Cut in Video Editing
The cut is the most frequently used transition out of all the transitions considered here. It can be defined as an instantaneous change from one shot to another. When it is made at the correct moment, following as many of the positive edit elements as possible, it is not consciously noticed by the viewing audience. It is transparent. As a result, it is the one transition that the audience has grown to accept as a form of visual reality.
The term cut stems from the very beginnings of motion picture film. The actual strip of flexible plastic that contained the images in individual frames was physically cut, either with scissors or with a straight razor device. So the people who cut film strips were called cutters before they were called editors. Even though computer software is used by most people today to do film and video editing and not scissors, the expression still holds. An editor can be called a cutter and the act of editing a film can still be called cutting. Joining two shorter strips of film together, with either tape or glue, was the easiest, fastest, and cheapest way to make a transition. Hence it was used a great deal. Over the one hundred years since the origins of cinema, the cut has made its meaning pretty clear to all of us.
- The cut is most often used where:
- ● The action is continuous
- ● There needs to be a change of “ impact ”
- ● There is a change of information or locale
It is possible to make good cuts and not so good cuts. If you consider all six of the following elements when you are making the cut, you are much more likely to help yourself make a good edit.
- Information — The shot that is currently playing, shot one, has provided the audience with all the visual and aural information that it could provide. The editor then cuts to shot two to provide the ever-hungry audience with new information. Ideally, every shot in a program should offer some new information such as a large, establishing view of a location, a close-up detail of a computer screen, the sound of rain falling or a baby crying, etc.
- Motivation — There should always be a reason to make the cut. Something within shot one leads to the need to display shot two. It could be just a need to show new information. It could be a large faction within the frame. It could be as small as an actor’s slight eye movement. Perhaps there is a noise heard from within the film space but off-screen. As an editor progresses at his or her skill, the motivated cut-point choices may become easier to make. Time passing will even become a motivator for the cut. These amounts of time are generally not marked down in seconds or frames but take on more of a “ gut feeling ” unit of time known as a beat. The motivation for the cut’s timing could be based on this unknowable yet knowable beat or a feeling that it is now time to cut to something different.
- Composition — When you know how the current shot, shot one, will end you know what the composition of those frames will look like on the screen to the viewer. A good edit will also have shot two display an interesting yet different composition from shot one. If the two shots at the instantaneous cut are too similar in their composition, even though they are of totally different subject matter, it can appear as a visual “ jump cut ” to the audience. Using differences in composition at cut points forces the viewer to immediately engage their eyes and brain and search for the new information in the new shot. As long as they are not too confused by an overly busy composition in the new shot, the viewer does not even notice the actual cut as they get engrossed in experiencing the visual elements of this second shot.
- Camera angle — Each successive shot cut should be on a different camera angle from the last. A medium-long shot of two people talking in profile should be immediately followed by a single shot or an over-the-shoulder shot from somewhere else along the 180-degree arc. Punching into a tight medium two-shot from a similar angle on the talent would not be a good choice. This is sometimes called a cut-in or an axial edit. Focal length changes (wide, medium, close shots) may also be considered in new shot choices for this scene, but a cut would require an angle change to be most effective.
- Continuity — The continuous movement or action should be both evident and similarly matching in the two shots to be cut together. Since the cut is instantaneous, the fluid movement must be maintained across the cut. Human viewers are extremely attuned to discontinuities in action across cuts and they are easily detected and disliked.
- Sound — There should ideally be some form of sound continuity or sound development across the cut point. If a cut happens within footage from the same scene and location, then the ambiance should carry over across the cut. Audio levels should match the visuals ’ perspective on the screen. If you cut from one location or time to another, then immediate differences in sound type and volume are encouraged to keep the audience on their toes. These are sometimes called smash cuts.
In the perfect world, each cut would contain strong aspects of each of the above elements, but that scenario may not always be achievable. Your goal should be to watch for these elements in all of your footage, train your eyes and ears to pick up on them, and use them as appropriate during your edit process. The cut should be where you always start your assemble edit (what some people call the slop edit due to how quickly you should be able to just slop the selected takes together), and it is still the fastest way to work. When finely tuned, each cut in your fine-cut sequence should be unnoticed by anyone who watches the show. Straight cuts are widely accepted when they work and wildly distracting (jump cuts) when they do not. Develop your editing skillset around solid cuts and you will never go wrong. Play too much with the grammar of the cut and you may run into too many problems with your work.