Pro Tips, Tutorials

5 Types of Match Cuts and How to Use Them Well


Using match cuts is one of those editing techniques that can really elevate any production. Standard transitions between scenes are certainly useful and “standard” for a reason, but there’s also an art to matching the content between edits.

There are three categories of match cuts that are used most often in films and television shows, with five more specific types within those. They can all be employed with a little pre-planning and some strong execution in post-production. Just to dive a little deeper, within the five types of match cuts, there are two methods for how they’re used. They can be what I call “direct” matches, like matching visuals or sounds with the next frame — this may not move forward in time or space, and it can serve as more of a straight transition. The other way can be “expected” matches, where the next shot moves forward to what our eyes and ears expect out of what happens next. Most of these cut types can happen both ways.

Sound Matches

Matching the Dialogue
This type of match cut happens when a character or narrator is talking and the cut is made between two words that are the same. A dialogue cut is common in sequences where character A is reading a note or letter written by Character B, then the cut is made to Character B reading the same note or letter, starting on the same word or sentence. Austin Powers makes great use of match cutting on dialogue, and our friends at Sandwich Video employ a more subtle use of the cut in the beginning of this video:

Direct or Expected?
A dialogue match cut typically makes use of the “expected” type, since the cut is usually made before or after the word is said. A direct match cut would cut mid-word for each of the characters.

Matching the Sound, aka a Sound Bridge

Similar to matching the word that’s being said, this cut is all about matching a sound that’s occurring in both shots, also known as a sound bridge. It can be the same sound or something that blends in nicely with the clip you’re transitioning to. The TV show Angie Tribeca‘s first season was all about this in the opening credits.

Direct or Expected?
An audio match cut works well for both direct and expected types. The same sound effect can be playing throughout the matched visuals for a direct cut. The sound that we expect to hear can also start after the cut, tricking our brain into thinking we’re hearing the last clip when we’re seeing new information.

Visual Matches

Matching the Frame/Composition
When the placement of objects in the frame is (relatively) identical before and after the cut, you’ve got a composition match cut. This is arguably the most common type of match cut you’ll see. You can simply lock down a tripod and shoot two or more different scenes from the same spot, like this transition in Hot Fuzz. Photos can become live videos and vice versa. These iconic Rocky IV montages have many matched frames throughout as well:

Direct or Expected?
These are mostly direct matches, since they rely on the details and positions of objects in the frame to match between the cuts. It can become expected if the transition dissolves into a different point in time, much like this scene in City of God:

Matching the Action Within the Frame
This type of match cut often goes hand in hand with the previous one. An action match cut refers to when the action or movement within the frame is matched, regardless of whether it’s shot in the same place or time, or even with the same framing/composition. This can refer to either the camera movement (pan, tilt, dolly, etc), or the movement of something in the frame. Precise camera movements can be matched in a single location to show the passage of time, like in this transition from Gilmore Girls:

Game of Thrones also features several of these types of action match cuts (many in this one episode alone):

The scalpel goes down toward the skin, then boom: fork into the pie. The most notable example of this is the bone to spaceship transition in 2001: A Space Odyssey:

Direct or Expected?
An action match cut can be used for both direct and expected types. However, these tend to lean toward the expected type of cut, since they can use the movement to transition to almost anything.

Metaphorical Matching

So far, we’ve been looking mostly at the more objective and concrete visual aspects of matching your cuts, but there’s also a type of match cut that works more on a representative, or even an abstract, level. This is the metaphorical/symbolic match cut. It’s when you transition between visuals based on subjective translation, or what they represent. You can match cut between ideas; between eyeballs and moons being cut by clouds; between a match getting blown out and the sun rising. This transition works because it can move us along in the story, as well as move us emotionally to connect dots between what we see and what we feel.

A symbolic match cut can also include matched visuals or sounds, but the key here is the symbolism between the clips.

Direct or Expected?
This type of cut is mostly expected (or possibly even “unexpected”), since viewers may not make the same interpretation or association between the two clips as the filmmaker/editor. That said, direct matched frames or sounds will work, as well.

Match cuts may require a little more thought and planning up front, but once they’re utilized effectively in your productions, people will really take notice. Lastly, several of these types of cuts aren’t mutually exclusive, so keep in mind that they can be used together in many applications.

What do you think? What’s your favorite type of match cut? Do you have another favorite example from a movie or television show that wasn’t covered here? Share it below!