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Coverage & Cutaways

Mikey Perry
October 30, 2013 by Mikey Perry Staff

A great editor is a filmmaker’s best friend. Simply put, an editor’s job is to take everything that was captured in camera for a particular project and piece it together to tell the story. But don’t be fooled! There’s a lot more to editing than splicing – err – clicking-and-dragging clips into a timeline! A good editor understands the essence of the narrative’s drama and selects which parts to use to complete the whole.

When you’re planning your next shoot, set your editor up for success by getting as much coverage as possible. What do I mean by coverage? Well, shoot the scene or interview in as many ways as you think might be useful for your story. Cover the scene from different angles, distances, and perspectives so that your editor has choices to make. The more choices you can provide, the better off your film will ultimately be.

Allow our pals from Framelines TV to elaborate:

*P***Pro tip:** Keep your resources (cast, crew, equipment, time spent in your friend’s cousin’s father-in-law’s restaurant) in mind when deciding whether or not to do “just one more” take of a certain shot. Unless you’re offering serious bill$, you don’t need to get all David Fincher on people.

Beyond shooting enough coverage to allow for choices in post, it’s important to think carefully about the details that will help you tell your story visually. A great example is found in the first minute of Paul Briganti’s “Speechless,” where, with a cutaway shot of Sandy grabbing Dan’s hands to teasingly read his palms, followed by Dan’s subtle reaction, we realize that there is an unspoken romance weighing down one side of this friendship. It’s a simple two-second shot that the filmmakers decided to grab before they wrapped, but it sets the story’s entire conflict in motion.

If you’re making a non-fiction piece, take notes from the folks at Variable – particularly their short “Get Old” Hy Snell, 94”. Told mostly with B-roll laid over Hy’s inspiring voiceover, the film flows rhythmically and beautifully. What’s more, if you pay close attention, you’ll see that the filmmakers captured Hy discussing his determination to paint as long as he can in seven unique ways: two different close-ups, a medium-shot, a medium-long shot, two separate shots of him talking while he paints, and an extreme low-angle shot used to end the film. That’s a lot of work for a three minute piece, but hey, it got our Staff’s attention.

At the end of the (shoot) day, coverage provides you options to weave together the best film possible, and cutaways are quick, powerful punches to help you tell your story visually. Planning for both will ultimately make your film more dynamic and engaging for your viewers.

Until next time, friends!


lanacaprina Plus

So true, you never have enough cutaways! They say that in documentary the editor is often almost a co-director. Thanks for this lesson.

Mikey Perry Staff

Couldn't agree more! Here's an interesting read from the Sundance Institute on that very ideology:

Richard Anthony Morris

I'm new to editing but wouldn't it be easier to have a few cameras recording simultaneously? Rather than set everything up over and over again.

Jefferson Donald Plus

On certain set ups you can do that, provided you have the crew and equipment to do so. With DSLR's that process is easier, but with full on 35MM cameras, there is a significant rental cost, as well as film processing. You have to balance costs, media management, time, crew / personnel needs, and other production considerations. Basically, it all boils down to production choices and parameters.

lanacaprina Plus

I would say that rarely in fiction you see multiple cameras shooting at the same time, simply because you can always ask the actor to do it again, and you shoot from a different angle. On the other hand, in non-fictional works it is not always easy. For instance, in filming live events often everything is so unpredictable that you that sometimes it is difficult even controlling just one camera. Let alone how much time you save in the cutting room not having everything shot twice; one skilled DOP with a good camera is more than enough! And, as Jefferson said, more cameras mean more costs - and from this point of view a good editor and a few cutaways can make the magic happen.

David Sheriff

Ridley Scott used 10 cameras simultaneously in Robin Hood then cut out what was not required.

Richard Clarke

this is tottally helpful thank you very much vimeo team!


Love you guys, but it's really difficult to read with those animated gifs.


I had some in the late nineties, but they broke :(

Kevin Steele

thanks for the nice and short tips! makes me think more about the importance of cutaways :)



Ildikó Wooning Plus

Very nice piece, thank you! I really like the examples, and the notion that b-roll is not just thrown into a story but it all has meaning (if done correctly) :-)

David Sheriff

I enjoy fiolming as I wish to share my experiences with others namely music and travel....any tips always welcome

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