The very first films, like those made by the Lumière Brothers or Thomas Edison, used single shots taken with still cameras: a train pulling into a station, people walking on the street. This was enough to fascinate people because they had never seen moving images before. Filmmakers employ a variety of techniques and processes to help them tell stories. These techniques have evolved over the last century and filmmakers have become sophisticated at manipulating their viewers' cinematic experience.
The early filmmaker George Méliès realised he could use cuts to suggest magic. An actor who was on screen could, in a puff of smoke, disappear.
Some of the techniques used in early magic lantern slide shows and later comic books were eventually used to manipulate the passage of time and space. Through the pioneering efforts of filmmakers like DW Griffith, films that were not unlike recorded plays gave way to more sophisticated production and post-production techniques. The audience learned how to read this language of cutting (which later became known as editing).
The Kuleshov Effect
During the 1920s, Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov did some experiments to show that if there were two different shots shown in a sequence, the viewer assumed a connection between them. He used shots of a waiting man, a walking woman, a gate, a staircase and a mansion. The viewers all inferred the same narrative based only on these few shots. This showed that the human brain tries to make connections between the things it sees.
Kuleshov later developed this with the montage – the rapid editing of different images to suggest meaning.
Because our brain makes these connections, editing began to be used to create narrative and atmosphere and to suggest emotional responses to what was shown on screen.
Some editing techniques differ from the above and are based, not on the way the brain works, but on how the eye sees. For example, the direction things move across the screen must stay the same and the change in distance must be appropriate, there must also be continuity of chronological sequence, otherwise we cannot make sense of the image.
A cut joins two different shots together.
A jump cut is a cut in film editing in which two sequential shots of the same subject are taken from camera positions that vary only slightly.
A montage is a technique in film editing in which a series of short shots are edited into a sequence to condense space, time and information.
The terms fade-out and fade-in are used to describe a transition to and from a blank image.
A dissolve overlaps two shots for the duration of the effect, usually at the end of one scene and the beginning of the next.