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Old September 15th, 2011, 08:48 AM   #1
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Cuts vs. Dissolves

Okay, forgive me---because I'm guessing this is one of those religious debates that may have raged here in the past (and I honestly haven't had time to do a search on it)...but I've recently been caught in a tug of war over cuts versus dissolves.

In what may (or may not) be a different angle on this debate, the debate (in our production house) primarily exists between people with video backgrounds (who freely use both cuts and dissolves) and people from a journalistic background (who tend to always use hard cuts).

I'm personally right down the middle: I believe BOTH cuts and dissolves can be very effective depending on the circumstance. (And both have been used exclusively in a piece to great effect.)

But it seems that our journalists-turned-videographers (thanks to HDSLR's of course) all but refuse to ever use a dissolve. They seem to think it's "unnatural" to see overlapping images (even if only for a second). This notion has been reinforced by the likes of Mr. MediaStorm (can't remember his name) who seems to have been on a crusade against dissolves (one of my producers---from the journalism side---actually said "Well, MediaStorm advises against using dissolves...")

It's almost as if there's some bizarre perception that hard cuts = "the truth," and dissolves = "bogus marketing and fiction."

On a practical level (as an executive producer), I find that videos my (journalistic) producers have edited using cuts only are often problematic...simply because when you only use cuts, those cuts damn well better be timed flawlessly (because you notice poor cut timing if it's only off by 15 frames). With a 20-30 frame dissolve (or longer) timing is obviously much less crucial, since you blur the boundary between scenes.

So I'm just curious to get others' views on this notion that "dissolves aren't used in good journalistic video."

Scott
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Old September 15th, 2011, 09:04 AM   #2
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Re: Cuts vs. Dissolves

From basic cinematography rules a cut and a dissolve have specific meanings.

A dissolve = a change of time.

A cut = same time.

So if you follow that rule since an event would be happening all within the same block of time the convention would be to use cuts.

Of course rules are made to be broken so what it really comes down to in the end is - use what you want. There is no absolute wrong way.
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Old September 15th, 2011, 09:51 AM   #3
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Re: Cuts vs. Dissolves

I'm 100% with Chris, adding that a dissolve adds the "third image" within the dissolve... I use hard cuts almost exclusively these days, excepting a fade in or out of titles or a travelling matte or the like.

And Scott, I AGONIZE over timing in edits so I do make corrections in my cuts for pacing. Mind you, I have been editing for 13 years. Your edit staff may not have as much experience. I only got better as an editor after I resolved to use the dissolve in its "classical" context...
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Old September 15th, 2011, 10:03 AM   #4
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Re: Cuts vs. Dissolves

I cut fashion runaway shows and use cut as much as possible, but since the footage sometimes is less than perfect and there is no good way to make a good cut I resort to dissolve, it can be very useful but must be used with restraint.
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Old September 15th, 2011, 10:52 AM   #5
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Re: Cuts vs. Dissolves

All transition effects in our visual editing comprise the "punctuation" in our "motion picture flow".

Cuts represent pretty much what we do when we "cut" our eyes from one subject to another. Most of the time no change in time is implied, but it's necessary for one reason or another to change "viewpoint". Even a cut from one activity or environment to another implies little or no change in time element. It can be a "meanwhile back at..." statement.

Fades in at the beginning of a segment and fade out at the end signify something like "chapter" markers.

A dissolve transition can have a broader impact, it can present a "passage of time" on one individual or activity. The length of a dissolve matters also, a long dissolve can signify more "passage of time" while a short one the opposite. I sometimes have to use an extremely short dissolve to cover up an awkward "jump cut" when I haven't covered myself with enough "cutaway" scenes ( I try to get more shots of surroundings or people for this use these days).

This "language" of motion picture (and this is what video is, just in a more convenient for us to use form) has been developing and established in use since the very beginnings of the motion picture industry.

Quoted from original post:

(one of my producers---from the journalism side---actually said "Well, MediaStorm advises against using dissolves...")

End quote

This producer needs to broaden his informed status on this issue. Mindless adherence to something like this will only impact negatively on the jounalistic quality that results. The "language" of motion picture exists and one is either "fluent" or is operating with limited "expression".

Where a dissolve may not be the best transition, I recommend a fast fade to black and an equally fast fade up the next scene as being less "abrupt" than a cut that makes little sense.
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Old September 15th, 2011, 01:35 PM   #6
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Re: Cuts vs. Dissolves

Hey, an aesthetics debate - makes a change!

There's no doubt that dissolves get tiring and cloying quite quickly but a well timed cut never does - I find even 4 or 5 frames can make a difference. But I do find dissolves nice when editing very similar shots together without cutaways, as if one is viewing a sculpture from different angles. I don't think this implies a passage of time but a change of perspective.

All the 'rules' can be broken of course - look at the effectiveness of jump cuts in certain dramatic situations and some of it is just fashion: I've noticed a recent trend in UK TV interviews that almost dispenses with noddies and cutaways and uses a very quick flash (fade out/in) between edits - too quick to avoid a jump, or sometimes nothing inbetween at all. The jump-cut effect is initially jarring as the interviewee position changes slightly but strangely the more one sees it, the more it seems OK, almost more honest as it unashamedly shows the artificiality of the process.

I used a horizontal push the other day; forgive me Father.
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Old September 15th, 2011, 01:57 PM   #7
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Re: Cuts vs. Dissolves

Quote:
Originally Posted by Geoffrey Cox View Post
All the 'rules' can be broken of course
I heard this all the time when I used to teach and I stand by what I said back then:

"I agree wholeheartedly! Now, once you LEARN the rules and can explain WHY you have CHOSEN to break them and the merit behind your decision, I won't dock you marks for covering a mistake by 'breaking' the rules"

EDIT: FTR, I agree with Geoffrey...
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Old September 15th, 2011, 02:04 PM   #8
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Re: Cuts vs. Dissolves

There used to be a fashion of cutting to a few frames of black when shortening interviews. A sort of letting the audience know that this isn't the full answer.

With jump cuts I prefer a solid jump rather than slight movements. In a talking head interview it seems more like you haven't got the visual material that the interviewee is talking about, or you haven't shot your cutaways or changed frame size during the interview.
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Old September 15th, 2011, 02:11 PM   #9
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Re: Cuts vs. Dissolves

Couldn't agree more Shaun. I'm from a music background (and teach it) and I was taught that to be really creative musically you need to learn all (well, realistically, some) of the rules, absorb them so they become second nature then forget them and just get on with it. But it doesn't do any harm to remind yourself of them from time to time either. Same applies to much anything really.

What I say to my students is that at first, the naive / intuitive approach can work and produce really fresh, even startling work but it doesn't last as one just falls back on the same thing again and again and no development happens; for that rules, reflection and method need to come in. Otherwise you end up with the last 35 years of the Rolling Stones' career.
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Old September 15th, 2011, 02:17 PM   #10
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Re: Cuts vs. Dissolves

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Drysdale View Post
In a talking head interview it seems more like you haven't got the visual material that the interviewee is talking about, or you haven't shot your cutaways or changed frame size during the interview.
But, Brian, is that just editors who worry about that? Your average viewer just sees it as a style, which in the cases I'm talking about, it is?
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Old September 15th, 2011, 02:51 PM   #11
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Re: Cuts vs. Dissolves

This sounds like a fun topic with no right or wrong so...

My take on it is each has it's purpose and that purpose changes depending on the project. And theres a bunch of other transition styles other than cut and dissolve. Yes some are cheesy but some work really well in specific applications. I'm also a big fan of dip to black and flashbulb. At one edit house I worked for, the game we used to play as editors was to see what new transition you could add to a piece without the boss noticing. (he had a very good eye) I'd say we added a few acceptable transition types to the catalog. And it only worked when it was tastefully applied.

After watching the Star Wars saga for the billionth time, I have started noticing the abundant use of shape dissolves or wipes which drives me crazy. And one of my favorite shows, Burn Notice, uses additive dissolves or flashes along with what I call the "montage cut". Where the transition is a series of images each on screen for about 5 frames and punctuated with a freeze or flash. I was using a similar transition in corporate pieces where I'd use outtakes as the transition material years ago.

Yeah the rules are there as a guideline but I like thinking outside the box to create flow and mood.
And yes, there's times when the client limits me to cuts or combination of cuts and dissolves or wants crazy transitions like cube spins and glass shatter. The bottom line is the client's the one i have to make happy no matter how silly or boring it may be.


And on an interesting note, i also have a music background! That might be an interesting poll!
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Old September 15th, 2011, 03:18 PM   #12
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Re: Cuts vs. Dissolves

Quote:
Originally Posted by Geoffrey Cox View Post
But, Brian, is that just editors who worry about that? Your average viewer just sees it as a style, which in the cases I'm talking about, it is?
It's the editors job to worry about that, it's part of their skill in telling a story. Jump cuts in an interview can be a waste of a powerful cinematic device, they need to be there for a reason. Otherwise they become like the meaningless out of focus BBC interview 2 shots with a vase in the foreground sharp, or the worst case (on recently) a low angle 2 shot shot with the carpet (without even an interesting pattern) in focus.

There are connections to be made by a cut, as Stan Brakhage put it: "until a man is excited about the mechanics of putting two pieces of film together, and is thrilled by his own 'sweat' in the matter, he'll never make a connection as meaningful as that expected by any village blacksmith." A bit romantic perhaps about the process... and I guess he'd include "or woman" these days.

The wipes etc in Star Wars are a reference to the old Republic Saturday morning serials in the cinema like Flash Gordon.
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Old September 15th, 2011, 06:12 PM   #13
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Re: Cuts vs. Dissolves

I don't really disagree with anything you've said there Brian and I like the quotation.

What I wonder though is that much of what is being discussed here can be seen as being about convention, about 'devices' which now have meaning attached to them through precedent, but do they really have intrinsic meaning or are they simply iconic i.e. just referring to devices used in earlier films? The jump cut in an interview could be viewed as a waste, yes, but only if you think of it as associated with a particular dramatic device rather than just a transparent edit.

The reason I raise this is to suggest that the man who gets excited about the mechanics of an edit (and I do!) might make more genuinely meaningful connections if he questions the fundamental assumptions we make about such mechanics.
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Old September 15th, 2011, 07:03 PM   #14
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Re: Cuts vs. Dissolves

Geoffrey, I would say that for many of the conventions that we see in film today, it goes much beyond what we are use to seeing done in film history. A lot has to do with the way we as an observer of a story see things naturally. For instance, when we look from one subject to the next in a real life situation, we don't visualize them as dissolves and fades. We jump from one subject to the next, usually preceded by a blink which is much like a cut in film (Walter Murch discusses this in A Blink of an Eye). The more action there is, the more our eyes jump from around looking at the various things happening. So it makes sense that action sequences have many more rapid cuts.

There are times when we as observers reflect on something we just saw as we observe the next sequence of actions. This situation may feel like a cross dissolve.

For me, the bottom line is that I edit to draw a viewer into the story. Whether it be a narrative or documentary/journalistic piece, my goal is to draw the audience into it and to hold them in that world that I'm creating on the screen. In order to do that, I have to be careful to not create any situations that will surprise the audience out of that world. It could be a continuity error, a line that is so out of place or context that the audience no longer believes, or an edit that is too jarring or does not fit the situation. That's when an edit is just incorrect. The transition is part of the cut and needs to be thought out just as carefully as the timing of the cut itself.

The rhythm, mood, subject, and look of the two pictures you are putting together when editing that dictates what feels right. The right edit will guide the viewer through the story and will continue to draw them into it.

As always, this is just my opinion and there are several others and some who think I'm completely nuts.

-Garrett
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Old September 15th, 2011, 07:35 PM   #15
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Re: Cuts vs. Dissolves

To me, there are three situations for fades:

1) A long fade for passage of time.
2) A series of fades for a dreamy feel, like in a photo slideshow. Rather a series of fades than a grab bag of matrix transitions, horizontal pushes, and heart wipes.
3) As a fix, when the script calls for a cut between two clips, but a cut is too jarring with the limited, available footage.

I'm sure there are other uses, but those are the only situations where I've used them.

Of course, there are other solutions for #3. A black or white flash can be used for a jump cut. Recently, I used a subtle digital dolly push (or was it a pull?) to give one of the clips enough motion to make the cut less jarring. Rather than a transition, I was doing in post what I should have done with the camera. And with that trick, the cut looked absolutely natural. I don't know that you could hide a jump cut with it, but for a cut where there is too little motion in the clip, applying false motion can work.

The bottom line: try the cut first, unless the transition effect tells a specific story message or is part of a deliberate style choice. If the cut doesn't work, find the least intrusive way of making the piece flow.
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