I am sitting up here in Palm Beach about 40 kms north of Sydney. I am watching the sunset over Kuringai National Park reflecting on a few different shoots that have happened recently on the Four Month Film School. One of the areas that seems to be an issue time and time again is the thorny issue of Continuity.
Today I would like to outline the three most important aspects of continuity in relation to shooting your film. Continuity is so important. It is one of the areas that the emerging film maker consistently overlooks with negative consequences.
I would like to break continuity down into four areas.
- Acting continuity
- Props Continuity
- Costume Continuity
- 180 Line
1. Acting Continuity.
We get actors to play a scene a certain way in the master shot. The actor may pick up the glass with the right hand and then wave with their left hand. Then we shoot a Close Up where the actor picks up the glass with the left hand and then waves with the right hand. Then we edit the two shots and see how bad the scene cuts. Now we do this on purpose for demonstration purposes. However, so many film makers make this very mistake with their actors on important film projects with detrimental results to one’s film.
Make sure that your actors are trained or are exceptionally aware of continuity. Motivate the actors by letting them know if their continuity is exceptionally good , its means that their close ups get more screen time.
Have a laugh and look at the continuity error in “Precious”, an Oscar winning film.
Secondly, make sure you hire or recruit an excellent continuity person who watches the video split screen for these errors. A good Continuity Person will pick up when an actor has digressed from important actions or has forgotten key lines in their speech. They are worth their weight in gold. Good acting continuity differentiates the amateur film maker from the professional film maker.
Another area that can be challenging to the emerging film maker is costume continuity. Generally, the wardrobe department will keep tabs and photos of all costumes worn by the actors. However, on a micro budget film, the film maker may not have a wardrobe department.
In this case, you need to keep very good photos of the actor before you shoot the first take in your scene. What this means is that you can refer to this photo as you shoot the scene. If the actor goes to lunch and takes off his tie, it is reasonably easy for the actor to forget to put the tie on for the afternoon shoot. This can cause very bad continuity issues.
Also, when the next scene in screen time follows the previous scene, continuity becomes very important. What if you are not shooting the next scene for a week. Who is going to remember what the actor was wearing? Often the actor will forget.
However, if you have a photo of what the actor is wearing, the correct costume can be found and the next scene can be shot with the actor in the correct clothes rather than an embarrassing continuity error.
3. Props Continuity
It is a very important to get prop continuity correct. When you start shooting a scene, you may start with the master wide shot. At this point take photos of the whole film set and exactly where everything is.
Later when you are shooting the Close ups, it may be necessary to move the table and the props. Then at a later point you have to shoot another shot that shows the table again in shot. You will have to put the table back exactly where it was with the exact same props. This can be difficult if you have forgotton to take a photo at the start of shooting the scene. This can be another source of continuity errors. So take the photo of the set at the start of shooting the scene.
Also, if there is action such as a fight, props may be moved and then have to be replaced for the next take.
4. 180 Degree Line
Now what about the 180 Degree Line. This one is always a challenge for the emerging filmmaker. Place the camera on the correct side of the line and you will never make the worst continuity mistake of all continuity mistakes. Please look at this video courtesy of the New York City Academy. This video explains the 180 Degree line and Continuity.
The micro budget or full budget film maker should have a really good continuity person on their film set who watches continuity like a hawk. They should observe actor continuity, prop continuity and costume continuity. The continuity person should take photographs of the whole set and the actors costumes. If all of this is observed properly, you will have a film that you can cut in the edit suite later. This also ensures that the editor has maximum cutting choices in the edit.