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Editing for Continuity – Who Cares (part 2)

December 5, 2011 2 comments

Less of Joe rambling, more CLIPS about what Joe’s rambling about! Here are some examples from my other night’s blog – film continuity and why it doesn’t matter.

This first one is from Indian Jones and the Last Crusade . Take a look at Sean Connery’s beard in the beginning of the clip and then again at the end.

Connery with BeardConnery with Less Beard

 

 

(youtube blocked the video for copyright issues, so here are the key frames from the sequence – they cut from the first shot, to a shot of Indiana Jones, back to the second one…)

 

Look at the difference in the length of his beard – that’s pretty dramatic. Gotta be a re-shoot. I wonder if they added the long “I never told him” speech after they started editing and realized what a great moment they could have?

 

 

 

Here’s the greatest romance of all time – Casablanca. Watch the epaulets show up and disappear from shot to shot on the General’s coat.

There’s another great one in Casablanca where Rick lights and smokes two cigarettes in about eight seconds.

The greatest film of all time: Citizen Kane. Certainly there are no continuity errors in the masterpiece, right? Watch the hats from the front shots and the back shots.

Finally, here’s a great moment from Airplane – look in the lower left corner as Ted runs towards Elaine. Not continuity, but in the same vein…

These are just four examples of many, many, many, many continuity/production problems in these and other films. 

Once you see those things, they’re pretty huge. But again, that’s the point. The audience shouldn’t see them. If you think continuity is the problem with your film, then continuity is not the problem with your film. The problem is that no one is actually caught up in the story of your film, so their eyes are wandering around the screen, and land on these errors. Tighten the pace, cut some lines or even scenes. Do anything to make people more interested in your film so they’re not watching who’s wearing a hat or the length of anyone’s beard, but instead are caught up in the reality and drama of your story.

Show your films to other people, but not to filmmakers, especially film students (as a film professor, I know this better than anyone). See if they see any of the problems – almost always, they won’t. But get it in front of real people, who don’t care how you made the film, they just want to be entertained by it. They’ll tell you if there’s a problem or not. They may not be able to tell you what the problem is, but if you dig for an honest reaction, you can find out where your film is and isn’t working. Of course, don’t show it to people who have a vested interest in keeping you happy – like friends and family who love you and are proud that you made a real movie, show it to people who don’t want to watch it and try to win them over.

On Table at Luigi’s, we did three preview screenings of early cuts of the film. The first was for the cast and crew. The reason for that screening was to make sure none of the people involved in the film were in the audience for our other screenings, because I didn’t want their “insider” opinions to pollute the clean waters of the other audiences who were there to see a story, not an exercise. So we gave them their own screening.

On our comment sheets from cast and crew, we got lots of comments that resembled these: “the extras names should go before the crew in the credits,” “I can’t believe you used that shot with the extension cord in it,” and “could you fix the color correction in the restaurant scene?” And yes, we even got comments about the continuity. More than a few, as I recall. Most of the comments were related to whatever the commenter did on the film  (not universally, of course, but there was a lot of that – there were many actually helpful comments, too, of course).

But from real audiences, we got things like “I don’t understand the relationship between Stephen and Melanie” – things related to the actual story, that helped us to shape the edit to tell the story more effectively. Shockingly, no one mentioned any of the technical stuff that the cast and crew did.

Repetition is important: if you think continuity is the problem with your film, continuity is not the problem with your film. Fix the story and the continuity problems will disappear. You’ll still see them, but the audience won’t. They’ll just enjoy the film.

I’ll put up a part three in a couple of days to address where I think a filmmaker’s attachment to continuity comes from.

Editing for continuity – who cares? (part 1)

December 2, 2011 Comments off

So I wanna do some regular columns based on some stuff I deal with in class, and the first is about continuity in editing. If you don’t know what I mean, listen to anyone describe editing who isn’t an editor – “Editing is the process of matching the different shots and making them appear seamless” or something similar.

That simplistic description leads to a lot of people thinking that the job of the editor is to protect continuity at all costs. That if a character is smoking a cigarette in one shot, when we cut back, the cigarette had better be burning at roughly the same length, or else the scene is ruined. Same with the amount of beer in their mug, the hand with which they’re holding their hat, etc.

Whenever I think of people freaking out about continuity, I always remember back to film school, when a girl in my class was having a hysterical fit about a scene she’d brought into class from “Friends.” They’d obviously used footage from two different tapings and edited them together, and in a scene, a coffee cup behind Ross’ head appeared and disappeared depending on which version they used. The girl was so incensed about how wrong it was she leapt out of her seat to point it out – she was pissed! I just remember sitting thinking, “who cares? If Ross disappeared, I’d be upset, but it’s just a coffee cup.”

That’s my attitude towards continuity  – who cares? Film students do. But audiences don’t.

Yes, people sometimes notice continuity errors – and it’s almost always in one of two situations. People see all sorts of continuity issues in Star Wars. You know why? Because so many people have watched Star Wars so many times that they don’t watch the story anymore – they’re watching the small details. What a wonderful problem to have that so many people are watching your movie so many times that they catch the small problems that they didn’t see the first time. I’d suggest the best thing you can do as an editor is get your story in shape so people want to see it a second time, and maybe see a few continuity errors.

The other times people see continuity errors in films is because they’re bad films. When you’re watching a film that doesn’t engage you in the story, you start looking for other things to entertain you, and you’re not looking where your eye should be in the story (in the actors’ eyes, most often), and you start seeing continuity problems.

Here’s my rule of thumb – if you have a continuity problem, you don’t really have a continuity problem. You have a problem that people aren’t engaged in your story, and are looking at parts of the screen where they shouldn’t be focused. Again, if Ross disappears, then people should notice. That’s a continuity problem. But if they’re watching the coffee cup, you have a story problem, and that’s something you need to fix.  Don’t let the continuity stuff get in the way of telling your story – make that work and the other stuff just goes away.

In a couple of days, I’ll put up another post with some examples of what I’m talking about. I promise, your favorite movie has continuity errors. You know why you may not have noticed? Because you like it, that’s why.

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