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Very good words above; you learn it by doing it.
Im old school. For 80 years of cinema, 99% of the visual effects were fade to black, dissolves (cross fade), cuts, titles on screen, and occasional animation (e.g., line progressing across the map in Casablanca). 90% of the films that are considered the all time classics still are limited to these effects. Many of these films are not considered austere by any means.
If this short list of effects/transitions seems extreme, you could say that we have gone extreme the other way today. If you need lots of effects to compel interest, maybe there is not enough content/story? Or, if you have the content/story, beware of distracting from the main event with a blitz of effects. The great John Frankenheimer made the superb film Ronin not that many years ago WITH CUTS ONLY. I also love Natural Born Killers, Oliver Stones most undisciplined and most interesting contribution to gonzo trash bin editing. With this style, he was (I believe) showing the deranged mental state of his key characters. Kitchen sink editing has its place but that doesnt mean Every Place. (The rest of the story: Thirty years earlier in Grand Prix, Frankenheimer was a pioneer of wall to wall multiple images on the screen; think picture in picture mutiplied by 100. Drove a lot of people batty. He did not repeat his mistake.)
Many transitions can be achieved on the audio track alone plus a straight cut. The audio transitions to the new scene before the visual gets there.
The old school classic book of editing used to be Karel Reisz The Technique of Film Editing. He was a notable director of British films. Might be worth a look, although certainly dated by todays standards.
The most fun book of editing may be Francois Truffauts shot by shot analysis of several Hitchcock films. Hundreds of frames from Hs films are included. The text is Truffauts conversation with Hitchcock about what H had in mind. H was known as a master manipulator of audiences through his editing sequences. H typically storyboarded every shot of his films.
You might go back and look at what the Academy has nominated for the Best Editing Oscar in recent years. When I saw City of God I was blown away by how its innovative editing style propelled the story. As a Brazilian foreign language film, didnt think it would even be considered as a Best Editing nominee finalist, but it was. (Constant Gardner, same director.) Find some films in this group or your own favorites where you think the editing sparkles for you. Rent or buy some of these DVDs and spend hours watching them in slo-mo so you can see what is really going in; take notes; and try out what you learn AND like in your next edit sequence.
In the past, I would have recommended doing this with commercials, and this can still be helpful. However, many commercials today jump cut on the talking head after every spoken phrase; I expect that this will go the way of other nonsensical overused unappealing gimmicks used by commercials in the past. Not sure why this one has taken off; maybe the heads cant remember more than 6 words at a time. Still, it wouldnt hurt to have this technique in your arsenal. Also, the guerilla shooting/editing style of reality TV. But dont let these styles sweep you away; they do not represent the best that you can be; nor will they always be in your face as the next generation of moving images comes into play.
REGARDS … TOM 8)