Video Editing

What is a jump cut? How to use it in film and video?

Posted May 18, 2021
Written by Clipchamp

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Jump cuts are a simple editing technique that can add a striking finish to your films and social media videos. They even date back to the 1890s.

Filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard made them famous during the French New Wave in the 1960s. Directors like Edgar Wright still use them to great stylistic effect.

Read on to find everything you need to know about jump cuts, from its history, to how to write a jump cut, how to edit a jump cut and how to use a jump cut in your next social media video.

What is a jump cut?

A jump cut removes the footage between two points to delete a period of time. Most filmmakers use them to show characters moving, even if the background stays static. It's a stylized type of editing that draws attention to the cut. In doing so, it can create some unusual or striking effects.

Don't confuse the jump cut with the J-cut. The J-cut is so named for the shape the audio makes in your editing software.

Most of the time, you want to create a smooth transition between cuts in your videos. This gives your audience a pleasant viewing experience and creates continuity. 

The jump cut works against this so that it can be misunderstood. That means it's either used wrongly or not at all. Given how helpful it can be, it's important to get it right.

Understanding jump cuts

One way to better understand the jump cut is to know where it came from. Georges Méliès discovered the jump cut by accident. The legendary filmmaker was shooting on a Paris street. It was an ordinary scene, with people walking by and an omnibus in the road. His camera jammed, and he paused to fix it. Having done so, he continued filming. When he ran the film, he realized he'd stumbled upon a new technique. The pause in filming created a 'cut' in time. This meant people had moved their positions, and a hearse replaced the omnibus. It looked eerie because the framing didn't change. He used the cut in his 'trick' films, like The Vanishing Lady of 1896.

Knowing this can help you understand how to use jump cuts in the film. They become a way to show time has passed, even briefly.

When to apply a jump cut in videos

Before we go any further, jump cuts aren't the same as the jump scares you get in horror. There's more to a jump scare than a simple cut. However, you can use jump cuts in horror, as we'll see. But you can also use them in other ways for different effects. 

Editor working on editing video to upload to social media

Let's look at the popular ways to use a jump cut.

1. Create a montage

You can use jump cuts in montage sequences to show time is passing. This helps you cut content that doesn't help the plot while moving the audience along.

Edgar Wright combines these cuts with zooms to show everyday normality without spending too much time on it. In an early sequence of Shaun of the Dead, we see Shaun getting ready for work.

It would be boring to watch this play out in real-time. Yet using the jump cut compresses time and leads us from the moment he gets up to the moment he gets to work.

2. Build tension

You can also combine a montage with other techniques to help build tension. The film Run Lola Run uses this to show how panicked Lola is. She needs to find 100,000 marks in 20 minutes to save her boyfriend's life. 

Jump cuts alternate between tight close-ups and medium shots of Lola. Her changing pose with each cut creates a sense of panic and rapid thought. 

You can even do this during a 'talking heads' piece. Humans ramble, pause, distract themselves and fumble with their words. This works in conversation, but on screen, it can become tedious. This technique is great for documentaries because you can follow a coherent thread through what the person says.

3. In-camera special effects

Horror films often use jump cuts to reveal how powerful characters are. It's used to good effect in The Ring when the ghost crawls out of the TV. Director Gore Verbinski uses a jump cut to show her shoot forwards towards her intended victim. Here, the jump cut helps us see that she doesn't follow the normal rules of movement or physics. The ghost can move across the room faster than a human can! This helps to maximize her supernatural abilities, making her scarier on screen. It's also an 'easy' special effect, requiring no expensive VFX.

You can also use these for comedic effects as well. Characters can get new features or change outfits through jump cuts.

How to use the jump cut

If you look at any jump cut example, you'll see that making the concept is relatively easy. Choose a point where you want to show time has passed, or you want to generate tension. Cut from one shot to another.

Yet you now have two new questions. How do you write a scene using jump cuts? And how do you edit jump cuts? Let's find out.

How to write a jump cut scene

There's no single way to write a jump cut. You need to write the scene in a way that makes it clear what is happening.

For a montage, you might write 'Cut to...' and describe the next shot. This tells the director and the editor which footage they need and how to assemble it. Screenwriter Scott Myers recommends not doing this because it is awkward to read. Instead, start a new line for each fresh shot. Put — — before each line and describe what the shot is.

This shows that each line marks a new scene. The editor needs to put them together in rapid succession. 

How to edit jump cuts

Editing jump cuts is a simple technique. Find the segment where you want the jump cut to happen. Split the footage where the cut should 'start.' Now find the point where you want the cut should 'end.' Split the footage again here. This will give you a snippet between the splits. Delete the snippet and join the two segments together. 

For a more technical example, like Run Lola Run, film your scene at different focal lengths. That might be a close-up, a head-and-shoulders shot, and a medium-shot.

Split the footage into the snippets you want to use from each focal length. Make your cuts in your main footage and insert the snippets. Alternate between them to create a fast pace.

How is a jump cut used in social media videos?

We've been talking about using jump cuts for special effects or montages. Does that mean there's no place for them in your social media videos?

There absolutely is!

You can use jump cuts on social media videos to help improve the flow of your video. They let you skip pauses or gaps to keep the content moving.

YouTubers and vloggers use jump cuts to hide pauses in their speech. Or they use a jump cut to cover the times when they referred to their notes or script. 

This can get choppy to watch, so use L-cuts to make smoother transitions. In short, delete the 'dead air' between segments. Next, move the audio track, so it slightly overlaps with the previous segment. This creates a less stark cut, but it's still a jump cut because it's removed a period of time.

Jump cuts on TikTok and Instagram

You can even use jump cuts in TikTok videos or Instagram Reels. Influencers use them to show a range of outfits in a short space of time. They often film their existing outfit, then pause the recording. 

When they return, they're wearing a new outfit. Many influencers use a common gesture like snapping their fingers. This lets them match up each outfit, and the jump-cut hides the time spent changing.

Try out your first jump cut

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