Cuts are the simplest, most diverse, and powerful tools in the editor’s arsenal. Cuts are the basic building blocks of editing. It’s foundational, and as small as it might seem, this gives the editor unbridled autonomy to create. Not all cuts are the same, there are a variety of cuts, and each type is nuanced in its usage. One cut that demonstrates an editor’s power to connect two clips is the match cut.
A match cut is a cut between two clips that consistently share one or more qualities of action, composition, content, or subject matter. The adjacent juxtaposition of two clips with shared traits builds a stronger story, whether it is narrative or thematic in nature. A match cut ties those two clips together by placing an edit between the clips at a point in which the shared quality is aligned between the two. This signals to the audience the significance and intention of the shared quality for its narrative purpose in the sequence. It binds together the two clips.
In visual effects, matchmoving is the technique by which visual effects artists using motion tracking and camera information to insert visual effects that match the movement of objects in the source footage. The use of a match cut based on movement can be a low-fi version of match moving. The audience visually interprets the momentum of movement within a shot. They can then be lead into the next shot with movement that is similar in speed and direction to the original, with a well-placed match cut. This is done without the need to establish or initiate the movement in the following shot because it was already established with the original shot. The match cut carries them through the movement.
Action sequences are common in the language of today’s cinema. With the financial success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars, there’s no doubt there will be a continued pursuit of creative action sequences. In fact, it’s reflected in the top broadcast and streaming broadcasts. The use of a match cut, or series of match cuts, that matches the action from one shot to the next keeps the action flowing as a continuous sequence, with a momentum that carries through and over each shot. An action sequence consisting of individual shots, each displaying a single, complete and different action, would have a different rhythm and tempo with the momentum starting and stopping with each shot.
The use of a match cut, or series of match cuts, that matches the action from one shot to the next keeps the action flowing as a continuous sequence.
It’s also a simple technique for special effects. Often times, matching on action is used to imply an effect that could be dangerous to perform on camera or in real life. This is often how fight choreography works on screen. A character can wind up and throw a punch with the match cut occurring at the anticipated point of contact. The following shot is the follow through of whoever received the punch falling to the ground. The audience never sees the punch’s point of contact take place, but they believe it happened because of the match cut. An action-packed punch takes place and nobody gets hurt.
The match cut can be used to connect two shots with similar composition; the content needn’t be the same, but the composition within the frame is. This is a technique that’s often used to build an association between two disparate clips and can lend itself to the Kuleshov effect. Often times, the match cut is employed between clips with similar composition to build a thematic sequence or to transition the audience between two different locations or scenes.
A match cut between two clips with similar content is a method that editors use to progress through a sequence. It can carry the audience between different shots. For example, a scene might be set with an establishing long shot that gives context to the location and the subject matter of the scene. You might transition out of the establishing shot to a medium shot by using a match cut to keep the compositional focal point the same in both shots. In this way the match cut clears the clutter and focuses the audience’s attention.
Identifying the Match Cut
A well-placed match cut is subtle and strong. It can be a challenge to place such a powerful cut. One thing that helps in determining how to identify a match cut and where to place it is to understand that good editing is focused on relationships, relationships that exist between the various clips that make up an edit and the relationships that exist between the different subjects in the content of the narrative. By finding similar qualities in different shots, an editor can identify potential pairings for a match cut.
The edit bay is an infinite universe of possibilities. There are numerous ways for the editor to build a connection between their content and their audience. When they connect the simplest traits of their content with their most basic tools, they can find the perfect match.
Chris “Ace” Gates is a four time Emmy Award-winning writer and producer.