Editing pattern – Nested cut-ins (Part 2)

When action is static and the pace of nested cut-ins quick enough, the editing pattern I call the Russian doll effect really shows off its strength. Even zoom-ins or truck-ins can be edited to look like regular nested cut-ins.


The Russian doll effect

For starters, smart tricks can be used to distract the audience from the cuts of a Russian doll effect and make it more ‘discreet’. For instance, ‘squeegees’ moving across the screen over characters are very effective at hiding the cuts, as in Jaws (S. Spielberg, 1975), when Brody is anxiously watching over beachgoers, for he suspects a shark is roaming the shoreline, or in The Blue Lagoon (R. Kleiser, 1980), when Richard holds a deathly ill Emmeline to a shrine.

Dynamic lighting is another excellent means of distracting the audience from the cuts, as in Underworld (L. Wiseman, 2003), when Selene hunts down a Lycan she has wounded on a subway platform. In fact, any motion will do provided it’s distinctive enough to attract our attention — for instance a character’s gait — as in A Better Tomorrow (J. Woo, 1986), when Mark decides to exact revenge on Shing after taking a terrible beating.


A conspicuous effect

Sometimes, we don’t want the cuts to be hidden at all. On the contrary, we want to unleash a conspicuous chain reaction to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, as in Run Lola Run (T. Tykwer, 1998), when Lola screams like crazy into the phone to shut Manni up, or in The Return of the Living Dead (D. O’Bannon, 1985), when Frank and Freddy realize that ‘somebody’ is angrily pounding on the door of the storehouse. In both cases, speed of cuts (and sound) intensify the effect.

Various embellishments can be added to the Russian doll effect. For instance, in TV anime series episode The Mysterious Cities of Gold: The Labyrinth (J.-L. François, 2013), nested cut-ins show Zia trying to enter a citadel, hiding from a sentry in slow motion.

Slicing camera moves

A similar effect can be obtained by slicing zoom-ins or truck-ins on the editboard — that is without need for steady shots to cut in at all. In Born on the Fourth of July (O. Stone, 1989), several zoom-ins on Ron Kovic through the blades of a ceiling fan are used in a scene where the character is having a nightmare (the shots, although occurring at different times in the scene, have been stitched together for comparison purposes). By accelerating some carefully selected frames of the second zoom-in, the editor turned a steady camera move into a Russian doll-like effect without need for cutting at all. In TV series episode Sherlock: The Blind Banker (E. Lyn, 2011), a truck-in shot on Brian Lukis has been sliced in chunks and turned into a five-level Russian doll-like effect.

In fact, pushing the limits of that very technique can make nested cut-ins look like regular, continuous (though jerky) camera moves, as demonstrated in this excerpt from TV series episode Sherlock: The Empty Hearse (J. Lovering, 2014), where Mrs. Hudson has a fit of panic when she sees a man — who’s supposed to be dead — going through the door of her house.


What’s up?

Quick-paced and slow-action nested cut-ins (aka the Russian doll effect) are commonly used as (relatively) discreet to conspicuous design effects. Slicing camera moves on the editboard can break the limitations of steady shots, at the expense of looking more like a jerky move than regular nested cut-ins. In next article, we will visit more editing patterns with alternate moves FG, zoom-ins and truck-ins.


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