Language of Editing: Basic Cuts


This one I just really want to put out there: An overview on the language of filmmaking, focusing on the basic cuts. [music] This is going to be a very broad overview of the basics of the subject Primarily aimed to people who are new. If you’re already familiar with the language of editing, then this may be mostly repetition of stuff you already know. But I hope I’ve managed to present the information in a way that’s entertaining, and maybe makes you take a second look at the way that you think about what you already know. The first thing that needs to be mentally sorted is that there are two broad categories of cuts that’s we’re going to talk about. Or, put another way, there are two different contexts where we’ll talk about the type of cut used. The first is ‘Mechanical:’ What – physically – is the Editor doing to assemble the footage? The second is ‘Narrative:’ What is the outcome of the cut in terms of story and meaning? It’s important to be aware of these two different contexts because it helps keep in mind that a cut is often more than just one thing, usually having at least two components – its physical form and its narrative function. First, the Mechanical Cuts: Right off the top, the single most common type of cut, ‘The Straight Cut.’ One clip ends. Another begins. This is the default cut. This is what you get when you take two different shots and join them together: a straight cut. Next, the Split Edit. Now, these days, this applies more cleanly to documentary, corporate video, and commercials, simply because of the way that narrative features are assembled. The Split Edit comes in two flavors: The L cut and the J cut. The whole idea here is that the audio associated with a clip either leads or trails the cut. When the audio leads the cut, it’s a J-cut, and when the audio trails, it’s an L-cut. The reason for the naming is visual. In the editing suite, the cuts end up looking like this: L and J In a narrative feature, this gets…muddled from moment to moment. The editing in a competent film can get quite complicated– Particularly because the soundtrack is typically woven together from dozens of different sources. Take, for example, this dialogue in 10 Cloverfield Lane where the sound and picture weaves back and forth between the two characters. You can’t leave An attack means fallout Which contaminates the air above ground. That’s how it works. Well how do we have to wait until its safe? Depends on the proximity of the closest blast. One year, maybe two. [loudly whispered] 10 Cloverfield Lane is a very good movie and its editing is excellent. Because of this complexity, the place that a split edit is going to be MOST clear is over a scene transition, where audio from a different time and place leads or trails the cut. This might be substantial such as this moment in ‘Man of Steel,’ where the incoming audio leads the cut by several seconds: YOUNG CLARK: I’m tired of safe! YOUNG CLARK: I want to do something useful with my life. Or it might be quite subtle like the sound of this door closing trailing the cut by a matter of frames Retain, even in opposition, Your capacity for astonishment. [door shuts] Next up is the ‘Jump Cut.’ This one, you’re probably intensely familiar with, as it has been used, some would say, to excess, on YouTube. This is when a clip cuts into itself. Now, there’s another use of this phrase, as a pejorative, And that’s when a clip cuts into a second clip that isn’t properly differentiated from the first clip. Like, they may technically be two different shots, but they’re too similar, making the cut between them feel awkward and wrong. The last of the mechanical cuts is the ‘Transition.’ A Transition cut is any kind of mixing effect that merges two clips together, whether it be a fade, a dissolve or any of the many many MANY wipe or transit effects, Including, but not limited to: Linear horizontal. Push horizontal Linear vertical. Push vertical. Barn doors. Iris. Crosswipe. Star-wipe. Heart-wipe. Diamond-wipe. Radial. Wipe. Card-wipe. Venetian blinds. Twister. Jaaws Cube spin. Flipover Page peel. Page tuurn And cross-zoom. Moving on, we get into the narrative cuts, describing a cut in terms of its intent or content. This is also where things start to get really funky because any given cut may function as one or more of these. For example, let’s start with the ‘Match Cut.’ The basic idea of a match cut is that some visual element is present to make physically discontinuous action appear continuous. The hand starts to raise, in the A-shot, And the action is completed in the B-shot This idea expands into the ‘Graphic Match Cut,’ where some visual element on each side of the cut links the two together Such as this, the best edit in all of ‘The Lost World”, Jurassic Park [man shouts at another person]
[music swells] [woman screams] [blends into screech of a subway] [screeching subway] In this case, in addition to the visual match of the mouths, the audio of the scream is also blended with the sound of the train. So this is a match both visually and on the soundtrack This specific cut is also an example of a Contrast Cut; The mother’s terror is juxtaposed with Malcolm’s boredom to create humor At least I think that’s what they were going for? It’s – it’s a very strange edit. The Contrast cut can also be used with the intent of drawing a connection between two things, to imply they are an extension of one another or to create commentary. Cutting from a crowd of Christmas shoppers to a herd of sheep being the archetypal example. Hey, hey Dan. Do you know about that one shot? They do that in 2001. You know, that shot with the bone and the bone becomes a missile platform You know about that shot, right? Yeah, I know about that shot. ok [whispered] JUST CHECKING. The next that we’re going to discuss is the ‘Crosscut.’ Now, cross-cutting, also called parallel cutting, isn’t quite accurate as a singular cut, but is rather a description of a series of cuts. A way of structuring a scene where two displaced actions are cut together, the implication being that they are happening simultaneously, or near simultaneously. This is fairly standard for action scenes, where there may not be anything other than general implication or location to tie shots to each other. Such as in the bike chase in Akira where we cut between various aspects of the chase without strict continuity of action. [grits teeth noise] [also gritting teeth noise]
[wind whipping by] uahh! oaah! [groans] In the film, ‘In Bruges,’ it’s used to connect three simultaneous events. Ken, crawling to the window of the bell tower; Harry, descending the bell tower; and Ray at the cafe with Chloe. Three events; three locations, Intercut to keep the audience oriented to things that are happening simultaneously. The last type of edit that we’re gonna talk about is a bit of a special consideration since it describes a kind of shot as much as it describes a kind of edit. And that’s the ‘Insert.’ An Insert is a cut from the main action to a detail of interest. Either to the material of the story or to the thematic fabric. A common example of an insert is basically anytime a character is doing something with their hands. In documentaries, inserts are used frequently to simply add interest and rhythm – to illustrate a point or to facilitate pacing. From ‘Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,’ we have all of these shots of documents being shredded while the narrator talks about Enron shredding documents. But the important thing to keep in mind is that this is not actually footage of Enron documents being shredded. This is not literally what they’re talking about – it’s just symbolic of what they’re talking about. So there you go: a broad overview of the basic Lexicon of editing. Here’s a kitty. [upbeat music]

100 Replies to “Language of Editing: Basic Cuts

  1. In Bruges is such a beautiful film! It deserves more recognition!

    Anyway, as a cinephile, I almost always hate J-cuts with dialogue over scene-transitions as described at 2:54 because it does nothing but distract my focus! It is used so much to in even the most atrocious ways like for example already hearing audio from a dialogue in a briefing room in CIA headquarters in Washington that is actually really important for me to pick up on and understand to follow the premise and story development of the movie while visually I am still being presented with footage of for example a military unit driving away on a dusty road somewhere in wartime Afghanistan. Like, can editors please give me a moment to mentally jump countries and oceans and to let my mind settle and get accustomed to the new situation before I have to start following a dialogue?!
    So often when I am watching movies alone on my computer I just rewind and rewind and rewind those J-cuts with dialogue over scene transitions in the hope to actually register the words being said but because of the discrepancy between what I am looking at and what I am hearing even that just tends to be in vain. It's like editors have forgotten that visuals also tell a story and that it is pretty darn hard, if not impossible, to process two stories at the same time.
    To me it's kinda the movie-equivalent of passages in novels that you read and then after reading you wonder: what have I just read?… So, as far as I'm considered, editors most of the time could have just as well thrown the part of the dialogue that is played over completely unrelated videofootage in the garbage because I am not going to know what was said anyway. It feels actually pretty forced to me in a way of neurotically cramping in as much footage as possible under the disguise of "creativity" and it obviously really annoys me.
    Sorry to go on a rant about this but it really is the one thing that has always annoyed me in editing and I find it *everywhere*, also in (otherwise) really good movies. In my opinion something really has to be done about it, especially since it is such common practise and seems to be regarded as a widely accepted "technique" among filmmakers?! So I hope I have profusely, but also effectively made my case and that you will go out an spread the word amongst your colleagues to STOP THIS LUNACY for the sake of moviegoers and the comprehensibility of your movies! 😉 =P

  2. Well buddy you've got a subscribe from me. I'm a self taught editor so it's great to learn the technical terms for different cuts.

  3. Game of Thrones seems to have forgotten what the purpose of a cross cut is. The last two seasons are a mess when it comes to making the audience understand, how the time flows and how far apart events are from one another. It's quite odd , cause they used to do just fine.

  4. Your videos help me remain oriented in an otherwise confounding intro to film history course, and I'm for ever grateful to you for that!

  5. Guys I love this cut which is often used in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. I think this cut is called 'Smash Cut'

  6. Transitions? Forget about them! Plan your shots so you can cut without these weird transitions. Look amateurish.

  7. god the 2001 joke. I'm not that knowledgable in movie techniques so that scene blew my mind when i saw it for the first time a few years back. it was just too perfect and I thought you were gonna talk about that, when, seemingly out of nowhere you bring out the jurrasic park 3 as an example of all things. brilliant.

  8. 10 Cloverfield is friggin great. My wife turned it on and I came in a minute or two in…I was LITERALLY drawn in by the editing, ambiance and the feel of the movie. Fan-friggin-tastic.

  9. Not only informative but literally had me laughing out loud in the wipes, when you grabbed the mic praising 10 Cloverfield Lane, etc. Well done!

  10. Here's a kitty. I spit up all over my computer with big gulp of water I had in my mouth..caught me totally off gaurd. all dry and serious, and I was actually digging it… dry, funny, but talking about things i was interested in.. and then 'here's a kitty'

  11. Hey. Just one comment about this video (and probably more). I find very distracting watching your cuts when you talk. Because sometimes you are showing stuff in the video itself (cutting your own video while you talk) while other times you just show a clip. I find more useful watching a movie or something different from you talking to show how that works, and several times. I just saw the jump cut part… and realized that it was it, while you were talking, and those cuts have been happening thougout the video. Really confusing.

  12. I just KNEW there'd be the match cut from Jurassic Park. It's a great edit and maybe the only memorable moment from that movie.

  13. Thanks for using most of the Sony Vegas transitions! Please make custom transitions using keyframes otherwise it just looks like your production is poor and are just previewing bog standard transitions. Software like Premier Pro and FCPX allow you to make your custom preset transitions… please remake this showing your own transitions. Everyone and their pet cat can use a media generator.

  14. When I saw Dito Montiel's "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" I loved the editing, even though I don't know much about it, and I thought it was a little "outside the box" even though it worked so well.

    Are the cuts used in that movie standard techniques or did he (or its editor) actually invent them?

  15. The transition sequence section is awesome. I know how time consuming it can be to time out the rapid audio and make all those transitions happen. Kudos for going the extra mile to bring out some humor and using clever editing to illustrate your points about editing.

  16. "Simultaneously" 08:07 Right, it is pronounced as it is written, Sim, go on say Sim, it does not sound like "Sigh" does it? If you aren't sure use the American, (or should I say AMER EYE CAN?)invention called Google, there you can click on an icon of a speaker and hear how "Simultaneously" is pronounced. 🙂

  17. Is the contrast cut what Archer on FX constantly does? Because that's always stood out to me as a recurring thing and I'm almost blind to the technical stuff with the exception of Catwoman, which was clearly edited unilaterally by several kilos of cocaine…

  18. In that Lost World clip I also like that the match cut is amusingly foreshadowing the shift in focus from dinosaurs on an island to rampaging through the city by the end.

  19. contexts of cuts (mechanical and narrative): https://youtu.be/RzgLbuj6dHM?t=39

    Mechanical cuts:
    the straight cut (default cut) – https://youtu.be/RzgLbuj6dHM?t=82
    the split edit (j cut , l cut) – https://youtu.be/RzgLbuj6dHM?t=93
    ex. 10 Cloverfield Lane – https://youtu.be/RzgLbuj6dHM?t=142
    ex. Man of steel – https://youtu.be/RzgLbuj6dHM?t=197
    ex. https://youtu.be/RzgLbuj6dHM?t=203
    the jump cut – https://youtu.be/RzgLbuj6dHM?t=221
    the transition – https://youtu.be/RzgLbuj6dHM?t=251

    Narrative cuts:
    the match cut – https://youtu.be/RzgLbuj6dHM?t=311
    ex. action starts with A-shot and ends with B-shot – https://youtu.be/RzgLbuj6dHM?t=320
    the graphic match cut – https://youtu.be/RzgLbuj6dHM?t=338
    ex. The Lost World – https://youtu.be/RzgLbuj6dHM?t=338
    the contrast cut – https://youtu.be/RzgLbuj6dHM?t=371
    the crosscut (parallel cutting) – https://youtu.be/RzgLbuj6dHM?t=423
    the insert – https://youtu.be/RzgLbuj6dHM?t=489

  20. I'm gonna go ahead an be the umpteenth million person to compliment how the you're basically giving a master class in editing technique, with the cuts you choose in this video, while talking about the basics…just…cuz…

  21. A "very strange edit" of Spielberg? He does that graphic match cut all the time. It was very noticeable in Jaws when he zoomed in on a brown eye and then in the next scene that eye was a cup of coffee belonging to the sheriff that he zoomed out of. Another set of noticeable examples is how in the beginning of every Indiana Jones movie he transitions the Paramount mountain title card into a mountain that sets the first scene (or in The Crystal Skull, for some reason, a molehill).

  22. Your mind is like, vrooooooom, vro-vroooooom, vrooom vroom vroom vrooom vrooom (that's a superbike racing down a packed highway by the way)

  23. Dan, could you do a short comparative video on how various cultures make basic narrative decisions differently from one another? Even casual viewers of, say, Bollywood or Japanese media notice there's something fundamentally different about shot choices, etc., but as I'm only moderately literate in the Hollywood style of film making, I'm curious for a more articulate answer on what some of these decisions are.

    Great content as always. Watching this particular video again for maybe the third time now – even though I know this material, I don't edit video much so I have to revisit it time to time to remind me of the basic terminology I too easily forget. And I'd rather listen to you than just read a list ; )
    Happy holidays!

  24. 6:23 I was literally actively in increasing pressuring discomfort thinking: "B… But the 2001… Obviously he's going to have to show the 2001 one, right? Is he really not going to mention the 2001 cut?"

    Soon after, obviously, i got served… Well played.

  25. While set/costume filled videos have made it obvious the kind of work that can go into Youtube content creation, I found this really helpful for appreciating the thought and labour that hides in plain sight in more understated productions. Thanks!

  26. When that puppet came out and talked about the match cut in 2001 I legit got a cold sweat over how cinematically basic / shitty a conversationalist I've been at parties. Oof.

  27. I would not be surprised if the entire reason you made this video is because you REALLY REALLY wanted to use all of those transitions at least once in your professional life :p

  28. Oh man, from the moment Dan started talking about match cuts, I was thinking "Is he gonna show that one shot from 2001?" and then he satirizes it, following a discussion of a group of people being compared to sheeps. I think I am going now.

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