Styles of Editing
Just as there are different styles of lighting for a film or styles of music put into a film, there are many different styles of editing. Filmmakers may decide on certain editing styles throughout a certain film or even just within a scene in order to elicit an emotion from an audience. Editing is an extremely powerful tool. Given the exact same clips, two different editors could cut together two opposing scenes. Depending on timing, pacing, and even the choices of takes used in an edit, a scene can be cut to have a completely different outcome than the original intention.
In this unit we will define some editing terms and then explore some of the different editing styles in order to understand how these styles can directly affect story.
JUXTAPOSITION: We discussed the theories used in the experimentation of juxtaposition in Unit 1. In watching those examples, you probably began to realize that juxtaposition seems like an obvious necessity when watching films today. And yet it was something that filmmakers had to essentially discover by experimenting with filming different types of shots and cutting them together in certain ways.
A very clear and simple example of the way in which modern audiences openly accept the story suggested by juxtaposed images is in this clip from Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest:
You will notice that the man and the crop duster are only seen in the same frame together a few times. And yet at the beginning of the scene by simply juxtaposing shots of the man with shots of the crop duster coming toward the camera, the audience assumes that the crop duster is chasing after the man.
CONTINUITY: Continuity editing is a style of editing in which the editor cuts on continuous movement from one shot to the next. This is the idea of “cutting on action.” This style creates a logical movement between shots. Here is an example of continuity editing from The Matrix directed by The Wachowskis.
In this example, both characters continue their movement from shot A to shot B with no repetition of movement between shots. The movement continues smoothly from one shot to the next because one shot cuts to the subsequent shot on a character’s action. Where the first shot stops, the next shot begins and so on. The effect of this type of cutting is that it continues so seamlessly that it goes almost unnoticed by the audience. A general rule of continuity editing is also that an editor will cut from one shot of a certain angle and shot size to a different shot filmed from a different angle and size. Though you may not have defined this type of editing before, you have undoubtedly watched scenes edited in this style many times.
While this type of editing is common in action scenes such as the one above, continuity editing is also used in simple dialogue scenes. This is the classical Hollywood style of editing.
JUMP CUTS: Jump cutting can be seen as the opposite of continuity editing. While continuity editing is still the preferred method in most films, jump cutting has grown in popularity, especially in many television programs over the past decade. Jump cuts do not adhere to the idea of having continuous movements from cut to cut. Sometimes one clip will cut to another clip where the character has a completely different physical stance. This is somewhat jarring for an audience member, but this can be an intentional choice by a director and editor to give the audience an uneasy feeling. Jump cutting normally takes place within a scene to indicate that time has jumped forward. Typically actors will be seen in different positions on either side of the jump cut. One of the early examples of jump cutting used in a film is from Godard’s film Breathless. Here is a clip:
This film was considered a landmark in terms of the way in which it was shot and edited. It introduced alternative editing styles to a large audience, and as a result this is a style that it seen often in modern films. Here is a scene from an episode of the television series Homicide: Life on the Streets. Jump cuts were used often throughout this series. See if you can identify the jump cuts in this clip.
Here is one more example of jump cuts. This clip is from Lars Von Trier’s film Dancer in the Dark. This scene is not continuous at all and features many jump cuts. Pay attention to how the story plays out amidst the jump cut. Notice how the cuts make you feel about the story.