Film Editing 101: Types Of Transitions

By Jahnavi Patwardhan. Posted on July 08, 2015

"The notion of directing a film is the invention of critics - the whole eloquence of cinema is achieved in the editing room" said Orson Welles. A directors vision of the movie is incomplete till the editor has done his/her magic. While screenwriters and directors are the first and second storytellers of a movie, editors are the third ones. The editor may construct or deconstruct a narrative or documentary and shape it to his or her own will.

Here's a lowdown on the basics of editing.

The Cut

The 'cut' got its name from early motion picture editing. To edit movies shot on film, editors physically cut out the scenes they wanted to keep and joined them together with strips of clear tape. For many years, editors and producers who wanted to tell stories on film could only use cuts. Technology changed over several decades, but jargon didn't. Today the basic video edit is still called a cut, despite the fact that no physical cutting ever happens. On screen, a cut appears as an instantaneous change from one scene to another within a program. Your mind reacts to a cut the same way it reacts to your eyes blinking.

An eye blink clears the image in your mind and prepares it to process a new one. Stop reading for moment and look around the room. Notice how your blinks punctuate the visual study of things around you. The cut mimics that behavior. It lets you control where and how an audience focuses on the story in your video by using a visual technique they react to naturally. While cuts are the oldest and most primitive of edits, they remain the most popular tool to get from scene to scene within a program. The reason: the cut itself is invisible.

Fade in/Fade out

Fade ins and fade outs are the second most common type of transition. Fade outs happen when the picture is gradually replaced by black screen or any other solid color. Traditionally, fade outs have been used to conclude movies. Fade ins are the opposite: a solid color gradually gives way to picture, commonly used in the beginning of movies.

Despite being the second most used transition, fades are seldom adopted by editors. An average feature film will have only a couple of fades, if that. Fades are used sparingly because they imply the end of a major story segment. Fades are also utilized when allowing the audience time to catch their breath after an intense sequence.

L-Cut and J-Cut

Editors also need to master L-cuts and J-cuts. A J-cut occurs when the audio from the next clip is heard before the video. An L-cut is when the video switches before the audio. The names of these cuts come from the shapes they make on the cutting timeline:

  • J-cut means you hear the audio before you see the video that matches with that audio. It doesn’t mean you’re staring at a black screen. It just means you’re looking at clip A while hearing the audio from clip B.
  • L-cut means you’re still hearing the audio from a shot but you’re seeing a new shot. The viewer is looking at clip B while still hearing audio from clip A.

A good way to practice editing is to take a conversation between two characters and try to edit it together in the most seamless way possible. You can’t do that without L-cutting and J-cutting because they make things more conversational. You are accustomed to seeing J-cuts and L-cuts because every drama show on television uses these techniques.

Here's a helpful tutorial to understand these cuts further!


Also known as overlapping, dissolves happen when one shot gradually replaces by the next. One disappears as the following appears. For a few seconds, they overlap, and both are visible. Commonly used to signify the passage of time.


Wipes are dynamic. They happen when one shot pushes the other off frame. George Lucas deliberately used them throughout the Star Wars series.A video fade is when a shot gradually fades to (or from) a single colour, usually black or white. A fade is different to a cross-fade, which is a transition directly between two shots rather than one shot to a colour.


The "fade from black" and "fade to black" are ubiquitous in film and television. They usually signal the beginning and end of a scene. The timing of the fades indicates the importance of the change in time and/or location between scenes — a slower fade with more time spent on black indicates a more significant end/beginning. A fairly quick fade to and from black could indicate a time lapse of a few minutes or hours, whereas a long drawn-out fade indicates a much bigger change.

These types of transitions are easy to learn and practice for new filmmakers as well! Here's another video to help you along with these transitions.


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