General Filmmaking

The 15 Essential Rules of Film Continuity

Here are the most important and essential rules of film continuity you should be aware of.

Watch this quick video first:

Here’s the list of the 15 rules of film continuity:

Camera continuity

  1. 30-degree rule
  2. Shot matching
  3. 180-degree rule
  4. Eye-line matching
  5. Camera movement continuity

Production continuity

  1. Acting continuity
  2. Elements continuity – props, costumes and set
  3. Hair and makeup continuity

Editing continuity

  1. Matching action
  2. Editing continuity
  3. Cut on the look
  4. Point of focus
  5. Storytelling continuity
  6. Continuity of information
  7. Break the rules!

Let’s start with camera continuity, because that’s where it all begins.

Camera Continuity

Shot size matching

The simplest camera continuity is the matching of shot size. If your character is in an over the shoulder shot, you balance it in the reverse shot with the exact same shot size. You don’t want to drastically change the size of the actor in the shot or his or her position, because it distracts from the story.

To match shots make sure you use the same focal length, and same subject to camera distance, and this will help you maintain shot size.

Eye line matching

This is probably one of the hardest things for a newcomer to check and be sure about. If two actors are speaking to each other, you want them to look at each other. If the eye line is off, it appears as if they are looking somewhere else.

How do you fix this? The simplest way to make sure eye-lines match is to not move the actors’ position or look when you change camera angles. When you finish one actor’s portion and shift the camera for the reverse shot, make them sit in the exact spots and make them look at each other.

If the first actor isn’t available, use a stand-in, or a light stand, or something.

When in doubt, use a monitor and playback the previous shot so you can reference it. It might seem like a chore, but it’s a whole level of bad if you find out in editing and there’s nothing you can do about it.

The 30-degree rule

When you cut from one shot to the next, try to make sure the camera is away by 30-degrees or more. This ensures there’s no jump in the cut, and it appears better. That’s why you see cuts from multiple angles in feature films. 

Let’s say you have a wide shot and want to get closer, instead of being lazy and just zooming in, move the camera a bit to the left or right, or up or down to get a different perspective. It helps.

The 180-degree rule

This rule is relatively simple. If an action happens from left to right, keep it that way throughout. If two actors are talking to each other, then keep them looking in the same direction. I have a whole different video about the 180-degree rule:

The point of focus

This is a powerful continuity tool that allows you to hold the audience’s attention.

When you frame shots try to continue the point of audience’s focus at the exact same spot or at least in the general area. This allows the audience to follow the action, even if it’s a crazy action sequence. Otherwise they’ll be ping-ponging from left to right and get a headache.

So far we’ve been talking about a static camera, but camera motion is also important.

Camera motion continuity

If a camera is moving at a particular speed in one shot, and you cut to a shot that’s faster or slower, that distracts the audience. It’s important to know at what speed you were moving the camera and to maintain the exact same speed later.

Production continuity

Let’s talk about the things you can do on location while you’re shooting.

Acting continuity

If an actor is hysterical in one shot he or she has to be at the same intensity in the next shot.

If they are panting or tired in one shot, the next shot should be the exact same. There’s a whole lot more to this as well. Like:

Hair and makeup continuity

You don’t want actors to shoot half a scene, then take a haircut and show up the next day. Nor do you want to replace your makeup artist in between scenes. Any change just breaks the illusion of time and story you’re creating.

This applies to other set elements, that I club together:

Elements continuity

This includes important props necessary for the story, costumes and set design. You don’t want actors to rip apart their only costume in one take and they have to wear something else in the next. More curious things have happened in filmmaking.

After you’ve shot you film now it’s time to edit, and there are a whole host of editing continuity rules you should be aware of.

Editing continuity

Matching action

If an actor is stepping down a flight of stairs, make sure you cut at the moment in between so the action doesn’t look sped up or slowed down. If you don’t, you’ll draw attention to it. You can break this rule with action scenes.

Continuity of information

If an actor is getting coffee in one shot, when you cut to the next shot you want them to still be getting coffee, not baking buns. 

There’s a higher level of continuity called:

Storytelling continuity

You could have montages where action doesn’t have to match, but there is still continuity of information. The Rocky training sequence is a good example of this.

Basic editing continuity

This is more technical. You want shots to match in a visually graceful way. You don’t want to insert cuts just for the sake of it, unless you’re Michael Bay and you’re making the next Transformers.

Cut on the look

One powerful editing continuity rule is the cut on the look. An actor looks, and you cut to what he or she is looking at. If an actor looks up, and the next thing you show are shoes or something else, then the audience is confused.

Break the rules!

Countless great films have been made with the worst continuity errors. At the end of the day, rules are meant to be broken, and with experience, you’ll know when to break which rule, and when you can get away with it.

If the audience doesn’t care, neither should you.

I hope you found this useful. Let me know in the comments below what you think.

3 replies on “The 15 Essential Rules of Film Continuity”

I am Cinematographer in bollywood & Regional ( Marathi Film )Film Industrise (India/Maharashtra).I am also Writer.Director & Producer.
Your’s guide line—“The 15 Essential Rules of Film Continuity” is most usefulto me.

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