Jump Cut: Playing With Time and Space
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read

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The jump cut is one of the most widely recognized techniques in filmmaking. Even if audiences don’t know what to call it, they can easily recognize it when they see it. The often-jarring effect is time-honored as a means of altering the way a sequence is experienced to powerful effect. Understanding what a jump cut is and how to use it is an essential tool for any film director.

Jump Cut Definition

What is a jump cut? Jump cuts are a device in filmmaking that creates the effect of skipping over time or manipulating space within the confines of a scene. It is the craft of taking a linear narrative time frame of action in either a single or multiple shots and using editing to piece them together outside of linear time. This will suggest continuity, despite fragments of linear time missing.

For example, say you film a person crossing the street and eliminate the middle section of the action of crossing the street when presenting it to the audience. The street-crosser begins at one end of the street in the first frames, then suddenly appears on the other side of the street — without us seeing the actual crossing.

The camera has, in fact, recorded the entire action of crossing the street. But that middle section of the crossing is gone. This “jump cut” is called so because the subject on the screen has “jumped” over the action. Intuitively, the audience is well aware that the person walked across, but since they don’t get to see it, that middle action has to be filled in by their minds.

On-screen, this can transmit any number of emotions, sensations, impressions, and other visual language signals that change the way viewers experience a scene. As we will see, there can be uses in various genres, as broad as horror and comedy all the way to drama and action movies.

Effects of the jump cut can be surreal, frightening, or purposely confusing — which is one of the reasons they are also referred to as “discontinuity editing.” Clever directors use jump cuts to manipulate audience reactions and upend expectations. Not to be overused, the trick is to balance jump cuts to maximize their power upon the overall storytelling in a film or video project.

Jump Cut: Uses in Film and Video

Any audiovisual medium employing prerecorded technology can employ the jump cut. For obvious reasons, theatrical productions do not have access to the technique since it would require transporting the audience in time — something that the unbroken narrative structure of the stage cannot achieve.

It is important to understand the difference in jump cuts between film and video. While essentially able to achieve the same effect, different approaches can influence how they are used in the respective mediums.

Jump Cut: Filming

Jump cuts in film are all about manipulating the way a narrative is experienced. There are many approaches that can achieve a number of desired effects. Regardless of the director’s goals, it all must serve the storytelling in the most basic unit of the medium, visual language. Because jump cuts in film serve this context, they have to be more precise in their strategic use, something we will explore later.

What Are Jump Cuts in a Video Recording?

In the age of social media, video recordings have taken on a life of their own. Unlike the needs of linear narratives, YouTubers and TikTokers use jump cuts for very different reasons that are just as effective in their spheres. A primary motivation is to improve the flow of a video, where content creators can erase intervals like taking a breath or flubbing a line to keep the content moving. This is critical since the social video medium relies on brevity to serve audience expectations for short-form pieces.

Jump Cut: Editing

The jump cut is typically planned in advance when shooting a film, but its actual implementation occurs during the editing process. A single shot or multiple shots from different angles from the same scene are prepared on set and filmed. Then, like any other set of scenes, the segments of the shots are sequenced in a particular way.

In traditional film, for example, the single shot would be divided in the middle, merging the two ends at the beginning and end of the sequence. Following the person crossing the street scene proposed earlier, that one strip of film would take two cuts to extract the walking action in the street itself. Then the start of the walk and end of the walk would be spliced together.

While the jump cut can be planned for during the early stages of screenwriting, it can also be commonly found in storyboards and shot lists. In some cases, jump cuts are the result of experimentation in the editing room, perhaps as a way to enhance the strength of a scene.

There is no standard approach to planning the use of the jump cut. Whether it’s designed in the origins of the storytelling or presents itself later in the process, jump cuts must always be kept in mind as powerful filmmaking tools.z

Jump Cut Popular Uses

The history of the jump cut has seen its use evolve. In early cinema, it was popular to create the illusion of one figure transposing the space of another. For example, imagine a tree on a hill bare of leaves in the winter jumping to the same shot in spring while the tree is in full bloom. In the space of a frame, we have jumped forward months.

Primitive special effects would use the jump cut method to do everything from making people disappear in puffs of smoke to classic Jekyll and Hyde transformations. In these uses, time would be left alone while the nature of the space changed. Considering the tree and transformation examples, you can see that the displacement of time and space is the basic unit of the jump cut.

The way a jump cut is used can vary greatly. Here are some common ways directors use them, but you can always innovate to explore new functions for the technique.

To Startle and Frighten

Horror movies love using the jump cut. If you’ve ever seen a horror movie, you are very familiar with the technique. A menacing figure lurks in the background, perhaps a monster or a killer. The victim backs away, only to turn and see the creature standing right next to them, ready to strike. In this example, the space the antagonist had to move to threaten the protagonist is eliminated from view, and the surprise of the antagonist suddenly being in the forefront of the scene gives the audience a fright.

A good example of this happens in the horror film, The Ring. In it, the drowned ghost emerges from a well in a TV video, then crosses from the screen into the real world. Her victim is terrified and in a series of jump cuts, the ghost appears to move much closer to him, skipping spaces in between. This affords a supernatural feeling which heightens the terror.

Amping Up a Scene

In dramatic scenes or action sequences, the jump cut can be used to inject energy. A common way this is achieved is with the axial cut. This is when the same shot is taken from the same angle and acts as a zoom in or zoom out, but with cuts rather than with camera lens movement. Picture a protagonist running to the scene of a fight. Three jump cuts get in closer and closer to their face as they run toward the camera. Such an effect amps up the energy of the scene, giving audiences more of a thrill.

Car chases can use this technique to great effect. In the film, Mad Max Fury Road, during a key action scene where Furiosa is defending her convoy from marauders, a series of jump cuts bring the chasing cars in closer and closer in successive shots.

Similarly, shots taken from different angles can work that same scene in a different way. We watch that same runner from different angles, skipping over time to get to the fight. Instead of amping up the visceral energy, an emotive augmentation can occur. Audiences experiencing this type of jump-cut sequence can become more involved in the emotion of the moment, thanks to the technique.

Emotional Expressionism

Jump cuts can be used to make an emotional scene more powerful. Think of a character crying when hearing the news that a loved one has passed. Now imagine multiple handheld shots of the same scene spliced together with jump cuts. Different angles of the same action over time can heighten the pathos behind such powerful experiences and cause the audience to feel the character’s experience on more levels. This can be applied to joy, fear, excitement, and other emotions. The classic Jean-Luc Godard film Breathless has a famous scene where the protagonists have a discussion while riding in a car. The disjointed jump cut editing scene speaks to their own lack of emotional focus and recklessness.


Sometimes, jump cuts are all about style. You will see these often in everything from heist movies to sneaker commercials. Creating a slickness to a sequence can transmit awe and an element of stylishness in compressed time. Imagine a basketball player showing off their moves on the court through a series of jump cuts. You can see an example of this in Space Jam 2 when NBA star LeBron James is showing off his moves on the court.

One moment, he’s blocking a shot; the next, he steals the ball; finally, he does a slam dunk. You didn’t see all the action happen. But it felt pretty awesome watching it. The director can use several well-framed shots to create a sequence design that can thrill and impress with style.

Montage: Fragmented Time

One of the most popular uses of the jump cut in film is the montage. Here, we compress a longer span of time to transmit critical narrative information without burning up minutes in a film. Think of a child being told they have to clean their room before they can go out and play with their friends.

A series of jump cuts in the same room can show them putting away toys, making the bed, and hanging clothes in their closet. A wall clock in the background can even be shown advancing to mark the passage of minutes. By using this jump cut, directors not only save time but can also use it to transmit empathy for the character’s conflicts as they work to overcome and resolve them.

Jump Cut Summary

While there are a multitude of reasons to use the jump cut, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, if you’re going to use a camera in motion or multiple angles for your shots to build your jump-cut sequence, stick to the 30-degree rule. This means that your camera setup for the shots should be within a 30-degree angle from one another to preserve visual continuity.

More importantly, remember that the jump cut must simultaneously never be forgotten nor be used too often. As with any other director’s trick, it should be seen as a spice in the soup, so to speak. Turning to it too much in a single project can overwhelm audiences and take away its power. As with any other technique, think about when and how to use it, and you will get a good return on the audience’s reception.Now that you’ve got a better idea of what the jump cut is and how filmmakers use it, you can employ it more effectively in your own project. Visit Daisie’s filmmaking category to learn about more cinematic techniques and how you can incorporate them into your films.