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What is a jump cut?

How and when to use this editing transition

What-is-a-jump-cut-royal-tenenbaums

WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF A JUMP CUT

A jump cut in editing is a cut between two shots of the same subject from the same/similar angle at two different points in time. This makes it look like the action ‘jumps’ forward in time.

It’s one of the most elementary editing techniques and it’s super simple to do. To do it well though, takes a little more practice and skill.

 

WHAT DOES A JUMP CUT LOOK LIKE

Let’s look at a jump cut example. This is a one-take shot from a music video I directed. The singer continuously walks towards the camera as the camera moves back. The action is uninterrupted.

Now if we cut a section out of the clip on the timeline and delete the gap that was left behind, we have a jump cut.

Demonstration of how to do a jump cut on an editing timeline

Now it takes less time for her to reach her destination, but the action ‘jumps’ as we playback over the cut and jump between the two moments in time.

Suzi-Wu-Taken-Care-Of-Jump-Cut-example

It also gives the appearance that the focus of the shot ‘jumps’ to another position in the frame.

A JUMP CUT IS NOT A MATCH CUT

A jump cut is a type of cut in film that is often confused with a match cut. A jump cut cuts to the same subject in the same scene, during the same timeframe. A match cut cuts to another shot that looks similar but is from a different scene.

There’s a scene in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ where the ape throws a bone up in the air and the shot cuts to a spaceship which has a similar shape to the bone. This is a match cut. However, there is a cut just before this transition that IS a jump cut. You can see the difference below.

Jump cut or match cut comparison from 2001 A Space Odyssey

All rights Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

WHO CREATED THE JUMP CUT

Georges Méliès is credited as the “father of the jump cut”[1]. Much like most of the best editing decisions I have ever made, he discovered it by accident. He then decided to use it as a special effect in his 1896 film ‘The Vanishing Lady’.

 

The jump cut was made popular during the 1950s and 60s by the filmmakers of the French New Wave. The most notable film of which was Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 film Breathless, edited by Cécile Decugis.

 

 

I remember very clearly — how I invented this famous way of cutting, that is now used in commercials: we took all the shots and systematically cut out whatever could be cut, while trying to maintain some rhythm. [2] – Jean-Luc Godard

 

In the quote, he makes it sound like he invented the jump cut on purpose. That’s not entirely true. Godard’s original edit was way too long. The producer told him he had to cut some stuff out. So when re-editing the car scene, he and his editor flipped a coin to see which character they should take out. Belmondo (the driver) was taken out. The remaining shots of Seberg (the passenger) were shunted together. Voilà! This gave us the edit that has had film critics going wild ever since.

Funny thing is, he was annoyed he had to make the film shorter, so one of the reasons he did this was to intentionally ruin the film [3]. Ain’t it funny how the jump cut was invented and then also rose to popularity unintentionally?

 

ARE JUMP CUTS BAD?

Jump cutting is often labelled as ‘bad’. This isn’t 100% true. In order to understand why jump cuts might be considered bad, it’s important to recognise the difference between film editing and video editing. In a nutshell:

  • Film editing is editing narrative for movies and TV shows
  • Video editing is basically everything else (i.e. online content etc.)

The two serve very different purposes and their respective audiences are accustomed to very different styles of editing.

Whilst jump cuts in film editing are not technically ‘bad’, film editing is generally accepted as ‘good’ when the continuity flows. Jump cuts break this flow. Rather confusingly, this can also be a good thing in certain scenarios (more on that in a sec). The idea of film editing is to absorb your audience in the fictional world of the characters. A badly used jump cut can be jarring and pull the audience out of that fictional world.

In video editing jump cuts are pretty much everywhere from music videos to YouTuber vlogs to memes. We realise that what we are watching is stylised and surface deep. We’re rarely invested emotionally enough to find the cuts jarring. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing them on our screens and they are generally used to spice up an edit and make it more interesting – except in YouTube vlog style videos when it’s pretty much just lazy filmmaking (guilty).

 

WHY ARE JUMP CUTS USED IN FILM EDITING

Used well, a jump cut can trigger or enhance the exact emotion you want to get from your audience. Here’s some reasons why you might want to use a jump cut in your film:

  • Because you want to bring attention to something
  • Because you want to create a sense of unease
  • To make your edit feel energetic
  • To speed up the passing of time
  • To have things disappear
  • For artistic purposes (see Breathless)

 

WHY ARE JUMP CUTS USED IN VIDEO EDITING

Video editing uses jump cuts mainly in a stylistic manner, but not all the time. This means that you might want to use a jump cut in video editing for all of the reasons above, but also:

  • Because you don’t have footage to cover the cut
  • Because you need to cram a lot into a short duration
  • To give the video energy
  • To create a montage
  • Because why the fuck not

 

SO, ARE JUMP CUTS BAD OR ARE THEY GOOD?

Both. Sorry. It depends on the following:

  • What you are editing
  • What emotion you want from your audience
  • What footage you have

In video editing pretty much anything goes. The audience is used to jump cuts now. Just don’t go so overboard you give your audience a migraine. With film editing it’s a lot harder to get right. Below are some examples of good jump cuts to help clarify how to be jump cutting.

GOOD EXAMPLES OF JUMP CUTS IN FILM

To bring attention to something:

Catch-Me-if-you-can-film-clip-demostrating-a-jump-cut

‘Catch Me If You Can’ – All rights DreamWorks Pictures

 

To create a sense of urgency or disorientate:

 

To make your edit feel energetic:

 

To show the passing of time:

 

To scare:

GOOD EXAMPLES OF JUMP CUTS IN VIDEO

Cooking videos use jump cuts to great effect:

 

Almost every music video uses jump cuts these days. This one I made is edited using 100% jump cuts:

 

This is also a good example.

And obviously it’s a prevalent way of editing on YouTube because of its ease and simplicity.

WHY DO YOUTUBERS USE JUMP CUTS

The reason jump cuts became so popular among vloggers is because a second camera is expensive. Also, shooting b-roll takes time, which is something YouTubers are short of. Jump cuts are a fast and easy transition to do.

HOW TO DO A JUMP CUT

To create a seamless jump cut, the point where your eyes are focused should remain within a small area from shot to shot. If the focus of the shot moves around the frame a lot, it can become nauseating. You can see in the reference below how important a small focus area is to a successful jump cut.

Examples of a good jump cut and a bad jump cut by demonstrating a focus area

All rights to Jackisanerd and DreamWorks Pictures

HOW TO AVOID JUMP CUTS

So as you can see, a jump cut can be a powerful tool. However, a jump cut might not suit the style of edit you are creating. Don’t worry, there are some tricks for eradicating unwanted jump cuts. The most effective way starts behind the camera:

  • Use a second camera when recording dialogue
  • Shoot some b-roll
  • Film more angles and more cutaways

The more footage you have to play with, the more choice you have when it comes to smoothing jump cuts. Of course, by the time it comes to editing we can’t just magic extra footage from the shoot. If you find yourself in this situation, these are some ways you can ‘fix it in post’:

  • Reframe the footage
  • Source archive footage to cover the cuts
  • Use photos as b-roll
  • Use a morph cut
  • Lay graphics over the top
  • Throw on some title cards
  • Cry

 

So, there you have it! You should now know:

  1. What a jump cut is
  2. The history of the jump cut
  3. How to use a jump cut successfully

 

But remember, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

If this article has been useful to you then it will definitely be useful to someone else as well. Help them out and share it on your social media.

 

Can you think of any great examples of jump cuts that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

 

References:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jump_cut

[2] Jean-Luc Godard, Introduction à une véritable histoire du cinéma (Paris: Albatros, 1980), p. 34

[3] Richard Raskin. Five explanations for the jump cuts in Godard’s BREATHLESS