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2.11.2012

The Proper Use of Jump Cuts

While in film school, my editing professor told me that my edit was no good because it included a jump cut (a shot so similar to the previous one it looks like the video "jumped"). I explained that there was a very good reason for my decision to include the jump cut. He refused to listen and loudly proclaimed to the entire class, "There is never a good reason to include a jump cut."

He's wrong.

In my case, I cut between two similar shots in a music video because the singer was doing her own vocal backup. Cutting when the second layer of signing came over the first helped accentuate the moment. It was great. It fit and flowed well with the music and camera movement.

Another excellent time to use "jump cuts" is when you need to speed a movement scene up. Say your character is walking into a room. While it's true that you could just cut to the character in the room (and that is absolutely something you should try first), it may be better for your edit to include the entire process of getting in. This is especially true of caper sequences where seeing how the character got into the room is important. But showing the entire process actually detracts from the feeling that your character is deft and in control.

So you cut by jumping through the moments.


Open Door


Walk In

Granted, doing something that looks like the camera glitched is a terrible idea. So it could be argued that the shots above are dissimilar enough so they do not constitute a jump cut. But the question of how different the shots need to be is a very subjective one. And there are many ways to make a jump cut work:

1. Audio Beats Be it music or sound effects, a strong rhythm can drive jump cuts. Nothing proves this better than The Apple Tree Feat. The Glitch Mob. [NB: This video is definitely not suitable for children! It has f-bombs in the lyrics and disturbing/sexually-oriented shots from many R-rated movies.] If you can handle the content, the fast editing is superb and the mash-up excellent.

2. Solid pacing You don't need an audible drive to jump through a sequence (though it sure can help). If you set the pace for a scene with "proper" edits, you can start jumping later as long as the flow continues. Just give your audience a chance to catch your grove, and you're good to go.

3. You want to bother your audience Unexpected jump cuts are incredibly jarring. That is why I'd agree with saying that you should never, ever unintentionally use a jump cut. But you don't have to let your audience know it's coming. If your goal in a scene is to snap them out of your flick for a moment, or get them uneasy in their chairs, dropping one in can be incredibly effective. I can't think of a time I'd want to use this, but that doesn't mean there isn't an excellent reason to pull this tool out of your bag at some key point in the future.

So if you've got a good reason to use a jump cut, do it. My professor gave me some good advice, "Have someone else watch your edit to see if it's any good."

"I did," I replied. "My girlfriend and her family loved it."

"Oh. ...well, get someone who knows how to edit to watch it, not some Joe Blow off the street."

He's wrong again.

"Joe Blow" is exactly who you want to like your edit.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

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