Hollywood JargonHollywood SlangHollywood Speak


Definition: Omission of action whose narrative significance is conveyed by the scenes preceding and following the action.

History:  Ellipsis is originally a literary term that means omission of a word or words that can be inferred easily from existing text.  The omitted words are signified by dots, usually three in number, which constitutes the second definition of ellipsis.

Applied to filmmaking, ellipsis is the omission of action whose importance to the narrative can be inferred from action, including dialogue, preceding and following the omitted action. A simple example: A doorbell rings and a solitary character walks across the room and opens the door to his visitor. Ellipsis would be the omission of the character walking to the door. In the edited scene, we see the character hearing the doorbell followed by the visitor being revealed in the doorway.  

ellipsisNot all ellipses, however, find the cutting room floor. Often an ellipsis represents action over a length of time, its content concentrated in before and after scenes. For instance, in “Death on the Nile” (1978), Jackie (Mia Farrow) introduces her fiancée Simon (Simon MacCorkindale) to her rich heiress friend Lois Chiles (Lynette). We next hear the wedding march and see a newspaper page with photo devoted to the wedding of Lynette and Simon, its headline: “Heiress Marries Penniless Prince Charming in Whirlwind Romance.” The ellipsis here is three months during which Chiles stole MacCorkindale from Farrow.

Ellipsis is essential to a comparison of classical Hollywood and MTV-style editing. It is one thing to cut action that adds nothing to the narrative; another to cut action that carries the narrative and replace it with implications of before-and-after action.  Proponents of pro-ellipsis MTV-style editing believe that audiences today are far better than those of the 20th Century at processing visual information. This would seem to follow from the unlimited access modern movie fans have to a century of films seen on screens ranging from Imax to smart phones.  

mtv styleAlso, the label “classical editing” belies the fact that the classical era began with most films shot like stage plays and evolved to include ellipses, non-linear editing, cuts from close-up to far shot and vice versa, jump cuts and other techniques that are now mainstays of MTV-style editing. It is MTV-style’s overindulgence in these techniques, say critics, that disrupts storytelling. To use an analogy, it sits us in the audience of “Carmen” in the Marx Brothers’ film, “Night at the Opera.” We see gypsies on stage singing by a campfire in the countryside, then the countryside  backdrop rises and the gypsies are standing in front of a San Francisco trolley car, then the trolley car backdrop rises and the gypsies are on the deck of a battleship. Unable to see backstage, we are expected to infer that the cause of the confusion is Harpo Marx swinging by scenery ropes to escape police.

Although the above analogy is extreme, proponents realize the risk of MTV-style filmmaking is an incoherent narrative.  On the other hand, unlike classical editing, a.k.a. continuity editing, MTV-style emphasizes location and mood over character and plot development. Not surprisingly MTV- style is most prevalent in action films, e.g., the “Bourne” and “Taken” franchises, whose plots and characters are not subtle.

Hollywood Lexicon Index

classic movies

Return to Top

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Hollywood