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Cuts and Transitions

Once the clips have been recorded they need to be edited together. Most cuts are the equivalent written punctuation in film that help define our audio-visual sentences.

If camera movements are equivalent to commas, semi-colons and colons, then cuts are the equivalent of full-stops, paragraph breaks and chapter breaks. The cuts provide narrative structure.

Here is a list of cuts and basic transitions you may recognise:

Cuts (edits)

  • Active Match Cut – here the editor cuts on the most compelling usually obvious question (often the character's eyeline) to pull us through the narrative at pace. Example: a man pulls out a gun and looks ahead (and we wonder who is he pointing the gun at), then cut to the terrified face of the cashier
  • Passive Match Cut – here the editor uses the audience’s curiosity about a specific aspect of the scene to motivate a logical bridge to the next clip. Example: the silhouette of a man’s face is seen; cut to a medium close-up of his face from another angle to tell us who he is.
  • Jump Cut – this cut removes time or space to focus the viewer’s attention even more keenly on the narrative. Example: why show someone getting into a car? Simply show the person leaving the house. Then the mum waving goodbye. Then the car driving away.
  • Cutaways – cuts to new lines of action, often used to increase suspense by showing the approach of another character. They are often accompanied by a change in music.
  • Cross Cut – these cuts are often used in action or romance films to cut quickly between two or more lines of action in action sequences or move between separated characters as they go about their separate business in a romance sequences. (NB. the use of the cross cut suggests that at some point soon the two lines of action will converge or collide.)
  • Sound Bridges are used to link very different images or to create a unified sound beneath cuts. Generally these are divided into visual breaks that come before a sound break, 'J Cuts', and sound changes that come before a visual break 'L Cuts'.
  • Musical montage sequence (a series of shots to music) – here soundscapes and music are used to help unify longer sequences of clips. For example, a series of shots used to show two characters falling in love over time.
  • Music cuts are used to alert the viewer to the introduction of a new character within a scene, or a change of chapter or a new sequence so that we are not confused. They tell us that though we don’t recognise or understand the image yet, we will very soon.
  • Title cards (or inter titles) and text on screen help bridge spatial, temporal and logical gaps in the action.
  • Voice-over from a narrator can help bridge spatial and temporal gaps in the action, or to interpret that action.


  • Fade Out, a.k.a Fade to Black.
  • Fade In, a.k.a. Fade Up (where the frame lightens the frame from black).
  • Dissolve: briefly superimposes the end of a shot A onto the beginning of shot B.
  • Cross-fade: fading effect between two frames
  • Wipe: Shot A replaces Shot B by means of a boundary line moving across the screen, wipes one image away while bringing about a new one.
  • Variations on these, such as fading out from a dot, or wiping in a zig-zag. Can be used to signal 'lets go back in time' or a dream sequence.
  • In addition to selecting what cuts and transitions they want to use, editors also need to consider the length of the clips and sound elements as these influence the pace and rhythm of the completed film.