You may hear the term “jump cut” used to describe an editing style that has become popular among YouTube producers in recent years. Having a single subject and camera angle suddenly switch positions or transition between sentences instantly rather than through fluid motion makes a video appear more active or lively. News vloggers use this method to transition between the story and their take, often to humorous effect.
The history behind jump cuts is actually a little different. The phrase originally referred to errors in editing where a person’s actions on screen changes instantly between shifts in camera position. For example, an actor in the middle of a sentence will appear with different hand or body positions from one camera to the next with no middle shot to break continuity. In this case, jump cuts are a bad thing.
What we refer to as jump cuts now are intentional and intended to make up for the single-camera style so many talking heads on YouTube use for their videos. Where multiple cameras might make for a better overall look, these quick snaps between time keep the content rolling at a quick pace to maintain viewer attention. Recently, we here at LockerGnome started implementing this technique to turn a 30 minute video into one that hovers around six. In order to reduce the length of the video and maintain an even pace, these quick cuts between setup and delivery are used.
What About Smooth Transitions?
Traditionally, single-camera shots that require editing would use transitions that blend two scenes together rather than through a straight cut, L cut, or a fade. Unless you have a something blocking the camera or wish to visually represent the passage of time, the use of anything other than what is referred to as a jump cut is difficult to pull off. A transition takes time on either side of the speaker’s statement. It’s intended for use between different cameras and can come off as rough or exceptionally jarring if used on a single subject / single angle shot.
Other Types of Cuts
The L cut is one of my favorite cuts to use during editing of a story. This involves two entirely different scenes with one scene including the subject speaking their lines and the other describing whatever it is they’re talking about. One example of an L cut (combined with a transition) can be found in Interview with the Vampire. Louis is beginning his story and you see him talking to a reporter. As he speaks, the scene transitions into a time and place of which he is speaking, all the while maintaining the same audio track from the interview. Over time, the audio switches entirely to the new scene.
Straight cuts are some of the most common ones you’ll find on television shows. Even sitcoms use straight cuts to move from one scene to the next, featuring a sound effect between the shots to ease the transition. Camera A goes to Camera B and time continues to pass exactly as it had before. You’ll find this most often when two characters are speaking and each has their own closeup shot.
Match cuts are some of my favorite creative transitions, and are used extensively in the move The Matrix. When you see a camera approach the television monitoring the interrogation between Agent Smith and Mr. Anderson, you’ll notice that the TV sort of becomes the scene, and the audience is only aware of the vanishing of the scan lines on the television itself. It’s a brilliant cut. You’ll also find these in musicals a lot as a character dances to the camera, covers it, and the scene changes or the main character is instantly transformed through clothing adjustments. Annie has a few scenes like this.
Keep the subject of the shot exactly the same, but cut between entirely different backgrounds and you have a form cut. Imagine just about any disaster movie where people in a bar are watching the news, glued to the television. The scene cuts between the bar and an office, then around to a family sitting around the living room. This cut is used to express a wide-reaching if not global significance of an occurrence in the story. It may also be used to demonstrate the passage of time around a stationary object.
There are potentially dozens of categories and sub-categories of cuts and fades in the video production industry, many of which are used to represent varying elements in the story or emotional states of the subject. Whether you’re watching a car chase or a sitcom, you’ll be surprised at just how many sudden jumps between shots happen in 30 seconds of video. Try counting cuts (not fades or transitions) in the next TV show you watch.