A Beginner’s Guide to Film Editing Vocabulary

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It was Francis Ford Coppola who said, “The essence of cinema is editing.” If you’re an aspiring film  editor, you know your craft matters — and you know it also matters how you speak and think about your craft. We’ve compiled a guide to help you beef up your terminology and learn to communicate about editing like a pro. The following are some fundamental digital editing terms  that editors should know: your concise guide to an editing vocabulary.

Cut

A transition where one shot is instantly followed by another.

Continuity Editing

Visual editing where shots are cut together in a clear and linear flow of uninterrupted action. This type of cutting seeks to maintain a continuous sense of time and space.

Continuity Error

When the action or elements of a scene don’t match across shots. For example, when a character breaks a glass window but in a later shot the window is shown undamaged.

Cross Cutting

Technique used to give the illusion that two story lines of action are happening at the same time by rapidly cutting back and forth between them.

Cutaway

The interruption of a continuously filmed action with a shot that’s peripherally related to the principal action.

Dissolve

When the end of one shot overlaps the start of the next one to create a gradual scene transition.

Editing

The process of taking raw footage to select and combine shots to create a complete motion picture.

Establishing Shot

A shot that gives viewers an idea of where the scene is taking place. These usually involve a shot from a long distance, such as a bird’s eye view.

Eyeline Match

A technique based on the idea that viewers want to see what on-screen characters are seeing. For example, if a character is looking intently at an off-screen object, the following shot will be of that object.

Fade

A visual effect used to indicate a change in place and time. This involves a gradual brightening as a shot opens or a gradual darkening as the shot goes black or to another color. Sound also fades in and out to convey the change.

Iris

A wipe that takes the shape of a shrinking or growing circle, depending on if the scene is opening or ending. Rarely used today but very common during the silent era.

J Cuts

An editing technique that allows the audience to first hear audio from a shot, and then see it.

Jump Cut

An abrupt cut that creates a lack of continuity between shots by leaving out parts of the action.

L Cut

An editing changeover between one shot and another in film, where the visual and audio shift at different times. Also called a split edit.

Matched Cut

A cut joining two shots with matching compositional elements. This helps to establish strong continuity of action. One of the more notable examples of this technique is from a famous scene in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Montage

A sequence of shots assembled in juxtaposition of one another to create an emotional impact, condense a story,  or convey an idea. A famous example is “Psycho’s” shower scene.

Roll

Graphics or text that moves up or down the screen. This technique is typically used for credits by having text move from bottom to top.

Rough Cut

The first editing pass done for a film. (The former sentence is not entirely accurate as an Assembly Cut is the first editing pass done for a film, but it depends on how one defines editing, so I think this is o.k.).  A rough cut receives further polishing and editing before making its way out to audiences.

Sequence Shot

A long take composed of one shot that extends for an entire scene or sequence. Usually requires complex camera movements and action. Here is a notable example from GoodFellas. (This isn’t a term that is particularly important for an editor to know.)

Shot Reverse Shot

The alternating of over-the-shoulder-shots, usually used during a conversation between two characters.

Sweetening

The process of adding sound effects and music and/or enhancing the existing audio with effects.

Wipe

The transition from one shot to another with a visible pattern or element. No longer used in today’s films but very common in early cinema.

Any more important editing vocabulary items to add to our guide? Let us know in the comments below!

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