages usually occur around act-breaks or significant plot points to help ease the transition from one part of the story to the next.
With regards to the specific example at the beginning of the post; it achieves what it sets out to do. It tells us there are a series of shots of Julie at her workstation and then charts them in an alphabetical list. The use of the alphabetical list is probably not necessary, too instructional manual, but sometimes a dash ( - ) is good as it indicates the shot is part of the montage and not an element of the usual narrative.
- Danny takes a swig of water.
- adjusts his seat.
What is ideal in montage sequences though is that the series of images not only convey the key visual shots that are occurring on screen but also contain the dramatic tone and sense of entertainment that the story is trying to generate.
For example, if Julie at the call call centre is a thriller, it’s always best to try to spice up the action or increase the tension while the montage is taking place: Julie nervous, the computer system crashing on her as she tries to deal with the calls. Accepting the ‘call receive’ button with trepidation each time. Snippets of phone conversation to calm Julie down, it’s all going okay. Then, just as she’s getting into it, the phone call that she’s been dreading: “I’m coming to get you.”
Other stylistic devices useful for a montage include ‘split screen’, ‘cross fades’, ‘wipe cuts’ and ‘diagonal cuts’, although it’s probably best to leave the latter for the editor rather than put it in your script.
In this country, the formatting Nazis aren’t coming to get you. The bored and frustrated script readers are. So, ultimately it doesn’t matter HOW you write it (Courier pt 12 and decent margins a given), just make sure that it’s VISUALLY CLEAR and ENGAGING and no-one should have any complaints.