Advanced Video Camera and Editing

Rules of Editing

The standards of cinematic excellence requires that edits go largely unnoticed by viewers. However, there are always exceptions when artistic expression is involved. But understanding the rules first will help you decide when it becomes necessary to break them.

The Basic Rules
  • Cuts are seamless so that one shot transitions to another smoothly without causing any unnecessary attention or distraction.
  • Cuts happen at a logical point in the shot, which maintains continuity
  • Matching the action from one shot to another also creates the illusion of one continuous motion
  • The sense of screen direction must be maintained to avoid confusion in viewers
  • The types of shots (wide, medium, close-up, etc.) should be varied to create a more dynamic sequence
  • The pacing of shots should also vary to create moods or atmospheres
  • The length of the shot is often determined by how much information it conveys. Once the information is obvious it's no longer necessary to linger on the shot.

Motivation behind the cut

Behind every edit there is a decision, which is often made intuitively based on the overall rhythm of the sequence. Sometimes editors use a 'gut feeling' to determine the appropriate time to cut, often referred to as a 'cut from the gut.' Essentially, the editor needs to learn to trust their instincts. For example, if you don't think it's necessary to perform a cut, then leave it alone. Sometimes the master shot plays fine just by itself. But when it comes to knowing when to cut there is a deliberate thought process involved. However, never cut arbitrarily. There should be a good reason for it.

When does it become necessary to cut?
  • To advance the story
  • When the shot no longer carries the action
  • To impart information that is clearer to the audience than in another shot
  • To see something different and maintain interest
  • To show how a person thinks or feels
  • To cut when the shot slows down the story or doesn't add any crucial information
Cutting Patterns
Listed below are some of the most common patterns used when cutting together a scene:

  • Conventional - begins with the wide shot and then cuts to a medium shot and finally a close-up, working closer towards the subject or character
  • Reveal - begins with a close-up (tight) shot, then cuts to a wider shot, revealing more information about the scene
  • Matching Action - cutting on movement makes for slick, dynamic and seamless edits
  • Use of Overlaps - audio leads video or video leads audio, using dissolves or wipes as transitions often frees the editor from thinking in straight cuts only