Editing pattern – Nested cut-outs

Less notorious than nested cut-ins, nested cut-outs are common place in action and ‘creative’ movies. This editing pattern incrementally moves the audience away from the action either at a slow or quick pace depending on the desired effect. Even zoom-outs or truck-outs can be edited to look like regular nested cut-outs.


Opening or closing a scene

Moving back incrementally is a way of revealing one character or element of context at a time, making for intriguing scene openings. In TV series episode The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Egyptian Queen (M. Chomsky, 1968), two nested cut-outs (i.e. three consecutive shots getting wider and wider roughly along the same axis) are used to present first a gem through a magnifying glass, then Gordon scrutinizing an Egyptian sarcophagus, then the room of the museum where Gordon and the curator are standing (read more on revealing characters, context and action). Conversely, this editing pattern can also be used to close a scene by gradually removing the audience from the action. For example, the last scene of Little Big Man (A. Penn, 1970) edited as a flashback ends with two cross-fading nested cut-outs slowly leaving Jack and Old Lodge Skins to their fate as they walk away. Most of the time, three shots are enough to create momentum, which will be unconsciously felt by the audience as a way of opening or closing a chapter of the story.


The inverse Russian doll effect

Quick nested cut-outs — or what I call the inverse Russian doll effect — are commonly used to stress the audience out by making them incrementally recoil from scary action, as in Birdy (A. Parker, 1984), when Al tries to get a hold of ‘Birdy’ who is grabbing onto the gutter of an industrial building (read more on cutting out for recoiling). In Rambo: First Blood Part II (G. Cosmatos, 1985), nested cut-outs are used both to make the audience recoil from the blast and to quickly scale down the mushroom cloud as it grows, bringing out its huge size (read more on cutting out for amplifying). Note: Several shots have been trimmed out of this sample clip for the sake of clarity (see full version here).

In Wanted (T. Bekmambetov , 2008), the inverse Russian doll effect is used to startle the audience the same way Wesley gets startled by the stapler of his overbearing boss. By forcing us to quickly adapt to the action three times in a split second, the effect effectively conveys the ‘stressed-out’ feeling of the character (read more on cutting out for designing).


Overdesigning nested cut-outs

There is no limit to the number of successive cut-outs that can be used in an inverse Russian doll effect, all the more so as they are meant to be conspicuous. In Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides (R. Marshall, 2011), the moment Sparrow and Gibbs realize they have been surrounded by an army squad is edited as three nested cut-outs (i.e. four shots), each of them being outlined by an orchestral percussion sound to make it clearly conspicuous. The editing pattern triggers a comic effect that can hardly go unnoticed.

Furthermore, the camera doesn’t need to remain still for the effect to work. In fact, zoom-outs and truck-outs can be chopped into pieces so that they look like regular nested cut-outs, as in TV series episode Sherlock: The Empty Hearse (J. Lovering, 2014), when the camera moves back — in fits and starts — from Watson unable to move from under a pyre of wooden pallets and branches on which a Guy is about to be burnt.


What’s up?

Serializing cut-outs creates momentum, which can prove a great way to open or close a scene. At quick pace, this editing pattern acts a reverse Russian doll effect, drastically amplifying the action or making the audience recoil at some stressful or scary action. Adding more steps to the effect makes it more conspicuous, especially when trading off static shots for slices of zoom-outs or truck-outs.

In next article, we will see that entire scenes can be based on alternating cut-ins and cut-outs.


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