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I saw this several times in different movies, but I don't understand what is this supposed to mean. The main idea is when the scene is about to change, for one second or so we still see the picture from the old scene, but the sound is already coming from from the upcoming scene. Why do they do this? What's the purpose of this technique?

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Just a wild guess: Make the scene change less abrupt. –  celtschk Apr 12 at 20:16
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@celtschk Or the contrary of surprising/confusing you with a new sound you can't immediately relate to the scene. –  Napoleon Wilson Apr 12 at 20:21
    
@Napoleon Wilson, yes, often it is a surprise. When the old scene comes to its logical end there's silence both sound-wise and event-wise (if I can put it this way), and all of the sudden you hear something unexpected, but you still the the old picture. –  Max Apr 12 at 20:30
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The technical term is L cut or Split Edit –  Oliver_C Apr 12 at 20:58

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Cameron Christopher has a nice short article on the technique at Vimeo; J-Cuts & L-Cuts.

In short one have J-Cut and L-Cut

  • J-Cut aka audio advance, audio starts before video.
  • L-Cut aka video advance, video starts before audio.

It can advance the story in itself by moving the viewer ahead. It also can give a smoother transition, or many other effects.

Find the two examples in the article by Chrisopher to be nice examples.

For example in second video, the packing of the cigarette packet is smoothed out by the J-Cut, rather nicely.

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My favorite example is about 37 and a half minutes into the movie Fight Club. It's when [narrator/Jack/not-Tyler] tosses a couple reports onto his desk towards his Cornflower Blue boss and you hear a splashing sound. A few seconds later it cuts to the bathroom scene where they describe who'd they fight if they could pick anyone. It's an amazing moment of Cognitive Dissonance that is perfect for the subject matter of the movie. A great example that doesn't need to be its own answer. –  Meat Trademark Apr 12 at 23:02
    
Plus I'd add it's a convenient trick for dubbing when translations are significantly longer and/or can't be made 100% lip sync "in time". –  Mario Apr 14 at 22:04

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