Continuity in filmmaking is the practice of ensuring that details in a shot are consistent from shot to shot within a film scene. When there is continuity between shots, then audiences have a greater suspension of disbelief and will be more engaged in the film. There are several crew members on a film set that are dedicated to ensuring continuity on set.
- In this chapter, we're going to take a look at continuity, which is crucial when making a film. Continuity basically means exactly what it sounds like, that things are consistent from shot to shot when we expect them to be. One of the biggest challenges of filmmaking is to take a whole bunch of shots which make up little pieces of scenes and then stitch them together to make it seem like the scene just happened at once in real time. And few things destroy that allusion more than errors in continuity. Let me show you what I mean. If you look at me right now and then we cut to some footage of The Assurance or something and then we cut back to me, chances are you're gonna have a very tough time paying attention to what I'm saying 'cause all you can think about is this unexplained, seemingly lightening fast wardrobe change.
Now, do you really care what I'm wearing? Probably not, but it's the unexplained change that's the problem. It's distracting, and you're probably asking questions like, "Why did he do that?" or, "Did he have glasses on before?" or, "Was that intentional or a mistake?" The big takeaway here is that my audience stopped thinking about the story because of an error in continuity. In order to maintain continuity, we need to make sure that hair, makeup, wardrobe, the set, the background, that they don't change from setup to setup in the same scene.
So we had Bry, our second AD, taking continuity pictures so we always knew how to put things back in the same way when we changed camera setups or took a break for lunch or whatever. The script supervisor is often in charge of continuity, so they might also make notes about what hand someone is drinking with or whatever so that the shots will match well when cut together. Another tool for continuity is the use of marks. These ensure that each take uses the exact same spot. We replace marks on our actors and for our camera operator when the camera was moving. Again, a lot of film production is just being able to accurately duplicate the same conditions over and over for multiple shots.
Continuity is especially challenging when shooting outside with partial cloud cover. The sun shines, then it hides. Shadows get sharper and softer. The sun rises and then goes down. The color of the sky changes throughout the day, and it can make it really hard to edit together. This is exactly why I chose to shoot The Assurance outdoors in Seattle in springtime. I knew we'd be wrestling with these issues and that these problems would make for a great education. In our training series on color, we'll look at how we mesh shots from different times of the day and even completely different days and weather. One time I was on a big set with a lot of crew, and one of the main actors was a young girl.
After a break, when it's time to shoot again, the crew realized that she didn't have her jacket on, which she wore in a previous shot in the same scene. If she had a jacket on and then we edited a shot in where she didn't have her jacket on, we'd lose the audience. And because we often shoot out of order, once that scene was edited together, she'd most likely have her jacket off then on then off then on again, so on that set, we did the only thing we could do at that point. We shut down production to look for a little girl's jacket. Producers, director, the sound guy, everybody looking for a jacket for like four hours.
That was an extremely costly problem, but we couldn't film anymore until we found it because it would've caused problems with the continuity. We'll talk later in the series about wardrobe, but suffice it to say this is why you need people on your crew that can be responsible for specific tasks because continuity is that important. As we go through this chapter, we'll learn of more ways to ensure continuity from shot to shot.
Find the rest of the courses in the series—on everything from script writing to directing—on Chad's author page.
- Understanding the role of different crew members
- Sending out call sheets
- Using a slate
- Keeping continuity with a script supervisor and production photographer
- Keeping the crew fed, happy, and safe
- Rescheduling shoots
- Dealing with wardrobe for a large cast
- Using special effects makeup