Summary of Hiding a Cut

In document An attentional theory of continuity editing (Page 100-104)

Chapter 3: Hiding a Cut

3.5 Summary of Hiding a Cut

All cuts create visual transients that have the capacity to automatically attract attention and make the viewer aware of the cut. Cuts constructed according to the continuity editing rules have been shown to capture attention less than cuts identified as discontinuities (d'Ydewalle & Vanderbeeken, 1990; Schröder, 1990). This indicates that editors must be limiting the potential for attention capture when constructing continuity cuts. There are four techniques that could be used to achieve this: eliminating visual transients, choosing to cut when viewers expect a change, are processing previous visual events, or have their attention suppressed. The plausibility and evidence of each of these techniques was discussed in this chapter.

First, the plausibility of focussing attention on a part of the scene that was not affected by the cut was questioned. A straight cut from one shot to another would always contain visual transients unless a precise graphical match was used. Graphical matching shots is time consuming and complex and, therefore uncommon. It is also unclear if this results in less or more awareness of the cut. Another technique is to gradually composite multiple shots together into one shot, eliminating visual transients. This technique blurs the definition of a cut but is also currently an uncommon technique in feature films. Whether this technique becomes an established part of continuity editing will be seen over the next few years.

The large majority of transitions between shots used in feature films are cuts. Because of this any technique used to hide a cut must find a way to limit the effect of

100 the visual transients on attention. The first technique that has empirical support is using attentional cues to create a perceptual inquiry in the mind of the viewer which is answered by the cut. This ensures that attention is only captured by the answer to the inquiry rather than the unexpected transients of the cut. This technique is referred to as inattentional blindness (see Simons, 2000). On examination of the continuity editing rules, attentional cues seem to play a part in the 180° Rule, Match- Action, direction matches, and eyeline matches. Cues such as changes in an actor’s gaze direct attention across the cut and create a perceptual inquiry that forms a conceptual bridge upon which a mental representation of the depicted action can be constructed. Empirical evidence of the form of this representation does not currently exist.

Another method of limiting attention capture is to ensure that attention is occupied with the processing of a previously attended visual event (known as the attentional blink; (Raymond et al., 1992). The visual events applicable to film viewing are temporal units of human behaviour consistently identified by viewers (Newtson, 1973; Zacks et al., 2001). It was shown that attention fluctuated during the course of these events as information was encoded and stored in memory (Baird & Baldwin, 2001; Schwan et al., 2000; Smith et al., in press; Whitwell, 2005). Visual disruptions presented during periods of high visual motion or during the processing of events were not perceived by viewers (disruption blindness; (Baldwin et al., 2001; Levin & Varakin, 2004). Based on this evidence it was suggested a cut positioned immediately after the breakpoint between two events would be resistant to attentional capture as the visual transients of the cut are masked by the depicted visual motion and attention is internally directed to the processing of the beginning of the new event. This suggestion matches exactly the ideal match-action edit point identified by film editors (e.g. Reisz & Millar, 1953).

The final section supplemented the previous two techniques by suggesting that as well as directing attention, deictic cues can be used to provide a period of perceptual insensitivity in which a cut can be hidden. First, the possibility of blink suppression was discussed. This has been proposed as a mechanism of continuity editing (Murch,

101 2001) but there exists no evidence that blinks coincide with cuts or event breakpoints. A better source of suppression was found during saccades. It was found that film viewers synchronised their saccadic eye movements based on the capturing effects of deictic cues such as changes in an actor’s gaze (May et al., 2003; Stelmach et al., 1991; Tosi et al., 1997; Treuting, 2004). This suggests that editors exhibit a high degree of control over their viewer’s overt attention. There is also tentative evidence that they use this control to initiate saccades and then hide cuts during the period of saccadic suppression (May et al., 2003).

The last three techniques can be seen as compatible components of the system used by editors to create “continuity”. An editor presents an actor performing an action. They identify the point at which one action ends and another one begins as the best place to cut. Meanwhile, viewers have been automatically segmenting the action in order to process its constituent events and encode them in memory. When the first action ends the viewer’s attention is occupied with encoding the previous event. This creates a potential perceptual hole in which the cut can be placed. However, the editor has chosen to show the beginning of the next action before cutting. This sudden onset of motion automatically attracts the viewer’s attention and creates a new perceptual inquiry at the same time: “What is this new event?” The saccadic eye movement made to the new event suppresses the visual transients caused by the cut and when the saccade is over collocation of the matched action across the cut means that the viewer is able to continue answering their perceptual inquiry. Attention and perception have moved seamlessly across the cut.

This explanation of how editors hide a cut by manipulating their viewer’s attention and perceptual expectations is currently hypothetical. During the course of this chapter existing evidence was presented that supports this explanation but the experiments cited are rarely dedicated to questions concerning continuity editing. Abstracting from existing evidence always introduces potential errors through misinterpretation. To ensure that the empirical evidence used to construct a cognitive theory of continuity editing is directly related to the experience of film viewing dedicated studies need to be performed. These studies will provide a direct bridge

102 between the practice and theory of film editing and the cognitive processes involved in film viewing. The first stage on constructing this bridge is to address the main questions of this thesis:

How does continuity editing 1. minimise awareness of a cut,

2. create the perception of “continuity” across a cut, and

3. ensure that “continuity” is not violated as a consequence of the cut?

The current chapter has addressed the first of these questions and touched on the second question. However, the hypothetical use of attentional processes to limit awareness of the cut proposed in this chapter now needs to be empirically tested. The account of an empirical investigation of questions 1 and 2 will be presented in the next chapter.

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