Vocab Lesson: The Match Cut


"Vocab Lessons" explains a common screenwriting or filmmaking technique so that writers can better utilize them in their writings. This post discusses match cuts, the editing technique of "matching" something in one scene to the next to achieve continuity between the scenes and create metaphor.

Match cuts, also called graphic matches, are the way a film creates a seamless, logical coherence between different shots in a film. Some aspect of the shot, whether it’s an object, a setting, or the composition, will be matched in one cut to another. In its most basic form, the match cut creates fluid movement of an actor or object in a scene over multiple shots.

There are more artistic uses of the match cut too. Match cuts are a great way to show a change in time or space, and are perfect for flashbacks. The recently released Martha Marcy May Marlene uses match cuts to seamlessly move from Martha's present to her memories. For example, a match cut connects the scene where she goes swimming and jumps off the boat, which is in the present, to Martha plunging underwater in a secluded waterfall, a flashback to her time in the cult.

Match cutting also creates a relationship between the two scenes or cuts, which when used effectively can create meaning and metaphor. One beautiful example of this is a scene in Harold and Maude. In the scene, Harold and Maude are talking about their favorite flowers while sitting on a hill surrounded by white flowers. Harold comments that he likes the white ones because they all look the same. Maude responds that they are all very different: some are tall, some grow to the left, some have lost petals. Then she adds: 

Maude:  I feel that much of the world's sorrow comes from people who are THIS,

[she points to a daisy]

yet allow themselves be treated as THAT.

[she gestures to a field of daisies]

Match cut to Harold and Maude sitting on a hill in a military graveyard, surrounded by white gravestones.

The metaphor here is clear, and it comes across incredibly strong because of the match cut and how similar the white gravestones look to the white flowers.

Though ultimately an editing technique, screenwriters can set up opportunities for match cutting that will guide the director. Try incorporating visual metaphors, like in Harold and Maude, or flashbacks that match whatever is happening in the present, like in Martha Marcy May Marlene, to take your screenplay to a new level.

Watch the Harold and Maude scene here: