Secrets of Indie Filmmaking

Secrets of Indie Filmmaking: Cutaway Shots

Ardent Partner Christopher Comrie returns with Secrets of Indie Filmmaking.
Two weeks ago he discussed SOUND. In this week’s post he advises on the importance of Cutaway shots in the editing room.

CUTAWAY SHOTS

These are shots that you most likely wouldn’t include in your shot list or storyboard, because they are not an “essential” part of telling the story.

For something that’s not essential, they will however save your butt in the middle of the night when you’re trying to make a cut that seems impossible in the middle of a scene.

For instance, you’ve got a scene where actors are eating nachos and drinking.You need to cut to an angle on the other actor, but between all the handslifting nachos and putting down beer glasses you can’t find a cut that isn’t jarring, much less one that matches exactly. If you were smart enough to take one or several nice shots of the immediately surrounding environment, you could drop it in between the two shots to ease the transition.

The dreaded nacho scene took place at an outdoor bar on the beach late at night. How I wished I’d had any of the following shots to cut away to for a moment: A close up of the nacho basket. A shot of a beer glass being refilled. Waves on the beach. The moon through some palm leaves. Coconuts in the sand. A bug flying around a lightbulb.
And so on.

If you’re really clever, you’ll also keep an eye out for visual motifs, and try to pick up as many shots related to the motif as possible. A good time to pick up cutaways is immediately after you feel you have achieved the basic coverage of the scene, before you release the actors and start setting up the next scene. You will now have a useful sense of the scene’s rhythm, and what might make a smooth, supportive cutaway.

Watch “The Graduate” again, and count how many shots of water there are. For myself, when first shooting in Mexico, I was amazed at how many dogs were wandering free everywhere, from the city streets to the pueblos, to country roads. I started collecting shots of dogs doing their thing.

Dogs make fantastic cutaways, but be aware that any time a random shot of a dog appears on the screen, some part of the audience will audibly go “awww!”, which can distract from the story.

Also, if I am in attendance, I will always be one of those people. I mean, look at our logo.

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