A meteor falls to earth through a dark and stormy sky, set against a glowing Emma Stone’s face, gazing up to the heavens with a smile upon her face in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman. Uma Thurman’s broken bride lies bloodied and bruised in her veiled gown, next to her own happy self, whose arms are wrapped around her long lost daughter (in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 2). The glowing sun emerges from behind the moon, the earth cast in shadow, from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, adjacent to the ethereal beauty of the film's final shot, a foetus protected in the sphere of its womb.
There’s a quiet majesty to First and Final Frames, a ‘supercut’ or thematic movie clip montage created by Baltimore-based video editor Jacob T. Swinney, that speaks succinctly and affectingly of a filmmaker’s vision, by simply placing the opening and closing shots of their celebrated films side-by-side.
The clip, hosted on Vimeo and set to ‘Any Other Name’ by Thomas Newman, has been viewed over two million times (we shared it, too). It’s Swinney’s personal favourite of what has become an accidental career, producing clip collections for a variety of publications including Playboy, IndieWire and Slate. “It was kind of a hobby that turned into a job somehow,” he laughs. “I was like, ‘oh my god, I get paid for this? This can’t be real.’”
Favouring the work of Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson and Martin Scorsese, Swinney first recognised his love of cinema while wearing out a VHS copy of Tim Burton’s Batman as a kid.
Swinney, 24, had attempted to take the “practical, smart, low-risk approach,” to school and future career prospects but dropped out of business college after two miserable years. Finding himself too broke to attend a prestigious film school like NYU, he instead opted to study film theory and filmmaking at Maryland’s Salisbury University.
At the time he was more focused on cinematography than editing, but when a lecturer set a final paper that could be turned in as a video essay – an option Swinney plumped for – his path changed. His teacher pulled him aside at the end of class, having recognised the flair for editing that he’s built upon ever since.
Swinney’s ability was backed up when early supercut attempt, which he insists he’s now too embarrassed to look at – began attracting big hits and a slew of comments on his Vimeo channel. Pretty soon editors started contacting him directly with supercut requests of their own accompanied by a paycheque for his troubles.
While each supercut generally takes around a week or so to pull together, with the clip gathering usually accounting for the lion’s share (the editing stage is a bit swifter), Swinney acknowledges that First and Final Frames, a labour of love, was a slightly longer process. “It was probably the easiest to edit, being that it’s just finding the first and last shot and putting them next to each other, but it took so long to find films that fit the criteria. I wanted two shots that reflected each other or gave a new meaning when you see them next to each other. That took about two months, harvesting films.”
When he started out, Swinney grabbed most of his clips from YouTube but soon found his supercuts getting flagged for copyright issues, not because of the movie scenes used, but instead because of the accompanying music he selected, a favourite element of his work. The actual clips themselves, sourced from his own encyclopaedic collection of DVDs and Blu-Rays, have proven far less problematic.
“There’s a fair use that states you can use footage for criticism or education,” he says. “When I was making these videos, to begin with it was literally to showcase film techniques while still in school. These days it’s a fine line, but I think what many supercutters are doing is to improve the film industry, not hurt it in any way.”
His first big hit, which he’s not crazy about, looking back, was a supercut of lens flares in the movies. Resisting the urge to go all out with the J.J. Abrams clips, it took off when Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright re-tweeted him, sparking an avalanche of emails. “I wish I could talk to Edgar and thank him, because that was kind of what boosted me a little bit to keep making these and gave me a little bit more of the following that got me to where I am.”
Other famous industry figures who have helped him out on Twitter include Selma director Ava DuVernay, who gave First And Final Frames Part II a shout out, and regular Spielberg producer Frank Marshall who shared his The Doorway Shot supercut edited for Fandor.
While Swinney would ultimately love to score a gig in the film industry, his supercut work, alongside the occasional wedding video, keeps the rent paid and fridge stocked, much to his astonishment. “My bread and butter is sitting in my bedroom with my headphones and laptop, doing what I love. I get to watch movies every day for a living and it’s fantastic.”
Across the Atlantic Ocean, 22-year-old Madrid-based supercut star Jorge Luengo Ruiz’ early onset cinephilia was sparked while watching Disney movies with his parents. It’s fitting, therefore, that his most ‘liked’ work on Vimeo, with over 1.3 million views, and his personal favourite to boot, is the gorgeous Pixar’s Tribute to Cinema.
Depicting glorious moments like Buzz Lightyear’s escape from a rolling globe, evoking Indiana Jones’ boulder run in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the same lovable buffoon’s heavy breathing, echoing Darth Vader’s in Star Wars, as well as a mirror image of a shark lunge from Jaws in Finding Nemo, it’s breathtaking to see how the celebrated animators have lovingly folded filmic history into their biggest hits. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCidvL_N3_HOimxOfCCkLoeQ
As Ruiz grew older, he was similarly drawn to the Batman, both in his Burton and Joel Schumacher iterations. Going on to study at Madrid’s TAI film school, where he specialised in editing, his passion for classic cinema marked him out as a bit of a class freak, not that he’s losing sleep over it.
Proudly wearing his love for the movie business on his sleeve, Ruiz has scored freelance editing gigs with several TV production companies in Spain, including the TCM channel, and points to Thelma Schoonmaker, who secured Oscars for her work on The Departed, The Aviator and Raging Bull, as his hero. Squeezing in his supercut stuff around the edges of work, including a recent Scorsese close-up vid for IndieWire, Ruiz says his Vimeo channel works as a calling card for prospective employers.
Admiring Swinney as one of the “best in this field,” Ruiz adds that he usually spends about three weeks pulling together his own supercuts from his extensive music and film collection, with the Pixar tribute taking slightly longer. “It’s very special because it got to one million visits,” he says. “That was something I’d been looking for for a long time.”
Listing his Tribute to Emmanuel Lubezki as another personal favourite, his work has been shared on social media by the likes of Hellboy actor Ron Perlman, Mexican actor/director Diego Luna (The Motorcycle Diaries and the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and Toy Story editor Lee Unkrich.
Not everyone’s a fan of the supercut business, however, as Swinney experienced early on when music companies flagged videos on the back of his soundtrack selections. It’s a problem recently encountered by pre-school teacher and hobbyist supercutter Ellen Donkers, 32, from Oisterwijk in the Netherlands, who goes by the screen name Ms Tabularasa.
Her dance scenes supercut set to American band Walk the Moon’s toe-tapping ‘Shut Up And Dance’ [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JCLY0Rlx6Q] was a huge viral hit featuring iconic clips from Saturday Night Fever, Dirty Dancing, Grease, Pulp Fiction, Flashdance and Big as well as the dynamic duo of Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook amongst many, many more.
The band shared it on its Facebook page and on Twitter, but the record company was less enthused. “Sony Music Entertainment took down all the videos,” Donkers reveals. “I don’t know why, because they didn’t even contact me. I just saw one day that the video was gone, though I always knew that was a risk.”
Good luck finding a playable link these days, though there are a few sneaky spots you can find it if you try...
In its brief, bright life online, the 'Shut Up And Dance' supercut was shared by Mark Ruffalo, who appears alongside Jennifer Garner in a clip from 13 Going On 30 where they both break out zombie moves to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller,’ and also by former Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Eliza Dushku, who takes the final bow in a clip from cheerleading movie Bring It On. “I’m a huge Buffy fan, so that was seriously cool,” Donkers laughs. “That was surreal. I never expected it, it was a real surprise.”
Though some savvy internet users have tired to resurrect it on the sly, Donkers is working on a replacement and also dropped a Christmas-themed dance supercut last year, set to Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Underneath the Tree,’, that has so far escaped the record label’s censors.