How to Maintain Continuity as an Actor

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Photo Source: “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Little demonstrates that the devil is in the details quite like film continuity, a process that creates stories that are believable, engaging, and immersive. Although much of film continuity takes place in the editing room, actors who understand continuity—and know how to maintain it—help make better films. Here’s a breakdown of why continuity in film is important and strategies so you can maintain continuity as an actor.


What is continuity in film?

Continuity is the way in which a film’s plot, characters, events, and props follow a logical progression to create a cohesive storyworld. This process is also impacted by technical filmmaking elements such as cuts, angles, and editing.

Why is continuity in film important?

Everything Everywhere All at Once“Everything Everywhere All at Once” Courtesy A24

Narrative continuity keeps audiences believing. A world that follows consistent logic—and with believable performances—keeps viewers immersed by allowing for the willing suspension of disbelief. Filmmakers and performers create the suspension of disbelief and “drag it kicking and screaming from the clenched fist of the viewer’s reason,” according to film critic Roger Ebert. “It is an involuntary response (or lack of response), created when questioning certain details is made impossible by the distraction of the mind.” 

This takes place when a film follows its own established rules and doesn’t jar audience members out of the viewing experience. For example, the characters of  “Everything Everywhere All at Once” can transport across universes when following a strict (paradoxically anarchic) rule. If Evelyn started changing timelines without following the rule, it would feel as discontinuous as if Marilyn Monroe in “Blonde” were suddenly able to traverse the multiverse.

For actors, continuity includes the smaller-picture (but just as important) elements of retaining the same eyelines, looks, and deliveries between takes and camera setups.

Common continuity errors

Although filmmakers and performers strive for utmost continuity, these common acting continuity errors still sometimes slip through the cracks:

  • Eyeline mismatch
  • Different delivery between takes
  • Inconsistent emotions
  • Wardrobe, hair, and makeup changes in the same scene

Even the greatest films aren’t immune to continuity errors. For example, in the “If I Only Had a Brain” number from “The Wizard of Oz,” the length of Judy Garland’s pigtails changes several times. 

How to maintain continuity as an actor

movie continuityguruXOX/Shutterstock

Part of what separates the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the craft is the ability to maintain continuity. These tips can help you contribute to a film’s overall continuity and enhance the viewing experience: 

  • Study your character: Create a convincing character by establishing their backstory, memories, day-to-day routine, motivations, and central conflict. Think about how they think and consider the ways you can add verisimilitude to your portrayal.
  • Rehearse: Get robust rehearsal experience before shooting to ensure that you are intimately familiar with the details of every scene.
  • The clothes make the character: Ensure that your character’s clothing, makeup, and hairstyle is consistent with previous scenes. If your collar is popped in a scene, it should still be popped the next time the camera cuts to you.
  • Prop up the film: Pay attention to whether the props used in a scene are consistent with previous scenes. If you’re holding a coffee mug in your right hand for the first take, make sure you continue to hold it in your right hand in future takes.
  • The eyes have it: Matching actor eyelines—literally where each actor is looking in a shot—is a major facet of continuity editing. For actors, this means really immersing yourself in the reality of the scene, even if you’re acting with or reacting to something offscreen that isn’t really there. 
  • Talk the talk: Aim to keep dialogue and expressions consistent across takes. If your character is startled into saying something, remember to keep up the portrayal of surprise across each and every take.
  • Ask to see the edited product: One of the main challenges of continuity is that scenes can be shot over multiple days and in a different order than used for the final cut. Ask the director and video editor if you can watch their edits and take notes on any continuity issues you might see. It’s better to point out a continuity error before the film is released to the public.
  • Communicate: Make sure that you regularly communicate not only with other cast members, but also with the director and crew. You’ll want to make sure that you have the same ideas and goals in mind while filming. 
  • Get technical: As with all things these days, there’s an app for that! Try continuity apps such as Continuity Pro, SceneMatch, and SyncOnSet to ensure continuity between scenes.
  • Give your best performance: Although continuity is a significant part of filmmaking, it’s less important than the quality of the acting. “Even in ‘The Red Shoes,’ a film that nobody ever has complaints about, there are enormous continuity bumps, and it doesn’t matter,” film editor Thelma Schoonmaker said in a 1993 interview. “You know why? Because you’re being carried along by the power of the film.” 

Film editor Walter Murch agrees, naming “emotion, story, and rhythm” as the most important elements of film editing, “with three-dimensional continuity at the very bottom.” This means that maintaining continuity can become a lesser concern if you focus on giving your best, most compelling performance.