Frame by Frame In School

Achieving the illusion of seamlessness

The 12 minute film – The Great Train Robbery (1903) - experimented with new editing techniques, including cross cutting. Photo: Wikimedia Common  

A movie is not about watching and listening, but about experiencing. Last week, we looked at how our brain tricks us into perceiving a motion out of a series of images. Today, we will see how various editing techniques help you in taking the story forward.

Editing is a post-production process, where you have all the shots ready. All that an editor has to do is to arrange them to create a seamless flow, while keeping up with the structure of the narrative and the emotion of the film.

The techniques have been evolving and the following are the basic types.


A cut is basically a transition from one shot to another. Different cuts are used for different purposes.

Cutting on action is used when the cut happens while the character is in the middle of an action. For instance, consider a sequence of two shots that depicts a person punching another person: here the first shot may be a blow on the face and the next, the person being hit falling down. The two shots are joined using Cutting on action.

Imagine the lead pair looking at a shooting star and talking about it. How well can we show it? Shot 1: the characters looking up; Shot 2: A shooting star zipping through the sky. Shot 3: The duo in the same place and still looking up, excited and talking about it. Here, the usual transition is to take a Cut Away from shot 1 to 2 and then from 2 to 3.The Shot 2 is inserted into the main sequence.

Cross Cut is usually used in phone conversation where the director wants to cut back and forth between the two people. It is also used when two scenes are shown to be occurring simultaneously but in different locations.

Sometimes, the cut are deliberately made visible such as in the Jump Cut. It is often used to show the lapse in time. Say: while somebody is waiting for hours in a bus stop – a series of shots that include subject being seated, standing, leaning and looking at the watch restlessly.

Then we have the Match Cuts: Two similar shots are connected, where there is a match of action or composition. Take the example of a small boy kicking a football and cut to the same character kicking the ball as a grown up.

Other editing techniques

Fade In/Out: In Fade In, Shot A opens with a black frame and fades in to Shot B. When Shot A fades out Black in the end of the frame, it’s called Fade Out. Usually these shots are used to denote a new sequence. In film terms, it is called a new ‘chapter’.

Dissolve: When an image fades away into the next shot and simultaneously the next shot slowly fades in to the previous shot we call it a dissolve. Dissolve is mostly used in montage. It can also represent passing of time. (Montage is a series of shots joined together to indicate passage of time).

Wipe: Wipe is a strong and visible transition which when Shot A wipes from one direction and leads to Shot B. It can be in any direction, horizontal, vertical, left to right , right to left etc.

We are so used to watching films and getting involved in them that we hardly notice these transitions. A good editing is when the transition is as subtle as possible.

Did you know?

Invisible Cut: When you do not notice a cut in between shots even when you are looking for it, it is called as Invisible Cut.

Audio based transitions:

J-Cut: This is also called as audio advance cut. When the audio from the next scene starts before the scene starts, it is called as J-Cut

L-Cut: When the audio from the current shot carries over to the next shot, we call it as L-Cut.

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2021 7:12:03 PM |

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