Match Cuts - Creative Types of Cuts - Planning, Shooting and Cutting on Action like a Pro - StudioBinder

Everyone loves to see a great scene transition, but how do you connect scenes in a cinematic manner? Consider using a match cut.

In today’s post, we’re going to break down match cuts so that you not only understand how to create them but also why they are so much more effective than a normal scene transition.

Film Editing Techniques: How Match Cut Effectively

FILM EDITING TECHNIQUES

1. Match cut basics

Match cuts have been involved in arguably the greatest moments in cinema, and in some cases they are the greatest moments in cinema.

Images and sounds can carry subtext. The same goes for your transitions.

So what exactly is a match cut?

MATCH CUT DEFINITION

What is a match cut?

A match cut is any transition, audio or video, that uses the elements from the previous scene to fluidly bring the viewer through to the next scene, and they have the ability to do so with both impact, and subtext. They differ from regular cuts because they imply a deep sense of connection between two separate events or concepts.

What are the different types of match cuts?

  • Graphic Match Cuts - Where shapes and imagery are matched.
  • Movement Match Cuts - Where movement is matched.
  • Audio Match Cuts - Where sounds are matched.

GRAPHIC MATCH CUT EXAMPLES

2. Graphic match cuts

Graphic match cuts can be used as visual metaphors.

They imply that the objects are one-in-the-same, and they do this through a visible transformation.

You can also use graphic match cuts for a seamless passage of time.

It can be with a dissolve…

Or a straight cut.

How much time has actually passed will help you decide how you go about one of these cuts, but it’s all about the feeling you want to create.

You can graphic match cut across multiple transitions, allowing a single physical object to act as a visual throughline for your scene.

Watch below as Citizen Kane does this multiple times in the opening scene, and the entire sequence ends with a perfect graphic match cut.

Watch how the light from Kane’s room stays in the exact same spot until the end of the scene, constantly begging you to ask “What’s up there?”.

Graphic Match Cuts | Citizen Kane

Take a look at our Citizen Kane shot list below.

Make sure to adjust the layout in the top left hand corner to find your favorite view preference, and take note of the pink note strips we created to remind the director of a needed match cut:

To be able to do these types of cuts effectively, you will want to establish the aspect ratio in your shot list and mark specific points within your frame on a reference image or even better on your storyboard.

This will help you line up your imagery from scene to scene.

Remember though, that while these scenes line-up in a narrative sense, they seldom will line up with your shoot days.

In some cases these separate shoot dates will be weeks apart, and you may film the end of your transition first because your schedule called for it.

Regardless, make sure to add a note strip with a predetermined color allocated to any transition notes. Then place these note strips at either end of your shot lists to remind you that this scene uses a match cut.

If you’ve already recorded one leg of your transition, use a screenshot from your dailies as a reference photo to so as to ensure a smooth cut.

With graphic match cuts, this needs to be as precise as possible because you have a much smaller margin of error compared to a movement match cut, and less overall control compared to an audio match cut.

You will also want to use a similar lens focal length, and in some cases similar depth of field so that you may match more effectively.

If you are cutting from an extreme wide shot of a planet to an extreme close-up of an eyeball, you may be forced to use a different lens.

That’s fine of course, but just make sure that your imagery size and shape are as similar as possible.

MOVEMENT MATCH CUT EXAMPLES

3. Movement Match Cuts

When you use a Movement match cut, it draws a direct connection between the actions within both scenes.

Functionally, movement is action, and it’s easier to connect two scenes that are strung together by a quick transition.

Story-wise, movement match cuts generate a narrative momentum that highlight the physical connections between two scenes.

How does this action…

Lead to that action.

A more specific movement match cut is known as a pass-by effect. This is where an object passes in front of the camera to reveal another location.

They require careful consideration during pre-production, because you’ll need to plan out how these objects obscure our view, and transition the scenes. 

The more closely matched your lighting and coloring, the more seamless this transition will be in the edit.

Check out this shot list to see how to plan a movement match cut.

Make sure to select the layout drop down in the upper left hand corner to see which view style you prefer.

The same preparation should be applied to movement match cut, and you should consider the speed of any camera movement you use.

I prefer to use a 1-10 scale for better accuracy.

“Camera Pans Left + Speed Level: 6”

Movement match cuts are really effective with high-energy sequences. They can push a story forward, and connect the physical actions within your story.

AUDIO MATCH CUT EXAMPLES

4. Audio Match Cuts

Audio Match Cuts are where you transition a scene through the use of similar sound design within each scene.

But it’s all about how you use your Audio Match cut…

If actions in your A-scene cause the outcome in your B-scene an audio match cut will help illustrate that connection.

Here is an example from The Matrix. We attribute the night at the club directly to Neo being late for work.

Audio Match Cut | The Matrix

It’s an audio overlap, but an overlap that matches, and has a direct connection to the what is playing out on the screen. It sets up the next scene perfectly. 

If there is a deeper relationship between these scenes, your audio match cut will emphasize the emotional connection, and take the viewer on an experience.

In this scene from Apocalypse Now, we hear a helicopter, but we cut to find a ceiling fan in a hotel room.

Audio Match Cut | Apocalypse Now

It makes you think about how, when soldiers come home, they bring the memories with them.

The easiest way to do an audio match cut is to mark the sound design from both scenes in your shot list, and find corresponding sound origins.

If they are long developing sounds, have your B-scene audio replace a specific object in your A-scene, and overlap the sounds to bring the B-scene in smoothly.

This gives you a clean, and constant sound transition.

The audio for a “babbling brook” is replaced with “a brew of coffee” and we can safely transition from a forest…. to an apartment miles away.

or...

The audio for a “seat belt alarm” is replaced with a “heart monitor”, and we now know that the unsecured motorist crashed and is now in the hospital.

If it is quick and jarring, you can either combine the audio together, cut at the transition, or just replace it entirely with the sound you prefer.

It will be based on your preference, so try all three.

This scene in Munich is bookended by both visual and audio match cuts.

Match Cuts | Munich

In this scene, Avner has just heedlessly signed his life away to the Mossad... I mean not the Mossad.

He is an assassin, a ghost, his identity gone with the wind.

Check out this shot list to see how to plan an audio match cut.

Make sure to select the layout drop down in the upper left hand corner to see which view style you prefer.

You can use audio match cuts in conjunction with graphic and movement match cuts to supercharge their effect.

How does this sound…

Relate to that sound?

But it also gives you  the option to create some narrative sleight of hand.

How does this sound…

Lead to that sound?

UP NEXT

How to Make the Perfect Shot List

Now that you understand match cuts, it’s time for you to plan out some of your own. Check out our post on How to Make a Shot List Using StudioBinder’s Shot List Software where you can sign up for free, and build a shot list that has graphic, movement, and audio match cuts.

That way you will have precise control over your visuals, and accurately communicate your creative goals so that you get what you need on set.

UP NEXT: Make a Shot List →
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