February 18, 2017

Watch: 4 Things All Great Edits Have in Common

What exactly does a good cut look like?

If you asked Oscar-winning editor Walter Murch what a good cut is, he'd explain that it would satisfy all six elements of his famous "Rule of Six" all at once: emotion, story, rhythm, eye trace, 2D plane of screen, and 3D space. If that totally went over your head just now, don't worry—you're not alone. If you're not quite there with your editing education, perhaps this video from Sareesh Sudhakaran of wolfcrow will simplify these concepts into four necessary requirements for all good edits.

According to Sudhakaran, a good cut must contain the following four elements:

  • A preceding shot that ends at the right moment
  • A succeeding shot that begins at the right moment
  • A transition that acts as the best bridge between the two shots
  • Context that works within the rest of the film

Editing can be difficult to talk about because these theories and requirements can cause one to overthink even the most simple, straightforward cut. For example, do you really need to think long and hard about whether the cuts you're making on an over-the-shoulder dialogue scene is working within the context of your entire film? I mean, not entirely, though you'd definitely need to ensure that you're cutting at the right moments of the preceding and succeeding shot. It's easy to overthink a simple edit and try to attach meaning to every one, but some (most?) edits are mostly maintenance—getting from point A to point B in the best, most efficient way possible.

Editor Ray Lovejoy's famous match cut in Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey'Credit: Müenster

The trick is locating places where an edit can be used to enhance your story and then making the most of those opportunities. There are plenty of films with memorable cuts that are definitely worth studying to get an idea of what these kinds of edits look like and how they serve their stories. Sudhakaran's top 10 list of edits in films is a great place to start:

  • Raging Bull: The Final Fight
  • Seven Samurai: The Kurosawa Wipe
  • Battleship Potemkin: The Odessa Steps
  • Breathless: The Jump Cut
  • Requiem for a Dream/Don't Look Now: The Montage
  • Citizen Kane: The Breakfast After
  • Nosferatu: The Dissolve
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The Mathematical Edit
  • Psycho: The Shower Scene
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: The Cut

What are some of your favorite edits in movies? What do you think a good cut is? Let us know down in the comments.     

Your Comment


I completely disagree about the Lawrence of Arabia cut. Just because it's a match cut (ha!) you think it's an unmotivated gimmick?
It may not be one of the top 10 edits in cinema history, but think about this: Lawrence does the match trick. In another scene, another character tries it, and cries out in pain when he is burned. "It hurts!" he says. Lawrence tells him that the trick is to not *mind* that it hurts.
This is symbolic of not only his character, but a foreshadowing for the rest of the film.
When the edit cuts from the match to the burning landscape, we are shown that Lawrence's trick to mastering the metaphorical fires of the desert empire is not minding that it hurts. Approaching his adventures with that mind, he is able to hold the desert sun in the palm of his hand. And the whole kingdom chants his name.

March 1, 2017 at 10:20PM


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August 10, 2018 at 9:41AM