Cross-cutting

Filmmaker's Dictionary Jan 22, 2021

What is it?

Cross-cutting is a technique done during editing, also known as parallel editing. It's applied to manipulate time and space. In other words, it’s action happening simultaneously in different spaces. Most often, those spaces are in the same location. A camera will cut from one action to the next, establishing the timeline and place of activity.

For example, think of a fight scene. Two characters are fighting villains. The camera will cut from one fight to the other. That indicates that the battles are simultaneous but in different locations. Many examples of this technique exist in Hollywood films. To see it in action, look for Christopher Nolan's work in The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and others.

To use cross-cutting, you need a well thought out framework of all storylines to work. If poorly done, you run the risk of confusing the audience. With that in mind, have a second pair of eyes to critique. Remember, what makes sense to you doesn't automatically make sense to an audience.

Few things to consider when using cross-cuts:

  • Shoot the right material to make the process easier.
  • Who's viewpoint is the camera representing?
  • Get establishing shots to show the location.
  • Separate the scenes with different lighting.
  • Get a few angles. It makes the process easier.

Why use it?

Cross-cutting is a fantastic technique for telling complex stories like in Inception.

Implementing cross-cuts can have many benefits. It adds intensity and suspense. Think of this scene in Silence of the Lambs. The FBI is storming the property while Buffalo Bill is in a tailspin. Eventually, they storm the wrong house, and cleverly the audience is misdirected.

That tension and misdirection is a brilliant way of utilizing cross-cuts. Also, communicating phone and video calls are great with cross-cuts. Manipulating time and space can help convey the narrative. The right utilization of cross-cuts can bring the audience to the edge of their seat!

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