In this video tutorial, check out some of the basic cuts every editor should know before tackling their next video project.
Top image via fedota1.
Whether you’re editing on Premiere, Final Cut Pro X, Resolve, or Avid, there are few editing decisions you can make that benefit your story in important ways. These are ways to tell a story, not technical details for specific software. These are fundamental storytelling techniques that will help your project find its voice and make it stand out from the crowd. Let’s take a look at the must-know cuts every editor needs to know.
So, just like it sounds, this is just two clips placed next to each other. Think of it as “shot, reaction shot.” It’s simply the end of one scene and the beginning of another. There’s not much added meaning here, but it’s important to know when a cut like this can be useful — or even necessary. If you’re cutting a commercial or a corporate video, you’ll most likely just be conveying basic information in a very structured way without any flare or fuss. To stay safe, stick with the standard.
The jump cut offers a fast and entertaining way to keep your audience hooked. The technique is simple: take a long clip (long take) and cut it up, letting your characters jump around in time. It’s a jarring sight, but thanks to comedies and YouTube vloggers, the jump cut has been engrained into our collective subconscious as a viable way to speed up a scene. You just simply cut out small parts in the clip and throw on a music track.
The J-cut is an absolute must-use edit. Just drag the following clip on top of your current clip. The idea here is to lead your audience into the next shot with the audio. It’s a simple-yet-obvious effect that will make a world of difference when you actually see and hear it in action. A big proponent of this effect is Edgar Wright. His films are literally filled to the brim with it.
Exactly like the J-cut, the L-cut drags the current clip’s audio into the next shot. This effect is the opposite of the L-cut but has a much different effect on how people hear and see your scenes play out. As two characters talk, it’s important to have audio that blends the two shots together. You can use the L-cut or the J-cut, but make sure the audio blends your clips together. It’s a good way for the dialogue and action to appear natural.
Cutting on Action
Perhaps the most significant and well-known cut is “cutting on action.” So what is it? It’s just that: cutting in the middle of a character performing some type of action, such as moving, turning their head, kicking, jumping, running, etc. It’s just a seamless way to take the audience’s eyes from one shot to another without realizing there was ever a cut. This cut is only possible if you have sufficient shot coverage, including wide, close, and medium shots. This will give you more to work with when you’re editing.
While it seems harder than it is, cross-cutting is a perfect way to tell two stories at the same time. Usually, these two narratives are playing out at the same time, so you will cut between them both. The technique is as simple as showing one character doing something, then cutting to another character in another location doing something else, then cutting back to the first character. Perfecting the timing and narrative “play clock” can be difficult, but it’s a good way to tell two stories at once. The point of cross-cutting is to build suspense and create a sense of scope — a world big enough worth watching.
Serving more as filler than anything else, cutaways are just inserts into a scene that help the viewer understand the characters’ environment. You can do this by pulling from B-roll on location. Cutaways can be wides, close-ups, or medium shots — just make sure you don’t cut away in the middle of an important line or moment.
A cinematic staple, the montage has appeared in some of the greatest action films, comedies, and even horror movies. The montage shows the passage of time and captures character development in the smoothest way possible.
You can create a montage in a number of different ways. Whereas the jump cut depends on location and scene, the montage is a sequence. Slap a catchy song over footage of your characters attempting to accomplish a goal. Chop it up, keep it at the right length, and you’ve got a successful montage.
Perhaps the most visually arresting cut, the match cut lets you to transport the viewer’s eyes into the next shot before they realized that it’s happened. The idea is simple: you cut as your character is moving or doing something, and finish the movement in another place or with another character in the next shot. This creates a fluid movement that keeps your audience’s eyes moving in whichever direction you want.
For more on editing tips and tricks, check out some of our past coverage here: