What is Parallel Editing

The parallel editing definition (also known as cross-cutting) goes like this — switching back and forth between two or more scenes in different locations that are occurring simultaneously to create the feeling of parallel actions.

This type of editing establishes a relation between two scenes. Even though you are watching the shots one after another, you still feel the simultaneousness of the two actions and some sort of connection between them.

Parallel editing examples

Parallel editing was introduced in early films, like The Great Train Robbery (1903) or The Runaway Horse (Le cheval emballé) (1908).

Over time, this editing technique has become more and more popular and nowadays you can find it almost everywhere. But let’s have a look at some iconic cases of parallel editing.

Godfather (1972)

We see the scenes in the church and murders that, we feel, occur at the same time. Such a combination of shots lets us see deeper into the mind of the main character and add a new layer to the story. Michael is becoming a godfather not only to the baby but also to the mafia.

Silence of lambs (1991)

The camera cuts between shots of the FBI agents approaching the house and of the killer inside the house. The viewers follow the two stories simultaneously, from shot to shot their attention is growing, suspense is increasing, and they can’t but anticipate some dramatic resolution.

Inception (2010)

Christopher Nolan is considered to be the master of cross-cutting. He uses this editing technique in many of his films. And “Inception” is packed with parallel editing examples. We see several storylines that happen on different layers — reality, dreams, dreams in dreams, dreams in dreams’ dreams… Don’t be lost.

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Parallel editing can be used not only in films. This simple, nevertheless engaging story about love and, well, the department store right at the culmination point, is also a parallel editing example.

How and when to apply parallel editing in video

Often, parallel editing is used to show suspense or create tension in a story. If you decide to make your suspense sequence, balance the time for each piece of the action wisely when you cut videos. The shorter the cuts, the more intensive gets the story.

Also cross-cutting can help compare and contrast two stories, showing different points of view or realms of life. By merging videos about your day life and night life, you can give a much deeper insight into who you really are.

This or that way, parallel editing is always about connecting — it tells more than just two separate stories. They also set for some sort of culmination when the two lines meet and somehow confront each other. This is the magic of cinema.