Continuity Editing Techniques

There are two schools for video editing: Those who claim video editing should be noticed and those who claim the complete opposite. Most film today try their best to make sure you won’t feel their editing, and Continuity is an excellent tool for that. In his article, I will introduce you to some awesome continuity editing techniques. 

what is continuity?

You never shoot the film in the order of the script. Even inside the scene, the order of the shooting is determent by location limitations, actor’s schedule, etc. continuity is a system the filmmakers use to keep things consistent between two shots that will be edited together. The elements that can break continuity are:

  •  lighting
  • character’s movements
  • sounds
  • backgrounds
  • and object placements

Those elements are very hard to pay attention to, and even in blockbuster films, you can see mistakes like that.

Continuity Examples

Continuity in Lighting

Continuity in lighting means that the colors in the frames are the same in every shot. Sometimes the director might shoot a dialog where the close-ups in it were shot in two different places. I mean, each character was shot in a different place. The element that can break our continuity here is most likely to be exposure and lighting of the shots – They should be the same. The editor’s job is to do whatever it takes to help them look as if they are talking to each other. In this case, the editor might need to do some color correction to fix the continuity problem. The extremely skilled colorist usually does that.

Continuity in objects

Here is an example of a widespread mistake, when one of the characters is smoking a cigar and the size of the cigar changes on the different take (first it’s long, then it’s short and then long again).

Or let’s say an actor is holding a glass on the right hand and on the next take he is holding it on the left. In this case, there isn’t much the editor can do to fix it but merely choosing a different shot, but if the best take is the one that the actor is holding the glass on the different hand, I would say – use that. If the actor’s performance is good enough, the discontinuity would not be noticed. In the movie Pulp fiction, there is a scene where John Travolta needs to stick a needle in Uma Thurman’s chest. There is a red mark on the close up of the chest, but when she gets up with the needle in her chest, the red mark is gone. The scene is so full of energy, and the actors give such an excellent performance that it is not noticeable. 

Continuity editing techniques

The first thing you need to do before editing a scene is to go through all of the material and see if there are shot that might cause a problem. You should also check if there is are a solution you can give them. For example, if a character is facing right and on the next shot it is facing left, you can fix it with a flop effect (an effect that changes the direction of the frame). If there is a discontinuity in the actor’s action or an object in the scene, the right solution can also be putting the third shot in between the problematic two if it’s possible.

Make it a ritual before starting to edit a scene to look for discontinuity possibilities, and when you finish editing the scene, look for it again.

After all of that, I recommend watching Jean-Luc Goddard’s film, Band -a-part, Where he introduces new kinds of editing possibilities by creating visible jump cuts and discontinuity. He did that for political reasons to claim that when you watch a movie, you should be aware that it is just a movie so that you won’t be manipulated so easily. Today jump cuts can appear in the mainstream films, but only if it serves the premise of the film.