The average feature length film contains thirty to fifty scenes now days, each one an important event in a chain that becomes the film. Even the casual viewers of today's film, demand a decent shift from one scene to the next; even if they are not consciously aware of it. In today's movies, viewers have come to expect a transition, to mean a certain condition is taking place. Has time passed? Is something happening at the same time? Or was that scene switch not just really, really cool? Cinema has taken this completely necessary tool and over time, turned it into an art form. We all realize that without the transition, there could be no movie - but how do you transition correctly? Even artfully? We don't claim to know everything on the subject, and there will always be someone who comes up with a new, completely awesome transition - or way to use a common one. We can help point you in the right direction however, maybe help you evade some common mistakes many new(ish) independent filmmakers fall prey to. So here they are, the top three transitions and how they are commonly used, or not used.
Fade in/out - Fade to black/white.
One of the most commonly used transitions, fades, also remain one of the most improperly used ones. Fade outs happen when the picture is gradually replaced by a solid color. Black or white usually. Fade ins are the opposite. Despite being a very common transition, fades are rarely used by seasoned editors. An average length feature will only have a couple, if any at all. Why is that? It's because the viewer understands that a fade implies a major plot point has ended, or begun. Although they can be used to showcase the passage of time, the viewer generally thinks the former has happened. Because of this common confusion, using fades should be done carefully and creatively.
Dissolve / Overlapping.
A dissolve takes place when one shot is transitioned into another, often (but not always) completely different shot. This is a transition that's use is often confused with that of a fade. When an editor actually wants to showcase the passage of time, a dissolve is the standard way to go. Viewers understand this transition to mean time has gone by.
The most common transition of any project. Cuts are used so much - the viewer generally doesn't even notice them. Unless used badly. Without the cut, you couldn't have a film. Well, you probably could... but it would be strange indeed. Cuts exist simply for the technical need, but can also be used creatively to enhance the flow of the story. Example 1: A wife is at home, on the phone talking with her friend. Before hanging up she proclaims: I need to go! My husband should be home any second. Now we cut to a busy highway, and a man being stuck in traffic. The viewer assumes the "man" is the husband, and that he's going to be late. Example 2: We see a person, from a distance hit a baseball toward the screen. Now we cut to a baseball, in a cradle on a desk, in front of a seated man. The viewer assumes that man is the person who hit the ball. Or do they? Maybe the ball was caught by a completely different person, in the crowd of spectators. An editor must always be aware of the potential implications of a straight cut. They may not always be what he/she intends.
There you have it. Three of the most common transitions - and a little on how they are commonly used. However, don't be afraid to experiment! The effects of a transition are not set in stone. Be creative and let your indie shine.