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CONTINUOUS ACTION SCENES

Each scene design has its own editing techniques and conventions. Continuous
action scene are the most exacting since many variables must be considered in
maintaining the illusion of real time from shot to shot:
Match Cut
For action to appear continuous, it must flow smoothly over each cut. For
example, if the scene starts with a wide shot of a character in action and then
moves closer, the cut must be unobtrusive to the audience. This is accomplished
using a match cut, where the flow of action is matched from one shot to the
next. There are two requirements for a match cut to work and both must be
considered during production. The first involves camera placement and second
involves continuity:
Camera Placement For a cut to appear invisible there must be a radical
change in bothsubject size and camera angle from one shot to the next. The
change in subject size must be at least one step up or down in standard cutting
height. The change in camera angle must be at least 30 degrees.

Change in Size and Angle


An acceptable cut could be achieved with a change in only one variable. In this
case, the change must be even greater, otherwise the cut will appear to "jump."
In the shot below, only the camera angle is changed. The cut works, but notice
how radical the angle change is:
Change in Angle Only
Continuity - There must be continuity of action, props, and lighting from one shot
to the next. For example, if lighting is brighter in one shot and darker in the next,
the cut will not match. A similar problem will occur if props and actors are
repositioned from one shot to the next. Continuitywas discussed at length in an
earlier lesson.
The editor should develop an eye for distracting mismatches in lighting and depth
of field. Depth of field refers to the zone of acceptable focus around the subject. A
mismatched in depth of field usually has the background in focus in one shot and
out of focus in the other. This problem cannot be fixed in editing and may require
expensive reshooting.
Cutting Point
The cutting point is the exact place in the shot that an edit is made. Determining
this point depends on whether the shot involves action or dialogue.
Cutting Points for Action - When dealing with action there are three potential
cutting points:
just before the action
on the action
just after the action
The recommended approach is to cut on action because the movement will
camouflage the cut. If this is not possible, the next best point to cut is just before
the action. The least desirable point is after the action. In the example below, the
cut is properly made on action (Tom's hand movement).
Generally, a slight overlap in action is need in the incoming shot. This is because
the eye needs time to adjust to the new camera angle. Without the overlap, the
action will appear to jump by the time the eye adjusts to the new shot. This is true
even if the cut is perfectly timed and matched. In the above example, Tom's hand
is momentary still to overlap with the outgoing shot.
There are no hard rules for the amount of overlap. Generally, the greater the shift
in camera angles, the greater the overlap required for the eye to adjust. When
doing the first cut, it is best to leave an extra 3-4 frames on the incoming shot.
This might be a few frames too many, but it is easier to take out frames then add
them back later when fine-tuning.
Cutting Points for Dialogue - The cutting points for dialogue scenes are
discussed in a separate lesson devoted to this topic.
Action Compression
Some shots are too long to keep an audience interested so they must be
abridged. Action compression is an editing technique that shortens the action
while maintaining the illusion of real time. In action compression, the extra
footage is trimmed out and one of the following masking techniques is used at
the cutting point:
Insert or Cutaway The editor can use an insert or cutaway to camouflage the
abridgement. Reaction shots work nicely here.
Match cut Creating a match often works even when large chunks of the action
are cut out. The trick is to find two points where the action appears continuous.
Exit or Entrance Character exit and entrances have the character exiting or
entering the frame, and can be used to mask action compression. They are
discussed later in this lesson.
Action Expansion
Some shots may be too short to allow for an adequate buildup of tension. Action
expansion is a technique used to augment action while maintaining the illusion of
real time. In action expansion, the action is overlapped in the incoming shot to
make it seem longer.
The same techniques used in action compression are used in action expansion
to distract the audience from recognizing the overlap. Action expansion and
compression are affectionately referred to as "cheating" by editors.
Exits and Entrances
Exits show a character exiting the frame at the end of a shot, while entrances
show a character entering the frame at the beginning of a shot. Exit and entrance
shots are frequently coupled with each other to show a character moving from
one space to another. For example, to show a character walking from a hall into
a classroom, the first shot has the character exiting the hall and the second shot
has him entering the classroom.
When coupling exit and entrance shots, the character must be traveling in the
same direction in both shots to create the illusion of continuous action. For
example, if a character is moving toward screen left when he exits the first shot,
he must be moving toward screen left when he enters the next shot. If the
character is moving in the opposite direction, it will appear that he turned around.
The cutting points in exit and entrance shots depends on whether the shots are
wide or close:
Cutting Points for Wide Shots - When editing wide shots the exit shot is
generally cut when the character completely leaves from the frame. Cutting
before this point-- while the character is still in the frame-- will convey a sense of
incomplete action.
The entrance shot must start with some motion or there will be a minute drag in
the action. In other words, the subject must be in the frame when the shot
begins. How far into the frame the character must be depends upon the speed of
the action. Usually two to five frames of motion in the incoming shot will do the
trick.
Cutting Points for Close Shots - The cutting points for close shots is a bit
different, since the audience focuses on the character's eyes, rather than the
body. The exit shot is cut when the character's second eye leaves the frame. The
entrance shot should start two to five frames before the first eye enters. At this
point, the character's head is already be in the frame providing motion.
Moving Camera Shots
Camera movement adds another variable when attempting a match cut. Cutting
from a moving camera shot to a static camera shot is often less jarring when the
camera comes to a stop before the cut is made. If the emotion is high enough,
though, the cut can work while the camera is still in motion. Cutting two moving
camera shots together is also a delicate matter. It works best if the speed of the
camera movement matches from one shot to the next.
Dealing with Mismatches
Reshooting is normally not done for mismatches. The problem is usually left up
to the editor to solve. There are several approaches:
Use an Insert One of the best inserts for camouflaging mismatches is a
reaction shot of a character.
Use a Cutaway - A cutaway is a shot of some element outside of the frame.
Cutaways should be used only if they are directly related to the action.
Cut on Abrupt Sound - This is tricky to apply, but it can camouflage a poorly
matching cut. The sound must be appropriate and can be dialogue, music, or
effects.
Cut on Abrupt Action Sometimes a poorly matching cut can be masked by
cutting on an abrupt movement. This is difficult to apply and usually works best if
the outgoing shot is delayed ever so slightly.
Accept the Mismatch - When all else fails, it is preferable to live with a
mismatch if the cut is dramatically correct. Since the audience generally focuses
on characters' eyes, the mismatch may go largely unnoticed.

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