The continuity system aims to have none of the edits consciously noticed by the viewer so it is never a distraction. (these types of edits appear to be ‘invisible’ because it is the kind of edit we are most used to) It is the standardized system of editing and is now universal in commercial film and television but was originally associated with Hollywood cinema. It matches spatial and temporal relations from shot to shot in order to maintain continuous and clear narrative action. When shooting dialog, for example it is customary to shoot all of one actor’s dialog, then change the camera’s position and shoot the opposite actor’s dialog. This is because every time the camera is moved the set has to be relit so it makes sense to gang shots. These two interlinking shots could be shot on different days, and even in different locations, so special care has to be taken to ensure a continuous flow. For instance, when returning to shoot the same scene one actor may have forgotten to wear a piece of clothing that he/she was wearing on the previous shoot. So every time the film cuts back to the establishing shot it would result in a break of continuity. “The clothes out character wears, the thing he touches, and his surroundings need to remain the same from one shot to the next. For example, out actor is wearing a necklace in the long shot, but if he removes it during lunch, he might forget to put it back on when shooting commences. Cutting from a long shot with necklace to a MCU without a necklace will break continuity” (Mick Hubris – Cherrier, 2007, pg. 57) A match-on-action, or match cut, is another technique that’s used to maintain spatial and movement continuity and it involves matching an actors or objects movement from shot to shot to make the movement seem fluid and mask the cut. Again, this sort of edit can become more difficult if the two adjoining shots are shot at different times, or locations.
There are different film-making techniques that assist in maintaining spatial continuity. The first of which I will explain is the 180 Degree Rule. This rule states, that during a scene (normally a dialog scene) between two people there is a line of action. The camera cannot cross this line, or spatial continuity will be lost, and there will be no eye-line match. If another character is introduced, or one the existing characters moves then this would probably result in a new line of action, and entirely new camera angles so as to avoid any spatial editing glitches or eye-line mismatches.
On the other hand, experienced film-makers will not also adhere to this rule. It can be broken to create thematic and dramatic effects such as disorientation and confusion. This can be very effective in certain scenes. For instance, the bathroom scene in Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) breaks this rule, but it still works because before the breach of protocol, both actors are in pictured in the frame, then the rule is broken, but they are once again both shown in the same frame which acts as a transition to the upcoming close ups from this new line of action. “We are not once-and-for-all stuck with only one axis of action in every single scene. It’s very common for there to be shifts in the line of action, even several time, within a single scene.” (Mick Hurbis-Cherrier, 2007, pg.68)
The triangle system is an extension of the 180 degree rule. (shown below) is a shorthand way of describing camera positions on one side of the line of action. “The system proposes that all the basic shots possible for and subject can be taken from three points within the 180 degree working space. Connecting the three, we have a triangle of variable shape and size depending on the placement of the cameras.” (Katz, 1991, pg 130 – 131)
Shown right is a collection of shots of Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction. These shots show how easy and effective the triangle system can be in terms of editing, and shooting on location. There is a definite sense of place and space.
Katz, Steven D, 1991 – Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen, Michael Wiese Productions
Hurbis-Cherrier, Mick, 2007 – A Creative Approach to Narrative Film and DV Production
The Shining, 1980. [Film] Directed by Stanley Kubrick. USA: Peregrine Productions
Pulp Fiction, 1994. [Film] Directed by Quentin Tarantino, USA: Miramax Film