Continuity is the purely technical requirement of maintaining a consistent look and action in every shot, including the background and lighting of the set and the actors’ costumes, hair, and (most frequently) movement. A mobile phone that’s held in a character’s right hand in one shot and shifts to the left hand in the next shot jars the audience out of the moment.
But don’t stress; if continuity mistakes happen to you, you’re in good company. Many successful Hollywood movies are full of continuity mistakes. Throughout The Wizard of Oz, for example, the length of Judy Garland’s hair and dress changes several times. If that type of huge production can slip up, your video can, too.
A simple way to keep an eye on actors’ positions between shots is to call “Hold!” (refer to the list in the earlier section “Practicing good habits before a shot”) and quickly set up for the next shot. You can also show actors an earlier take so that they can position themselves to match their own movements. If your characters are drinking from a glass, for example, make the liquid level consistent from shot to shot (to prevent the audience from wondering how the glass was seemingly refilled). If you’re shooting over several days, take a photo of your actors in full costume so that they can match their looks for the next day.
Continuity has an additional meaning for actors. It refers to their characters’ mental and emotional states from scene to scene. When you’re shooting scenes out of order, matching these states from the previous scene can be challenging. As a director, it’s your job to keep actors on track from scene to scene by reminding them of their previous circumstances, such as where they’re coming from, what has just taken place, and where they’re headed. You can even draw a timeline for reference. Actors should see the big-picture view of their entire performances and their scene-to-scene progress.