Assemblies are tricky, but these four elements can help you perfect your next assembly.
Christopher Nolan is a master of assemblies. Nolan loves montages so much that it has become his preferred choice for the end of his films. Sometimes he uses them in chaotic scenes when characters go on their side quest during a mission or a major battle scene between the main character and the antagonist.
Unlike most montages, which are designed to kill time, Nolan’s montages continue the story beyond the screen. The montage looks more like an epilogue than anything else. This keeps the audience on-screen until the end credits begin. How does Nolan create such fantastic assemblies?
Paradigm immutable broken down the four elements Nolan uses for each of his montages: cross-cutting, tempo, music, and voice-over. Check out the Paradigm Unshifted video below, then dive into the lessons!
As with any great montage, multiple shots are cut together to show different moments. The recordings work together to provide a foreword of what certain characters’ lives will be like after the story is resolved.
in the The dark knight, Final assembly begins after Harvey’s (Aaron Eckhart) death. The epilogue eventually becomes the prologue for The dark knight rises and explains why Batman is seen as a vigilante rather than a hero. The stakes are increased with this reveal, and the audience gets a glimpse of how the characters evolve after the movie’s climax.
Visual consistency requires a perfect pace. If every shot in the montage is uneven and shakes a change of mood too much, the entire montage fails. Nolan keeps the pace constant in every shot by keeping the camera moving.
in the Beginning, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) wakes up to find that the mission has been accomplished. Assembly begins after Cobb leaves the plane. If the camera doesn’t jump from Cobb’s face to the customs officer stamping the passport, the camera will move with Cobb’s actions, like picking up his bag. The only time a shot slows down is when Cobb’s children see it and greet it. This shot is slowed down to keep the tempo constant across all of the shots in the montage. Every shot gets the same screen time and doesn’t feel rushed. The assembly should be visually appealing.
The score is important in every film. It helps highlight the emotion or tension in the scene for the audience.
If you are using it in a montage, make sure it is not in the foreground and controls the hearts of the audience. Stick to a single track that highlights the theme of the assembly. The music should support, not distract.
I’ve noticed that in every Nolan film. At the end there is a voice-over that explains how the plot twist came about or how a new way of life begins for the protagonist. Nolan’s voiceovers act as a connecting line connecting each take. With even recordings, the voice-over acts as a kind of music that makes the importance of the montage clear.
Voiceover doesn’t have to be a character’s narration. Often times, Nolan uses a conversation between two characters to act as a voice over. in the The prestige, two shots coexist at the same time. The conversation between Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Borden (Christian Bale) serves as voice over for the scenes between the Borden brothers. It’s a unique storytelling element that reveals information that has been withheld from the audience and that makes us want to watch the movie again.
Another example is when James Gordon (Gary Oldman) wraps The Dark Knight trilogy with a speech declaring Batman a hero. This speech is the voice over for the entire montage and touches on the points that affect the lives of individual characters.
Montage is a great tool that enables experimental storytelling. Be aware that Mondays can create confusion for audiences if they vary greatly in place and time. It might not tell the story you wanted to tell.
A montage should be the culmination of an already good, unique and understandable story. By using just four key elements – cross cuts, tempo, music, and voiceover – your next montage can be as impressive as Nolan’s montages. Maybe even better.
Let us know what you think of Nolan’s signature final assemblies in the comments below!