April 6, 2022

What is cross-cutting? 6 examples of cross-cutting in film

From establishing shots to action sequences, cross-cutting technique is used to cut back and forth between scenes taking place in different spaces or settings.
April 6, 2022

What is cross-cutting? 6 examples of cross-cutting in film

From establishing shots to action sequences, cross-cutting technique is used to cut back and forth between scenes taking place in different spaces or settings.
April 6, 2022
Tiffani Bauer
In this article
Start editing audio & video
This makes the editing process so much faster. I wish I knew about Descript a year ago.
Matt D., Copywriter
Sign up

What type of content do you primarily create?

Videos
Podcasts
Social media clips
Transcriptions
Start editing audio & video
This makes the editing process so much faster. I wish I knew about Descript a year ago.
Matt D., Copywriter
Sign up

What type of content do you primarily create?

Videos
Podcasts
Social media clips
Transcriptions

A great film starts with a great script, but beyond the writer’s room and past the Hollywood soundstages, the true magic of filmmaking happens at the computer during the edit. One of the best ways to enhance film action and leave audiences on the edge of their seats is to use parallel editing and cross-cutting to interweave multiple scenes.

What is cross-cutting?

The cross-cutting technique, a mainstay of film and video editing, is a method by which film editors cut back and forth between scenes taking place in different spaces or settings. You can cross-cut between two scenes in two locations, or you can cross-cut among multiple scenes in multiple locations. You can even cross-cut between two events taking place in the same physical space and on the same timeline.

When well-executed, cross-cutting in film editing, allows viewers to suspend disbelief and process multiple scenes as though they are taking place concurrently. In some cases, the scenes really do occur simultaneously—like two fight scenes occurring in different parts of the same room. Other times, these scenes take place far apart from one another, but masterful editing techniques make it seem as though they occupy the same time and space.

What is parallel editing in a video or film?

Parallel editing in film bears many similarities to cross-cutting—so much so that some editors use the terms synonymously. This editing technique also involves cutting back and forth from scene to scene. Notably, however, parallel editing does not necessarily strive for the illusion that two scenes are happening simultaneously.

For instance, a nature documentary may show a scene of a mother duck leading her ducklings in a line across a pond. It then shows a human mother holding hands with her children as they cross a road. As an editor creates parallel cuts—showing the duck family and the human family—the viewer is invited to make comparisons. Yet there is no implication that these scenes occupy the same space and time.

6 iconic examples of cross-cutting in film

Some of the most famous scenes in cinema use cross-cutting. Cross-cuts appear in everything from establishing shots to action sequences. Here are seven examples from popular films.

  1. The Godfather (1972): At the climax of this classic tale of family and crime, director Francis Ford Coppola cross-cuts between a scene of crime boss Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino) in church and his enforcers taking out their enemies. Coppola uses match cuts (cuts between thematically similar footage) to toggle between hands holding a baby (in the church) and hands holding a gun (on the street). Michael’s ruthlessness and hypocrisy are laid bare as the film cuts between piety and bloody murder.
  2. The Simpsons (1991): Cross-cutting isn’t just for live action films—it also frequently used in animation. In the Simpsons episode “Homer Defined” from the show’s third season, the show’s animators cut back and forth between Homer trying to save the nuclear power plant from a catastrophic meltdown and the rest of the town’s citizens cowering in fear.
  3. The Silence of the Lambs (1991): This Jonathan Demme thriller demonstrates how cross-cutting can serve as misdirection—making an audience believe two events are occurring in the same time and space when in fact they occur independently of one another. In one sequence, FBI agents prepare for a raid on the home of the sadistic killer known as Buffalo Bill (played by Ted Levine). Meanwhile, we see Buffalo Bill inside his home, which he has turned into a torture chamber. Yet as the cross-cutting plays out, we learn that the FBI agents are raiding the wrong home. Buffalo Bill is in a different house, and protagonist Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) will have to face him with no backup.
  4. The Devil Wears Prada (2006): Director David Frankel uses cross-cutting to build tension as the ruthless and feared editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) enters her New York City office building. Frankel cross-cuts back and forth between Priestly’s entrance (starting when she steps out of a hired car) and her staff frantically preparing the office suite to her exacting needs. 
  5. Inception (2010): This Christopher Nolan epic uses cross-cutting to get at its defining premise: dreams inside of dreams. Nolan’s cross-cuts show how the actions in an upper-level dream layer can lead to consequences in a deeper dream layer. In this example, cross-cutting viscerally demonstrates a sci-fi concept that would be unruly if someone tried to explain it using words alone. And in the process, it adds layers of suspense and intrigue.
  6. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019): Director Jon Watts used cross-cutting to turbocharge an action sequence in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Watts incorporates just about everything possible into a single scene: his protagonist (Spider-Man), his villain (Mysterio), civilians in danger, CGI battles, and hapless sidekicks offering comic relief. Cross-cutting unites them all in a single scene.
Tiffani Bauer
Former Video Producer at Descript. Accomplished editor and videographer. Fan of hibachi and women's basketball and knit hats.
Share this article
Start creating—for free
Sign up
Join millions of others creating with Descript

What is cross-cutting? 6 examples of cross-cutting in film

Guy crosscutting on his computer

A great film starts with a great script, but beyond the writer’s room and past the Hollywood soundstages, the true magic of filmmaking happens at the computer during the edit. One of the best ways to enhance film action and leave audiences on the edge of their seats is to use parallel editing and cross-cutting to interweave multiple scenes.

Our full-featured video editing tool is as powerful as it is easy to use.
Look for our all-in-one audio & video production that’s as easy as editing a doc.

What is cross-cutting?

The cross-cutting technique, a mainstay of film and video editing, is a method by which film editors cut back and forth between scenes taking place in different spaces or settings. You can cross-cut between two scenes in two locations, or you can cross-cut among multiple scenes in multiple locations. You can even cross-cut between two events taking place in the same physical space and on the same timeline.

When well-executed, cross-cutting in film editing, allows viewers to suspend disbelief and process multiple scenes as though they are taking place concurrently. In some cases, the scenes really do occur simultaneously—like two fight scenes occurring in different parts of the same room. Other times, these scenes take place far apart from one another, but masterful editing techniques make it seem as though they occupy the same time and space.

What is parallel editing in a video or film?

Parallel editing in film bears many similarities to cross-cutting—so much so that some editors use the terms synonymously. This editing technique also involves cutting back and forth from scene to scene. Notably, however, parallel editing does not necessarily strive for the illusion that two scenes are happening simultaneously.

For instance, a nature documentary may show a scene of a mother duck leading her ducklings in a line across a pond. It then shows a human mother holding hands with her children as they cross a road. As an editor creates parallel cuts—showing the duck family and the human family—the viewer is invited to make comparisons. Yet there is no implication that these scenes occupy the same space and time.

6 iconic examples of cross-cutting in film

Some of the most famous scenes in cinema use cross-cutting. Cross-cuts appear in everything from establishing shots to action sequences. Here are seven examples from popular films.

  1. The Godfather (1972): At the climax of this classic tale of family and crime, director Francis Ford Coppola cross-cuts between a scene of crime boss Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino) in church and his enforcers taking out their enemies. Coppola uses match cuts (cuts between thematically similar footage) to toggle between hands holding a baby (in the church) and hands holding a gun (on the street). Michael’s ruthlessness and hypocrisy are laid bare as the film cuts between piety and bloody murder.
  2. The Simpsons (1991): Cross-cutting isn’t just for live action films—it also frequently used in animation. In the Simpsons episode “Homer Defined” from the show’s third season, the show’s animators cut back and forth between Homer trying to save the nuclear power plant from a catastrophic meltdown and the rest of the town’s citizens cowering in fear.
  3. The Silence of the Lambs (1991): This Jonathan Demme thriller demonstrates how cross-cutting can serve as misdirection—making an audience believe two events are occurring in the same time and space when in fact they occur independently of one another. In one sequence, FBI agents prepare for a raid on the home of the sadistic killer known as Buffalo Bill (played by Ted Levine). Meanwhile, we see Buffalo Bill inside his home, which he has turned into a torture chamber. Yet as the cross-cutting plays out, we learn that the FBI agents are raiding the wrong home. Buffalo Bill is in a different house, and protagonist Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) will have to face him with no backup.
  4. The Devil Wears Prada (2006): Director David Frankel uses cross-cutting to build tension as the ruthless and feared editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) enters her New York City office building. Frankel cross-cuts back and forth between Priestly’s entrance (starting when she steps out of a hired car) and her staff frantically preparing the office suite to her exacting needs. 
  5. Inception (2010): This Christopher Nolan epic uses cross-cutting to get at its defining premise: dreams inside of dreams. Nolan’s cross-cuts show how the actions in an upper-level dream layer can lead to consequences in a deeper dream layer. In this example, cross-cutting viscerally demonstrates a sci-fi concept that would be unruly if someone tried to explain it using words alone. And in the process, it adds layers of suspense and intrigue.
  6. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019): Director Jon Watts used cross-cutting to turbocharge an action sequence in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Watts incorporates just about everything possible into a single scene: his protagonist (Spider-Man), his villain (Mysterio), civilians in danger, CGI battles, and hapless sidekicks offering comic relief. Cross-cutting unites them all in a single scene.

Featured articles:

No items found.

Articles you might find interesting

Video

10 effective how-to videos to engage your audience

How-to videos are a great way to educate your audience. Whether you’re recording a software demo or training instructions, here’s how to create a how-to video.

For Business

Essentials for an effective social media marketing plan

Learn how you can create a social media marketing plan that’s purely focused on posts for your own accounts, or can include a strategy for working with influencers.

Product Updates

Introducing Descript Podcast Studio & Overdub

Today we’re releasing the version of Descript we’ve dreamed of since conceiving of the company: a full multitrack podcast production studio.

Podcasting

How to create podcast promotional assets your guests will actually share

Getting guests to promote your podcast is tough, but you can make it easier by designing videograms, audiograms, and social images with them in mind.

For Business

Making a Video Resume: How Videos Engage Hiring Managers

If you want your job application to stand out, you could go with something interesting, like submitting a video resume. A short video that covers all of the same content as a paper resume.

Related articles:

Share this article

Get started for free →