Last week, we talked about the origins of film editing. Something that was only briefly mentioned there, was continuity editing. This invention is basically the sort of editing we’ve got used to. It’s present in mainstream Hollywood movies, TV series and commercials. Continuity editing aims to make cuts in the movie almost invisible and does this in a number of ways. Matching of action is one of the main methods used: when the action in one shot moves on into the other, for instance, when you see someone kicking a football in the first shot and then cut to another shot in which you see the football flying over the field. If those two shots are matched together so that the ball flies continuously, it “masks” editing and gives the viewer a smooth view. If, for some reason, those two shots do not match, it will give a sort of uneasy feeling: most viewers will not know what caused it, but they will sense it somehow.
Another simple example of continuity editing is often used in TV soaps. Generally, you will almost always see the person speaking in the frame. When two people talk to each other, shots go from one close-up to another, followed by a medium shot of both people every now and then, to reflect that they’re still in the same room. Usually, they also use over shoulder shots, meaning you see the back and shoulder of one person while watching the opposite person speak. These over shoulder shots make sure that we know that these people are, in fact, together in the same room and this again makes for easier viewing.
This is only a short account on continuity editing. Of course, there is much more to it, but here are the basics. When you are making a short fiction film, for instance, knowing about continuity editing can be very helpful. Now you easily discern why a particular shot is a misfit, and what you can do to make better. The History of Cutting is a wonderful documentary and a great helper if you want to learn about editing techniques and how they have been used in big movies throughout the past 100 years. You can watch the entire movie here: