Types of Film Cuts
As film technology continues to improve (and shrink), It’s never been easier to go out and shoot a film. Anyone with a smartphone has the makings of a complete movie studio in the palm of their hand. YouTube, TikTok, and other social media platforms give auteurs and amateurs alike the ability to shoot, edit types of film cuts, and distribute their finished products in no time at all.
But even the shortest videos employ some type of film cut. Tik Tokkers use hard cuts to great effect in their efforts while feature films have a wide variety of cuts at their disposal. Used to end scenes, create frenetic action during a scene, show the passage of time, and more, employing film cuts are a necessary skill for any director or film editor.
Types of Film Cuts
Depending on the scene you’re trying to set, the following cuts will help set the scene. You’ll probably recognize many of these types of film cuts, even if you don’t really pay attention to them while watching a movie. And that’s kind of the point: Film and television show creators edit cuts to make scenes transition as smooth as possible–until it’s time to make a splash.
- Hard Cut
- Jump Cut
- Matching Action Cut
- Split Cuts
- Dynamic Cuts
- Cross Cut
Video editing in post-production can make all the difference in creating the right feel or mood for your movie. Done right, you can play with the audience’s emotions, pulling them in one direction or another. Done wrong, and you may just simply confuse them, although the best video editors may employ the “incorrect” type of film cut to great effect.
The standard cut when it comes to making films. Whether it’s cutting from the end of the opening credits, moving from one scene to another, or closing the film, a hard cut is just that. There’s action on the screen, and when that scene is over, the screen immediately goes black and the next scene starts.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a feature that doesn’t use a hard cut several times during its playing time. Even Rope, a film by Alfred Hitchcock that was famously shot in one take, uses a few types of film cuts during the movie. These were usually handled by the back of an actor obscuring the camera (dissolve or invisible cut) or by an actual hard cut to go to another actor on screen.
A device used to show the passage of time, jump cuts are a staple of filmmaking. Whether the main character is planning a bank heist or getting ready for the big match, jump cuts allow filmmakers to show a sense of urgency or condense time. It can be as simple as removing a few frames from the middle of a shot or splicing in different camera angles for the same shot.
If not for the jump cut, Guy Ritchie films would have a much different feel. Think of Benecio del Toro and his crew knocking over a jewel exchange (Snatch) or the suspenseful game of three-card brag (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels). Shots from the same scene are spliced together to create even more stress.
Jump cuts aren’t necessarily confined to a single location or space in time. No sports movie would be complete with a montage, condensing days or weeks of training into a few minutes. Rocky Balboa punching sides of beef to running the streets of Philadelphia, jump cuts show his rapidly improving stamina, strength, and skill.
Matching Action Cut
When a character kicks open a door (or simply just turns the doorknob to gain entry) and the camera switches from one side of the door to the other, this is a matching action type of film cut or cutting on action. It’s the same scene, but transitioning from one viewpoint to another.
An iconic example of this occurs in The Shining when Jack Nicholson is using an ax to break down a door to get at Shelly Duvall. On the outside of the door, we see Nicholson swinging the ax and then see the blade breaking through on the inside of the door.
A match cut can also be used to convey the passage of time. In Frozen, Anna sings Do You Want to Build a Snowman to Elsa and we see her age throughout the song. This is a good way to show the ravages of time as well: Imagine a bustling downtown street from the 50s that fast forwards to a rundown ghetto of the present day (whenever that may be).
This editing technique involves transitioning between scenes where the audio and video don’t track for a few seconds. This is more than narration when a character just talks over the action on the screen as part of the scene. These transitions are used to end one scene and lead into the next.
J Cuts and L Cuts are used depending on which part of the movie transitions first–audio or video. A J cut is when the video comes first while the audio from the previous scene is still being heard. Think of someone telling a story, and as they say, “I remember it being a sunny day….” the scene transitions to a wide shot of a field on a sunny day.
In an L cut, the audio is heard before the video catches up. At the start of this clip from Wolf of Wall Street, the audio of one scene is layered over the top of the preceding scene. The infamous humming of Matthew McConaughey at lunch can be heard over the “hum” of the brokerage office in the prior scene.
Remember at the start where we talked about how many cuts are used to create seamless transitions in most cases? Dynamic cuts are used to do just the opposite, creating jarring movement from one scene or action to another. These are very abrupt, obvious cuts meant to shake the viewer up.
In Cloud Atlas, a montage using dynamic cuts shows characters and times and situations interspersed throughout a few minutes of film time. From a beach to a highway to an office den to an apartment to a futuristic holding cell of some sort. Although the movie was met with mixed reviews, dynamic cuts were used to help intertwine the storylines.
This type of film cut is also known as parallel editing, where two or more locations or scenes are shown at the same time, interspersed with one another. This type of editing lets the viewer see multiple scenes at the same moment of time. Think about the hero racing to save someone from a bomb as the clock ticks closer to zero.
In Ocean’s 11, Brad Pitt walks Andy Garcia through the casino heist as it happens. While the scene also employs past actions, the camera alternates between their conversation and the actions on the casino floor at the same time. Although, really, Danny Ocean and the crew are always one step ahead.
When it comes to film editing, having a working knowledge of these and other types of film cuts (smash cuts, cutaway cuts, etc.) allows the editor to take both technical and creative control of a movie. Taking guidance from the director, a film editor can take their vision and bring it to life.