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The "20 years" is an arbitrary figure but I have noticed that films tend to have way more cuts than they did in earlier days of film making. Sometimes there will be a conversation in the room and there is a cut for every person talking,the reaction shot and it starts to get difficult to watch.

The ultimate cuts tend to be on fight sequences. There are so many cuts that it is sometimes difficult to appreciate the fight for a fight as opposed to an exercise in how many times can the director/editor cut the scene.

Hitchcock did the ultimate 40 odd take cut scene for the shower sequence in Psycho but that was so natural it seemed like one scene. Yet movies today just seem to be one big MTV fest of cutting.

Is it simply because film is digital and it easy to do so they do it. Whereas in the "olden" days every cut meant a splice of a physical piece of film that took ages to do so the cuts where more thought through.

I like to have a scene, where there is a fixed shot, a long conversion, where the actor gets to exercise their craft in getting you involved in the story as opposed to telling the story with a cut every 5 seconds.

Why do they do it? It takes longer to make the film, and it really adds very little value. What caused this trend?

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While being phrased borderline-subjective, the higher overall frequency of cuts nowadays and its reasons is indeed an iterresting question. Very tight +1 ;) – Napoleon Wilson Mar 23 '13 at 23:32
Subjectivity is the process of living on a planet and observing things. There is no borderline here, I believe if you research the matter surprisingly MTV comes up a lot. But then again research these days means going to google which is the ultimate subjectivity, you can't win ;) – user4371 Mar 23 '13 at 23:50
I didn't say this observation is subjective (which it isn't, I also think it's a hard fact that cuts are overall more prevalent nowadays), only the rhetorical way in which it is presented. But like said, even this only borderline and still worth an upvote. – Napoleon Wilson Mar 24 '13 at 0:09
MTV is the primary reason for rapid editing, as user4371 suggests. – Nobby Jul 21 '13 at 12:30
I would also add that you are being generous with the 'cut every 5 seconds' comment. I've done some editing in my time, and it was generally acknowledged that cuts shorter than 4 seconds were a no no - but modern editors are happy to deal in frames, not seconds. It's not across the board, but this technique has certainly ruined some films for me. – Nobby Jul 21 '13 at 12:35
up vote 14 down vote accepted

I think it's a mix of a few things. The main two that come to mind is style preferences and technology. Taste and style change over time. Some directors are known for long single cuts (Quentin Tarantino for example), others known for many (Paul Greengrass).

In the technology realm, things have evolved quite a lot since the old days. Now most, if not almost all, film is digital and edited digital. It's cheaper and easier to record with a digital medium, allowing many takes to be done relatively quickly. With computers we can easily manipulate these takes.

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Maybe the younger generation can cope with all those cuts, I just can't keep up. So taste might be a factor – user4371 Mar 23 '13 at 6:07
Some would lay this right at the feet of the actors. My wife and I have discussed this with the thinking the actors just aren't as good as they used to be, where they could actually hold dialogue over a long back-n-forth without having to cut and make it believable. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jul 16 '13 at 11:10
Something I'd throw in is that in the early films were heavily inspired by stage acting... where there are no cuts. – Liath Jul 16 '13 at 12:27

While I agree with DForck42's answer, I would really emphasize style preferences.

A long series of straight cuts ("straight" means no transition like a wipe, crossfade, blur, etc.) between camera angles does several things for the viewer's state of mind:

  • The viewer feels more omniscient
  • The scene's intensity seems stronger and more important
  • Concentrates (in the sense of juice concentrate) action or reaction
  • A stronger emotion is created, even if part of it merely comes from having one's mind crammed full of images, and just trying to keep up.

Fight sequences are most often shot for all those reasons plus performer safety. A fight sequence is usually broken down into a series of clips of no more than three "moves"—punch, block, dive for example. That way both performers can easily get the choreography entirely correct:   therefore safely performed. (I know this from being an extra in a Leverage episode laying on the ground beside Christian Kane (Eliot) as he has a sword fight with Noa Tishby.)

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I want to disagree with the assumption that the number of cuts in a film has increased over the last 20 years.

To say the number of edits has increased is to also say that film techniques have also changed, and while technology and style have changed. The basic techniques of filming have remained mostly intact. With the except of the few directors who challenge the norm (Quentin Tarantino as an example).

An editor tries to stay true to the script, and will make changes under the guidance of the director. The point here is the script. Scripts, how they are written, how they are structured has not changed much in the last 20 years.

While we can use MTV as an example of fast editing. Let's remember that most of the MTV style is copied from classic great directors. There are many films of the 1960s and 1970s that used fast editing to build drama, action and mood.

The central rhythm of a film is called its beat. Beats are specific, measured, and spaced to create a pace that moves the progress of the film forward. Script writers have been using beats long before films. Scripts for the theater contained beats.

To say films contain more cuts now than before, is to say that films have a faster beat now than before. That simply isn't true.

What has likely happened is that you are now watching more films that have a faster beat than you did when you were younger. So your perception is that films now have more cuts. There are many adult drama films being produced that have a slower beat that you are likely not watching.

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Scripts don't specify how many cuts are in a scene, except for broad general progressions like establishing shot, medium shot, close up, long shot. Also a script beat—the pace of scene revelations—is much longer than a directorial beat, which is the rhythm at which actor reactions are delivered. There is often a relationship between both those kinds of beats and cuts, but they are not the same. – wallyk Jul 21 '13 at 17:43
The acceleration in the rate of cuts seems obvious to me. Look at the action sequence in a 1960s 007 film—state of the art stuff for its time—versus a modern film or TV show. There are at least twice as many cuts per minute than there were before. A Leverage fight sequence will have dozens and dozens of cuts. 007? Only 8 to 10 in the old days, and dozens now. – wallyk Jul 21 '13 at 17:47

Because they can.

Movie post-production schedules usually have a finite window for editing; Non-Linear Editing allows for significantly more work to be carried out in that time window than the old physical splicing method. Thus those editors and/or directors who are inclined can edit more so do so.

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I think as a general rule, audiences need something to "happen" every 3 seconds or so. You can do this by scriptwriting something every 3 seconds... something interesting, and cutting only when it's difficult to orchestrate multiple stunts/happenings in the same shot (Indiana Jones). Or you can kind've cheat by cutting to a new view every few seconds, which the brain interprets as a "happening" even if nothing actually happened in the story (Fast & Furious). I prefer well-written/directed/orchestrated movies with fewer cuts but most people seem happy to be pseudo-entertained by a rapid succession of cuts in a less interesting story.

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General rule by whom? Where does this three seconds rule come from? – MattD Jun 19 '15 at 19:46

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