Are Your Cuts Making the Cut?

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This is the third point I made in the post ‘What’s Wrong with Your Storyboards.’ That point being bad cutting.

But ‘bad’ is such a strong word, so we’ll say ‘poor choice’ of cutting.

The reason I don’t want to use ‘bad’ is because the samples I’m going to show are from one of the cool people who took me up on my free story consulting offer of a few weeks ago. And I don’t want to call anyone whose work I critique, “bad”. Because it wasn’t.

This brave soul is Fred Chung. He sent me some storyboard samples of his original stories. We then had a great webinar meeting and dug into his work. He came away with some solid feedback and (hopefully) some helpful advice to make his storyboards stronger.

So what better way to give a lesson than to use real world examples? Because let’s face it. Fred is not the only person making these kinds of cutting choices.

Trust me.

In the ‘What’s Wrong with Your Storyboards.’post I wrote:

This can be a gray area. Is a bad cut, a wrong cut? Yes, sometimes it is.

I’d say the closer in similarity two shots (cutting to each other) are, the more chance you have of it being a bad cut that must be changed. If it creates a ‘not for dramatic effect’ jump cut, it’s wrong.

Say you have a wide shot of three people and you cut to the next shot of the same three people and that shot is just a little closer, you probably have a jump cut on your hands. Change it.

Now I’m only going to get so far in this post. There can be so many variations of improper cutting in the world (I don’t mean just you Fred!), that I could write a book. So I’m going to show you two examples of one kind today. This subject can continue in the future when I see a good example pop up, OK?

Makes for easy material when I’m feeling like a lazy ass too.

Let’s get to it!

Here’s where Fred had placed a cut between two of his scenes.

This is a very common choice that I would label more on the ‘wrong’ side of things. Cutting from a 3-shot to another 3-shot can be risky business. Especially when the characters have remained relatively the same size with similar silhouettes as you can see illustrated below.

If the silhouettes are so similar when you cut, the characters will ‘pop’ or ‘jump’ to the new pose and it creates weirdness. Kind of a “Huh? Wha? What happened?” in your audiences’ head.

The characters change ever so slightly, yet the background changes more. It goes from a straight horizon line to a diagonal one for seemingly no reason. Another jump. Another “Huh? Wha?”.

The first thing I would ask (and you should ask yourself) is, “Did you really need to cut at all?”

Since the shots are so similar, I can safely bet the answer is, “No.”

So don’t.

Stay there and just continue to pose out the action. Or make some other choices if that tells the story better. Maybe starting on a 2-shot of the girls on the left is better. Then the girl with pony tails could walk in. Or keep the 3-shot and cut to a close-up.

A very rough rule of thumb for people just starting out (and this is *not* a steadfast rule by any means) is the more you vary the shot choice from cut to cut, the less chance you have of ‘bad cutting’.

So a 3-shot to a 3-shot is risky. But a 3-shot to a close-up isn’t. Or a 3-shot to a 2-shot isn’t. The more variation in the number of characters and shot size, the smaller the chance of a ‘jump’ in the cut.

Kinda make sense? Here’s another one.

That’s a little sequence with two cuts. We have a 3-shot to another 3-shot, then to a 2-shot. I wouldn’t say these cuts are ‘wrong’ but there are probably better choices.

The first is still a 3-shot to a 3-shot. But it is different than our first example because the size of the girls does change. Since they are in the same position and only their sizes change, it does create that ‘pop/jump’ again. They ‘pop’ bigger and smaller respectively. Not the best choice.

So here’s a quick and easy solution (because we dig quick and easy). The best way to ‘dump the jump’ is to add a close-up.

Ahh, the close-up.

Nothing cures awkward cutting better than the good old close-up. (Unless of course your whole storyboard is made of 90% close-ups…then for shame! But that’s a whole other problem.)

So we have our 3-shot. Then we cut to the hook-up pose of pony tail girl.

Then we pose her out. She gets sad, she leaves. (FYI – that S/A means ‘same as’ the previous background. A real labeling time saver.)

Her exit is missing in the original scene even though I think he intended for her to completely exit the frame. But show it with the word ‘out’ and the arrow (at least in TV animation boards).

Then we can cut to this 2-shot of the other girls and all is well in the world. Again, in the original board, these girls would have ‘jumped’ as well. They would suddenly get bigger but with their full bodies in both shots. That is a recipe for a jump cut as well. Too similar.

So there you have it.

And I just scratched the surface.

Please don’t consider this ‘the complete guide to cutting’ by any means. But I gave you a taste of one problem and I hope you learned something. That’s all I can hope for, right?

Let’s give Fred props for letting us all learn from some of his work, shall we?

Thanks guy. 🙂

Read the Storyboard Blog by RSS Feed or by email to see if I pick on anyone else in the future.

10 thoughts on “Are Your Cuts Making the Cut?

  1. T. Benjamin Larsen

    Great stuff as always Karen. Thought I would just make a quick book-recommendation to those of your readers who want to dig deeper: Steven Katz’ ‘Film Directing: Shot by Shot’ and the follow-up ‘Cinematic Motion’

    While both books are geared towards live-action rather than animation they do give a reasonable head-start in ‘camera’ use from a story-board perspective…

    Here’s the Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Film-Directing-Visualizing-Concept-Productions/dp/0941188108

    Reply
  2. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hey Ben!
    Thanks for those. 🙂

    They were actually mentioned here before in Adrien’s post about Storyboard Training. But they are surely worth mentioning again.

    A book recommendation list is on my ‘to do’ list. Along with a bunch of other stuff…

    (And you’re not just trying to stick affiliate links in my comment section are you? 😉 )

    Kidding!
    K

    Reply
  3. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Thanks Mihir and welcome!

    I’ll talk a bit about labeling in the next post. But as it’s a pretty big subject, I’ll let you know that I’ll be writing an eBook on labeling soon. If you have any questions you want addressed, feel free to contact me with them. 🙂

    K

    Reply

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