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Learn How To Edit By Mastering These Common CutsThursday, December 3, 2020

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Good lighting and cinematography may define the look of a film, but movies are really made because of what ends up on the cutting room floor. It is in the editing bays where scenes are shaped by adding layer after layer of video and audio, cutting and moving and using sight and sound to lure the viewer down the storyline that the director and editor want them to go down, and to create the final mix of clips and sounds that becomes the finished film.

If you want to learn the art of editing, you'll need to start by mastering the basics of cutting together audio and video clips. Below are some of the most common types of cuts--learn these and start using them in your own films and you'll be well on your way to becoming a master of the cut.

 

The Hard Cut
The most basic of all cuts is the hard cut--simply going from the end of one cut to the beginning of another. This method offers the least amount of editing "magic" because there's nothing done to hide the cut--our brains register that we've changed clips from one to another, much like the blink of an eye. Use this cut to move the viewer's eyes through the time and space of your film and direct them from one small image to the next in the timeline of your film.

 

The Cross Cut
Also known as the parallel cut, this is when you use hard cuts and intersperse two parallel scenes during the film, so we go from watching a clip from one scene to a clip from the other scene, back and forth. This is a great way to heighten suspense and show two similar storylines playing out at the same time in your film. A famous example is during the baptism scene in The Godfather--we can see Michael Corleone at church with his family during the baptism of his son, while at the same time he has orchestrated the hits of multiple people that all take place during that time. It's brilliant because it shows us exactly how powerful Michael has become, that he is able to execute all of his enemies, while still playing the part of the family man and loving father at home.

 

 

The Insert
An insert is a shot of one part of a scene from a different angle or perspective than that of the master shot. It's most commonl used to show a more detailed view of one part of the scene. For example, showing a wide shot of a character dialing the phone, and then cutting to an insert that is a close-up shot of the character pressing the buttons on the phone.

 

The Cutaway
Also known as the "reveal", this is similar to an insert in that it starts with a master shot, but instead of honing in on another part of the same scene, the cutaway takes the viewer to action that is not covered in the master shot. A good example is in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Indy is showing off to the Nazis and explaining how clever his friend Marcus Brody is, and the scene cuts away to Brody completely lost, wandering haplessly around in another country. This is an especially effective way to show some sort of contrast.

 

 

The J Cut and the L Cut
These are two cuts that go hand in hand because these are basically the inverse of each other. A J Cut is when we hear the audio from a second clip while we're still watching the video from the first clip, and an L Cut is the opposite--we have the audio from the first clip continuing as we see the video of the second clip. Each cut is named after the particular shape that the clips make in the timeline of your editing system, either a J or an L respectively.

 

J-cut-l-cut_large

 

The Jump Cut
The jump cut is a technique that allows the editor to jump forward in time during one scene. It uses hard cuts to create a jarring effect, so the viewer is aware of the cut and understands that we have moved forward in time. One of the earliest examples of this being used to great effect in in this car scene from Jean-Luc Goddard's 1960 film Breathless.

 

 

The Match Cut
The match cut is a very creative method of matching the movement of two different objects from two different scenes together to create a transition between the two. It's typically used to show similarities between the narratives in two different scenes. The most famous example of this is in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, where a neanderthal man throws a human femur spinning up into the air, and we cut away to the scene of a spaceship floating through space many years later. This is particularly brilliant because Kubrick has used the two similar visual elements to glue together two completely different scenes in different eras of mankind, and also foreshadow some of the events of the film--the viewer gets a sense that some of the violence that has just occured among the primitive men on Earth may also occur many years later on the spaceship.

 

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