Features and Columns · Movies

The Axial Cut Explained and Why Filmmakers Use It

And … [axial] cut!
Jaws Axial Cut
By  · Published on July 28th, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores what axial cuts are and why director Steven Spielberg stopped using them.

You may not have heard the term “axial cut” before. But, if you’re a film fan, you’ve mostly likely seen one in action.

As its name suggests, an axial cut occurs when the camera stays on its axis while suddenly moving close or further away from its subject. It is, to be crass about it, a stylish merge between a jump cut and a zoom. It delivers the impression of impact while maintaining the illusion of continuity. It also accomplished the end result of a zoom — either closing in on a detail or moving back to take in the big picture — with far less time.

While its heyday was in the 1910s and 1920s, plenty of household names have made use of axial cuts, including Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. Though, as the video essay below is quick to emphasize, the cut’s most famous patron is undoubtedly Akira Kurosawa.

Like split-diopters or dolly zooms, axial cuts are a wildly stylish move. They don’t work in every situation, and it’s up to the discretion of filmmakers to determine when to deploy them properly. For more on how the cut works and why and when directors might use it, here’s a video essay that breaks it all down:

Watch “Why Spielberg stopped using the Axial Cut”

Who made this?

This video essay on why Steven Spielberg stopped using the axial cut is by Wolfcrow. Their YouTube channel is dedicated to educating their audience on the ins and outs of cinematography. You can subscribe to them on YouTube here. And you can check out their website here.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.