Internet! I am back to talk about something new. In this post I want to talk about editing, specifically different types of cuts that are used in film. I began teaching myself how to use editing software when I was 9 years old, but I never really began to think about why I was making a cut until the last couple of years. The reason for that, was I learned about how Mad Max: Fury Road used a technique called ‘eye trace’. Before I get to that though, I want to discuss a few other types of cuts that I really like to use as well as when and why you might use them.
A film is essentially written three times. First by the writers, putting together the script. A second time, by the director when they choose how to shoot the screenplay. In many cases, directors will take another pass on the script to morph it to their vision as well. The third and final time, is in the edit room. Entire storylines can be dropped or re-written, shots from one scene repurposed for another, and sometimes so much material is shot that you could have multiple completely different movies depending on the outcome of the edit. A major example of this is Terrance Malick’s “The Thin Red Line”, where a number of actors thought they were playing the lead role only to arrive at the premiere and find they had been reduced to little more than a cameo.
Part of this process of visual storytelling is choosing when and why to make a cut. In this post I want to discuss a few of my favourite types of cuts and highlight some of my favourite cuts of all time. The first, and one of the most used ways is Cutting on Action. This means cutting from one shot to another while the character is still in motion. You’ll often find this method used in fight scenes, cutting on a punch or a kick. (RocketJump Film School, 2016) While this provides a strong movement or motion to direct the eye of the viewer in changing between shots, it is also used to hide fight choreography in a lot of Hollywood films. This is a fundamental difference from the work of many Hong Kong directors, especially Jackie Chan.
Jackie Chan has discussed his methods of shooting and editing his films at length, emphasizing the differences in how Hollywood and Hong Kong choose to cut action. He keeps his shots wide, his camera steady, and when he cuts to a closer shot for a punch or a kick, they show the impact twice. The initial hit will be shown in the wide, and upon cutting to a closer shot they add three or four extra frames before the hit. He is showing the audience the impact twice. The reason for this, is to give the viewer time to register what they are seeing on screen. It also has the effect of tricking the viewer’s mind into combining the two shots into one, more powerful strike. It adds impact to the fight, showing the action and reaction in one shot. In contrast to that, most Hollywood films will show the action and reaction in two separate shots, lessening the impact. (Every Frame a Painting, 2014)
Cutting on action like this does not need to be limited to fight scenes either. Simple movements like a character throwing an object, turning around, or walking through a doorway are perfect for this method. This leads me to a bit of a segue for my desire to discuss Mad Max: Fury Road, and its use of eye trace.
Eye Trace is how a director and editor can use framing, movement, and editing to direct where you are looking at the frame. The Film Theorists released a fantastic video about the use of this method in Mad Max: Fury Road, which is the thing I mentioned at the beginning of this post that changed my view on editing. This effect is achieved in a variety of ways in this film. In the first scene used as an example in The Film Theorists’ video, the focus of every shot is kept around the center of the frame. The faces of the characters, the nitrous valve, the steering wheel, etc. For an action film with so many things happening on screen at once and a ton of very fast cuts, with shots on screen for maybe a second or two at a time, this goes a long way to making it possible for the audience to follow the action. They have no need to find the focus every time the film cuts, because they are already looking where they need to.
This seems like something a lot of movies would do though, right? It’d look a little stale if everything was always center frame as well, so how does Fury Road handle all of the movement; both of the camera and characters, when making rapid cuts? This is what really blew my mind. The scene The Film Theorists’ show next has our main characters getting in and out of the War Rig, fighting against a group of thugs on motorbikes, racing around and jumping over the Rig.
The eye trace being used in this scene is a combination of editing and camera movement. As one bike races from frame left to frame right, the focus shifts to the War Rig moving from frame right to frame left, and the shifting to another bike moving from left to right. Where this gets interesting again is the shot cuts when the bike is center frame, to a reverse shot with the bike also in center frame. The bike continues over to the left side of the frame where we then cut to Furious, whose face – you guessed it – is on the left side of the frame. This kind of mastery of eye trace in both direction and editing is a major part of the reason that Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t a completely incomprehensible mess, instead it’s regarded was one of the best action films of all time and won the most Oscars out of anything at the 2016 Academy Awards. (The Film Theorists, 2015)
The next type of cut I want to talk about is the Match Cut. Before I saw any more, I want to highlight one of the most well-known match cuts of all time, from one of my favourite films of all time, Lawrence of Arabia.
The match cut is most easily recognized as a cut between two shots with similar framing and/or action, though it is sometimes mistaken as a jump cut. They are incredibly popular as transitions between scenes, as we are jumping from one place to another and the similarities in the two shots help create a seamless transition between the two scenes. Another incredibly famous match cut is from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The use of match cuts has some similarities to eye trace as well, drawing our eye to a specific area of the frame and keeping it there for the next shot. It’s a technique I absolutely love to use while editing, because I think it creates a smoother finished product that can quickly cut between shots without causing confusion.
Now this blog is getting a bit longer than I had planned, and I’m having to skip out on certain types of edits that I wanted to get into revolving around audio, but perhaps I can save those for another blog post. Editing is about telling the story in the best way possible, editors control the eye and the mind of the viewer and can guide it the way they choose. Ultimately though, the goal is for the edits themselves to go unnoticed. (Variety, 2015) Once those edits are being noticed, the viewer is being pulled out of the film and the editor has failed. Until then, if you haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road, Lawrence of Arabia, or 2001: A Space Odyssey… Go watch those movies! Then come back. But not before then. Seriously. They’re required viewing for anyone in this industry.
RocketJump Film School (2016, March 3). Cuts & Transitions 101 Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAH0MoAv2CI
Every Frame a Painting (2014, December 2). Jackie Chan – how to do action comedy Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1PCtIaM_GQ
The Film Theorists (2015, July 29). How mad max: Fury road directed YOU! – frame by frame Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wCrdINidls
Variety (2015, February 6). Variety artisans: Oscar ballot guide – film editing Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvXAvKc3PnM