Film cuts are some of the most important elements in all of filmmaking. But what are the different types of cuts in film? And how are they used by editors to create seamless, jarring, or disruptive flows? We’re going to explain the different types of cuts in film with examples from iconic films. By the end, you’ll know why film cuts are important, and how to implement them in your own projects.
Watch: The Shot List Ep. 9 — Scene Transitions
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Cut Film Definition
First, let’s define cut in film
Cuts are used in film to bring us from one image to the next. Unlike dissolves, cuts are instantaneous transitions; so as to say they don’t occur gradually. This next video from Folding Ideas does a great job of examining basic cuts. If you’re new to video editing, definitely give it a watch.
I’d say my biggest takeaway from the Folding Ideas video is that cuts aren’t just a technical aspect of filmmaking — they’re a creative aspect too. Before we jump into our film cut examples, let’s quickly define the term “film cut.”
CUT DEFINITION FILM
What is a film cut?
A film cut is an instantaneous editing transition. Quite simply, a film cut serves to transition directly from one shot to the next, or one scene to the next. There are many different types of cuts in film — some conceptual and some narrative — but they’re all technical and all defined by direct splicing between images.
Types of Cuts in Film
- Basic Cut
- J Cut & L Cut
- Jump Cut
- Match Cut
Cut Transitions and Edits
Reviewing the different types of film cuts
There are a lot of different types of cuts in film, each with their own standard usage and storytelling value. Of course, all rules (especially in filmmaking) are meant to be broken. Here are some of the most popular types of cuts and what they mean in film language:
The basic cut — sometimes referred to as a hard cut, straight cut in film, or simply “cut” — is when we transition between two shots (audio and video) with no crazy emphasis. For more on basic cuts, check out our video on “shot reverse shot” below.
As we saw from the examples in the video, the basic cut is the foundation for nearly every edited scene. It is also the fundamental technique used in shot-reverse shot. Shot reverse shot coverage usually utilizes a ton of basic cuts. It goes something like this:
- Reverse Shot
- Back to 1
My advice for understanding basic cuts is this: don’t overthink it. Basic cuts are just instantaneous transitions from shot to shot.
That being said, when you cut and what you cut to are entirely different considerations. This is how pacing, performance, and continuity are shaped in editing — what you've probably heard referred to as the final re-write.
J CUT & L CUT
J Cuts and L Cuts are audio/video transitions that are defined by trailing audio or video.
A J cut is when the sound of a shot or scene plays before the next shot does. In other words, it’s when the video trails the audio.
L cuts are when the sound of a shot or scene transitions over to the next shot even though it no longer matches the video. Oftentimes, it’s when the audio trails the video.
Want to learn how to use J cuts and L cuts in Adobe Premiere Pro? If the answer is yes, check out the video from Motion Array below.
J cuts and L cuts are incredibly useful transitions — and they’re easy to implement in the Post-production Process. These related techniques have a number of storytelling advantages, primarily as a way to smooth out the transition.
Switching from one scene to the next can be somewhat disruptive to the audience. To combat this, overlapping either the video or the audio helps bridge the gap.
Cut-ins are often referred to as insert shots (especially in screenwriting). Want to learn how master filmmakers use cut-ins? Check out our video on “How the Coen Brothers Shoot Insert Shots” below.
Essentially, cut-ins are when we cut from a shot into a closer element of that same shot. For example: say we have a wide shot of a character holding a book. If we want to emphasize what the character is reading, we may cut-in to a shot of the book's cover.
Jump cuts are “attention seeking” edits. They’re defined by quick, jarring transitions from shot to shot. This scene from The Royal Tenenbaums contains a ton of jump cuts. Watch the scene and pay attention to how time is fragmented, perfectly matching Richie's fragmented emotional state.
Match-cuts are cuts that take visual, narrative, or symbolic compositions and transition them to a different frame. There are a lot of different subtypes of match-cuts. If you want to learn more about all of the different kinds, check out our video below.
Match-cuts are definitely overt cuts — but they’re great for generating seamless flow. It may seem like an oxymoron to say that a cut that calls attention to itself can create something seamless; but it can.
Cutaways are often more philosophical than technical. For example: short flashbacks are often structured around cutaways. The point of a cutaway is to either transport us to another place/time or to emphasize something extremely important in a live-setting.
Want to see some cutaways in action? If the answer is yes, check out the video from Fandor below.
Cutaways often require some planning in advance. Just keep that in mind when planning your next video’s production.
Cut Film Transitions in Action
How to use cuts in film
Now that we’ve reviewed some of the different types of film cuts, let’s break down how we can apply them. Film cuts are called “cuts” because historically, an editor would quite literally cut in between pieces of film, then splice other pieces together to create new shots. If you’d like to learn more about this process, and how it led to the birth of continuity editing, check out the video from Filmmaker IQ below.
Nowadays, digital editors are easily able to “cut” between shots by dragging and dropping clips against each other in the timeline. Just remember: cuts are instantaneous transitions; you don’t need to apply any effect to cut between shots.
Cross-cutting & parallel editing
Cuts are just one part of understanding the language of film editing. Parallel editing is another important term to know – but what is parallel editing in film? In our next article, we’ll explain parallel editing with examples from Rocky, Inception, and more. By the end, you'll know what parallel editing is and how to implement it in your own films.