I know I've noticed this effect many times but I can only think of the most recent example: At the end of a scene, someone (bad) is locked out via mechanical door, and is pressuring the people inside to let him in. As the scene is closing, and we're about to switch to a different setting, a mechanical sounds is played before the current scene is cut, but it's the audio for the next scene, making it feel like that door is opening ("Oh no"), but it's not really. You're just tricked for a moment.

Is there a word or phrase for this technique? Is this just a nuance artistic feature used by a few select directors, or is this a well known, commonly used technique?


2 Answers 2


Not sure if there is a term of art in Cinematography to refer to the suspense aspect, but the editing technique is a film transition called an L-Cut.

An L Cut is an editing technique that results in a cut occurring at a different time for audio than for video. For example, we may hear characters' voices a few seconds before we see them on film. In order to achieve this effect, the editor had to make an L-shaped cut on the filmstrip itself. Even today with the advent of computerized non-linear editing systems, the digital representation of the film in the program still takes on this L-shaped appearance

The L shape being that audio on a film-stripe leads the video by a few millimeters for syncing purposes. The digital editing version still looks like an L for separate reasons.

Some people differentiate between which comes first as an L-Cut and an J-Cut, i.e. Audio from Scene B on Video A vs Audio from Scene A on Video B, or in other terms, early audio vs late audio transition.

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These cuts are used all the time in same scene dialog, when switching or not switching between the cameras facing the different actors, but is often used for transitioning between different scenes as well.

The stark jump between scenes would be considered a Contrast Cut, like jumping from an action scene to a dialog.

Star Wars does this all the time, but with a wipe or iris fade for the video. The most common one is when you start hearing a Tie Fighter before the wipe starts/completes.

Here's a good video analysis of the various wipes and cuts in Star Wars.

As noted in the other good answer, a screenwriter would term this same trick a Pre/Post lap (as in overlap). But after searching, there doesn't seem to be any specific term for this trick in suspense. It's a general technique used for all genres or for multiple reasons. It's not used solely for scaring the audience.

  • 4
    Nice answer, although I think OP addressed specific case where this kind of cut is additionally used so that you misattribute the audio for a moment. But I doubt there's a name for it... Jun 28, 2016 at 14:24
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    Right now the answer is technically "Im not sure about the answer to your real question, but I can tell you how its done." An informative answer, is just doesn't yet technically answer the question.
    – J.Todd
    Jun 29, 2016 at 9:29
  • While this is what happens from a technical point of view, I do not believe it covers the "intent of trickery" that is being asked about. Jun 29, 2016 at 12:19
  • Tell ya what though, I love L Cuts. I really do. Not sure why. Jun 29, 2016 at 12:19

The screenwriting term for what you describe is a "prelap".


Prelap is a screenwriting term that means the dialogue from the next scene precedes the cut, and the beginning of the dialogue is heard in the outgoing scene

Prelaps can be of sound or dialogue, or anything non-visual, since a visual would indicate a direct cut to a new scene.

From TV Tropes

A pre-lap is a scene transition where the sound from the scene transitions before the visuals do, so the sound of the second scene momentarily coincides with the visuals from the first scene.

Because the viewer will naturally try to connect what they are seeing with what they are hearing, it is often used to portray a logical connection between the two scenes.

This is also sometimes employed in comics by including speech from one scene as narration boxes over the preceding scene.

The reverse of this is the post-lap.

Example: Primer has a scene in which an ice machine is activated on a refrigerator, and a noise is heard. Said noise turns out to be construction equipment from the next scene, where the protagonists are trying to build a device in the garage.

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    First, +1 for finding the scripting term. As a FYI, a Pre-Lap and an L-Cut are exactly the same, the only difference is maybe when it happens. A Pre-Lap is written into the script at some point before or during production (Writing). An L-Cut is done during or after production (Editing), so when the intent for the transition is derived can overlap. So 3/4 people can decide to do it. Screenwriter/Secondary Re-writes (Before), Directors (During), and Editors (After).
    – cde
    Jun 28, 2016 at 18:40
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    Not too different from what you said, but I took it more as who was doing the talking rather than when it happened. A screenwriter would call it a prelap and an editor would call it an l-cut. The term for the instruction vs the term for the implementation. Like the screenplay saying 'we follow the protagonist' vs the cinematographer saying to use a 'dolly shot' or a 'tracking shot'. Jun 28, 2016 at 20:19
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    To split hairs: the OP asked what the effect is called. Pre-lap seems to be the name of the effect. L-cut seems to be the name of a method that creates the effect. Accordingly, IMO, this answer wins.
    – Hal
    Jun 28, 2016 at 21:46
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    I think Hal may be right, but I also think this answer still lacks an answer to whether or not there's a name in Cinematography for the usage of a prelapse with the intent of suspense. Stating there there doesn't seem to be would be good enough (unless there is a name for it).
    – J.Todd
    Jun 29, 2016 at 18:49

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