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To Jump Or Not To Jump

December 29, 2011 2 comments

There’s an old saying in television – “you have to know the rules before you can break the rules”. I don’t think there’s a single traditional edit rule that this applies to more than the Jump Cut. Considered to be a serious no-no in some video venues, it can be an effective effect if done right, and in the right context. But where is it right and where is it wrong, and is there a level of right and wrong in those contexts?

For newer editors currently scratching their heads and aren’t familiar with the concept, a jump cut is a cut from one shot to another in which the location, framing and positioning of the shot is very similar bordering on identical, but the subject in the shot has moved, causing it to appear as if the subject has instantly jumped from one position to the next. Now that I’ve described, you’re probably saying top yourself, “Oh, like in…”. That’s where the dilemna/debate comes in. How can something considered to be a “do not” have so many obvious examples where it works?

First, let’s take a look at where it is a no-no, and for that, you need look no further than your TV at 6pm every night. News editing is one of the last bastions of a genre of editing that strictly abides by all of the fundamental rules of editing. Never crossing the axis, b-rolling over jump cuts, low BG sound under broll to fill out the audio spectrum, letting action in the shot begin and end…all of these rules are adhered to religiously by news editors. The reason is because, while I consider editing to be 10% technical and 90% artistic, the end goal of editing in news is to inform and tell a story, and as with most stories, being too artistic detracts from the end message. The viewer shouldn’t have to deduce intent from artistic style. That’s why you can hear clear audio edits in interview clips under broll…because we don’t want you to see edit, as it results in a jump cut.

Now, before we go any further, let’s take a look at examples of things that aren’t jump cuts, and why…

1) Dissolves – this is probably the easiest way of getting around the jump cut, as it smoothes the transition between the two shots, takes away the instantaneousness of the cut and creates the illusion of time change. You see this sometimes in sports highlight cutting. If Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees were to strike out the side in the 9th, you wouldn’t want to just cut between the three strike outs because, more often than not, you only have one camera shot to edit from…the main game camera. Putting a dissolve between each strikeout helps us see the transition of time while smoothing the harshness. For a non-sports analogy, think about how many times you see a shot of a clock, and then time passes. How do they do it…by dissolving t0 a later time. Technically speaking, if they were to just cut between the two shots, it would be a jump cut, as the framing and composition would be the same.

2) Stop-motion animation – If you’re really stingy on the definition and follow it to the letter, then all stop-motion animation is a jump cut. The framing stays the same, the compostion is usually the same, only the subject changes position. However, since the frequency of the usage of jump cuts is what creates this animation style, it can’t be considered the breaking of an edit rule. The same goes for…

3) Time Lapse – While this example really doesn’t carry into the world of non-linear editing, simply based on the fact that our ability to pull off a time lapse now is done through a couple of keystrokes, let’s go back to the days of tape. Back then, time lapse meant shooting sometimes as little as one frame per second. Then, you would take all those frames and put them together at normal speed, creating a clip that ran at 30 times normal speed. The key here is that to perform time lapse photography, you must in essence commit a jump cut. However, as the old saying goes…once is a mistake, twice is an oversight, three times is an effect. Time lapse photography requires a lot of jump cuts, therefore it’s an effect.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s deflate the elephant in the edit suite and admit that jump cuts are also considered an artistic style. Some of the earliest examples of jump cut as style can be seen in the works of Jean-Luc Godard. But you don’t have to go back that far for an example. Any show that has a handheld, documentary-style look to it uses jump cuts to add to the “grittiness” of the mood. Fans of Homicide: Life In The Street will now start to recognize what I’m talking about.

I think where you see a lot of it, though, is in comedy shows. Not scripted sitcoms, but in Guerilla-style comedy shows. For Canadian readers, think back to early Tom Green Show episodes. While perhaps not done intentionally, the use of jump cuts created a style for the show that was unlike anything on Canadian TV at the time. It was raw, fresh…and made rules by breaking them. It said “it’s okay to do this”, and people since have followed suit.

So, when deciding whether or not you want to use jump cuts or adhere to the “rules”, ask yourself this…does it suit what I’m cutting. In the end, that’s the only question that matters, and should be the only deciding factor in any edit that you do.

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