Video Production Tips

What is parallel editing?

Posted April 23, 2021
Written by Clipchamp

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Video editing is the art of manipulating and transforming time to create a cohesive story whether in an everyday video or in a film.

Video editors must have a few tricks up their sleeve to tell stories effectively. A common technique that every editor should know is parallel editing.

Let’s explore the definition of parallel editing, its importance, when to use parallel editing, and a few examples of the technique. 

What is parallel editing?

Two of railways tracks merge with sunset background, concept of parallel video editing

Parallel editing is when a video editor jumps between two different scenes. 

The scenes take place in two different locations but simultaneously in the world of the film.

Parallel editing is a type of cross-cutting technique that best showcases contrast.

Why is it important to understand parallel editing?

Parallel editing is a technique almost as old as the film itself. Most films utilize parallel editing, and for a good reason. 

With the parallel editing technique, an editor can jump between two or more different locations, scenarios and even jump forward or backward in time to deepen the storyline. That’s why it’s an effective tool when used correctly.

One famous instance of parallel editing in the film is this scene from Silence of The Lambs.

In the scene, the viewer switches between seeing the FBI prepare to raid a house and Buffalo Bill in his basement dungeon. As the viewer, we are made to believe that the house the FBI is about to barge into is Buffalo Bill's; even the doorbell rings simultaneously. It is revealed that the house is just an empty house, and Clarice Sterling is on Buffalo Bill's doorstep. 

In this example, the characters inside Buffalo Bill's house are unaware of what's happening outside the house, and the FBI agents are unaware of what's happening inside the house. This creates tension while also cutting between two different locations during the same time. 

Another prime example of the use of parallel editing in the movie Inception. While the film is full of crosscutting, this scene, in particular, is usually referenced.

In this scene, we jump back and forth between levels of a dream. On one level, the characters are being chased in a van while they are sleeping. On another level, Joseph Gordon Levitt's character is fighting in a hotel hallway. 

By the magic of parallel editing, we can jump back and forth between two planes of existence that are simultaneously happening. This carries on throughout the whole film.

Dos and don'ts of parallel editing

For parallel editing to work, there needs to be something that ties the scenes you cross-cut together. For example, this could be a shared conflict or the time. 

Simply put, cross-cutting needs to be intentional. This kind of editing doesn't work when you just cut between two random scenes over and over without connecting them. This could end up confusing your audience. 

Before you start editing, think about why you want to cut between two different scenes. Setting a clear intention before editing will make your film or TV show even stronger. More so, your timing with editing will be even crisper with a clear intention.

When to apply parallel editing in video

There are many reasons an editor might want to use parallel editing to enhance the storyline of a YouTube video or film. 

Here are a few ways parallel editing can strengthen a story:

To show contrast

Crosscutting between two different scenes can also show the contrast between two or more situations. Similar to using cross-cutting when building tension, the editor can cut between calm and tense situations. 

With this technique, you can contrast between situations as well as contrast between characters. For example, you could cut between two different Friday night scenes; one character is out at the club partying, and the other is reading a book with a cup of tea. 

To create tension

Crosscutting between two or more different scenes is an effective way to create tension.

In a horror film, you could have a scene with a murderer getting ready to kill their next victim and a scene of the victim getting ready for work. In this film scenario, you could cross-cut between both scenes to create tension. The victim doesn't know what's to come.

To intensify the action

Parallel editing is key to making action movies even more intense. During big battle sequences, an editor can cut between different locations of fights. This is popular in superhero movies. 

To connect storylines

Parallel editing can also help your audience connect storylines. Most TV shows and movies do this without you realizing it.

While editing the first part of the film or TV show, you can cut between two or more different scenes and storylines. Near the end of the plot, you can have all the characters meet up for a resolution.

Alternatively, you could connect the storylines with crosscutting by cutting between two different scenes where the dialogue has similarities so both sets of characters are talking about a plot point

Try parallel editing

Add depth to your films through parallel editing. Ready to test this technique out for yourself? Try out our online video editor. Want to learn more about video editing? Check out our video glossary. 

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