A jump cut
It was a long time ago in a little cafe in Paris. It’s December 28th 1895, if you are specific about time. The Lumiere brother’s are about to begin the first screening of motion pictures.
But before we understand motion pictures, we have to understand the mindset of the people at that time.
“Motion pictures” was bound to exist when a photograph was first taken.
Photography was a revolution. It created real life pictures. Think about it for a moment. ￼
We lived on Earth for thousands of years and the closest we got to copying reality is some dye on a canvas. Then one day you hear that a new apparatus was made that can make a real life copy of the what we see…
It was such a new concept that people refused to have their pictures taken. There was a conspiracy theory at the time that believed that the photograph takes a piece of your soul and freezes it in that photograph for ever.
How did we go from that to this?
How was the concept of motion pictures discovered in the first place?
One day, 2 men made a wild bet.
One said that when the horse runs at some point all 4 legs end up in the air.
The second man suggested otherwise; And just like that a stupid bet was about to change humanity.
The bet was set, they sat and watched the horse run over and over again and they couldn’t precisely say if the horse is ever hovering. So they hire a man to solve their dilemma.
That man was known for his entrepreneurial spirit. If you needed help with your technology in 1870, he was the guy.
One might say he was one of the early geeks.
He explained to the betting men that he could install 12 cameras, with 2 lenses each, around the arena. He would also connect these cameras to a trip wire on the racetrack that will trigger the shot when stepped on. With the cameras around 40 inches apart, he was able to get 15 successive images in under a second.
When these images were moved in successive progression, it looked like the picture was in motion… Motion pictures… in 1878… and so the journey begins.
18 years after that day, the Lumiere brothers hosted the first motion picture screening ever, at the grand cafe in Paris. They had developed a camera that can record life.
The first movies they made were not movies, they weren’t even documentaries. They were pieces of life that were recorded.
People loved this new medium they were looking at. They couldn’t explain it but they loved it.
The last clip that the Lumiere brothers played was the clip of a train arriving at the station.
When the people in the theater saw the train coming towards them from the depth of the big screen, they panicked. The concept of motion pictures was so new to them that their brain, as a collective, couldn’t process that what they are seeing is not real.
In a moment of horror everyone fled the theater in an effort to avoid the approaching train. Well, almost everyone.
In the back of the theater that night was a man who was fascinated and impressed. His brain was able to process what just happened and he thought to himself: “This is genius. This will make my magic show a million times better.”
That man was George Melies. A magician who was trying to make a name for himself in France at the time. He thought that these motion pictures would make his shows so much more interesting.
He approached the Lumiere brothers and explained to them his idea. They saw him as a threat to their new and blooming business, so they refused to sell him a camera. Melies was more than a magician, he was an entrepreneur. His mind was set, so he bought a British slide projector and reverse engineered it to become a camera.
Melies took his makeshift camera and he hit the streets. He put his camera on a tripod on a corner of a street and he started recording by hand cranking his camera. He filmed a car driving down the street followed by a horse and carriage. While he was filming the camera jammed for a few seconds.
After he developed the film, he sat down and watched it. He saw a car driving down the road and it transformed into a carriage. Melies was shocked, it looked like magic but he knew there had to be a trick.
After much analysis, he realized that a jump had happened. When his camera jammed, it stopped recording while the car was in the middle of the frame. When the camera un-jammed, the car had left and the carriage was in the middle of the frame.
Melies figured it out, if you remove chunks of time out of a shot you can create a magical effect. A jump cut.
The reason a jump cut happens is because there are things that are not affected by time’s passage, like walls. And there are things that are effected by the passage of time, like a lit candle. So when you lapse time in a shot, things that are effected by time change. Which results in an interesting visual effect; A jump cut can also be created by relocating things inside the shot.
Melies created many shorts in the beginning of his career to be the backdrop of his magic shows and they were all built on the jump cut trick.
But the significance of that incident is not the discovery of the jump cut itself. The jump cut was a gateway to understand that we are able to stick images together and play them to create a narrative.
Editing… the jump cut was the gateway to editing.
At that point, it was 1905. In 9 years George Melies was able to create miracles, with the little understanding of film that he had.
What interests me the most in that piece of history is the set of circumstances that allowed the concept and application of motion pictures to be in motion.
I hear many people say that being in the film industry is magical but it is a gamble as well. You will be able to create new realms and incredible concepts that could make you very successful or keep you “artist” poor. No middle ground.
They are right… Maybe the film industry is a magical gamble because motion pictures were created for the sake of a bet and a magic trick…