I’m Laura, resident editor at FLETCHERWILSON and I want to talk a bit about two of my favourite ‘cuts’ - the J Cut and the L Cut!
If you’re reading this blog you may not be an editor in which case you’ll almost certainly have no idea what a J/L Cut is, but if you watch TV and films you’ll almost certainly have regularly seen this technique used (and not been aware of it).
Allow me to explain the creative and technical wonders of the J/L Cut so that you can sound like a pro the next time you’re watching a film with friends.
In simple terms J/L Cuts are when the cut between two pictures in a film don’t happen at the same time as the corresponding audio. When the audio comes in before the picture this is a J Cut. When the audio continues beyond the accompanying video this is an L Cut.
Above are two screenshots taken from a video I’ve been editing. Look at the video and audio in purple - you should be able to see the shot on the left best resembles a J whilst the shot on the right best resembles a L.
Still having trouble picturing how J/L cuts appear in the finished film? Have you ever been watching a film where the focus is on a character and then all of a sudden the ambient sound of cars can be heard despite the character’s pensive expression taking place in a field in the sticks? This is an example of a J cut used in a transitional way, usually used as a way of introducing the audience gradually to a new scene. This way of transitioning helps maintain the rhythm and pace of the film which would otherwise be lost in a dip to black or hard cut.
The most common kind of J & L cuts are ones that include B-Roll (footage with no spoken word which gives context to the edit) like the example above (you can make out on the timeline shots of cakes that are the B-roll, these are cut with the footage of the person we’re interviewing). Using J & L cuts this way is an effective way of giving the b-roll context in a time efficient manner because we still hear the content of the interview being played underneath.
Aside from B-roll another way I have been incorporating J/L cuts into my edits is in interview footage, particularly videos that feature a lot of speakers intercut together to tell a story in a short space of time. This technique helps the edit run seamlessly without unnecessary pauses - it enables the edit to run more naturally and more akin to real life. In real-life, conversations tend to run over each other as opposed to stopping and starting and this is what we’re emulating whilst at the same time saving time in our edit.
“Without L cuts, a conversation between two people can feel like a tennis match” (Osgood, study guide for visual storytelling, 2013)
Additional Benefits and Uses of an L & J Cut
Pauses in a film not only detract from the pace and flow but they also add up. Sliding a swift J cut under the previous speaker to cut into the following speaker ensures a smooth, timely transition that visually confers the end of a speaker’s sentence without needing a (time consuming and pace spoiling) break to denote this.
One of my favourite techniques used in film is when the audio gives the viewer a listen into an element of the story but without revealing any visual indication of where the audio is coming from. It can create an atmospheric uneasiness as seen often in the works of David Lynch. Another example of where this is used is an experimental film (available on Netflix) called Upstream Color. It interestingly uses J/L cuts to enter into a montage of events that take the film on a rhythmic journey that flows seamlessly from scene to scene. A scene from Upstream color, with both J & L cuts can be viewed here.
Whether your interest is as a film buff or maybe a client who wants to understand a bit more about the editing process, I hope this short introduction to my favourite cut has been useful. If you've got any questions you can post them in the comments below.