Producing an emotionally impactful video montage requires a great deal of storyboarding and decisive cuts.
The editorial process is more-or-less the same as making a short film, feature-length film, or other project. A key difference, however, is that creators strive to tell an impactful story within the span of a couple minutes and with minimal dialogue.
Though there are no fixed time constraints to dictate how long your montage should be, it’s important to focus on brevity. Part of a montage’s charm is that it is short and concise.
While it’s crucial to find the right balance between the visual and auditory elements in any type of project, this is especially true for video montages.
It can be reductive to think of video montages as glorified highlight reels — especially when you consider how film theorists like Lev Kuleshov and Sergei Eisenstein devoted much of their careers to understanding how montages impact a viewer’s perception.
This article explores the historical and modern day significance of video montages before sharing practical ways that you can create emotionally impactful video montages of your own.
The Soviet Montage Theory
The history of film is rich with avant-garde techniques and concepts developed by innovators across the world. One of the most memorable film movements began during the Russian Revolution following the development of the Soviet montage theory.
Lev Kuleshov and Sergei Eisenstein may not be household names, but both individuals had significant roles in shaping the Soviet montage theory as we know it today.
To provide some historical context, Kuleshov worked as a professor at the Moscow Film School and developed this theory after experimenting with different techniques for arranging shots.
In the short film included below, Kuleshov contrasts footage of the actor Ivan Mosjoukine with three unrelated shots of a bowl of soup, a girl in a coffin, and a woman lying on a couch. While creating this film, Kuleshov discovered that combining the first shot with any of the others impacted how viewers interpreted the meaning.
This technique, which is now known as the Kuleshov effect, was the basis for the Soviet montage theory. Kuleshov found that the way you edit together a montage of different shots during post-production influences your audience’s emotional response.
Following this discovery, the filmmaker Eisenstein recognized that there were five different types of montages in this theory: intellectual, metric, rhythmic, tonal, and overtonal.
When watching an intellectual montage, the audience uses logic to interpret a series of otherwise unrelated shots to find the montage’s meaning. Kuleshov’s short film is a direct example of this.
The shot of the actor is the independent variable in the editing experiment. The audience derives their meaning of what is happening based on whichever shot precedes or follows that shot.
The audience understands that the meaning of the film is different when the actor is looking at the girl in the coffin versus the woman on the couch.
Metric vs. Rhythmic Montage
It’s possible to confuse metric and rhythmic montages because both types follow a pattern. However, the metric montage has a fixed pattern whereas the rhythmic montage offers more flexibility.
But what does this look like for creators during post-production?
To create a metric montage, you edit the shots down to a set amount of frames. As soon as one shot reaches that limit, the next shot begins — even if the storyline feels discontinuous as a result.
For a rhythmic montage, on the other hand, the intention is to match the pace of the action in the shots with the music. So instead of cutting every shot down to 10 seconds like you might with a metric montage, the duration for each shot can vary.
This can make a montage feel more visually and musically cohesive.
Tonal Vs. Overtonal
Unlike an intellectual montage, the audience of a tonal montage doesn’t have to piece together new meaning from unrelated shots. The shots that you include in the montage are thematically similar, which can strengthen the overall emotional effect of the video.
An overtonal montage achieves the same effect but also combines elements from the intellectual, metric, and rhythmic montages as well.
Creating Evocative Montages
The Soviet montage theory inspired one of the most memorable movements in film history and demonstrates how montages impact viewers’ emotional responses and interpretations.
Modern day filmmakers and creators continue to draw inspiration from this theory and the Kuleshov effect. Nowadays, video montages have been integrated into short films, feature-length films, advertisements, and more — for good reason.
Filmmakers commonly use montages to condense a larger story, show the passing of time, and create a heightened sense of tension. There are countless examples of montages in films, but UP (2009) is among the most popular.
This montage in UP takes viewers through the extreme emotional highs and lows of the couple’s life together. The video above goes a step further by demonstrating how a montage moves from script-to-screen.
In this overtonal montage, the music score enhances the emotional impact of the narrative. As the couple experiences loss and grief during their marriage, these emotions are reflected in the pace of the music and visuals.
An Impactful Final Edit
The montage from UP is not an outlier in modern day film. Filmmakers include video montages in their shot lists and storyboard templates because doing so allows them to tell a story effectively but concisely.
Making intentional and strategic cuts is inherently part of the post-production process. But with mere minutes to leave an impression on the audience, the stakes are even higher for choosing the right shots to blend with the best music.
To take great-quality footage into post-production, you'll need to invest time finding the best camera and equipment for production.
But when it comes to creating your own video montage, it’s not always feasible or cost-effective to capture all of your own footage and license copyrighted music.
By integrating stock media into your video montages, you can worry less about the legal side of production and focus on creating an emotionally impactful project.
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