In film, cuts transition from one scene or shot to the next in a way that crafts unique visual stories and reshapes footage into a cohesive narrative. Each type of cut conveys different tones, moods, and meanings.
A cut is whenever a film transitions from one shot or scene to the next. Video cuts can be used for technical, conceptual, and storytelling purposes, depending on what the filmmaker and editor hope to accomplish by cutting between images.
Video editors use a variety of techniques to create comprehensive filmic narratives. As a part of continuity editing, cuts encourage viewers to create meaning in the liminal space between shots. The different types of cuts in film include:
A hard cut simply cuts from one shot to the next. The most basic type of cut, this transition immediately moves between shots to imply plot progression without any sort of insert in between. It’s usually only used to cut between shots within scenes, since a hard cut from one scene to the next can feel disruptive.
The hard cut is often filmed as a shot-reverse shot, which takes two separate shots and cuts them together to imply a continuous conversation. This shot can move a story forward, evoke emotions, and show the audience character perspective.
In this scene from “The Hunger Games,” Katniss and Peeta prepare to enter the gaming arena. The hard cut shot-reverse shot creates an emotionally tense scene.
The jump cut is a sudden, blatant transition from one scene to the next. Although most film editing techniques attempt to seamlessly transition between scenes for the sake of visual continuity, the jump cut purposely breaks continuity to make audiences pay attention to a specific detail or feel a certain emotion.
Jump cuts are used to great—and terrifying—effect in the “come play with us” scene in “The Shining.” The cuts depict the contrast between the Grady twins as they were alive and after they were horrifically murdered.
The L-cut has the audio from one scene overlap onto the visuals from the next. This means that the visuals change, but the same audio plays. Whether used for the end of a speech or an entire voiceover, the L-cut can extend a certain feeling, imply time passing, or create more cohesive dialogue.
In “Dark Red,” a young boy records himself speaking. The visual changes but the voiceover continues, which moves the audience forward in the plot but still encourages them to think of the previous scene.
The J-cut retains a scene’s visual elements but brings in audio from the next scene. The opposite of the L-cut, in the J-cut the visuals stay the same but the audio changes. J-cuts are often used for opening scenes or foreshadowing, as a narrative technique, or in dialogue scenes.
This moment from “Scary Movie 3” uses a J-cut to amusingly depict a character being frightened by a boat horn blowing in the next scene.
A match cut transitions from one shot to the next but retains shot composition. Similar shapes, sounds, outlines, or actions create a seamless transition between scenes. This cut is used to create visual continuity, imply subtext or a relationship, and show the passage of time.
In “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a match cut between a bone and an atomic bomb creates a visual metaphor about technology and humanity.
The cutaway shot cuts away from the primary subject to a B-roll shot and then returns to the original scene. Often used for comedic relief, to create tension, or maintain continuity, the cutaway shot implies a connection between two scenes by juxtaposing them.
In this scene from “The Shawshank Redemption,” Andy describes what happened the night his wife and her lover were murdered. The cutaway shot cuts away to the victims before their death, encouraging viewers to consider how devastating Andy found the situation. Finally, the scene cuts back to Andy in the courtroom.
Insert shots emphasize an individual detail in the frame—such as an object, writing, or part of the body—by dramatically cutting in closer to it. The insert shot is often used to reveal information and motivation, introduce a plot twist, build tension, or encourage the audience to make connections.
In this scene from “Dial M for Murder,” the fireplace insert shots reveal the ways that Tony is interfering with the crime scene so that it appears as though his wife, Margot, committed premeditated murder.
The cross-cut happens any time that one scene is intercut with another. It can depict different time periods or the same timeframe across different actions—also known as parallel editing. It is used to create a sense of connection between scenes, build tension and tempo, or create contrast.
This scene from “Inception” uses a cross-cut to imply that multiple scenes are interconnected. The cross-cut editing technique adds tension by forcing viewers to question what is real and what is merely a dream.