4.1 Editing terms

In the study of narrative, editing refer to the way sound and images are assembled to tell a story. Editing is an artform and filmmakers carefully consider the sequence and pace of shots in their film, agonising over how it will contribute to the story and engage audiences.
“The essence of cinema is editing,” said director Francis Ford Coppola. “It’s the combination of what can be extraordinary images of people during emotional moments, or images in a general sense, put together in a kind of alchemy.”


Before you can start discussing editing, it’s important to understand basic terminology.

Cross cutting. Cutting back and forth between two events occurring simultaneously.

Cross dissolve. In editing, a fade from one image to another.

Cut. A basic edit when shot is replaced by another.

Cut in. In an edited sequence, ‘cut in’ refers to a shot that shows part of the action in detail.

Cut away. In an edited sequence, ‘cut away’ refers to a shot edited in that is unrelated to the action.

Fade in. The screen is black, a shot gradually appears. This often signifies the beginning of a sequence.

Fade out. An image gradually fades to black. This often signifies the end of a sequence.

Jump cut. A cut between two shots where the camera position moves only slightly but the subject moves considerably, making them appear to jump across the screen. This editing technique is often used to condense time.

Match cut. A cut or dissolve between two visually similar images. One of the most famous examples of this is in 2001: A Space Odyssey, when Stanley Kubrick cuts between a shot of a bone flung into the air by an ape and a shot of a satellite orbiting earth.

Montage. In Hollywood films, a montage is a short sequence that shows the condensed progression of time.

Parallel editing. Cutting between two scenes that are occurring simultaneously.

Shot reverse shot. Cutting between two characters who are looking offscreen in different directions, creating the impression that they’re talking to each other.

Wipe. A transition that wipes from one image to another.

When studying a film, it’s a good idea to pay close attention to editing. When does the director choose to cut and why? Does the director use particular stylistic techniques like montage or jump cuts? What effect does the editing have on the audience and how does it contribute to the narrative?


Of course, visual editing is only one part of equation. Filmmakers also think carefully about the sound mix. Sound editing also makes an important contribution to narratives. Why are some sounds more prominent than others? How do ambient sounds contribute to the atmosphere of a film? How do sound effects contribute to storytelling?

When you’re watching a film for the first time, the full effect of sound editing is not usually apparent. Returning to the film and only listening to the audio is an effective way to draw your attention to the importance of sound editing.






If you’d like to find out more about the art of editing, it’s worth watching The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing which looks at the history of editing and features interviews with famous directors like Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino as well as big names in editing like Walter Murch and Pietro Scalia.

It’s also worth checking out the following films that have all won an Academy Award for Best Film Editing in recent years:

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