A smash cut is a cinematic editing technique that creates mystery, tonal contrast, or comedic irony by cutting from one scene to the next abruptly.
Smash cuts are a quick, abrupt transition from one scene to the next in screenwriting and film editing. Smash cuts happen out of nowhere, sometimes even interrupting a character's speech in the middle of a phrase.
The words "SMASH CUT TO" are written between the scenes on each side of the cut to signify a smash cut in a screenplay. However, the director ultimately decides whether or not to use a smash cut.
Smash Cuts in 3 Different Ways
A smash cut is ideal for contrasting the tone of two scenes, concluding a sequence with suspense, or establishing comic irony.
1. To generate tonal contrast: When two sequences with dramatically differing tones are juxtaposed, the effect of a slam cut is amplified. Horror movies, for example, frequently employ the jarring nature of a smash cut to transition from a brutal in-progress murder scene to a cheerful or calm moment. The moment in Ron Howard's Apollo 13 where astronaut Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) is withdrawn from the mission due to his potential exposure to measles is an excellent example of a tonal smash cut.
First, we see backup astronaut Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) learn that he will be piloting the mission in place of Mattingly. Swigert is ecstatic, but the film then turns to Ken Mattingly, who is distraught and sitting in silence after receiving the same news.
2. To leave a mystery at the end of a scenario, say: When a smash cut transitions from the middle of a vital moment in a scene to a new scene, the viewer is left to fill in the blanks with their imagination. Thrillers and mysteries frequently use this strategy. You may, for example, rapidly cut to a different scene in a scenario where a detective enters a suspect's residence and acts astonished by what they see inside, leaving the audience guessing what happened.
3. To add irony to the mix: The television series Gilligan's Island popularized the "Gilligan cut," a prominent style of humorous smash cut. A Gilligan cut occurs when a character makes a confident prediction that is quickly proven to be inaccurate by smash cutting to a new scene where the opposite occurs, frequently to the character's chagrin.
While comic smash cuts are most commonly seen on television sitcoms, they can also be found in other forms of media. In Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, for example, gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) is freed from jail and promises his friend Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino) that he won't get into any more problems. The film quickly switches to a close-up of Henry handling cocaine immediately after Henry's commitment to abstain from criminal conduct.
What's the Difference Between a Smash, Jump, and Match Cut?
Each of these three editing methods has a distinct function.
Smash cuts are abrupt cuts between two shots that emphasize a striking tonal difference.
A Jumpcut provides a transition between two shots that appear to leap forward in time. Jump cuts can add speed and a sense of urgency to a scene or depict the passage of time in a montage.
Match cuts smooth the transition from one scene to the next by cutting from one shot to another that features similar-looking action or subject matter.
How Do You Use a Smash Cut Effectively?
Through sabotage. If you're expecting a smash cut, don't expect one! The audience must be startled into thinking about why they were astonished in the first place - what was the goal of the cut? You don't usually want the audience to worry about routine cuts, but smash cuts are a fun way to do so!