4 Continuity Editing Techniques

There are many theories about the part of the video editing in the filmmaking art. Basically, we can agree that the video editor’s main job is to attach together a number of shots in order to create continuity in the story that does not draw attention to the video editing itself and Continuity in film is an excellent tool for that. In this article, I will introduce you to some impressive continuity editing techniques. 

What is Continuity Editing?

You never shoot the film in the order of the script. Even inside the scene, the order of the shooting is determined by location limitations, the actor’s schedule, etc. Continuity editing is a technique that video editor use to keep things consistent between two shots that will be edited together. For example,  Lighting – Continuity in lighting means that the colors in the frames are the same in every shot of the scene. 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 fix the discontinuity elements. In this case, the editor might need to do some color correction to fix the problem. 

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

Other problems that can cause discontinuity can be in backgrounds, sound, and the most “popular” mistake – a discontinuity in object placement. For example, 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 online film editing course, we cover many editing techniques and in this lesson we’ll learn techniques that can help you cover the discontinuity  and we’ll go over them in this lesson.

4 Techniques for Better Continuity Editing

  • The Matching on Action Technique –Also known as Cutting on action. I recommend reading the article that is linked here to understand this technique better, but basically, it means you are cutting between two shots in the middle of an action. Our eyes are always fixed on where there is action, so when you cut on action, that helps to cover any discontinuity in the shot. What’s important here to remember is that when you do the cut in action, there should be a continuity in action itself.
  • The Diegetic sound Technique –Using a sound in the background that will go through the cut, can help for continuity editing. The diegetic sound should come from the scene’s world, the sound source can be visible on the screen, or it can be an of-screen sound. Sometimes, merely using room-tone can do the job. The most known example is character dialogue – One character is talking, and while she keeps talking, the camera moves to the other character, while the sound of the talking character is still on. What’s important to remember here is not to use the dietetic sound just to cover discontinuity, it should also take part in the overall message of the scene.

  • Using the Establishing Shot – An establishing shot is a long shot that we are usually using at the beginning of a scene to establish the scene as it helps us to establish all the information we need about the scene. If we have a problem attaching two shots, we can insert the establishing shot between them.
  • The Actor’s Performance – If the actor’s performance is good enough, the discontinuity would not be noticed. Check out the “Over Dose Scene” 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 the red mark is gone when she gets up with the needle in her chest. The scene is full of energy, it uses a very smart cutting on action technique and the actors give such an excellent performance that it is not noticeable.

The important thing to remember from this lesson is that your main goal as a video editor is not to get an edited film that is continuous, but that is dramatically effective. continuity editing is just a tool that will help you get there.