What is Continuity Editing

Continuity editing is a technique that has been around since the beginning of the Hollywood film industry.  What’s so important about it that means it still gets used today?

Well, put simply – continuity editing is a system of rules that when followed will help viewers stay immersed in your film, and help the film make sense. 

It is a process that starts onset and continues all the way through to post-production on this final cut. Get it right and no one will notice, but get it wrong and well… just look at what happened to Game of Thrones. 

In this article, we’re going to talk you through all the elements that a good continuity editor will get right. 

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Let’s start by discussing what bad continuity editing looks like.

Continuity Errors 

Here are three examples of continuity errors that have occurred during major productions.

Spiderman (2002)

In this scene pay attention at 2:20 – notice how the two windows behind Mary-Jane are smashed. Now, look at them at 2:26. They appear to have fixed themselves.  

This scene in Spiderman has gone down as one of the most infamous continuity errors in modern cinema.

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

There is a lot of mistakes in the whole trilogy of Star Wars, In one of these scenes, you should be paying attention to how Han is dressed. Notice how in all the wide shots he is just wearing a white shirt. But in the close-ups, he is wearing his signature leather jacket. 

This shows you that even in big productions like Star Wars, there is so much to keep track of that the occasional error slips through. In the HD remake, Lusac had this and nearly all of the other continuity issues edited out of the film. Sadly, most directors won’t get that opportunity.

Game of Thrones – Final Season (2018)

When watching the final season of Game of Thrones it really does feel like they fired their script supervisor, or just stopped caring. There are dozens of errors in the last season we could have picked from. But check out this scene… 

See 1:06… 

Is this possibly the world’s worst continuity error of all time? We’re still scratching our head as to how this made it into the final cup of the episode (bare in mid they spent over a million on each episode), and how the cup made it unnoticed into multiple shots. If the final season of Game of Thrones has made more of an effort with its continuity editing it may have earnt a little more respect from its audience.

Who Looks After the Continuity Editing?

There is not one person who is responsible for continuity editing, however a lot of the responsibility onset falls to the Director and Script Supervisor.  Whilst filming it is their job to make note of things they need to keep constant from shot to shot. 

Editors are also partially responsible for keeping continuity in the scenes whilst they are making their cuts. However, there is only so much an editor can do with big errors without requesting reshoots. 

How Much Does Continuity Really Matter?

If even huge Hollywood blockbusters are rife with continuity errors (which they are, just look up ‘continuity errors’ on Youtube), is continuity something you should be worrying about? 

There are a few big-time editors that don’t worry about continuity at all. Let’s look at what they have to say. 

These two editors are in agreement that when it comes to cutting together a scene, continuity is at the bottom of their priority list.

Thelma Schoonmaker, an editor who’s worked with Martin Scorsese on many large projects including The Wolf of Wall Street, says that she is more concerned with choosing the take with the best performance, saying she ‘doesn’t understand why people get so hung up on these [continuity] issues.’  

Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now) goes as far as to say that continuity editing is literally at the bottom of his priority list when it comes to creating the final cut. Carrying the emotion and the action of the scene comes first. 

So, does it matter? 

There is a fine line to walk between taking the Schoonmaker approach and choosing to prioritize the quality of acting over shot continuity, and the Game of Thrones ‘not bothering to edit out a Starbucks cup because we’re so big we don’t have to’ method.

Game of Thrones was ridiculed for this mistake. You do not want to be in a situation where your audience feels like you don’t care about the film you’re making. 

You need to set yourself a continuity benchmark:

 – Wine glass in the wrong place in a tear-jerking take = fine 

-Starbucks cup in a medieval fantasy show, Airpods visible during a Viking raid = reshoots needed 

Top Continuity Editing Tips 

Here are a few of our top tips for enforcing continuity editing in your project: 

  • Make sure you do your research before production begins. This is particularly important for historical productions or productions set where location or culture is important. You don’t want a character using an item that hasn’t been invented yet. This will upset your audience. 
  • Employ a Script or Production Supervisor to keep track of any continuity points. Having an extra pair of eyes can be incredibly helpful. 
  • Don’t change makeup artist in the middle of the scene – even if you are filming on different days 
  • The same goes for your lighting and wardrobe team
  • Work with your actors to make sure they maintain their energy levels from take to take. 
  • Try using film techniques – like the 30 degrees and 180 degrees methods. Also try using the ‘cut on the look’ technique – if an actor looks at something, cut to it, to avoid confusing the audience 
  • Match eyelines from shot to shot, otherwise it won’t look like the actors are looking at each other  
  • Make sure you match shot speeds when the camera is moving, not doing this can be very jarring for the audience

Written by Rick@