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Old July 1st, 2003, 05:13 PM   #1
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continuity

How much attention do the pros pay to continuity when editing? Obviously, when using a single camera to cover multiple angles of the same scene, not everything can match, and the more elements that are present, the fewer things that WILL match. What does TV and Hollywood get away with that I don't know about? I never catch mistakes in movies and stuff (except something I saw in "Porn n' Chicken" on Comedy Central).

When I edit, I try to make everything match, or cover it with a cutaway. I can never tell what joe schmoe is likely to notice, but our chief editor notices everything, and so do I.

Advice?
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Old July 1st, 2003, 06:20 PM   #2
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There's a difference between noticing and caring. If continutity flaws are distracting, repetitive, or break the logic of a scene, they may detract from the viewing experience.

Learning to maintain continuity is one of those things that a filmmaker improves upon with experience. Some continuity problems are all but unavoidable--cigarettes that shorten and lengthen, meals that miraculously become uneaten. Others, like mid-gesture hand positions, need to be edited around. Mindful actors and vigilant-eyed crew members help to avoid most problems; a script supervisor who keeps good continuity notes is a useful amenity if he or she is to be afforded. Usually less affordable but even more crucial in working out bugs ahead of time are rehearsals. If the continuity gaffes are too salient, necessitating reshoots, then the first shooting days end up being rehearsals anyway.

I can give one editing tip that mitigates the noticability of many continuity errors: cut on action. If an actor snaps into a pose, then the picture cuts to a different angle and the actor is in a different pose, the discontinuity is far more evident than if an actor is entering into a pose, then while the motion is still in progress the picture cuts to the actor arriving into a different pose. For new editors this is by no means obvious. Once employed, its magic is appreciated and sworn by.

Sam Raimi's Spider-Man has continuity errors in nearly every scene--too many, some have guessed, to be accidental. This didn't stop the movie from becoming the biggest-opening film of all time and the biggest grosser of 2002. (Perhaps the flubs even contributed to the film's BO take--fanboys went back again to spot the more subtle errors.)

Picasso said, "Art is the lie that reveals the truth." Films aren't about replicating reality, but rather about inducing moods, eliciting laughs, generating suspense, telling good stories. The real question you should be asking is not, will people notice, but rather, will people think less of the film when they notice?
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Old July 2nd, 2003, 01:30 AM   #3
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Sorry I wasn't clearer before. I meant things like having someone's head turned one way in one shot and a different way in the following, or someone's mouth and opened and then suddenly closed. Easy to spot if they're the subject, but what if they're the main subject in one shot, and a mere member of a crowd in another?
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Old July 2nd, 2003, 01:51 AM   #4
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I'm not a pro, and I can't improve what Robert wrote above. But here are two more perspectives:
1. I never hear people of the audience complain about bad continuity, nor does critics seem to be much interested in it. Bad acting is sometimes mentioned, and it is possible that bad continuity may LOOK like bad acting to some people. But bad continuity, or occasional continuity gaps pass unnoticed or at least unmentioned.

2. Still, as a non-pro, I fight hard to create smooth and unconspicuous continuity. That is one of the areas where good amateurs can be sorted from the rest. And if I can do something to be in the better group, I will.

(Your second post came in while I was writing. But my understanding of what continuity is, includes what you specified.)
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Old July 2nd, 2003, 06:31 AM   #5
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Each "Seinfeld" episode was taped twice in front of an audience with multiple cameras - and the 2 shows were then combined into one, using the best shots from each.

I recently saw an episode in which the apartment door is open on one wide shot, then after some close-ups, the next wide shot showed the door closed! I'm sure not many people noticed, because they're watching the action and characters.

Just thought it was interesting. :)
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Old July 2nd, 2003, 06:51 AM   #6
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I understand that poloroids are helpful in this situation. A quick snapshot to compare locations, outfits, and I suppose, even poses between shots.
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Old July 2nd, 2003, 10:00 PM   #7
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A serious and well-funded shoot will have a person who's only job is continuity. It takes a lot of money to be able to afford that person.

I shoot a lot of movie scenes for students in our actor training program. These are shot single-camera just like the movies and we have trained ourselves, myself and the director, to notice continuity issues before we shoot the first take. We block out the entire scene and examine it for continuity issues along with the other, more obvious concerns.

We get caught sometimes but then revert to editing tricks already mentioned like cutting on motion.

It really sucks when you miss something really obvious and its edit time!
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Old July 2nd, 2003, 10:40 PM   #8
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This is where a portable miniDV viewer/player or mini DVD viewer/player come in handy. Just bring it to the set and compare the setup, action, clothing, etc. with the previous shoot.
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Old July 3rd, 2003, 12:25 AM   #9
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So on that Seinfeld episode mentioned earlier, how do you think the editor decided that though the door was very obviously differen than it was in the previous shot, that particular cut was the best one to use? Especially since, as you said, they taped each episode twice and might have had a shot from another taping where the doors matched.
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Old July 3rd, 2003, 12:49 AM   #10
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For the most part, continuity is ignored in episodic television once the footage has reached the editing room. Editors are more worried about pacing to ensure the comedic or dramatic beats shine through.
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Old July 3rd, 2003, 01:57 AM   #11
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How 'bout in a feature film, same situation?
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Old July 3rd, 2003, 02:58 AM   #12
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In Walter Murch's editing book "In the Blink of an Eye", he lists continuity as one of the least important elements an editor needs to pay attention to in order to make a scene work for the audience.

Murch lists emotion of the cut as the first priority an editor should look for. This leads me to assume a lot of scenes in films have continuity errors not because they went unnoticed, but because that probably happened to be the take that conveyed the best of the more important elements. A scene with better emotion and acting, but bad continuity, is far more acceptable to an audience than a scene with perfect continuity with bad composition and or emotion/acting.
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Old July 3rd, 2003, 03:07 AM   #13
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I must disagree with Robert about episodic editors ignoring continuity. My experience has been that they are very aware of and concerned about continuity, however it usually will take a back seat to performance and pacing. Usually it is the director or producer that insist that they prioritize this way.

The bottom line is that you can get away with a lot--and telling the story should always come first. In the case of the Seinfeld episode, I'm sure the choice was made based on performance, and the door issue was duly noted.

Speaking of "cheating", which we do on virtually every setup in one way or another--one of my favorites is that we rotate the actors to get the best background, sometimes so radically that the actors are baffled when they arrive on set and hit their marks. An example of this would be on "Scrubs", where many of the hallway walk and talks end up in an over-the-shoulder shot. We line the actors up so that we are looking straight down the hall, with the actors staggered left and right. When we go to turn around and shoot the other side, were we to leave the actors where they are and set the camera accordingly, we would be shooting directly into a wall. Instead, we rotate the actors nearly 90 degrees so that we are shooting directly down the hall in the opposite direction that we were in the beginning. The relationship of the actors to each other stays the same, the eyelines switch accordingly, and thus it seems perfectly natural, but it doesn't make any sense from a real-life standpoint. If you check out any given episode of "Scrubs", you will likely see this in effect (and many other shows as well). The reason it works is that one pays attention to the actors in a scene, not to the four walls around them and where everything is in relation to that (aka the geography).
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Old July 3rd, 2003, 03:35 AM   #14
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How do I overcome my disease that makes me want to match everything? It's hard to convince myself that an audiece won't notice and be distracted by something I notice, even though they usually aren't.

Anyway, you guys continually mention things that involve backgrounds or at least elements that aren't the focus of the scene. Am I to assume then, that the principal elements of the scene (character actions, etc.) need to match, and to hell with everything else?
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Old July 3rd, 2003, 03:51 AM   #15
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It sounds to me like you aren't willing to trust your own instincts. Presumably you've shown the cut to a few other people. How did they feel about it? Was their first reaction based on the sequence's core conveyance, or was it, "Whoa, weird continuity..."?

I watched The Hulk last week, and in the restaurant sequence between Jennifer Connelly and Sam Elliott, I found it difficult to follow the gist of the scene (not that any scene in that movie had a point to it anyway) because Ang Lee kept "crossing the line" (i.e., switching camera angles across an imaginary 180 hemisphere)--as big a camera sin as "breaking the fourth wall" is in theater work. In this particular case, the jumpiness was both utterly unecessary and mondo disorienting. (Also disorienting was that Jennifer Connelly decided to cry in every scene she was in. Save it for the climax, sister!) My point here: if the filmmaker had some plot point or mood he was trying to couch (the conveyance), it didn't come across because the shot angle choices were just too damn nonplussing. And so, in this case, my primary reaction wasn't, "Ah, what a sad perversion of the father-daughter relationship," it was merely, "I'm dizzy and there's two more hours of this to go!"

There are no hard and fast rules to these things as to what's allowable and what's not. Most filmmakers are perfectionists, but none of them have money, time, patience, and authority to reshoot until they eliminate every last disparity. Not made, abandoned...
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