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Why the 'cut' matters

Updated: Dec 26, 2022

When I was just starting my career in the industry of video production, I told myself that I wanted to be a top notch video editor. I always admired video clips and movies with fast-paced video cuts and transitions. But I found out that it's not an easy task to edit videos like most people outside the industry might think. Before, I thought it’s all just about cuts, transitions, and effects but editing is a lot more than those things.

I remember the first question I asked myself while doing my first project: When do I cut? What to include in the cut and what to leave out?

A “cut” is a transition of one clip to another and is considered a staple of video editing. Simply put, without cuts, there is no editing. But when editing, one can’t just cut whenever and whatever he/she wants and then put them altogether. You have to consider a lot of things; six things to be exact.

According to Oscar-winning film editor Walter Murch, and author of the book In the Blink of an Eye, these are the six essential things to consider when making not just a cut, but a good one:

Also called the “Rule of Six, Murch suggests that these should be prioritized when making a cut, emotion being the top one.

The most important thing to think of when looking to make a good cut is how it will affect the audience, how would it make them feel? Hence, the EMOTION being on top of the list. Every cut made into editing has an impact in the overall mood and story of the video. And its critical that these cuts be able to relate to the audience through emotions.

An ideal cut means having all of the six rules of criteria present but if in the case which its not possible to have them all incorporated at once, Murch suggests to make a sacrifice from the bottom of the list going up.

“If you have to give up something, don’t ever give up emotion before story. Don’t give up story before rhythm, don’t give up rhythm before eye-trace, don’t give up eye-trace before planarity, and don’t give up planarity before spatial continuity.”

So, its safe to say, when asked the question: “When to make a cut?” Or “How to properly make a cut?”, the answer would always be to go for the emotions first. The story, rhythm, and remaining elements on the list will come next.

Another thing that stuck with me when I read the book “In the Blink of an Eye” is the statement Murch made about video editors:

“You are the ombudsman for the audience”

We are not just editors, we are our audience as well. This is true enough when it comes to editing. As an editor we are aware of the challenges and hardships beyond the camera and this might influence what we include in the cut or not. Murch noted: “The editor, on the other hand, should try to see only what’s on the screen, as the audience will. Only in this way can the images be freed from the context of their creation.”

Ultimately as an editor, we should be able to make a decision on what moments to be used no matter what the situations are when shooting them, and of course using the “Rule of six” as our guide.

A good edit, makes a good story

Written by FreeStyle Production Editor Raphael Nikko

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