The subject of this blog post has an unusual résumé:
- It is believed to be the first editing technique ever used (and it happened by accident in 1896).
- It is one of the most polarizing cut choices a narrative editor can make
- It is probably the single most commonly used technique by vloggers.
I am, of course, talking about the jump cut – but what is it really? How do I use it? Should you even use it? If you’re asking yourself those questions, then you’re reading the right blog post. So let’s jump in (sorry).
What is a jump cut?
The story goes that innovative magician-come-filmmaker George Méliès was out filming by a roadside one day when his camera’s film reel jammed for a few seconds, then began to work again. When he reviewed the footage, he observed a car passing by suddenly transform into a hearse! He worked out that his film reel jammed just as the vehicle was passing by, but by the time it restarted again, the hearse had arrived to take its place. And just like that, not only was the jump cut born but so was the foundation of editing itself.
While our techniques have advanced a great deal since 1896, this miraculous jump-cut technique is still used today for numerous creative purposes. So how are we to understand what a jump cut actually is?
A jump cut involves editing a continuous shot in such a way that portions of it are skipped out (i.e., the car driving out of shot and the hearse driving in). This creates the illusion of suddenly jumping forward in time, hence the name. While simple hard cuts can also be used to imply the skipping of time in a similar way, jump cuts are recognizable as being formed out of the same original shot.
Examples of jump cuts and their purposes in film
The application of jump cuts, and indeed all editing techniques, is only really limited by the creativity and intention of the filmmaker. That said, there are several common reasons why an editor might choose to employ jump cuts. However, it should be said early on that jump cuts are divisive. By their nature, they are discontinuous, and discontinuity in editing is generally avoided as it jeopardizes the audience’s suspension of disbelief. However, when chosen wisely and executed well, jump cuts can, in fact, add to the viewer’s experience for the following reasons, amongst others.
To emphasize the passage of time
Since jump cuts are defined by suddenly skipping time, it’s no wonder that the technique is often used to exaggerate and draw attention to the passage of time. In this famous example from Little Shop of Horrors, editor John Jympson uses jump cuts (accompanied by silence except for a ticking clock and a slightly patronizing drum roll) to convey what little is happening to the characters as they wait and hope for customers.
To exaggerate action
Jump cuts are extremely popular in high-octane scenes, such as fight sequences, because removing just a few frames here and there can boost the kinetic, visceral feeling of the action. For example, removing a frame or two just before a punch can help it feel faster and more aggressive. The Bourne films use jump cuts all the time in this way, many of which go unnoticed amidst the action. However, if you slow down the playback of the following clip, you might catch them.
To convey emotion or mental state
The use of jump cuts to convey the emotional state of characters, or the emotional tone of a scene is likely their most common application. There are, therefore, dozens of unique and varied examples to explore, but some of my favorites are found in Breaking Bad. Here, for example, jump cuts are used when we see Hank trying desperately to load his gun, having been badly injured. Each cut feels like the tick of a clock as his ax-wielding aggressor closes in. While we have seen plenty of elaborate and swift gun loading sequences in films before, the jump cuts here are used to emphasize the slow and stressful struggle to load a single bullet.
For stylistic or comedic effect
If you are going for a stylized approach to an edit, jump cuts can be appropriate in some situations. One such situation is when trying to convey a romanticized or dreamlike feeling. For example, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind uses jump cuts regularly to illustrate the fracturing memories of its protagonist. Or The Tree of Life (and just about any other Terrance Mallick film) utilizes jump cuts to capture a more poetic rendition of events rather than realistic.
A recent example like this (and a favorite of mine) was in Damien Chazelle’s 2018 film First Man. While this scene is not presented as a memory, per se, the jump cut editing alongside peaceful harp music gives it a very nostalgic quality.
If the style you want is comedic, once again, jump cuts are there if you need them. In Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, the awkwardness of Peter Parker struggling to understand his new web-slinging ability is made funnier by using a jump-cut sequence with all the wrong hand gestures.
Use of jump cuts on social media
When we turn to consider the use of jump cuts within online content, the landscape looks quite different. While jump cuts in films are considered bold decisions to make, in YouTube videos and on TikTok, jump cuts are a way of life. They are a staple for any modern vlogger or fast-turnaround content creator. The reason why is threefold.
First, suspension of disbelief is less of a concern since content creators aren’t often presenting a fictional narrative or dramatization but are simply talking directly to the viewer. There is no pretense to maintain – the viewer knows the camera is there and knows the footage will be edited for them.
Watch Brent Rivera’s TikTok below. His jump cuts are used to quickly establish the concept early on, and the twist reveals towards the end. But this doesn’t compromise the viewer’s engagement with the video’s premise.
Second, jump cuts are challenging to avoid, given the nature of vlogs or other similar types of content. Commonly, when a TikToker or YouTuber talks directly to the camera, they either deliver a script they have written but not fully memorized or are talking off-the-cuff. In either case, they can make mistakes. They might say something they later decide not to include, or simply want to minimize the natural pauses that occur in speech to get to the point quicker. Therefore, jump cuts allow the creator to polish the clarity of their own communication (and thanks to the first reason above, that’s ok). Casey Neistat is already a fantastic communicator but takes advantage of jump cuts to further consolidate the information he is trying to get across.
Finally, since these first 2 reasons have justified jump cuts in online content for nearly 20 years (YouTube was launched in 2005), they have become a part of the visual language. It, therefore, has become an accepted and even embraced element of the format. So much so that often, jump cuts are made to look even more obvious than they need to be. In SuperCarlinBrothers’ videos, for example, between nearly every line, the stars (Jay and Ben) must deliberately take a few seconds to move their seat, check focus and remind themselves of their script.
As is clear from these examples (and millions of others), jump cuts are acceptable in many types of video. Perhaps the bigger question to consider, however, is how you want your video to be received. Jump cuts in vlogs and TikToks may well be acceptable. But, if your project is for a client, the big screen, or if you just want a sense of high production value, they can feel out of place.
How to edit a jump cut
Despite the numerous complexities of pulling off a good jump cut like those listed above, the actual workflow of applying the technique is quite straightforward. The challenges you’ll face will be unique to your scene – choosing just the right frames to cut from and to based on your intended purpose. It may just take more time to practice video editing in general before these instincts sharpen.
Needless to say, you don’t want technical confusion to get in your way as you work that out. So below is a rough guide on how to edit a jump cut. While the program used in this instance was Final Cut Pro, the principles are basically identical across any NLE.
Import footage and determine the suitability of jump cuts
Once you have the selected footage inside your NLE of choice, take some time to familiarize yourself with it. As discussed, jump cuts are bold editing decisions and should be chosen wisely. In my own example, I worked with clips from the Artgrid story “Nightclub Dancing“. I think jump cuts could work here to complement the nightlife context of dancing, high-energy music and flashing lights.
If you are considering jump cuts simply because you want to cut out undesirable moments in a clip (e.g., a line of dialogue you don’t want to keep, long pauses etc.), simply cutting them out can feel unnatural and pull the viewer out of the experience. However, a widespread and acceptable alternative to a jump cut in such a scenario is adding b-roll footage to cover those cuts. If this was appropriate to my example, I could return to the story I chose on Artgrid to find a clip that works and place it over the cut, like below.
Assuming you believe a jump cut will be the right choice for you, you next want to consider what will motivate each cut in the context of your own footage.
Consider what will motivate your jump cuts
When considering the motivation behind your jump cut, it’s not just about its grander purpose (such as emotion, stylization etc.). It’s also about the audiovisual elements of the clip that will help to sell the technique. In my example, I wanted to factor in the changing energy of the music and even use lighting cues to help the cuts feel less jarring. In your own case, this could mean using diegetic sounds, abrupt camera movement, the directional movement of objects or people in the scene and more.
You’ll notice that I have used markers on my timeline. These correspond with moments in the music that I felt would support a jump cut. This is a helpful process to undertake early on to provide a rough recipe for your edit before you just start slicing and dicing. You could do the same with your own audiovisual motivations.
Cut and trim your footage accordingly
Whether or not you like to plan out your edits as I have so far suggested, sooner or later, you have to get cutting. There are lots of ways of doing this, but since jump cuts tend to use the identical continuous clip, I find it easiest to simply select your Cut or Blade tool and section off the portions of the clip you want to remove and then delete. This will leave you with basic jump cuts that you can then tweak if you wish by clicking and dragging the ends to your desired frame.
Here’s the finished product!
So the technique accidentally invented by a french illusionist nearly 130 years ago could be what your next video needs. Whether you think it will add energy, style, excitement or even just a bit of pace to your work, the jump cut is a nifty technique to have at your disposal.