Getting Started in Editing #3 – Match Cuts

So you’ve got your rough cut laid down (be sure to check out the the First tutorial, and the Second in order to get caught up).  It took some effort to keep your perfectionist attitude away from fine-tuning, but you did it.  Now you have a full movie laid out and chances are you’re starting to see what needs to be moved around in order to make it flow better.  Of course doing that is based off of the individual film and your own editing style, but today we are going to be talking about fine cutting your film; in particular we are going to talk about the Match Cut.
Match Cutting is the basis of “continuous editing” or what many of you have heard called “invisible” editing.  It’s where a scene flows together so well, the audience never consciously notice the cuts that are made.  When you are going over your fine-cut it’s important to make sure your cuts are matching smoothly, with no jarring Jump Cuts (unless of course that’s the style you’re taking the film; which we’ll talk about later).  In laying down the general rough cut, it’s more than likely there are several areas in which you’ll have to trim a frame or two (yes sometimes just 1 frame will throw off everything). 
When match cutting it’s important to consider movement, composition, and timing.  If something is moving in the frame, and you’re cutting from a Wide to Medium shot (or vice versa) you have to make sure the last frame of your first shot and the first frame of your second shot are essentially the same (different shots of course, but you know what I mean).  Let’s break this down a little.  Let’s say you’re cutting from Shot 1 (wide) to Shot 2 (medium):
Shot 1:  Actor A is waving goodbye
Shot 2:  Actor A is waving goodbye
The shots are the same right?  The easiest way to match movement is to pick a point on Shot 1, and then match Shot 2 to it.  In this instance with the actor waving it’s made a little easier.  Just stop the hand when it’s either to the right or left, just before he starts pulling it back to the other side or just as his hand is reaching the current point.  Generally speaking you don’t want to cut right at a stop in the motion.  While it seems like the easiest idea, it actually creates what looks to be a jump cut (partially where the timeing aspect comes in). 
So you find the frame you need and mark it, or cut it exactly on that point.  Next you’ll go to the second shot and scroll through (sometimes you just have to take it frame by frame, not everytime, but sometimes) until you find the spot on the second shot the matches the first.  The hand should be in the same position, hopefully the actor hasn’t drastically changed expressions, and your background should match as well (this is where composition comes into play).
Now, when I talk about timing, what I mean is there are times when you’re going to have to let the match cut go.  Sometimes it will look more pleasing to the eye when the frames do not exactly match.  If you need your actor to take few more steps or need your first shot just a couple seconds longer, you might have to sacrifice seeing the same action twice when you come in tighter (this works best when going from an extremely wide shot to a tight one).  Shoot you can catch a shot like that a couple times even in Star Wars Revenge of the Sith, so it happens…don’t beat yourself up about it. 
No matter the style in which you edit, you’re going to rely fairly heavily on match cuts.  They are the lifeblood of good editing, so becoming efficient with them will be integral to your career.