The Edit

A cheat's guide to basic editing cuts

Old style camera laid on a rock overlooking a body of water

I started video editing as a simple hobby. It wasn't until I realised I was actually better at my hobby than my day job that I decided to make a living out of it. This also meant I had no formal training at the beginning, being completely self-taught. 

I used to take footage as unremarkable as my uncle waving at the camera on the beach, and then spend hours in my room cutting and splicing it until it looked cool. Eventually the hours paid off, and my showreel got me a job.

In my first briefing the director was using terms like: 'Cross cut', 'hard cut' and 'linear cut'. Eventually I had to swallow my pride and sheepishly raise my hand to tell him I had no idea what he was talking about. Awkward. A rather embarrassing conversation then ensued in front of my younger colleagues, most of whom had been to film school and had learnt these terms on day one.

We concluded that I’d learned the specific types of cuts organically without knowing the terminology behind them. I watched a lot of TV as a kid and I’d learnt that things don't look right unless you cut them in the right way.

Everything I’m about to explain is intuitive, but that doesn't mean it’s any less important. Understanding this will immediately help your editing skills.

J and L cuts

A favourite for documentary makers – with J cuts you change the footage to a different scene but continue the audio from the original clip, and L cuts do the opposite. It means you can make your film more visually engaging without losing the audio. It also allows you to show people’s reactions to what is being said. The best way to do this in Adobe Premiere Pro is to click on the triangle to expand the audio. You can then edit the audio and the image separately.

Split cuts

A split cut combines a J and L edit with a linking scene. In this case, it’s the shot of Frye’s house. It’s used particularly well in this clip to show that it’s happening at the same time as the classroom scene.

Montage

Seen being put to inspirational effect in the Rocky films, montages give the illusion of time passing and can push the story of a character forward dramatically. In the iconic examples of Rocky I, II, III and IV, you can see Rocky working out in many different ways and the scenes are brought together using the same music, illustrating his progression. It’s not necessary, but if you get your character to grow a beard or get the seasons to change as the montage plays out, then you’re onto a winner.

Cutting on action

Almost every cut in the Rocky montage uses this method. It sounds weird but if you cut before an action is complete it flows better and looks more dramatic. Every action scene is made in this way. If the subject is jumping off a cliff you will rarely see them leave the cliff and watch them fall all the way into the water in one clip. The director cuts away. That's cutting on action.

Match cuts

Match cuts are a fun way of transitioning from one scene to another. It's when you connect something from the previous scene with the new one. It can be anything: the movement of the camera, the movement of the subject or even the sound. Viewers will often nod their head and think, 'that was clever'. 

 

If you’re just getting started with video editing, I suggest you try a montage first. It’s where everyone starts, it’s incredibly easy and with a killer soundtrack, the finished article can be extremely satisfying. And you never know – it might just help you on your way to that dream job.

Explore the sounds of our Editor's Toolkit

David French is a film maker, product designer, artist and vagabond. 




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