So what is Continuity editing? Well, in a nutshell, it is the fine art of cutting between shots, with a purpose of maintaining a smooth sense of continuous space and time. The effect of this creates a sequence of invisible cuts. Majority of the films we see today produce cuts that go unnoticed to the audience, because they do not draw any attention to themselves. If they did, you would know, because it is likely that the editing cut confused you in some way, causing you to misinterpret the scene. So how do editors achieve this art of invisible cutting? Well, they follow a series of rules, as outlined in the list below:
- 180-degree rule
- Eye-line Match
- Shot/ reverse shot
- Match on Action
This is based on an invisible line that crosses the scene and is used as a guide to keep the characters or objects on one side of the composition. This way, when a different shot is used, it keeps the subject in its natural perceived location. If the 180-degree rule is not used and the filmmaker decides to cut to a shot that is on the opposing side of the composition, then the characters or objects inside the scene will appear to have switched places. For instance, a character standing on the left will now appear to be standing on the right. As you could imagine, this would be confusing and force the audience to feel distorted. This is why the 180-degree rule is used, because when executed, it disables the ability to confuse viewers, with the subjects always positioned in their perceived spot. It also helps the viewer understand the space and environment surrounding the subjects, because everything is consistent.
This is an edit between two shots, whereby the first shot shows a person looking off in one direction, and the following shot shows either a space containing what he or she sees. The audience undertakes the perspective of the character, effectively seeing what they see. This is useful in showing the audience what a specific character is looking at, avoiding any confusion as to what their interest is. In many cases, when the camera cuts to the eye-line, the camera portrays the movements of the character’s eyes, panning from left to right. This technique is so widely used because it connects the audience, with that character, seeing the scene through the eyes of the character, increasing our attention and involvement in the scene. Without eye-line match editing, understanding what the character is looking at may not always be so obvious, especially if there are many elements inside the scene. Meaning when the character turns their head side to side, it can be difficult for the audience to comprehend what the character is looking at.
This editing technique exchanges between two or more shots simultaneously. Showing the events that occur in one location and comparing it to the events taking place in another location. It is powerful in building up suspense and showing comparison of events in conjunction with time.
This editing technique involves connecting a series of shots that alternates characters, often to show both sides of a conversation. There are many ways to accomplish this effect, with the most common examples making use of over-the-shoulder, medium/close-up angle shots or even a combination of both. However, to maintain an engaging conversation the shots should alternate on a frequent basis, showing the facial expressions and body languages of each character. This allows the audience to read the conversation clearer, understanding the inner motivations and opinions of each character. Insignificant use of the shot/reverse shot can have a negative impact on the audience’s perception of a conversation. Due to the lack of information that otherwise would have been provided through expressive use of the shot/reverse shot technique.
Match on Action
Match on Action is an editing technique that cuts between a various framings of the same action. But displays them in sequential order, making it seem to continue uninterrupted.
Breaking the rules for deliberate effect
While the rules are used to preserve natural motion in film editing, it is not always obeyed, with some filmmakers having purposely chosen to break the rules to create disorientation in a scene. This is evident in Stanley Kubrick’s film, The Shining, where he shoots two wide-angle shots from either sides of a scene. Effectively causing a 180-degree flip, crossing the line. As you can see in the comparison picture above, the two characters seem to have swapped position, even though they are both standing in the same place.