Monday, September 7, 2009

Enough with the jump cuts already

I was fortunate in that I learned to edit from a CBS producer. The very first lesson he taught me was the rule about jump cuts. They were absolutely forbidden, and this illustrated the importance of getting good cutaways. Back in the day the only other way to avoid a jump cut was to throw in a dissolve, and that took an act of congress from the production department.

In all my years as a reporter, I'm proud to say that I did not have a single jump cut in any of my stories.

Of late I've noted that many resume tapes routinely contain packages with jump cuts. Since so many of you edit on non-linear systems, this is easily avoidable with a dissolve, but it dawned on me that many of you probably don't even know the true definition of a jump cut.

So here goes: A jump cut is something that cannot break the laws of time and space.

Confused? Here's an example:

First shot: A politician giving a speech at a podium. Next shot: Same politician sitting at his desk.

That's a big time jump cut. In effect, the politician has "jumped" from the podium to the desk, which, unless he has a Star Trek transporter, is physically impossible.

Another more subtle example:

First shot: Politician at his desk, talking on the phone. Second shot: Sound bite of politician, still at his desk, phone on cradle, talking to reporter.

In this case the politician hasn't jumped, but his hands have and the phone has "jumped" from his hand to the cradle.

Two easy ways to avoid this are the use of cutaways, and a dissolve. A dissolve implies a change in time, which is what we see in both examples. If you're editing tape-to-tape, you'd better have some cutaways. Non-linear, throw in a one second dissolve.

The reason to avoid jump cuts is that they simply look awkward. On the other side of the coin are wonderful sequences built by a photog in which every shot matches perfectly. In the second example we might go from the politician on the phone, to a tight shot of his hand holding the phone, to the phone cradle as the hand hangs up the phone and then leaves the shot, to the sound bite. Takes time, but worth the effort.

If you're still not clear about jump cuts, talk to a veteran reporter or any photog. While you make think they're commonplace, trust me, people who have been in the business (and do the hiring) appreciate the subtleties we see in packages. Following the old-school rules shows that you have attention to detail, and can also take the time to do things right.

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