Video Editing: Cutting on Motion

Video editing is strange because there has never been anything like it before. Our eyes don't go back and forth between wide shots, close ups and medium shots in real life. Yet, when we watch movies our mind naturally processes these sequences and we accept them as normal. But this does not happen all of the time. There are some cuts that work and appear seamless and others that don't work and call attention to themselves. So how do we create the good cuts? One way to do this is to cut on motion.

Cutting on Motion

Cutting on motion or cutting on the action, is a very simple process. Let's say we have a scene where two characters, Bob and Jill, are having dinner together and Bob needs to go to the bathroom. We shot this part of the scene from two angles. One is a wide shot of Bob and Jill at the table. The other is a single shot of Bob. In the wide shot he says excuse me, gets up (top of head is cut off when he stands up) and goes to the bathroom. The same action occurs in his single except his head does not get cut off when he stands up. How do we edit these two clips?

Because the wide shot has Bob's head cut off we cannot use that shot. We could start with the wide of Bob saying excuse me and then cut to him standing up. But an even better way to do this would be to cut on Bob getting up. He begins to stand up in the wide and then completes the action in his single. By cutting on Bob's motion we are provided with a way of connecting the two cuts together. 

Matching the Action

As editors we want out cuts to appear seamless to the audience. Cutting on the action provides us with a way of making our cuts subconsciously invisible as the audience connects the sudden jump from wide to close by the action being performed. It is extremely important that the actions are repeated as close to each other as possible for the audience to not notice a difference. 

For example, If Bob is always getting up and leaning to this right in the wide shots then he needs to continue this in the single shot for it to seem seamless. Leaning to his right in the wides and to his left in the singles will cause a jump cut to appear because the two actions don't exactly match. Jump cuts are noticed by audiences and tend to break down the illusion we've been working so hard at building. Try your best to avoid them.

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