Scaling down – Cut out (Part 3)

We have come through the descriptive aspects of cut-outs, let’s now see how they comply with typical emotional reactions of the audience, and how they are commonly used as design effects.



One of the most powerful assets of cut-outs is their ability to mimic our own moves as we emotionally react to the story. In Birdy (A. Parker, 1984), we cringe at Major Weiss refusing to admit that ‘Birdy’ — who has been committed to a psychiatric hospital — is showing signs of recovery, although Al (Birdy’s friend) has got emotional reactions from him. We know Weiss puts an end to Al’s hope to see his friend released, so cutting out is an organic way to make us recoil at his stubbornness. Note: The foreground grating emphasizes the effect as explained in Obstacles – Stripes.

Besides disappointment, fear is probably the most common reason for recoiling. In The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring (P. Jackson, 2001), we get scared at seeing Aragorn unexpectedly getting worried as he talks to Frodo. Cutting out makes us recoil as he draws his sword. In The Lost World – Jurassic Park (S. Spielberg, 1997), we recoil at seeing Stark get startled by a tiny Compsognathus. In both cases, cutting out is a natural response to our fear of being suddenly exposed to insecurity. We never want to be too close to the action when it gets scary.

Talking about fear, becoming the target of some violent action is undoubtedly the top reason for recoiling. In The Abyss (J. Cameron, 1989), being put in Coffey’s position, we become the recipient of Cat’s punch, which triggers a ‘knee-jerk’ cut-out reaction from us. Note: This is another version of the typical punch-that-sends-you-flying shot we have encountered in part 2, only starting with a different shot.



Cut-outs lend themselves very well to designing sequences of shots that bemuse, then draw the audience into the story. Actually, the following effect is nothing but a cut-out for revealing context pushed to its limits, focusing on some unexpected — but meaningful — detail, then revealing the environment, as in The Matrix (A. & L. Wachowski, 1999), when Morpheus takes Neo for a walk into a virtual reality software, or in Basic Instinct (P. Verhoeven, 1992), when Andrews investigates a crime scene. In both cases, a Close Shot of an enigmatic detail piques the audience’s interest before cutting out to a wider shot revealing the context or action.

On a different note, cut-outs can be used for the mere purpose of multiplying cuts to convey a specific feeling. For instance, when Isildur is blown away by Sauron’s power in The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring (P. Jackson, 2001), a cut-out subdivides his fall in two shots to stun the audience as though they were blinking their eyes while slightly recoiling at the blast. In Strange Days (K. Bigelow, 1995), when a terrible truth is being revealed to Lenny through his virtual reality helmet, an Extreme Close Shot of the character cuts out to a wider shot which has little explanatory value as to what is really happening around the character. This effectively brings out the instability of Lenny’s mental state. In both cases, the second shot is not meant to add meaning to the first one, it’s designed as an effect meant to convey a specific feeling.

Carried to the extreme, cut-outs — in a broad sense — can be used to substitute a meaningful sound to a violent action. In Raiders of the Lost Ark (S. Spielberg, 1981), Jones’ scream gets emphasized — with a humorous note — by a strategic ‘cut-out‘ as Marion accidentally hits his chin with a mirror. No room for humor in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (S. Peckinpah, 1974) as ‘El Jefe’ has his daughter tortured to make her reveal the name of the man who made her pregnant. Both examples show how extreme ‘cut-outs‘ (for recoiling) can be used to substitute sounds to images.


What’s up?

By having us instantly move back from the action, cut-outs mimic our own emotional reactions to the story, as when we recoil at some violent action. Used as design effects, cut-outs push what they are commonly used for (revealing/amplifying/recoiling) to new heights. Furthermore, cutting out are used to convey a specific feeling or substitute sound to action.

Now why limiting ourselves with simple cut-outs when we can interlocked one cut-out inside another in series. Go boldly and embrace nested cut-outs.


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