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  • The continuity system is a set of rules for making sure that your shots go together naturally
  • It includes framing, camera position, shot size and editing

Film-making is a bit like a magic trick. You can film a lot of different shots, add some sounds and music, and put it together so everything seems to flow naturally. You can shoot with one camera and make it look as if you have ten. You can persuade the audience that they’re watching a real story with real people. Here are some of the tricks and rules that make this work. You should follow these rules while you’re filming, and use them while you’re editing.

Step between shot sizes
Whether you’re showing a place, people, or action, your film will look more interesting if you shoot things with different shot sizes.

But don’t jump straight from, say, an extreme long shot to an extreme closeup (unless you really want to confuse people). You need to put something like a long shot or mid shot between them so the viewer can see the connection.

Change position as well as shot size
When you change shot size, you should move the camera to a different position around the subject. If you don’t, it may seem to ‘jump’ forwards or backwards. The 30 degree rule says that you should move the camera at least 30 degrees between shots.

Shoot in opposite directions
Going further, you can shoot shot reverse shot: filming in one direction, then more or less the opposite direction. This lets you show a person and what they’re looking at – or two people together –using closeups for more impact.

Two characters but only one camera? No problem. Shoot the scene several times: once with both characters in the shot, then with mid shots and closeups of one character, then with mid shots or closeups of the other person. Then alternate between the characters when you edit.

If you’re filming someone moving, shoot some of the shots from in front and some from behind.

Stay on one side of an imaginary line
You could film shot-reverse shot by shooting exactly head-on in one direction, and then in exactly the other direction.

But if looks more natural if the camera is slightly to one side of the characters. The crucial thing is that it has to stay on the same side.

Imagine there’s a line between the two characters. Keep your camera on the same side of that line. If you’re filming someone moving, stay on the same side of the direction they’re moving.

If you cross the line then the shots may not fit together. Your two characters will look as if they’re facing the same way, rather than facing each other. Or your moving person will look as if they’re suddenly going the other way.More detail here: The 180 degree rule.

Put more space in the direction people are looking
If a person is looking to one side of the screen, make sure there is looking space or ‘nose room’. This looks more natural, and it makes it more obvious that two characters are facing each other.

Make sure people are looking in the right place
If someone in one shot is looking at something or someone in another shot, their ‘gaze’ should line up with the thing they’re looking at (which should be on the opposite side of the screen).This is called eyeline match.

Try not to join two similar shots of the same thing together
Use shot-reverse shot instead, or add a cutaway (a shot of something else) or an insert (a detail of the scene).

If you have to join shots of the same thing together, make the difference obvious.
Cutting between two closeups of the same person gives us an obvious jump. But if we change the shot size and the position, the edit looks much more natural.