Language of Editing: Basic Cuts

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]