What Are Cutaway Shots and How Will They Help Your Edit?

Cutaway shots are incredibly useful for directors and editors. Let's find out why they are so important. 

Have you ever been in the edit bay and wished you had something to cut to in order to save a scene? Anything to highlight a plot clue, an emotion, or hide a take that doesn't cut together well. 

When you're shooting a scene, you have an entire shot list there to follow, which (hopefully) includes wide, medium, close, and sometimes insert shots, but what about cutaway shots? What are they and how can they help the editor save a scene later? 

Today I want to go over the idea of a cutaway shot, the definition, and look at a few examples. 

Let's go. 

What Are Cutaway Shots and How Will They Help Your Edit?

Cutaway shot definition

A cutaway shot is the interruption of a continuous shot by inserting a shot of something else. Usually, you then cut back to the first shot. These can be done within the same scene, cuts to other scenes, or even as one continuous shot as the camera pans across to something else. 

Cutaway shot uses 

Cutaway shots are used to adjust the pace of a scene. They can also be used to delete some unwanted parts of the main shot or join two takes of the same scene that do not seamlessly integrate. You can use this to add to the tone or even shift into a voiceover.

It expands the point of view and can be a director and editor's secret weapon. 

Cutaway shot examples in film and TV

The most famous cutaway examples come from the TV show Family Guy. the entire show is built around jokes they cut away to, that usually involve celebrities or insane situations that you would not normally see. 

They're hilarious and subverted the traditional medium when the show was released. 

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbnf2vQAqGs

Another use of cutaway shots in movies comes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

It's also one of my most favorite scenes in cinema history. In it, Indy tells the Nazis that Marcus Brody is on his way to getting the grail. We see Indy's confidence in Marcus and Spielberg uses it to lure us into believing his story. 

Then we cutaway to Brody being completely lost. It's hilarious and gives us time to transition out of their interrogation without boring character entrances and exits. 

Finally, cutaways can be used to stitch a scene together while changing shots in between. Check out this scene in Gravity. Sandra Bullock's character is hurtling toward Earth, and then we cut away to her hand struggling to touch a crucial button, as well as to the debris outside the capsule burning up. 

It's loaded with examples of when and why to use a cutaway shot. 

Comedy, tension, and information all on display. 

What's next? 50+ Camera movements, angles, and shots

Have you ever been overwhelmed at the possibility of every camera angle, framing, and shot type available as a filmmaker? Us too. So we provided a cheat sheet with definitions for you! 

Click for more.      

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