A common example is a man walking up to a door and reaching for the knob. Just as his hand touches the knob, the scene cuts to a shot of the door opening from the other side.
Although the two shots may have actually been shot hours apart from each other, cutting on action gives the impression of continuous time when watching the edited film. By having a subject begin an action in one shot and carry it through to completion in the next, the editor creates a visual bridge, which distracts the viewer from noticing the cut or noticing any slight continuity error between the two shots.
A variant of cutting on action is a cut in which the subject exits the frame in the first shot and then enters the frame in the subsequent shot. The entrance in the second shot must match the screen direction and motive rhythm of the exit in the first shot.
Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa had "a tendency to cut from one shot to another on the motion of an actor to hide the cut and avoid calling attention" to it; an example of this is the 1954 film Seven Samurai, where, when "Shichirōji kneels down to comfort" Manzo, the film "cuts on the action of kneeling." Kurosawa's approach to "cutting on motion" has since been widely adopted by many Hollywood blockbuster films, such as Marvel Studios films.
Some films, like Alain Resnais's surreal Muriel ou Le temps d'un retour (1963), play with this technique. Cutting on action is used, instead of accentuating the continuity elements of the action, to trick and confuse the viewer. The director also plays with other aspects of continuity editing, such as subverting the 180 degree rule and shot/reverse shot.
- "Editing guide". Yale University. Retrieved 8 April 2010.
- Video example of cutting in action
- Sherlock, Ben (13 December 2020). "10 Ways Akira Kurosawa Has Influenced Modern Blockbusters". Screen Rant. Retrieved 21 April 2022.
- "Muriel, or the Time of Return (1963)". BRRRPTZZAP! the Subject. Retrieved 9 April 2010.
- Ascher, Steven and Edward Pincus (1999). The Filmmaker's Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age (Completely rev. and updated ed.). New York: Plume. ISBN 978-0452279575.
- Bordwell, David (1985). Narration in the Fiction Film. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 978-0415018777.
- Dancyger, Ken (2002). The Technique of Film and Video Editing: History, Theory, and Practice (Third ed.). New York: Focal Press. ISBN 978-0240804200.