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  • Writer's pictureMarcelo Lewin

Classic Continuity Editing

This week in my Art & Craft of Film Editing class at UCLA Extension, we are studying classic continuity editing, specifically, from the 1930s to 1960s Hollywood Era.

Part of our homework is to choose a movie, watch a scene from it and do a complete breakdown of that scene, shot by shot, listing the type of shot each is, why that shot was chosen, and what emotion it evokes.

I personally think this is a great exercise to do as it will help me understand why an editor chose that cut and how it affects the storyline. I will have this paper done by next week, so I will definitely create a journal entry for it as well. Keep an eye out for that.

In today's entry though, I want to focus on classic continuity editing, specifically, what it is and why it's important to understand it so that we can be better film editors.

Continuity editing became very popular during the 1930s to 1960s in Hollywood films. It is used to maintain consistency of both time and space in a film and It helps ground audiences in the reality of the film. Its goal is to make the filmmaking process invisible so that audiences can dismiss disbelief more easily.

It does this by following some rules.

Establishing Shot

This is a shot at the beginning of a scene or sequence that "establishes" the location and/or context for the entire scene, allowing the editor to cut in closer later without having to "re-establish" the location or context. It's typically a wide or extreme wide shot.

180-Degree Rule

In every scene, there is an imaginary line of action, and the cameras should stay on one side of that line, never crossing it. This will allow you to cut back and forth between all the actors without ever disorienting the audience. In classic continuity editing, this rule can't be broken.

Cut on Motion (Cutting on Action)

Cut between shots during motion so that the transition is seamless and the viewer understands that this closeup is a continuation of the previous shot. If done correctly, the cut should be invisible to the viewer.

Eyeline Trace

A character's line of sight or gaze within a single shot or scene. It's used to direct the eye of the viewer to where the director wants it to go to.

Eyeline Match

When a character is looking at another character or an object offscreen, the next shot will usually show what they are looking at, creating a connection.

Match Cut

A transition between two shots in which there is visual, audio or thematic similarity between the two shots. One of the most famous match cuts in filmmaking is in 2001 A Space Odyssey when the bone converts into a space station, implying the advancement of both time and technology in human history.


Used during conversations between characters, alternating between shots to create a smooth flow of dialogue and reactions. Commonly employed using other the shoulder shots.

The 30-Degree Rule

In continuity editing, jump cuts are not allowed. Therefore, you have the 30-degree rule, which requires that no edit should join two shots whose camera viewpoints are less than 30 degrees apart.

Cross Cutting / Parallel Action

Crosscutting is used to show two or more events happening at the same time. There is usually a connection and/or subtext connecting those events. One famous scene I can think of that used crosscutting effectively was in The Godfather, where Michael Corleone becomes a Godfather, both to the baby and to the Mafia, while at the same time, showing how each mafia member is being killed off.

Learning to truly understand continuity editing is going to help me become a much better film editor.

Until the next article!

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