The cinematographer, editor, and director work together to create a seamless experience within watching a film. There are certain cuts that can jar an audience out of this experience and make them aware they are watching a movie. One of these cuts is referred to as a jump cut. While many advise against using jump cuts in film, there are ways you can implement them effectively to tell the best story possible.
Watch: What is a Jump Cut — 5 Techniques Explained
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Jump Cut Definition
Jump cuts in film explained
Like a match cut, a jump cut transition can be an effective film editing technique to portray a skip in time. When used properly, it can best help you tell the story you want to tell. We'll start with a jump cut definition before moving onto some creative ways filmmakers like Spielberg and Guy Ritchie use them.
JUMP CUT DEFINITION
What is a jump cut?
A jump cut is when a single shot is broken with a cut that makes the subject appear to jump instantly forward in time. Whereas most editing techniques are designed to "hide" the edit, a jump cut is a stylistic choice that makes the edit completely visible.
Some filmmakers believe jump cuts are inherently bad because they call attention to the constructed and edited nature of the film. They are seen as a violation to typical continuity editing, which seeks to give a seamless appearance of time and space to the story.
A jump cut differs from a match cut in that the latter aims to create a seamless transition between two separate scenes. The usual goal of a match cut is to draw a metaphorical comparison between two different objects, subjects, or settings.
How to use jump cuts in film:
- In a montage
- To amplify tension
- When introducing characters
- To accent mental states
- In documentary interviews
Jump Cut Editing
Where did the jump cut come from?
The jump cut has been around since the birth of cinema. No jump cut definition would be complete without mentioning one filmmaker in particular. Georges Méliès utilized the technique to create the illusion of magic occurring on-screen. As a magician, Méliès took full advantage of this technique to create some striking and memorable "trick shots."
The extent to which Méliès experimented with editing techniques, like what would later call the jump cut, basically makes the Father of Special Effects in filmmaking. If you don't know his story, take 10 minutes to watch this video:
What Méliès was doing with jump cuts is perfect from a novelty perspective but how could filmmakers bring this technique naturally into narrative filmmaking? There were some radical editing techniques collectively known as Soviet Montage happening in Russia, but Hollywood was a different story entirely.
With the rise of the Studio System in Hollywood during the 1920s to the 1950s, the prevailing approach to filmmaking valued "invisibility." Also known as Classical Hollywood Cinema, the goal was to "hide" the construction of the film. This, in theory, would allow the audience to immerse themselves into the film.
Shattering that illusion and reminding the audience they were watching a movie was essentially forbidden. That is, until the French New Wave came along and threw the rulebook out the window. Our jump cut definition would be incomplete without giving credit to the French.
Vivre La Révolution
Jump cuts and the French New WaveThe more contemporary use of the jump cut began with Jean-Luc Godard and his seminal 1960 film Breathless, undoubtedly one of the best French New Wave movies. On its surface, Breathless is a criminal love story but the expectations one has for such a story are dismantled, one-by-one.
Consider this early scene as we ride in a car with our two lead characters. The camera stays fixed on Patricia (Jean Seberg) but we jump cut multiple times to seemingly random and indeterminate points in the future.
Godard intentionally wanted to disrupt the "invisibility" valued so highly by Hollywood and French mainstream films. The cuts here create a jarring effect, which is obviously the intention. In today's standards, these jump cut examples don't seem that radical but, in 1960, they had a tremendous effect.
Modern Jump Cut Examples
How we use jump cuts today
While you can still see jump cuts in films every so often, the technique has seem an explosion of popularity on the internet. Largely popularized by vloggers and YouTubers, it is almost a guarantee that you'll see jump cut examples in the best YouTube channels.
Jump cuts in vlogs have become so ubiquitous, you probably don't even notice them anymore. Here's a quick explanation of how this type of editing works in vlogs and the 4 strategies you can use to master them.
You can find plenty of YouTubers who have entire videos of them just talking into the camera. The camera cuts, indicating either a different train of thought or forward leap in a story, but the vlogger is in the same position as before.
When it comes down to editing together shots, the ultimate goal should be conveying what is most important. Therefore, knowing how to jump cut well is a vital skill that can help you make the best film possible.
In the next section, we’re going to dive into a few examples of the best jump cuts in film, so you can get a better sense of what you can do in your own projects.
Jump Cut Examples
Use jump cuts in a montage
Schindler’s List (1993) is one of Steven Spielberg's best films. It follows Oskar Schindler, a businessman who saved over one thousand Polish-Jewish refugees from the Holocaust by employing them in his factories.
There’s one moment in the film that employs jump cuts, and it’s used in a way you may not expect from such a film. It's essentially a playful, comedic montage in the middle of a somber Holocaust drama.
There are two reasons why jump cuts are the appropriate choice for this scene. First, they convey the passage of time. Schindler meets with numerous women while his office is being painted. Like any montage, we can move quickly through the process efficiently but that's just a practical consideration.
Secondly, the use of these cuts here is meant to be humorous. The women clearly don’t know how to type well, and by showing them in this consecutive manner, it provides a moment of levity in an otherwise dark film — a reprieve while simultaneously moving the plot forward.
Make jump cuts amplify the tension
In Run Lola Run (1998), we see a much different application of the jump cut. After her boyfriend loses 100,000 marks he was supposed to deliver to a crime boss, Lola needs to find a way to secure the money in just 20 minutes to save his life.
In this scene, Lola panics, considering any and all possibilities for how she can help get the money. Pay attention around 33 seconds into the clip when we see jump cut examples as Lola racks her brain.
As the synopsis suggests, Run Lola Run is a fast-paced film with no time to waste. These cuts emphasize this fact, and they put us directly into Lola's mindset. She’s just received distressing news. She’s anxious and disoriented. Jump cut editing creates the same effect in the viewer.
Humans aren’t meant to process information in this way. The human eye wants to see smooth, continuous movements, so the jump cut goes against that aesthetic. While many films want to avoid this effect, it works perfectly here. The editing creates a mood in the audience, making it the preferable technique over more standard shots and edits.
JUMP CUT EXAMPLE
Apply jump cuts to introduce characters
The title sequence contains numerous jump cuts as well as various other stylistic flourishes. The entire sequence lasts less than 90 seconds, and in that span of time, Ritchie needs to convey a lot of information.
Introducing a character in a script takes effort but Ritchie found an efficient way to accomplish this with editing. His task it to introduce us to 12 characters, each of which has a distinct personality and goal. To speed things up, Ritchie employs these cuts to fast forward through time and build real narrative momentum.
The clearest example of a jump cut in the sequence is with the introduction of Mickey (Brad Pitt). He receives a wad of cash, and his cohort tries to touch it. Mickey slaps his hand a couple of times with a jump cut in between and the audience receives all of the information they need about this person within the span of a few seconds. Coincidentally, this is also one of Brad Pitt's best performances.
This jump cut scene serves a dual purpose. The rest of the film will be fast and kinetic. The use of jump cuts in the opening lets the audience know precisely what kind of film they are watching and that they should be prepared to strap in for the ride.
Jump Cut Editing
Accent mental states with jump cuts
One of the most surprising and affective moments in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) is when Ritchie (Luke Wilson) attempts suicide. Leading up to this moment, he proceeds to cut his hair and shave his beard. During this somber scene, we jump cut numerous times.
On the surface, it might seem like simply a practical choice — compressing time and moving quickly through the process. But consider the emotional effects as you watch the scene.
Jump cuts in film are usually used to create excitement or energy but, in this case, they become a poetic way to visualize sadness. Wes Anderson did not need to show Richie cutting his hair. It is clearly a choice on Anderson's part to share an extremely intimate moment with this character at his lowest point. The jump cuts serve as a visual representation of Ritchie's unstable and fragmented emotional state.
The axial cut — a similar jump cut trick
There is a sub-type of the jump cut that has a similar effect but the execution is a bit different. Whereas a jump cut skips ahead in time within a shot, the axial cut simply jumps the perspective of the camera without skipping time.
In other words, from the same camera angle the cuts would instantly adjust the focal length, either longer or shorter. In layman's terms, the subject in the image gets larger or smaller in the frame with each cut. Axial cuts function very similar to a zoom shot but without the gradual change — the changes here are abrupt and jarring.
For example, here's a moment of panic in E.T. when Elliott and friends are evading the authorities. The axial cuts land at 1:04 in this clip.
Alfred Hitchcock was also a fan of this technique, using the jarring and disruptive axial cut in moments of sheer terror. If you watch the infamous shower scene in Psycho, as soon as Marion turns to face her killer, the shots cut closer and closer to her screaming mouth.
There's also this scene from The Birds when Lydia discovers her father's body after the latest deadly attack. Skip to about 0:55 in this clip for the axial cuts.
Hitchcock was always searching for new ways to give the audience an experience that matched that of the characters (see also: the above mentioned shower scene & the "Hitchcock zoom" in Vertigo). In this moment, the shocking discovery is given an equally shocking presentation as the axial cuts bring us closer and closer to death.
Match cuts and creative transitions
Most filmmakers will find that using a variety of editing techniques can have a profound impact on their final product. It is vital to understand different types of cuts in film, which is why you should be aware of all your options when it comes to transitions. The match cut is an excellent way to give your shots added depth and meaning — and we'll explain why they work so well with the best examples we've ever seen.