Editing pattern – Three ways to cut on the look and back (Part 2)

In part 1, we went over the first two most common ways to cut back to the looking character after a ‘what‘ shot (i.e. using the same or a closer scale). In part 2, we will study editing pattern #3: Cutting to a longer scale shot of the looking character. And we will see how to put all those techniques together for striking emotional choreographies.


Editing patterns #3- Back to longer shot scale

There are many reasons why you would want to cut to a longer shot of the looking character after cutting on the look. In fact, most of those reasons have already been covered in Scaling down – Cut out. For instance, scaling down the looking character adds space to the frame which lessens the tension created by the original ‘look‘ shot. In Resident Evil: Extinction (R. Mulcahy, 2007), cutting to a Medium Close Shot after a Close ‘look‘ Shot makes Claire look relieved after being scared by a falling object. In Platoon (O. Stone, 1986), Taylor looks relieved after finally killing Barnes, thanks to using a longer shot scale. Note: I substituted a drawing to the most shocking frames (please read about my KCS rule).

Cutting to a longer shot of the looking character is also a great way to take her aback after a bewildering ‘what‘ shot. In Basic Instinct (P. Verhoeven, 1992), cutting to a Medium Full Shot of Beth after a Close ‘look‘ Shot shows how confused she is to find Nick in her apartment. In Resident Evil: Extinction (R. Mulcahy, 2007), as Alice senses a presence behind her back, a Full Shot brings out how baffled and isolated she feels after cutting on the look (i.e. the three last shots). Note how off-centering the character in the longer shot helps conveying her awkward feelings in both cases.

Conversely, opening the space around the looking character with a longer shot scale is a great way to let him take action. Besides, switching from a mental to a physical shot scale is also conducive to taking action. In Godzilla (R. Emmerich, 1998), an unexpected signal grabs the attention of the captain of a fishing boat, then a wider shot emphasizes his standing up and moving to the radar display. In Rambo: First Blood Part II (G. Cosmatos, 1985), coming back to Rambo with a longer shot after a cut on the look conveys his aggressiveness towards Murdock.


All together

Now all those editing patterns can be put together to convey successive changes in mindset on the looking character’s side. For example in Love Actually (R. Curtis, 2003), David is baffled for a moment when he finds the U.S. President attempting to seduce Natalie in his office — which is suggested by a longer shot scale — then takes over the situation again — in a closer shot scale. Two opposite editing patterns are all it takes to make the character switch from a neutral to a threatened to a threatening position, just by scaling him down and up after a couple of cuts on the look.


What’s up?

Coming back to the looking character after a cut on the look doesn’t imply that we have to use the same shot scale. A closer or a longer scale will bring out instant changes in the character’s emotions — those we studied in the cut-in and cut-out sections. Of course, all those techniques can be put together to describe successive changes in mindset of the looking character.

Cutting on the look is all fine and dandy, but how about doing it in reverse (i.e. by cutting to the look)? See you soon for another great editing pattern.


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