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The Continuity System

Analytical Editing

An example of Analytical editing

The technique of Analytical Editing is now standard for Hollywood filmmaking–so standard, we probably don’t even notice it! Scene Analysis or Analytical Editing is the process of breaking up a single scene into multiple shots–all from different angles and distance. This short scene from Sherlock, Jr. (1924) is broken up into three distinct framings (plus an insert shot)–see if you can identify them. Just a few years earlier, such a scene would have been shot from a single wide angle.


The Continuity System

Analytical Editing: Insert Shots

An example of an insert shot

As filmmakers moved away from tableau-style filmmaking, the insert shot was devised to help clarify action and substitute for plot diegesis. The most common insert shot was (and still is) a POV shot of text or writing, usually containing some information the audience needs to know. See the above frames–the insert shot not only clarifies for us what the heroine is holding, but gives us pertinent plot information by allowing us to read the note.

The Continuity System

Contiguity Editing: The 180-Degree Rule

180-degree Rule

The 180-Degree Rule was established to help viewers maintain a sense of spatial relationships in a scene. Since a viewer has no way to know exactly where a camera is placed in a scene, keeping the camera on the same side of a horizontal axis allows the viewer to understand where people or objects are placed in relationship to each other and the environment. The digram above illustrates the 180-degree rule. Cameras should not break the line–this keeps the viewers spatially oriented in the scene.

180degree rule example

Above is an example of a director adhering to the 180-degree rule from His Girl Friday (1940). These shots are from very different angles, but the axis of action is not broken, allowing the audience to clearly understand the spatial relationship of the characters in the scene.

The Continuity System


Example of Intercutting

Intercutting is narrative editing–filmmakers can cut back and forth between scenes in different locales or different times. This is the crux of most modern filmmaking. In this shot sequence from Way Down East (1920), intercutting is used to create suspense as the hero fights the villain and then braves an icy river to rescue the desperate (and frozen) heroine.

The Continuity System

Contiguity Editing: The Shot/Reverse Shot

Shot-Reverse Shot

Above is an example of the shot/reverse shot from The Mark of Zorro (1920). This technique is now the standard for shooting dialogue–show one character, then the reverse angle, so we can see who they are talking to. Today, most shot/reverse shots use an over the shoulder (OTS) angle to further clarify the action.

The Continuity System

Contiguity Editing: The POV Shot

POV Shot

A POV shot is one that gives the audience a close, personal look at what the character sees. This is a helpful technique that also emotionally connects the viewer to the character–as in this sequence from The Phantom of the Opera (1925), where Christine makes the disturbing discovery of items made for her in the Phantom’s lair.

The Continuity System

Contiguity Editing: The Eyeline Match

Eyeline Match

In this example from Sherlock, Jr. (1924), an Eyeline Match is a shot sequence that assumes the second shot is what the character in the first shot is looking at. This orients the viewer to the location and scenario. So, we assume the butler is looking at the pool player, and we also assume that the butler is offscreen to the player’s left.