Editing – Alternatives to the ‘cut on the look’ (Part 1)

The problem with the regular and reverse cut on the look is that they are so much ubiquitous in movies that they tend to get predictable and repetitive after a while. Sometimes, we need to be more creative to add variety in our shots and keep our story interesting. Let’s review simple and effective alternatives to our beloved editing patterns in the two pages of this article.


Move the camera

Many camera moves allow to switch from the looking character to whatever-grabs-his-attention — and vice versa — in one shot, removing the need to cut on the look. The list is endless, but here are a few examples.

In Underworld (L. Wiseman, 2003), instead of cutting from the exploding window to a reverse shot of the looking character, the camera circles around him to transition from the window to his face. In Close Encounters of the Third Kind (S. Spielberg, 1977), instead of cutting from dead animals lying by the road to the looking characters in a car, a pan tracking camera follows the animals until the characters’ faces enter the frame. Both examples are effective substitutes to the reverse cut on the look.

Panning is probably the most common alternative to the regular and reverse cut on the look, as demonstrated by the following excerpt from Ocean’s Eleven (S. Soderbergh, 2001). Lateral trucking may be less common than panning — mainly because it is usually not as quick and natural — but it can be even more effective depending on the context, as is the case with A Clockwork Orange (S. Kubrick, 1971).

In fact, nearly any kind of ‘reveal’ can be used as a substitute to the cut on the look. Trucking out and zooming out are just two among many ways to include the ‘what‘ into the ‘look‘ shot, as showcased by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (S. Spielberg, 1984) and The Avengers: Thingumajig (L. Norman, 1969).


Move the characters

Now instead of resorting to elaborate camera moves in order to avoid cuts, the characters could merely let themselves in an out of frame. For instance, a classic alternative to the reverse cut on the look is to have the looking character take the stage when the subject he is looking at exits the frame. The ‘what‘ shot suddenly turns into a ‘look‘ shot without the need to cut, as in The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Circus of Death (I. J. Moore, 1967) — even though a regular ‘cut on the look and backediting pattern quickly follows.

As with ‘reveal’ camera moves (see above), the looked-at subject could enter the frame at the foreground of the ‘look‘ shot over the looking character. In Full Metal Jacket (S. Kubrick, 1987), instead of cutting from the looking characters to a reverse shot of the TV crew, the three men are made to slowly enter the frame sideways before the eyes of the soldiers. In The Blue Lagoon (R. Kleiser, 1980), the looking character herself brings her hands into the frame to avoid repeating the first cut on the look editing pattern (read more in Obstacles – Stamps). No need to overcut.


What’s up?

The natural and reverse cut on the look are great but can easily grow very dull very quickly if overused. Moving the camera or letting characters move in and out of the frame are creative and efficient substitutes to these classic editing patterns.

In part 2, we will see more surprising alternatives to the cut on/to the look.


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