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The Art of Continuity in Movie Making

Oct 30, 2007
There are ten million film makers in America today. Most of them are amateurs, but the number who migrates to professional ranks grows constantly as television enlarges its demands for motion pictures of all kinds.

Pictorial continuity is the indispensable framework of every soundly constructed motion picture, whether it is a Hollywood epic, TV film, newsreel, documentary, cartoon or home movie.

Without it, any movie, no matter how elaborately or expensively made, is amateurish; but with it, the raw beginner can achieve a professional touch. It is the answer to how to shoot a movie story.

The Meaning of Continuity

Pictorial continuity is a rather fancy term, but we like it, because it states so precisely what we're out to describe. The dictionary explains "continuity" as an "uninterrupted, close union of separate parts". Pictorial continuity, therefore, in a fully rounded definition, would be the proper development and connection of motion-picture sequences to create a smoothly joined, coherent motion-picture story.

The Long Shot

We say these elements are simple and that they correspond to the stages by which the human eye views action.

This first shot which establishes the scene is the long shot, the "LS".

Well, then, take your first long shot. Pick up your camera and guided by what your eye sees in the viewfinder, shoot.

Right now, your LS can be taken from a nice, steady, stationary position. From where you stand in the doorway, you are far enough back to take in your subject and a great deal of his surroundings - enough to establish the locale.

You and your eye want to get as close to your subject as you can. As you move in toward your subject, your eye instantly, automatically, and continuously keeps readjusting itself to the changing perspective and proportions of the scene. It takes in increasingly more and more of your subject's face, hair, shoulders, tie, shirt, the articles on his desk and less and less of the rest of his surroundings, such as the wall, the window, and the body of the desk

This is the way you want it. After all, the vital part of the scene is your subject, not his location. You want to cut out as much of the extraneous, distracting locale as you can, and come as close to his face as your eye, and politeness, will allow. This is your close-up, the heart of your picture.

The Medium Shot

But before discussing the close-up, we must look at the technique by which we duplicate the eye's transition from long shot to close-up with the camera. This brings forth the inevitable question. Why is a transition shot needed at all?

The argument is a follows: We say that the close-up is the heart of the picture. We take the LS, which no one disputes is essential for establishing the location of the scene. So, once the scene is established, why waste the audience's time and the photographer's film on a transition shot, why not go directly to the close-up?

A great jump will not do. It is too abrupt. There must be a midway or transition shot - the medium shot.

The medium shot, or "MS", is transition shot bridging the jump from long shot to close-up, and building up the subject.

The Close-up

It is the close-up, the "CU", to which the LS and MS, properly executed, pave the way.

When your camera takes its close-up. your audience will see your subject's face, his head and shoulders filling the screen, his every expression vivid and alive. In the full meaning of the term, he will be "big as life".

It is sadly neglected by the home movie cameraman today.

Now you know the basics of continuity, which will make your movie "come alive".
About the Author
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