Editing Cutaways – A Short Video Tutorial

February 13th, 2017 Jump to Comment Section

Editing quickly is not, in itself, a measure of professionalism. However, being efficient allows you to rapidly rough out ideas, increasing your chances of crafting the best story. In this tutorial, I want to show you a simple technique for editing cutaways into your timeline – a technique that will speed up your editing and ultimately allow you more time for finessing.

3-Point Editing

The most common technique for editing cutaways is simply dragging a suitable piece of b-roll down on to the timeline, and then moving it and trimming it until it looks about right. Wouldn’t it be better, though, if you thought about where you wanted the cutaway to happen, how long you wanted it to last, what specific part of the b-roll content you wanted to show, and placed it in the timeline, all in one smooth operation? 3-point editing allows you to do exactly that!

Firstly, place your playhead in the timeline where you want to cut away from your main sequence. Press ‘I’ to add an in-point to your sequence, and then play through to where you want to cut back from your cutaway, pressing ‘O’ to mark an out-point on that frame. Next, go to your source material and find the frame in your b-roll where the thing you want to show your audience starts – press ‘I’ to mark it.

In FCP X, you can go ahead and press ‘Q’ to edit the cutaway above your primary storyline.


In Premiere, initially you’ll need to patch your track controls, by simply clicking on the desired tracks to toggle them on or off. The most likely scenario would be to have v1 patched to V2 and A1/A2 off (unless you want to mix in your sync sound for atmos).

Once this is done, a quick press of ‘.’ will overwrite your source clip in to your timeline, above your main sequence media on V1.

As FCP X doesn’t have tracks, it doesn’t need a patch panel. However, if you want to augment which elements of your source clip come down, you can use Shift-1 (Video and Audio), Shift-2 (Video Only) or Shift-3 (Audio Only) prior to using ‘Q’ to perform the edit.



Back-Timed 3-Point Edits

When editing cutaways, it is often desirable to decide on the frame where the content you want to show finishes, rather than where it starts. If you set an out-point in your Source monitor, pressing ’.’ will overwrite your b-roll clip down into the timeline from the out point backwards. This is called a back-timed 3-point edit. In FCP X, once you’ve set your desired out-point in the Browser, simply press ‘Shift-Q’ to perform a back-timed edit.

In Premiere, you can actually set both an in and an out-point in the Source monitor (effectively creating a four-point edit) which will result in the option to either ignore one of the marks (a bit pointless) or, more usefully, perform a fit to fill edit. A fit to fill edit will speed up/down your source material to make it fit in between your sequence in and out points. This can be incredibly useful if you have a cutaway you want to use, that perfectly supports your narrative, but it’s just too short, or just too long. You’ll be surprised at what you can get away with!

The Breath

So that’s how to quickly add cutaways, but what about where to add them? It’s not enough to just chuck them down and not consider the way they interact with what’s going on underneath them. For example, if a cutaway started (or ended) half way through a word in an interview, it would feel abrupt. The reason for this is that it feels like someone interjecting when you’ve not finished your sentence. The cutaway becomes a rude intrusion and distracts the viewer unnecessarily. If you can possibly manage it, the best place to cut to (or from) a cutaway is during a brief pause in the dialogue.

Because we all have to take a breath before we start to talk, there is a natural rhythm to speech punctuated by these pauses for breath that we are all subconsciously tuned in to. Understanding how to take advantage of pauses in dialogue is a powerful trick, both in everyday communication and, of course, in editing.

Next time you’re talking to someone, deliberately leave a long pause (1 or 2 seconds) at the end of a sentence. You should find the other person does one of two things, either a non-verbal response (a nod, for example), to give confirmation to you that what you are saying is interesting and please do carry on, or they will interject at that point and make their own contribution to the conversation. Another good test is to talk to someone who’s distracted doing something else and then just stop talking half way through a sentence. You will find that they will stop what they are doing and look directly at you, which is something you may remember your teacher doing in class at school! Finally, the pause is also very powerfully used by politicians during speeches. They use long pauses as a means of book-ending important sound bites, the pause essentially telling the audience that what they just said, or are about to say, is very important.

Once you realise the power of the breath, you realise that positioning video cuts in these pauses is a very effective way of hiding them. Additionally, cutting back to an interviewee after a pause is an effective way of highlighting key parts of their dialogue. If you look carefully in the accompanying video to this article, you’ll notice there are several gaps, or slugs, that I have inserted in my primary storyline (V1, if you prefer), in order to create pace and highlight certain sound bites.

One final tip – if someone is talking quickly, and not stopping for breath much, the next best place to hide a video cut would be just before or just after a connective word like ‘or’, ‘and’, ‘but’. These words tell us they are about to connect a new point to the discussion. In a real conversation, hearing these trigger words would be another place where someone might try and interject in order to get their point heard before the other person steers the conversation in a new direction.

I hope you find both these tips for editing cutaways useful in your own work – please do use the comments below to tell us about your editing experiences.

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