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We all make mistakes! Understand + reduce continuity errors

Mark Cersosimo
March 17, 2016 by Mark Cersosimo Staff

There’s no use crying over spilled milk. But what if you look away to shed a tear, then turn back and see the amount of that milk spill has drastically expanded out of nowhere? That’s cause for a little sobbing as you rip your hair out and question your sanity, right? This type of thing happens all the time … in movies. They’re called continuity errors!

What it means

A continuity error is an inconsistency with a certain event, fact, character, object, or place in a film where there shouldn’t be one. Here are some common examples:

  • The amount of water in a drinking glass changes between shots — without the character taking a sip.
  • A character’s home remains the same, but their address changes in a subsequent shot or episode.
  • In one shot, a shirt button is closed. In the next, it is unbuttoned. And yet, no one has touched that button.
  • During a chase scene, a car windshield alternates from cracked to uncracked.
  • A character’s hair length varies throughout a film that doesn’t have any significant time passage.

Mistakes are basically inevitable, like how humans and robots are now irreversibly destined to become one. Even the biggest Hollywood blockbusters of all time are filled with tons of continuity errors. (Pro tip: Check out the “Goofs” section of your favorite movies on IMDB. You’ll be surprised just how many there are!) Most of these errors are subtle and unnoticeable, but every once in awhile I spot one that’s a bit jarring and really takes me out of the moment. While these mistakes often reflect poorly on the director, it’s actually the script supervisor’s responsibility to keep continuity in check.

How does this happen?

When a film is shot, more often than not, it’s shot with one camera. Every scene is the result of 10, 20, and maybe even up to 100 different takes shot from different angles. With every new take, the odds that something will change increases — whether it’s the way your actor is holding their cup or something bigger, like the position of the sun and the shadows it casts. This gets increasingly more difficult to manage the the longer your shoot is. Unless you’re James Cameron. In which case, you can shoot for 10 years and just cover up mistakes with CGI!

Reducing mistakes

There are a few ways to limit the amount of errors in your film. The most effective method is to hire a script supervisor, preferably one who has a background in editing. A director has too many things to think about during a shoot. Make it easier on them and get someone whose sole purpose it is to keep track of props, lighting, costume, etc., and to make sure continuity remains unbroken.

Second, you can try and avoid certain elements in your film such as drinks, clocks, fires, and cigarettes, all of which are constantly changing and thus, hard to maintain consistency with. Even larger variables like weather or the sun can cause an issue if you’re not careful! So what I’m saying is, if you want to avoid this 100% of the time, just plan your shoot on a planet with no sun. Problem solved.

Lastly, rehearse! As I mentioned, a lot of continuity errors occur as a result of the actor slightly changing their performance between takes. To limit the risk of that happening, rehearsing the scene a few times will help keep them on point. Muscle memory, FTW!

I hope you enjoyed this lesson on how to make sea shell necklaces!

If you’re looking to CONTINUE on and glean more video-making tips, visit our Video School archives.

2 Comments

Catherine Knight

Great advice, and those sea shell necklaces BTW totally rock !! thank you.

April Lynn Mckay

i am wanting to make a video about my path to graduation from Ashford university .I am 36 and going back for my bachelor degree. It will be about psychology along with sociology and child development mostly it will be about the first person ever in history of the family to get a college education

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