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Questioning Continuity. Is it really important?

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  • Questioning Continuity. Is it really important?

    Currently I am writing a thesis on continuity editing. The goal is to investigate the impact of continuity editing on how people perceive a narrative structure. There are many contradicting articles, in which film theorists explain that continuity is not really that important. Now I am wondering how you as modern filmmakers perceive this. Do you think you can edit high quality video's without paying attention to the continuity rules? The company I am working for is mainly producing action sports video's, so for those kind of video's the story might be less important than the movements. I hope to get some new insights for my thesis, so any information and all opinions are welcome!

  • #2
    The thing about theories is they never seem to go along with the opinions of the audience. All those articles about continuity not mattering mean jack when your audience walks out of the theatre talking about the films continuity errors. Continuity may be one of the most important aspects of a narrative film. So much so that there are websites out there that exist solely to point out and discuss continuity errors in movies. Channels exist on youtube that highlight these errors as well. In my opinion, continuity errors stand out like a turd in a punch bowl.

    Its argued that many people say they can overlook these errors as long as the scene is still believable. Thats probably true to some degree... if the error is minor and not within the focal point of the scene. But if its easily noticeable by most audience members, it can remove the viewer from the story and thats the death of a film.
    Last edited by Mick Scarborough; 02-24-2017, 04:22 AM.


    • #3
      Now plot continuity is another story. Some plot points are not affected by continuity while others are. For example. In Star Trek: TNG,in the episode "Q Who". Guinan goes into a long explanation about how the Borg dont care about individuals, they just want technology. She also says when the Borg attack it will be in large numbers, not just one ship. The rest of the series shows Borg assimilating individuals and attacking with only one of two ships at a time. This major error in story continuity stood out to trekkies and is still spoken of today. Imagine the impact if that error was in a 2 hour film and not a 7 year long series!


      • #4
        This is a loaded question.

        If the person watching the film is an "average" person, typical audience member, there will be some continuity errors that will be missed, perhaps even most.

        If the person watching the film is a filmmaker or someone researching films because they want to be a filmmaker, they are going to catch most of them, if not all of them.

        My wife used to never catch them. Since she has been with me she sees a lot (film and TV shows), points it out, and then tells me how much she hates that she saw that, and it is my fault.

        Continuity in shooting (never mind editing) is much more difficult than one would think. This is because of setting up the camera and shooting one actor, and then setting up the camera and shooting the scene again from the reverse angle to get the other actor. Each angle may have 3 or 4 takes. Each take may have some elements done slightly differently. It is very difficult to replicate the scene the exact same way every time as the actors attempt to improve the take each time.

        Then, when you get to editing, there is likely to be continuity errors from one camera angle to the next, and from one take to the next. Sometimes you need to use part of Take 1 and Take 4 for various reasons (Better character reaction, disturbance in one take, etc.) and this will produce continuity errors which cannot be avoided because of footage from 2 different takes.

        I could write a huge post about this but don't have the time. I think this will give you an idea of the troubles filmmakers are faced with to maintain continuity. I used to wonder how the errors got into the finished films. Now that I am a filmmaker I understand them, completely.

        By the way, my opinion on continuity errors, YES, they are huge. Besides what you see in a finished film, there are so many others that had fancy editing done to hide them, and there are yet others that you won't notice because your attention is in another part of the frame (more trick editing) and those are expected to be missed and are not worried about as much. For example, when you watch Indiana Jones fall onto the sandy floor of the well of souls, where all the snakes are (Raiders of the Lost Ark), and the cobra rears up, flared and ready to strike, you look at the snake, and you look at Harrison Ford's reaction.......and totally miss the reflection of the snake on the pane of glass in between them. This is not a continuity error but an example of the editor knowing the audience is going to miss something.

        By the way, that reflection has been digitally edited out of current versions of the film.

        Last edited by Steve Olander; 02-24-2017, 03:27 PM.


        • #5
          Continuity is important to the category of filmmaking your are creating. In a narrative the sum construction of edited shots is to create a sustained reality where we (the audience) have the privilege of spying upon. Any interruption in the validity of this reality is seen as an error of continuity, one that takes us out of the unified event that we have been watching from numerous vantage points, transitions and transporting (camera) moves along the X, Y, and Z axis (independent and together). This is why continuity is so important from making sure your actor's hair is parted the right way, wearing the same tie from shot to shot, to screen direction and eye level matches.

          The importance of continuity can also change from projects such as music videos, documentaries, to experimental films. Continuity can be viewed in lesser to more important degrees from culture to culture. In the US, emphasis is often placed on story, making continuity important. In Europe there may be more of a preoccupation on theme over narrative, while in many Asian cultures an emphasis can be placed on atmosphere over story as well. This focus can have with it, its own set of rules regarding continuity or what unifies the event that the audience is watching.

          - Wolf


          • #6
            Everything in a movie is about suspension of disbelief.
            Anything that disturbs the 'reality' of the movie can take the viewer out of that 'reality'.
            Continuitity is important. Saying continuity is not important is as if your character has a mole on his face that is in a different spot in every shot. (Men in tights!)