June 25, 2019

3 Pillars of Editing: Cuts, Effects, and Motivation

It's not only important to know how to cut and apply effects but to also know why you should (or shouldn't).

There are only three kinds of cuts to make when editing. Obviously, there are derivatives of the three kinds of cuts, but for all of the flashy, flamboyant, and fun-filled films we watch with magnificent, magical, mind-blowing visuals, they all utilize the same baseline of three unbelievably simple kinds of edits.

The three basic cuts

Before you type your fingers into bloody nubs at the end of your palms in the comments section, I want to state that there are many ways to think of editing (sound, special effects, music, foley, offline,  etc). Right now, I'm just talking about editing film and video clips.

So what are the big three?

  • Straight cut: when the scene changes from one clip to another
  • L cut: when the second clip's visuals start before its audio
  • J cut: when the second clip's audio starts before its video

Go through literally any video in the world and look at how each clip in the video or film interacts with the following or previous one.

Everything else is an effect

You’ll see the fade in and fade out, which is an opacity effect added to either the front or back of a straight cut. You'll see the match cut, which is just a pre-planned straight cut that has matching or complimentary visuals on either side of it. 

You'll see montages, which are just series’ of images quickly cut together with a vast amount of straight cuts, typically followed by a long-awaited J cut, bringing us back into the story. You'll see whip pans which, again, are just exceptionally well-timed straight cuts that utilize a match cut, paired with matched camera movement. One of the greatest editing decisions in history, from the film Lawrence of Arabia, is a simple, uncomplicated straight cut, known as a jump cut, moving us to another point in time. 

Filmmaking and editing tactics like foreground obstruction, masking, strobing, vignetting, and much, much more are all, in their simplest form, effects and, in their best form, are planned during the shoot to compliment the edit. Even things like fades, dips, and burns are effects that are added on top of a cut.

Check out this video by PremiumBeat's Rubidium Wu that goes through some of these effects:

Motivation (why to cut…or why not to cut, for that matter)

The decision to edit should always be motivated by the story. Once you see that there is only an incredibly small set of cuts available, it allows you, as an editor, to focus on story and motivation. Think, "Why do we need to see this cup in the frame? Is it significant?" If the answer is, "I don't know, it never gets referenced in the rest of the film," then, as the editor, you probably don't need to cut away to see the prop. But, if there was a level of significance to the prop, then you would cut away (using either a J cut or an L cut, most likely) for a good reason.

Many people say that editing is the final re-write and I am most assuredly a member of that camp. I do know that there are an innumerable amount of tactics, practices, techniques, shortcuts, setups, and tricks that I haven't learned yet, but I still do believe that all of them owe their humble existence to these three ideas: basic cuts, effects, and motivation.

What are some of your favorite editing techniques? Leave a comment and let us know!

Your Comment

12 Comments

Looking at that timeline, I can say:
This was not a pro. This is a fuzzy puzzled edit. Terrible.

If you are a pro editor, you always know what you are going for and how to tell the story with the pictures. Look at the first 8 overlaying tracks which absolutely make no sense at all. Thoye guys at Premium Beat seems to be youngsters, thinking in only one direction: "oooh... let that look goooood - no... put in more colored chunks - oooh, we are so prooooo now with that".

*double-face-palm*

June 25, 2019 at 3:22PM, Edited June 25, 3:23PM

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JeffreyWalther
Steadicam Operator/Owner
1954

I have seen a variety of "pro" editors my day and many of them have very messy timelines till they clean them up. And 8 overlaying tracks is actually small for most films/programs...

June 26, 2019 at 11:32AM

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Kyle Dockum
Videographer and Editor
802

Ok. Youngsters.
Messy timeline = no concept, no idea, no plan, no experience.

So those have never worked for money, where time is money and you cannot place 8 alternative snippets onto a track without seeing it.

The pro way is:
Having a base cut telling the story on 1-3 tracks, then consolidtae it into 1 track and then after start replacing small portions with better alternatives.

This way saves you approx. 70% of your time. If you start pixel peeping and "oh.. maybe I use this... oh no... better this..?" before even your base cut has been done... you are lost! Especially, if you do edits on tight time schedules.

June 26, 2019 at 2:27PM

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JeffreyWalther
Steadicam Operator/Owner
1954

A lot of that stacking on the timeline could be adjustment layers, VFX, graphic files. Without seeing the video for that timeline it's hard to tell exactly. You're making a lot of assumptions based off an image with no context.

Pro-editors use 8+ video tracks all the time: https://jonnyelwyn.co.uk/film-and-video-editing/inside-professional-edit...

I do agree a base cut is helpful. Also making a new timeline for each revision of an edit is smart so that if you need to reference or revert back to an older cut you can do so easily.

June 28, 2019 at 2:45PM

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Alex Everingham
Video Editor
641

Sometimes there's just no perfect image. The folks over at PremiumBeat definitely have a lot of content to pull from but it's never perfect. Hope you liked the article, though! I certainly think that it's a controversial way to think about editing but I do see the value in the perspective. Cheers!

June 26, 2019 at 11:33AM

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Nick Friend
Freelance Technical Editor

Take a look at the hight of the audio monitors. At this workstation giraffes are doing the job.

June 26, 2019 at 12:56AM, Edited June 26, 12:56AM

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Lutz Leonhardt
Filmproducer
277

Those giraffes need an ENORMOUS standing desk. It HAS to be ergonomic, though.

June 26, 2019 at 11:34AM

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Nick Friend
Freelance Technical Editor

If I had a desk that can be lifted, I would put all my stuff ON the desk.

The speakers at this hight makes no sense while sitting, because of the interferences and different sound between bass and mid/hights.

Test it! Move your head up and down while listening to music. You will notice some kind of filter effect.

And I am not sure, if you do audio mixing, too (interviews + music), you may get a correct result.

June 26, 2019 at 2:32PM

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JeffreyWalther
Steadicam Operator/Owner
1954

Great share!

June 26, 2019 at 8:47AM

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David Jackson
Web Developer.
189

Thanks, mate!

June 26, 2019 at 11:34AM

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Nick Friend
Freelance Technical Editor

Good stuff. Just like camera movements all cuts should be well thought out to serve a purpose...

June 26, 2019 at 12:44PM

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Luis Garcia
Director/Editor
391

Filmmaking and editing tactics like foreground obstruction, masking, strobing, vignetting, and much, much more are all, in their simplest form, effects and, in their best form, are planned during the shoot to compliment the edit.

July 8, 2019 at 4:42AM

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Jim Connor
Engineer
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