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Damon CutsMTV style editing  

Definition: A style of film editing typified by fast non-linear cuts which emphasize location, mood and feeling over character and plot development.

History: How could Matt Damon kick ass as believably as Steven Segal or Bruce Lee? Such was the challenge in filming “The Bourne Identity” (2002).  The solution: flurries of disjointed close-ups—a technique of film editing known as MTV style.

Examples of MTV style can be found in filmmaking as early as the silent era, but the name was coined in the early 1980s with MTV’s production of music videos. Divorced from the role of storytelling, these videos were disjointed, discontinuous, non-linear narratives. Beginning with the films “Flashdance” (1983) and “Footloose” (1984), MTV style became an alternative to continuity style editing, aka, classical Hollywood editing.

For continuity style, plot is paramount; editing should not distract attention from storytellling. Rules are many, e.g., cutting from close-up to far shot or vice versa should communicate continuous action; the camera’s point of view in a scene of conversing actors should assume the eye level of the actor off camera (POV shot); a camera should not pan more than 180 degrees to prevent audience disorientation (180 Degree Rule); cuts between scenes should be announced by dissolves and fades; and so forth.

In MTV style, action is portrayed by fast cuts that often leap and bound through space and time. Editing violates many of Continuity style rules, including use of the jump cut—sequential shots of the same subject from different angles less than 30 degrees (30 Degree Rule). Also common are multiple sub-plots that require frequent location changes.  

Critics of MTV style complain that it leads to incoherence. Proponents maintain that MTV style is more suited to the X and Millennial Generations, who are multi-taskers more adept than Boomers at processing visual information. This, however, begs the question: Would a sophisticated processor of visual information believe Matt Damon could kick ass like Steven Segal?

Related Topic: ellipsis   montage   continuity

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