Module 52


Updated:  02/17/2017

Module 52






Video Editing,  Part III


Continuity Problems

 As we've noted, audiences have learned to accept the technique of cutting out extraneous footage to keep a story moving. Strictly speaking, these are discontinuities in the action.

While some discontinuities in action are expected and understood, some are not. When edits end up being confusing or unsettling, they are called jump cuts.

If you are very observant you'll notice that many films and weekly television series provide good examples of minor continuity jumps in the action. Here are some examples:

  • A two-shot of a couple talking on a dock will show their hair blowing gently in the breeze, but in an immediate close-up of one of them, the wind has inexplicably stopped blowing.
  • A close-up of an actress may show her laughing, but in an immediate cut to a master shot we see that she is not even smiling.

  • A man is walking with his arm around the waist of his girlfriend, but an immediate cut to another angle suddenly shows that his arm is around her shoulder.

These problems are primarily due to shooting in single-camera, film-style, where a significant period of time can elapse between scene setups and takes. We'll look at single-camera techniques a little later.

It would be nice if potential jumps in continuity could always be noticed during shooting. Scenes could be immediately re-shot while everything and everybody was still in place, and there wouldn't need to try to fix things during editing.

Sometimes, however, these problems only become evident when you later try to cut scenes together. Apart from costly and time-consuming re-shooting of the whole scene, there are some possible solutions.


Bridging Jumps in Action

Let's start with how a jump cut in a dramatic production might be handled.

Remember our young woman who was getting ready for a date? Let's say we see her hang up the phone in the kitchen and then head out the door to the bathroom for a shower. No problem yet.

Let's now assume that after exiting the kitchen (moving left-to-right), the hallway scene has her immediately reaching the bathroom door from the right. Now she's moving right-to-left.

The audience is left with a question: Why did she instantly seem to turn a full 180-degrees and start walking in the opposite direction to get to the bathroom?

Although this would not trouble some directors and editors today, others would see it as an undesirable reversal in action  -- one that jars a smooth transition between scenes.

The solution to most of these problems is to use the cutaways and insert shots we discussed earlier.

With this particular continuity problem we could add a quick close-up of someone's hands (either hers or hands that look like hers) opening a linen closet and taking out a towel. Not only is a bit of visual variety introduced, but when you cut to her entering the bathroom we won't be as apt to be troubled by the sudden reversal in action.


If that didn't work, you might consider inserting a scene of her in front of her closet deciding on her clothes. All of these tricks can be used to cover continuity problems.


Bridging Interview Edits

Interviews are almost never run in their entirety.

An audience used to short, pithy sound bites will quickly get bored by answers that wander from the topic, are less than eloquent, or that are... just boring. In interviews you may shoot ten times more footage than you end up using.

It's the job of the video editor to cut the footage down --

  • without leaving out anything important

  • without distorting what was said, and

  • without abrupt changes in mood, pacing, energy, or rhetorical direction

Not an easy job.

To start with, cutting a section out of dialogue will normally result in an abrupt and insert shotnoticeable jump in the video of the person speaking.

One solution, illustrated here, is to insert a three- or four-second cutaway shot over the jump in the video.

This assumes, of course, that you've already made a smooth audio edit between the segments.

These cutaways, which are typically done in editing with an insert edit, are often reaction shots ("noddies") of the interviewer.

With nonlinear editing everything can be recorded on a hard disk or solid-state memory card and the segments can be instantly accessed and assembled during editing.

The supplementary footage is commonly referred to as B-roll footage, a term left over from the use of videotape.

Editors depend B-roll footage to bridge a wide range of editing problems. Therefore, you should always take the time to record a variety of B-roll shots on every interview -- insert shots, cutaways, whatever you can get that might be useful during editing.

Another (and somewhat less than elegant) way of handling the jump cut associated with editing together consequential segments of an interview is to use an effect such as a dissolve between the segments. This makes it obvious to an audience that segments have been cut out, and it smooths out the "jump." 

A far less elegant approach, but one that you occasionally see, is to just cut the mismatching scenes together, letting the jump cut, itself, signal that something has been deleted.


Abrupt Changes in Image Size

An abrupt and major change in image size constitutes another type of jump cut.

Going from a wide-angle (establishing shot) directly to a close shot can be too abrupt. An intermediate medium shot is generally needed to smooth out the transition and orient the audience to the new area you are concentrating on.

subject size 1

For example, if you cut from the shot on the  above directly to the one on the right subject size 3(the area indicated by the red arrow in the wide shot), the audience would have trouble knowing where the new action is taking place within the overall scene. subject size 2

However, if you cut to the medium shot as shown here before the close shot, the area you are moving to becomes apparent.

A well-established 1-2-3 shot formula covers this. It starts with

1. a momentary wide shot (also called a master or establishing shot), then

2. a cut to a medium shot, and then

3. cuts to one or more close-up shots

Periodically going back to the wide or establishing shot is often necessary to remind viewers where everyone and everything is. This is especially important during or after a talent move.

When you cut back to the wide shot in this way, it's referred to as cutting to a reestablishing shot.

Although this long-shot-to-medium-shot-to-close-up formula is somewhat traditional, there will be times when an editor will see an advantage in another approach.

For example, by starting a scene with an extreme close-up of a crucial object, you can immediately focus attention on that object. In a drama that could be smashed picture frame, a gun, or any crucial subject matter.

Once the importance or significance of the object is established, the camera can dolly or zoom back to reveal the surrounding scene.


Shooting Angles

Another type of jump cut results from cutting from one shot to a shot that is almost identical.

Not only is it hard to justify a new shot that is not significantly different, but a cut of this type simply looks like a mistake.

To cover this situation, videographers keep in mind the 30-degree rule.

According to this rule, a new shot of the same subject matter can be justified only if you change the camera angle by at least 30 degrees.

Of course, cutting to a significantly different shot -- for example, from a two-shot to a one shot -- would be okay (even at basically the same angle), because the two shots are significantly different to start with.

Related to shooting angles is the issue of on-screen direction.

The following photos illustrate one example.

If the woman in the left was talking to the man on the phone, which angle seems the most logical: her facing the right (first photo), or facing the left (photo on the right?

telephone 2
phone 2
phone 3

We assume that if two people are talking, they will be facing each other -- even though on the telephone this is not necessarily the case.

Although this seems logical when we look at photos such as these, when you are shooting in the single-camera style and scenes are shot hours or even days apart, these things are easily overlooked.


Crossing the Line

And, finally, we come to one of the most vexing continuity problems -- crossing the line.

Any time a new camera angle exceeds 180-degrees you will have crossed the line -- the action axis -- and the action will be reversed.

This is hard to fix during editing, although some of the techniques we've outlined can help.

crossing the lineFootball fans know that action on the field is reversed when the director cuts to a camera across the field. For this reason it's never done in following a play -- only later during a possible replay.

And then it's only justified (generally with an explanation) if that camera position reveals something that the other cameras didn't clearly catch.

When something is being covered live, this type of reversal of action is immediately obvious. The problem can be much less obvious when actors must be shot from different angles during single-camera, film-style production.

Let's say you want a close-up of the man at the left of this photo.

crossing the line 3 crossing the line 2

If the camera for this shot were placed over the woman's right shoulder (behind the blue line in the illustration above), this man would end up looking to our left as he talked to the couple instead of to our right as shown in the photo. You would have "crossed the line."

Note, however, that camera positions #1 or #2 in front of the blue line could be used without reversing the action.

If all close-ups are shot from in front of the blue line, the eye-lines of each person -- the direction and angle each person is looking -- will be consistent with what we saw in the establishing shot.

Occasionally, a director will intentionally violate the 180-degree rule for dramatic effect. 

For example, during a riot scene a director might choose to intentionally cross the line on many shots in order to communicate confusion and disorientation. That should tell you something right there about the effect of crossing the line.

Assuming that confusion is not the objective, an editor must always remember to maintain the audience's perspective as scenes are shot and edits are made.

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