Editing Videos and Movies (Part 2): Causal Montage and Parallel Storytelling

Cut film Causal montage and parallel montage
Looking over the professional's shoulder | © Montage: filmpuls.info

Video editing is always a servant of dramaturgy. Causal mounting and parallel mounting also help with this. Both are proven ways to create tension. This article explains how that works.

In the pioneering days of film, film editing was limited to cutting the events necessary for the narrative one after the other in chronological order. Tension was not created in the editing, but through the content of the narrative. But as early as 1901, the silent film“Attack on a China Mission” went a step further: it was discovered that viewers could be led by the film editing even over larger leaps in time or space. This if there was an identical object or person in the setting before and after the cut. This laid the foundations for parallel assembly and causal assembly.

You need to know

  • Two of the most important principles of film editing are causal montage and parallel montage.
  • If two settings are mounted in such a way that they have a logical relationship to each other and are mutually dependent, this is called a causal montage.
  • In parallel montage, two storylines are – the name says it – mounted parallel to each other. They run side by side at the same time. The challenge is not only to switch from one storyline to another at the perfect moment, but to elegantly reunite the storylines at the end.

The parallel assembly

Far more complex, because it is far more demanding in terms of design and concept than chronological film editing and causal montage, is the parallel montage of different storylines.

Parallel assembly is about telling storylines side by side. A prime example of this is provided by the epic “Game of Thrones”, which, depending on the episode, tells up to 8 stories of different characters in different locations at the same time.

The difficulty is not just in jumping from one plot thread to another at the right moment. In parallel montage, the viewer usually expects all the parallel plots to come together at the end.

Difficulties of parallel assembly

The difficulty of the parallel montage is therefore not only the interplay of the individual storylines and the handling of the resulting insights for the viewer. As a rule, all parallel plots must also be brought together at the end and culminate in a climax.

If no merging takes place, one does not speak of a parallel montage, but of a “parallelizing film montage”.

The parallelism of the passage of time results in the collapse of the spaces in the parallel montage.
Kurt Hoffmann

Parallel montage is often used by directors and editors in film editing to heighten drama. This is true in feature films as well as TV series and docusoaps. Whenever things threaten to get really exciting, the picture jumps to the parallel plot and continues telling the story. Causal montage, like parallel montage, expands and shifts the viewer’s sense of time and space.

The principle of parallel montage is also found in literature. Authors of light entertainment novels, such as those available at airports, often use the principle extensively.

Kausalmontage und Parallelmontage: Videos schneiden und professionell Filme montieren (2/4)
James Williamson, film pioneer, 1855-1933 | Photo: Wikipedia

The parallel montage can only be used successfully if the film dramaturgical requirements are observed by the editor. The artistic talent required for this, combined with experience and extreme knowledge, is one of the reasons why films are not cut but edited.

The causal assembly

The principle of montage used by Williamson to overcome space and time is still used today. It is called causal montage in an extended form. We speak of a causal montage when the events in a story are interrelated across settings according to the cause-effect principle.


It’s not yet time for self-learning software to be practical for video editing. Until that happens, the head is still the filmmaker’s most important tool.

The follow-up article continues with video editing as a formal principle. The artistic part of the film editing is also weighted and appreciated. Ultimately, however:

Trends come and go. The importance of film editing, however, remains.

The contents of the series

More on the topic

More information can also be found here: Good Movie Books.

Director Udo Flohr and his editor Sven Pape have chosen an innovative approach to editing: They edited their feature film Effigie – Das Gift und die Stadt online in public.

Filmpuls will soon be devoting a separate article to the fascinating phenomenon of invisible cuts in communication with moving images. The invisible film cut is at the heart of every editor’s work in classic editing and montage. At the same time, invisible cuts are a wonderful symbol of how editing functions in the field of tension between craft, art and entertainment.

This article was automatically translated into English using AI. If you would like to help us improve the quality, we would be happy to hear from you.

Pavel Sokolov
About Pavel Sokolov 49 Articles
Pavel studiert Film Editing. Er mag François Truffaut, Terrence Malick, Dr Pepper, seinen Thermaltake View 71 TG, Musik von Seeed und alle Dinge, die mit der Farbe Rot zusammenhängen, aber keinem Lebewesen Schmerzen bereiten.

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