In a previous post (http://15minutemoviemethod.com/to-montage-or-not), I listed reasons why montages may not work. However, that doesn’t mean that montages can’t work. Montages are simply a tool that you need to use properly. When used as a shortcut, montages just look silly and boring. What makes montages effective is when they create a strong emotional reaction.
Watch the “Harold and Maude” clip below to see how a montage works. (If you haven’t seen “Harold and Maude” yet, don’t watch the video because this montage gives away the ending.)
This “Harold and Maude” montage works because it expresses a strong emotion instead of just mindlessly showing time passing through various scenes. Another movie that uses a montage successfully is “Up” where the hero is going through his life with his wife until his wife finally dies at the end and leaves him alone and bitter about life. That “Up” montage works because it also evokes a strong emotion at the end.
So if you want to use a montage, make sure it expresses a strong emotion. (Of course, every part of your screenplay should strive to evoke a strong emotion in some way. That will create a compelling and intriguing story.) Think before using a montage. If a montage is simply a way to move your story forward faster, then it will probably be weak. If a montage ends on a strong emotional note, then the montage will probably work.
Again, there are no hard and fast rules, but general guidelines to follow. Every story is different but keep these guidelines in mind when using montages so you can better determine whether a montage works for your story or not.