The Basics of Parallel Editing and Why You Should Use It


When it comes to editing, there are many techniques you can use to make your video more compelling. One essential video editing know-how is parallel editing.

What is it and why should you care?

Parallel editing, also called cross-cutting, is a technique in which two or more scenes, happening simultaneously but shot from different locations, are shown in an alternating manner. These scenes will then meet eventually or have some kind of a connecting point.

To understand this powerful tool a bit more, let’s look at the basics of parallel editing, how useful it is, and why it is an essential part of video editing.

Brief History

Most film courses start parallel editing lessons with an example from a 1930’s film entitled The Great Train Robbery by Edwin S. Porter. This editing technique was used to build suspense, add exposition to the narrative, and improve the cinematic flow of the movie.

After that, Edwin S. Porter also used parallel editing in his 1915 film Birth of a Nation. Despite the controversies surrounding the movie’s theme, the use of this editing technique was groundbreaking and well-regarded.

Later, more and more directors, including Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, used the same editing process to create impressive films.

Why use it in social media?

There are many reasons why you should use parallel editing in videos or films. But did you know that you could also use them for social media video posts? The reasons are similar to filmmaking. Some of them the most significant are:

  • To build suspense, momentum, or excitement in scenes that would otherwise be boring if shown in separate moments in the videoFor example, a promotional ad for an upcoming event is shown with footage of the staff preparing for it. Instead of showing the sound guy mixing the audio, the set designer planning the stage, and the lights being set up separately, short clips of each one is shown alternately, maybe going faster and faster, to build anticipation.
  • To add meaning and clarity as the viewers see characters and events simultaneouslyFor example, a company culture video can show different scenes of different employees in their departments. Showing short clips of each one alternately will give those watching a view of how each team member works, giving them a better understanding of the company runs as a whole.
  • To show contrast or similarities between characters, events, or situationsFor example, a social media ad for a mobile phone company shows scenes of two people, one using their phone and one not. Both are on the phone all day while on the go, but the one has to charge the device frequently and may lose signal at some point. Showing these scenes alternately shows a contrast between using the company’s product versus not using it.
  • To connect two narratives until they eventually meet at one point in the videoFor example, this can be used in wedding announcement videos or prenup videos. The video would show alternating scenes of the man and the woman, the life they had before meeting each other, and the events that transpired as their paths crossed (connecting point).
  • To intensify the impact or emotion of individual scenes by putting them one after another, thus, combining their values into one sequenceFor example, a fictional ad for an energy drink will show different athletes performing with so much vigor and determination. Each one will be shown in several short clips, one after the other, showing how much hard work goes into training, then in the competition, and finally winning the gold.

When to use it?

Parallel editing can make or break your video. If used in the right way at the right time, it may boost the value and credibility of your video. If not, it may only confuse your viewers.

You can’t just use parallel editing in your video just for the sake of using it. It has to have a purpose in the story. Also, it will require extra money to do parallel editing because you would have to film two different actions that may involve two sets of actors and several shooting locations.

Mastering the technique

Parallel editing takes time and patience to master. But when you get it right and use it with purpose, the results can be very rewarding. Plus, it’s not only for films or motion pictures. You can also use it creatively for social media ads, personal videos, and more.

You don’t even need to be a skilled editor using high-end video editing software to be able to pull this off. As long as you understand the process and have a clear vision of what you want to put out there, whether you are a beginner using an online video editor app or not, parallel editing is definitely one editing technique worth learning and mastering.


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