What Are J-Cuts and L-Cuts in Video (And Why Should I Use Them)?

Publishing quality content on the Internet, no matter the format, is serious business. It is absolutely true that the gatekeepers of old don’t yield nearly as much power as they once did and the barriers to entry are lower than ever. It means that just about anyone with access to the Internet can publish what they want online for everyone else to read, listen to, and watch. This also means that if you want to differentiate yourself from the immeasurable hordes, you need to deliver on quality.

We’ve seen this with blogging. In the early days of blogging, people would treat their blogs like online diaries. They were just journals for documenting their personal lives, shared mostly with a close circle of friends and family members. Now, blogs are very much commercial enterprises that can make you some serious money through any number of monetization strategies. Vlogging is the same way. It used to be that people would just hold a cheap compact camera in front of them, talk into it for a few minutes, and post the raw video online.

Now, you have people like Sara Dietschy and Casey Neistat bringing the vlogging game to a whole new level with more advanced film-making techniques and superb cinematography. Classic film-making strategies can be adapted to vlogs and they can make your videos look that much more polished and professional. To that end, I’d like to discuss one such technique today. It’s called the split cut (or split edit)

The split cut (or split edit) comes in two different forms — the J-cut and the L-cut — which are effectively two sides of the same coin.

Let’s say you have two video clips. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll refer to these as Clip A and Clip B. The most basic way that you would combine these two clips into one video is to play Clip A and have it immediately jump to Clip B. The audio and video from Clip A play, and then they both stop entirely as the audio and video from Clip B begin. That’s pretty standard and it’s what you intuitively think of when you jump from one clip to another.

With a J-cut, the audio from Clip B begins to play while the video from Clip A is still being watched. In effect, you take the first few seconds of audio from Clip B (or more if you want) and overlay it with the final few seconds of Clip A. During that combined time, you might (probably) have the audio from both clips playing at the same time.

That’s what a J-cut looks like on the timeline in the video editing software that I use. The exact interface of different programs will look a little different, but the fundamental concept is the same. The red arrow is pointing at the audio from Clip B, the portion that is being heard while the video from Clip A is still being shown. The blue arrow points to when both the audio and the video from Clip B are running. It’s called a J-cut, because you can draw a “J” connecting the two pieces of audio from Clip B.

You can “see” (and hear) this J-cut in action at about the 0:24 mark of this vlog. You can hear me talking before you actually see me talking.

This may or may not be as useful in the context of a conventional vlog, but a good way to think about a J-cut is to consider what it would feel like to be a third person watching the conversation between two people. You start by looking at Jack, because he is talking. Suddenly, Jane starts talking. You hear Jane’s voice for a few moments before you can actually turn your head to face her. For those first couple of words, you’re still looking at Jack. That’s basically what a J-cut is meant to simulate.

An L-cut is basically the same thing, but in reverse. Instead of drawing a “J” to connect the two pieces of audio from a clip, you draw an “L.” In this case, the audio from Clip A would then continue to be heard even after the video had switched over to Clip B. Make sense?

Like any tactic or technique, J-cuts and L-cuts shouldn’t be overused as they would then lose their impact. However, they are definitely tools you should add to your video editing arsenal. Whether you’re creating short films, vlogs, product videos or any other type of video, think about how cuts like these can elevate your presentation and produce more compelling content for your viewers to watch.

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