Shortcut: Editing Films (pp. 252-254)

The screenwriter Christine Morris is showing Tommy how film editing works.

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The first thing she shows him is a few clips of a car driving towards the camera, filmed at slightly different angles. Each time there is a cut from one angle to another, the car seems to jump.

Christine explains that this is called a jump cut. The problem is that the two clips are too similar to one another. If you are cutting from one image to another, the two images should be clearly different from one another. Cutting from an image of a car filmed from the front to an image of the same car filmed from the side is OK.

That is a problem when you edit an interview. Everything is filmed from the same angle, but the person you are is not sitting perfectly still. If you need to cut from one part of the interview to another, you will get a jump cut. To avoid this, editors will often insert a completely different image.

Decorations may be a problem when shooting the same scene from several different angles. If there are any decorations, like flowerpots, in front of or behind the person you are filming, you may find these decorations in different parts of the image when cutting from one camera angle to another. The result is that the decorations will seem to jump about in the image.

Sound may be used to mask a cut. If you cut the sound from one scene to another before you cut the image, you will prepare the viewer for the cut.

Cutting may be used to speed up things. If a person crosses a big room, you do not need to show all of it.

Finally, cutting may be used to slow things down. You may want a dramatic scene to last longer. Imagine a gunfight from a western movie. You cut from a shot showing both gunmen to a close-up of the hero’s face, then to a close-up of the villain’s face. Next you cut to a close-up of a woman’s face in the crowd, then back to both gunmen. The next image is a close-up of the hero’s gun. Then we see both gunmen drawing their guns, cut to a close-up of the woman screaming and finally to the villain falling mortally wounded. The final image shows the hero with a smoking gun in his hand. This sequence could last as much as three times longer in the movie than it would in real life. 

Shortcut activity

a  In your own words, explain what a jump cut is and how to avoid it.
b  Draw a scene where a decoration may cause problems to you if you film it from two different angles. Remember to show what the scene looks like from both angles.
c  In writing, plan a sequence where you use sound to mask a cut between two scenes.