Jan 4, 2022
It's true: Video editing is a conundrum. It can sometimes be the most frustrating thing in the world, and other times be the most satisfying. When you’re stuck on a sequence it can be one of the most infuriating experiences to try to make things click but not quite find the right solution.
However, when you finally get those two troubling shots perfectly lined up and cut together, the feeling can be damn near euphoric. And perhaps the best example of video editing’s duality is the all-important graphic match cut.
The match cut is a film editing technique that we can trace back to the earliest days of cinema. And while simple in theory, it can be one of the most powerful tools in an editor’s arsenal to cut together two scenes and edit them together into a beautiful and seamless whole.
Let’s explore the absolutely crucial match cut video editing technique, then trace its use and history. After that, we’ll share several tips and tricks for how you can use it in your own projects.
So, before we dive into examples and tips, let’s first offer up a basic definition for just what a match cut is. In short, it’s a term in film and video editing:
A match cut is a transition between two shots, and it works to combine elements of the first scene with the second scene, usually in the form of visual graphics, movement, and/or audio. The overall effect of a match cut is a transition that feels connected and seamless, even when the two shots are completely different.
From there, we have a few different types of match cuts to define and explore.
As you can see in the video essay above, match cuts come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. They can at times be very obvious and on-the-nose, or at other times be so subtle that you hardly notice any matching at all. (But subconsciously, you still find the edit enjoyable).
In the video editing world, you can further break down match cuts into three distinct styles which all have to do with visuals, action, and sound.
Action match cuts: These are match cuts where the two shots are connected by motion and/or action shared between the two shots. For example, a person begins moving from left to right in one wide shot, then we get an object following that same trajectory in a close-up shot.
Graphic match cuts: These are the most familiar type of match cuts. Graphic match cuts are where we have visual graphic information in one shot and it closely matches the visual graphic information in the next shot. For example, smoke from an extinguished candle which graphically matches the smoke from a smokestack in the next shot.
Audio match cuts: These are match cuts which might not have to do with the visual information at all but instead come in the form of matching audio clips or sounds. For example, you hear the high-pitched steaming of a pot of tea in one clip, which is matched to the whistling of an oncoming train in the next clip.
It’s important to note that while each of these match cuts types are slightly different, they actually end up overlapping quite a bit once you’re in the editing process.
In fact, when you really want to hammer home a cut and transition in one of your projects, you can use all three at once. This will help your audience feel (and often enjoy) the connecting shots much more intensely.
When looking back through cinema history, you’d be amazed to discover that this phenomenon of “matching” shots can be traced back to almost the very first films and projects. Maybe it was done subconsciously at first, or perhaps these early filmmakers and editors were simply ahead of their time.
Either way, match cuts have always been a preferred cutting style.
If you’d like further illustration of what a match cut looks like and how to use them in your film and video projects, look no further than these classic examples.
While by no means the first match cut in cinema history, this iconic sequence from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is usually the prime example of a match cut covered by film editing courses. And from a basic definition standpoint, it’s pretty spot-on.
We have a sequence which ends with a close-up shot of an ape tossing a bone into the air as the camera follows the bone in slow-motion flight. We then get a very noticeable cut to a wide shot of a spacecraft floating in space.
While it’s not actually a perfect action match cut per se, it’s still a very basic match. The technique used in a heavy-handed manner to connect the two shots across literal time, space, and thematics.
Here is probably the most famous match cut of all time (although it might be a close call with the example above). This match cut from Lawrence of Arabia is actually one of the more abstract ones, however.
We start with a close-up of a match being extinguished, which is matched against a cut to a wide establishing shot of a desert landscape. And on the surface, these two shots may not look like they are perfectly matched or connected. However it certainly feels like they are. Why is that?
Well it has to do with more than just motion or audio. Instead it has to do with graphics — and more specifically color. These two shots also thematically match, drawing the viewer further into the story.
Moving into more modern filmmaking examples, there’s perhaps no director who loves a good ol’ fashioned match cut more than Edgar Wright. And while you can see examples of match cuts throughout his filmography, the technique is perhaps most popularly used in the film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
The film makes playful use of the way shots and scenes are interconnected. And as you can see in the example above, the film feels like a comic book where scenes often smash up against each other.
The overall effect is enjoyable because the audience can quickly connect characters, themes, and even actions together for a seamless film. The final result is something that feels fast, smart, and very enjoyable from start to finish.
Once you know what you’re looking for, you can easily spot plenty of examples of match cuts in some of your favorite films. However, it’s not just blockbusters and arthouse films that use match cuts. You can also find examples of match cuts in action, graphics, and sound (or combinations of the three) in all types of video content.
So whether you’re looking to add better and more seamless editing techniques to your personal projects, corporate videos, wedding films, or whatever, here are some tips to keep in mind when both shooting and editing match cuts:
Plan and storyboard: While you might occasionally discover a match cut possibility during post-production, the best ones are the ones that have been storyboarded, shot-listed, and planned from the beginning.
Steady your shots: To really sell a match cut to your audience, it’s also helpful to try to shoot as steadily as possible so that no visual information is lost in any chaotic shake or movement. Tripod shots work well, but so do other stable shots using monopods, gimbals, or steadicams.
Pick your spots: The biggest and best tip is simply to be mindful about how and when you use match cuts. You might not want to use super obvious match cuts for every edit or transition, for example. But you can certainly use elements of match cutting for small edits or build up to the big ones which people will remember.
Mix in different transitions: On a similar note, there are plenty of other transition types to mix in from time to time. While direct cutting can be ideal for stringing together sequences and scenes, you can also try to mix in crossfades, dissolves, and other creative transition types and moves.
Get creative: That’s the final and most important tip — to get creative with your match cuts. This cutting technique has been around for a long time but that doesn’t mean new shot types and match cut transitions still aren’t possible. So try out different combinations and methods and see which ones feel right for you and your projects.
Overall, match cutting is just another one of the many powerful tools in any filmmaker and/or editor’s toolbox. They can be used for devastating effect, or for simply tying together two shots which feel awkward.
It’s a skill that you should hone, but also something to experiment with in relation to the rest of your video editing tips and tricks.
Speaking of other video editing tips and tricks, if you’d like to learn more film and video techniques, then be sure to check out some of these great additional resources from the Soundstripe blog: