Cut It OUT!
Although film had been around for a couple of decades, it wasn’t until Edwin Porter’s shorts Jack and the
Beanstalk (1902) and The Life of an American Fireman (1903) that storytelling on film came into its own, for Porter ‘invented’ the edit. Up until his time, most films consisted of one long take; Porter introduced jump-cut and close-ups into his movies, and a new medium was born. Editing, essentially, consists of juxtaposing one shot against another, in order to shape the viewers’ experience of the film and direct his/her attention. A typical Hollywood pictures contains between 1000 and 2,000 shots; action movies can include 3000 or more. This makes the editor a key figure in film production. In fact, many people have called the editing stage the “final rewrite of the script.”

Classical Style The simplest and most effective way to join two pieces of video is the cut. Generally, using those fancy transitions in iMovie are obvious signs of an amateur at work. One school of thought believes that editing should be “invisible;” this is often called “classic” or “Hollywood style” editing. To the viewers the cuts seem so natural, they don’t even notice. When was the last time you watched a movie and thought “Wow, what great editing!” My point exactly. Typically, the classical style often (but not always!) follows a pattern of shot development: Master shot (establishes setting and characters) Medium shot Close-up

Four Reasons to Cut:
When you cut well, you sustain the viewer’s interest, set the pace for the film and maintain continuity

To move the story forward (tell the audience something new. To show information that is better in another shot. You’ve used up the current shot It’s time to see something new/shot is boring.

http://graphics.boston.com/bonzai-fba/ AP_Photo/2006/04/07/1144436151_3994.jpg

In these clips from Warner Brothers’ 1971 Dirty Harry, the scene starts with a long shot encompassing both Harry and the women commenting on the death he’s investigating. It then cuts to a medium close-up of the two women, then to a close up of Harry’s reaction, before re-establishing the scene as Harry turns away.

Notice the pattern moves from an overall view of the scene to a more personal view of the character or subject (outside/in). It is also possible to move in an inside/out sequence, starting with a close up and developing a ever-widening series of shots.

These are not hard and fast rules, however. If it fits your film and theme, make the cuts unbalanced and jarring--mismatching angles, moving from close-ups to over-the-shoulder shots, etc. Basically, cut in a manner that best suits the film you’re making.

CONTINUITY EDITING: Also known as the classical or hollywood style, continuity editing works to make the entire process “invisible,” believing that if the audience is aware of the editing, the editor has failed. There are four basic “rules” of classical editing that we’ll focus on. 180 Degree Rule: Following this rule ensures that, as you cut from shot to shot, characters will always be spatially oriented (facing the same way), so as not to confuse your viewers. If you cross the line, be sure to include shot on the axis to re-orient your viewers.


Eyeline Match: Often used with a POV shot, shot A shows the character looking off camera and shot B reveals the object. To maintain continuity, the shots must match in camera angle and direction. Interesting to note: the objects, in reality, don’t even need to be on the same continent, as long as the camera angles match. Remember the Kuleshov effect!

Dirty Harry. Dir. Don Siegel. Perf. Clint Eastwood. Warner Brothers, 1971.

Match on action : Continuity editing works to “hide” the cut by often cutting only on an action. For instance, shot A would show a character starting through a door, shot B would cut to to opposite side of the door and show the character exiting. The shot is almost invisible, because it’s a natural part of the action. Or, in the sequence below, the shot starts with the actor jumping forward, cuts to a rear shot as he dives and scrambles away. Notice shifting to the rear now allows for watching him escape. Ω


30 Degree Rule: This rule says that any change in shot must show more than a 30 degree shift in the camera. This helps avoid jump cuts. As we’ve seen, they can be very effective in more modern editing, but in classical editing, jump cuts are a big taboo. Graphic Match: Not part of the basic rules, but a useful tool to help transition between scenes. In a graphic match, the image in shot A is similar in shape and position to that in shot B. Here’s a famous example from Hitchcock’s Psycho:
graphic from “Art of the Guillotine” http://www.artoftheguillotine.com/ graphicmatch.html

Montage Editing:
Montage is used in three different ways when referring to film. The original use stems from Russia in the 1920’s, when Sergei Eisenstein (most notably) used the juxtaposition of unrelated shots to explore thematic and symbolic development of ideas within his films. (Think: the “Odessa Steps” scene from Battleship Potemkin.) The French New Wave movement in the 50’s developed the montage idea by using a series of jump cuts, often to show a sense of fragmentation or chaos. Finally, in the US, montage is often a sequence of images meant to convey a passage of time, changes in feelings or attitudes or to establish a sense of place or time. They may be dramatic, comic, or informative.

TIPS FOR USING MONTAGE: Generally, images start long and grow shorter as montage progresses Images are often separate by dissolves, wipes, or other types of transitional effects Often cut to music Use shots from different times, angles, locations. Be open to the unexpected! Juxtapose shots that don’t necessarily seem connected. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results!

PARALLEL EDITING (Crosscutting): Parallel editing involves showing two (often concurrent) events in an alternating pattern. Chase scenes often use parallel editing to show both the chaser and the chased. It can be used to • • • increase tension/suspense show conflict provide a point of comparison/contrast

Parallel editing is an especially powerful tool for cutting across time and space and connecting seemingly unconnected events. For example, scenes of the way people lived 100 years ago could be crosscut with scenes from the present in order to point out surprising similarities or reinforce the differences. In a science-fiction movie, scenes from an alien planet preparing to attack could be crosscut with scenes from an unsuspecting earth, in order to create suspense. The movie Sliding Doors is one big exercise in parallel editing, telling the story of two possible lives for Gwyneth Paltrow, all In general, the first shot acts as an establishing shot, telling the audience who is involved, what is happening and where. Unless, of course, you are deliberately trying to confuse your audience and raise a sense of mystery. There is a technical different between parallel editing and crosscutting: use the first term when the characters in the two sections are not aware of each other, the latter once they’ve met.

Elliptical Editing
If all movies were shot in natural time, they would not only be incredibly boring (do you really want to watch someone sleeping?) they would take forever! If a character is flying from New York to Peru, in real time you would have to show them making plans, booking the ticket, packing, catching a taxi to the airport, being stuck in traffic, arriving at the airport, checking in....you get the idea. With elliptical editing, you remove the unnecessary footage that slows down your story line. If a character climbs the stairs, you show the first few steps, then cut to her reaching the top--unless, of course, there is something significant in showing her climbing the entire set. A simple cut, dissolve or fade (all of which suggest passing time) acts as your transition, and the audience is savvy to what these imply. With the scenario in the first paragraph, you might use a shot of the character booking the flight, then dissolve to her exiting the airport in Peru. The audience understands everything that transpired in between. This technique allows you, the editor, to manipulate time and space, and is your most powerful editing tool. Remember, less is more!

Rhythm and Pace:
“I think that pacing is extremely important...a certain slowness, not boring, but a certain slowness contrasted with something fast is very important. It’s like music. If music was all just fast, it would be a bummer. Symphonies are built on slow and fast, high and low, and it thrills your soul. And film is the same way.” David Lynch Rhythm and pace help establish the feel and mood of a sequence, and you create these with the shots you choose, their length and their placement in a scene. It’s a complex combination of shots, mise en scene, and music. For our purposes here, we’ll focus on shots. When thinking about shots and their rhythm effects, here are some general rules of thumb: Long/wide shots: These convey a lot of information, so they need to stay on the screen longer. Medium/close-ups: It’s easy to grasp these more quickly, so shot length can be shorter. Your decisions in type and number of shots drastically affect the rhythm of the scene. Consider these two options: The football team is about to score the winning touchdown of the homecoming game. In slow motion, the quarterback throws the ball, we cut to a shot of the ball arcing through the air, then to a) a shot of the crowd watching intently b) the coach on the sidelines, c) the opposing team running. In the next shot, at normal speed, the a long shot shows the receiver snatching the ball and turning to run the length of the field. A shot of the crowd on its feet cheering...cut back to the player....time stretches, the moment endures. OR In Rocky, months and months of training are compressed into a two to three minute montage.

Tight/Loose Cutting
Whether you cut tight or loose also affects the rhythm of your sequence. If you leave a second or two of footage after a piece of dialogue or action, you are cutting loose. Leaving little room between bits of dialogue or action, and you are cutting tight. As always, the scene’s purpose determines your editing style. In a comedy, you may need to leave a bit of space after a joke so the audience’s laughter doesn’t cut into the next scene. Or, in a thriller, after a long, peaceful walk in the park, you might do a quick cut to the killer’s attack, startling the audience.


As with essays, transitions provide a connection from one idea (or scene) to the next. In fact, it may help to think of them as punctuation. A simple cut is like a comma, a dissolve is similar to a period, while fade-toblack acts as an entirely new paragraph. And while iMovie provides you with quite the catchy (or cheesy!) array of transitional effects, the sophisticated editor eschews window-shades, exploding images and the like unless they serve a specific thematic purpose.

So what does a savvy editor use?

Visual Transitions:
The Cut: Often, the simplest is the best, and just cut to the next scene. Editors can aid the connection from one shot to the next by matching shapes or objects (a match cut). Most famously, Stanley Kubrick used this transition when a whirling bone morphs into the (similarly shaped) orbiting space station in 2001. Other elements, such as color, the position of actors in the scene, etc. could be used to aid the transition.

Wipe: A new scene slides in across the screen, replacing the old one. Kind of old-fashioned, but an be used in creative ways. An episode of Heroes showed a character pushing a wheelbarrow. As he moved across the screen, the scene changed with him. Very effective! Cross-Dissolve: The end of one shot fades or merges into the next shot. Sound: We will watch some examples of this, as it’s a very effective technique. Basically, the sound from the next scene starts during the present scene, just before the cut. It acts as a bridge from one scene to the next, anticipating what is to come.

Special Effects:
While you won’t have a Hollywood-style budget to create incredibly special effects (and keep that in mind when planning your film, btw!), and you almost always want to avoid the cheesy effects that come with iMovie (they’re invariably the mark of an amateur), there are a few simple tricks that can be very effective when used well. 1. Slow Motion: This can create several, often contrasting effects. a. Intensify or exaggerate a moment or feeling b. Imply superhuman power, speed, or abilities (how ironic!) c. Emphasize gracefulness d. Show the passage of time

2. Freeze Frame: These can create a very powerful effect. Choose the frame that you want to repeat and make a still of it. (I’ll show you how to do this). Cut it into your scene and it “freezes” the image, drawing attention to it. This is often used at the end of a scene: Trapped after a long chase, Thelma and Louise clasp hands, rev their car engine and drive off a cliff. As the car leaps into the air, the frame freezes, leaving them suspended indefinitely, an enduring image of the woman rebel. You could freeze an important action, and add narration pondering its philosophical meaning; or freeze a series of frames, to emphasize significant events or actions. The uses are limited only by your imagination. 3. Thawed Frame: To create this effect, you start with a freeze frame, then dissolve into the film clip. It can start an action or transition between scenes, and suggests a coming to life And there you have the editing basics. This is hardly exhaustive, but master these techniques and you will be well on your way to creating exciting films!

Works Consulted: “ Graphic Match.”The Art of the Guillotine. 2009. http://www.artoftheguillotine.com/graphicmatch.html (Website) Boggs, Joseph and Petrie, Dennis. The Art of Watching Films (7th ed). New York: McGraw Hill, 2008 Chandler, Gale. Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video. Studio City, CA:Michael Wise Productions, 2004. Van Sijll, Jennifer. Cinematic Storytelling. Studio City, CA:Michael Wise Productions, 2005 “Part 4: Editing”. Film Analysis Website 2.0. Yale Film Studies. Yale University, 2002. http://classes.yale.edu/film-analysis/htmfiles/editing.htm (Website)

Creative Commons License: Jeri Hurd

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