Features and Columns · Movies

What Makes a Cut “Feel Right”?

And what even is a “natural” edit, anyway?
Inglorious Basterds editing natural
By  · Published on March 24th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on editing, how it can just seem natural, and the science of why edits “feel right.”

You can tell that an edit in a film is “off” the same way you can tell when your shirt is on backward. It just doesn’t feel right. The question, then, is why doesn’t it feel right? Why do some cuts feel natural while others feel awkward?

When trying to put into words why some edits are more natural than others, there’s a temptation to throw your arms up and exclaim that some edits feel natural because they just do. That there is some enigmatic knowledge, embodied in both the audience and the editor, that knows and feels when an edit is “natural.” There is some truth to this answer. Editing, as an art form, does engage in a kind of musicality. Cuts can “feel right” the same way major chords do.

And yet, editors and audiences “just knowing when an edit is right” undercuts the reality that editors are expressive artists. That a cut can contain everything from explicit arguments to coded subtext. Continuity, while it often goes unnoticed, is no accident. And in the right hands, jarring edits that break the flow may be the natural choice for a given scene.

As the video essay below underlines, as an audience we identify with the camera first and the characters second. And editors make thousands of tiny decisions to affect how we experience the camera’s perspective, from its attention span to its dramatic and thematic interests. In the end, there is no hackable code as to why some cuts feel right and others don’t. But listening to editors describe their process is the next best thing.

Watch “Why Does an Edit Feel Right? (According to Science)“:

Who made this?

This video essay is by This Guy Edits, a.k.a. film editor Sven Pape, an A.C.E. award nominee, whose credits include work for directors James Cameron, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and James Franco. You can subscribe to This Guy Edits on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.