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Hollywood Continuity

Hollywood Continuity

Lurking behind many of the visual conventions of video making is a system called Hollywood Continuity Editing. Although this is primarily about how you edit your shots together, you also need to shoot the right ones in the first place. Essentially, the continuity system is all about keeping the way you make your video as discreet as possible, so the viewer's attention is focused on the content.

This is a very old system, and dates back almost a hundred years to the early days of the feature film. The rules stem from a fairly simple central theme - don't confuse your viewers. So don't use shaky handheld camerawork and don't create jump cuts, where two similar shots are edited together so the contents of the frame appear to skip or jump. This is particularly relevant for close-ups of people, where a suddenly flipping head position will look like a glitch in the video.

Another key element is the so-called 180 degree rule. This is particularly aimed at conversations, but also applies to motion. In the latter case, if someone is walking from right to left across the frame in a long shot, they should still be walking in that direction in closer shots. Otherwise the viewer might think they have changed direction.
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It's always best to obey the 180 degree rule when shooting interviews, and keep your camcorders on one side of the line.


Conversations are a little more complicated. In this case, an invisible line is drawn between two people talking two each other. The camera is supposed to stay on one side of this line. When you see an interview on TV, this rule will almost always be obeyed. So if the interviewee is seen over the right shoulder of the interviewer, the interviewer will be seen over the left shoulder of the interviewee, or from somewhere on that side.

When you are shooting, always bear camera position in mind. If you're shooting motion, stay on the same side of the movement so it is always in the same direction. And always obey the 180 degree rule for interviews and conversations.

There are other sundry details of the Continuity system which link to the basic theme. Each scene starts with a wider, establishing shot and then follows this with medium shots and close-ups. The closer the shot, the shorter it will be held. Again, although this is primarily an editing technique, you need to get the right raw footage in the first place.

Of course, since the Continuity system is nearly a century old, it's always ripe for rebelling against. The French New Wave of the 1960s did just that, with copious jump cuts and handheld camerawork. Since people expect continuity, not giving it to them will be noticed. So, if you want to disorient people, or just grab attention, try breaking a few of the rules. But only when you know how to use the rules in the first place.

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