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CONTINUITY

Continuity is the consistency of scene variables from shot to shot, including


dialogue, movement, lighting, sound, props, etc. It is important to maintain
correct continuity so that shots will have a smooth, continuous flow when edited.
Continuity is the consistency of scene variables from shot to shot.
In production, shots are usually photographed out of sequence, sometimes days
or weeks apart from each other. This makes it difficult to recall the details of a
particularly setup and it can result in continuity errors. The key to maintaining
correct continuity is careful record keepingby production craft departments.
In post-production, the editor is concerned with maintaining a clear geography of
the action in and around the frame when constructing each scene. This is
achieved through the following forms of continuity:
Continuity of Movement
The subject's direction of movement must be consistent from shot to shot so that
it is clear to the audience. For example, if a car is traveling screen right, it must
maintain this direction in every shot of the scene until it reaches its destination.
If for some unexplained reason, a shot shows the car moving screen left-- the
opposite direction-- it will look as though it suddenly changed directions. This can
appear awkward and possibly confuse the audience. Any deviation in direction
must be shown in some way to keep the direction of travel clear.
When the scene is one continuous take, movement is uninterrupted by cuts, so
the audience sees all directional changes on screen. Most scenes, however, are
composed of multiple shots using different camera angles. During shooting, it's
easy to lose track of the subject's direction of movement, especially when there
are many changes.
The imaginary line is a tool that directors use to maintain directional continuity
during shooting. An imaginary line is drawn through the center of the subject, and
the director chooses one side of the line from which to shoot the action. This
establishes the direction of movement toward screen left or screen right. The
camera can be placed anywhere within the 180-degree radius of the chosen side
of the line.

The camera cannot cross the imaginary line in two consecutive shots, or
continuity will be confused. For example, if you choose to work on the left side of
a car, you must stay on that side until a change in direction is shown on screen.
Improperly crossing the line will create an unintentional change in the direction of
movement, resulting in a continuity error. The imaginary line was crossed in the
third shot below:
When two subjects are in the frame, the imaginary line must bisect both, and you
shoot from one side of the line or the other. This is illustrated in the following
shot:

When the scene involves many shots, it may be desirable to change screen
direction for variety. These changes must be clearly shown to the audience. Once
the imaginary line is crossed, it is redrawn to help maintain continuity. There are
five ways to cross the imaginary line while preserving screen continuity:
Subject changes direction during the shot - This is acceptable because the
audience sees the change of direction happening.

Subject Changes Direction


Camera crosses imaginary line during the shot - Again, this is acceptable
because the audience sees the change of direction.

Camera Crosses Imaginary Line


A neutral shot is inserted between shots with different directions of travel -
A neutral shot is a head-on or tail-on shot. When used between two shots of
different direction, it can mask the change.
Neutral Shot
An insert or cutaway is used between shots with different directions of
travel - Inserts or cutaways work like a neutral shot in that they mask the change
in direction. Cutaways can detract from the flow of action and should only be
used they are directly relevant to the scene.

Insert
Break continuity - In some cases, you can cross the imaginary line simply
because it works aesthetically. Breaks in continuity usually go unnoticed in
scenes with action or high drama. This techniques was nicely in the climactic
riding montage of The Horse Whisperer.
Breaking continuity in dialogue scenes presents more of a problem because the
shots are closer and discrepancies are more noticeable. Even when the
audience can't identify exactly what the problem is, they can feel that something
is amiss.
In the low budget classic Night of the Living Dead, two characters are in a
dialogue exchange and both are looking screen right. The scene is passable only
because it is highly dramatic and made up of medium shots. Had the shots been
closer or the emotional level lower, the mismatch would have been too
distracting, requiring expensive re-shooting.
Scenes involving chase or confrontation require extra care because the meaning
of the scene is inherent in the screen direction:
Chase - When shooting chase scenes, the shots must show all characters
moving in the same direction to make it look like a chase. For example, if
character A is chasing character B screen right, both characters must maintain
that direction from shot to shot. If B is suddenly moving screen left, it will look like
he turned around to confront A. Alternatively, if character A is suddenly moving
screen left, it will look like the characters are running away from each other.
Mistakes like this can confuse the audience.
Confrontation - Characters moving toward each other from opposite directions
can be used to convey an imminent confrontation. If character A is moving
screen right and character B is moving screen left, intercutting these shots will
imply that the characters will confront each other at some point. Again, the
directions of travel must be maintained to avoid audience confusion.
Continuity of Eye Line
Continuity of eye line simply means that characters look in the correct direction
from shot to shot. This sounds simple enough, but it becomes problematic when
the character is looking at something off screen. Again, this is solved by using the
imaginary line. The line must bisect both actors and the camera stays on one
side of the line or the other:

In the above example, the woman is looking looking screen right at the man. She
must continue to look screen right throughout the scene. If for some unexplained
reason a shot shows her looking screen left, it will appear that the man had
moved, which can confuse the audience. The camera improperly crossed the
imaginary line in the first shot below:

There are three ways to properly convey a change in eye line:


Eye line shifts during the shot - This is acceptable because the audience sees
the change in a character's eye line as it follows the off screen object.
Camera physically moves during the shot - This, too, is acceptable because
the audience sees the shift in eye line.
An insert is used between shots with different eye lines - This can be used
to explain (or disguise) the shift in eye line.
Eye line continuity involves not only screen direction, but also vertical and
horizontal angles. The vertical angle is the character's eye line in relation to the
height of what he is looking at, and the horizontal angle is the character's eye line
in relation to the lens axis. In the following example the woman is looking down at
the man, who is seated.

Charlie is looking down at the seated detective


Eye line angles must be be logical and consistent from shot to shot unless the
imaginary line is changed using one of the aforementioned techniques.
Continuity can be tricky to maintain when three or more characters are involved,
so proper planning is essential. Storyboards are very useful for this purpose.
Perhaps the most difficult eye line situation is when a character is watching
something in motion. For example, if a car is traveling passed the actor, which
way should he turn his head to watch, left or right? Many directors film the actor
looking in both directions and let the editor pick the right shot. Actually there is a
simple rule: the actor should follow the movement as though it were happening
behind the camera.
Continuity of Performance
It is important that actor performance match from shot to shot throughout the
scene. This includes emotional intensity, speech pattern, gestures, and timing. It
is the responsibility of both the director and actor to insure continuity of
performance. If the director tries something different than in previous takes, the
script supervisor should make note of it for the editor.
Other Continuity Issues
There are other forms of continuity that can affect editing when an error is made,
including continuity of lighting, sound, and prop placement. For example, if a
character is brightly illuminated in one shot and dark in the next, the two shots
will not match. The same is true when ambient sound is radically different from
one shot to the next.
You should keep a sharp lookout for these prone areas. When you suspect a
serious mismatch, consult with the producer and appropriate craft head. Often,
the error can be fixed in printing or sound mixing. Sometimes "fancy" editing may
be required to cut around the problem. The worst case scenario will involve
costly reshooting.