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Did you ever wonder why some of the best takes aren’t used?

Maybe you’re watching a film and the actor’s hair changes position in one of the cuts. How about when an actor on TV is angry as he leaves the living room, then in the next scene (which is supposed to be continuous) the actor’s anger has disappeared?

It all happens in the editing bay…

Editors do the best they can with the given footage. A problem for them arises when the takes don’t match up. For the edit to work seamlessly, an actors’ behavior, blocking, and emotion need to match the chosen shot being used to tell the story.

It’s tough when a director has spent all day attempting to bring a story to life only to discover that one of his shots won’t make the final cut because the actor didn’t match each take.

So, what is continuity for the actor?

Continuity is an uninterrupted performance. It’s when the actor’s life on camera moves cohesively from cut to cut. Continuity is the glue. And each take needs a measurable amount of consistency to provide choices for the edit.

A scene isn’t always based on the best acting, it’s based on the best way to tell the story. It’s also based on the continuity so that the audience believes in the story.

There are two kinds of continuity: physical and emotional. Both are important and have the potential to take your audience out of your performance, or even worse, have you end up on the editing room floor.

Each actor in a scene must work to match their dialogue with the same blocking, usage of props and physical behavior, take after take, so it matches in the edit.

After the edit of a film I directed, one of the actors was upset that we couldn’t use his best take. Why? Continuity. The scene was cut based on the dialogue between two actors, and so the third actor had to match his performance from master shot to his close-up. Unfortunately, the take we had to use wasn’t his best.

Emotions must stay alive…

This is where continuity gets tricky. Emotions are the most elusive part of the acting – they need to occur organically and genuinely. Your emotions must be congruent if your scene is continuous. In other words, wherever you are emotionally coming from, you’ll want to bring it into the next scene.=

The actor must know that emotion can never really be exactly duplicated; that is what makes it art. What needs to stay congruent is the character’s objective and the relationships in each scene.

The spontaneity of acting is anchored in discoveries.

So how does emotion work with continuity? Know that emotion is fluid – with each take, discoveries are what keep emotion fresh and alive. An actor can make the same discoveries over and over again while keeping them fresh. Try it…

Discover something right now in your environment that you may have never noticed. (It can be small. It can even be how the light hits a photo in the room.)

How did it feel? Did you wonder about the discovery? Did you feel anything about it?

Now do it again – authentically, repeat the exact same discovery. Make sure you are not mechanically doing it, but actually experiencing the discovery once again. Did you find it easy to rediscover? If not, do it until you find something new in the discovery.

Do it a third time, but this time, in slow-mo. Did you have a new experience with it? Film acting is often making discoveries in slow-mo.

Acting is about rediscovering over and over again.

This is how we keep the emotion alive.

On set, sometimes when we have to repeat an inspired performance, we experience an array of emotions. We always want to be as good as our best take, but might get distracted and lose the intensity of emotion. We might feel insecure about the work or impatient with ourselves. We might feel fatigue or simply resist the process. We might doubt ourselves. Know that all of these feelings are normal.

A professional actor must set aside any resistance to bring their performance to life, as part of all art is repetition… The dancer must repeat the combination over and over again. The musician must practice the same tune over and over again. The writer knows that much of writing is rewriting. And in acting, continuity is the actor’s repetition.

Embracing continuity empowers not only the edit, but most importantly gives you the chance for your best performance to land on the screen.


 

Kimberly Jentzen is a multiple winner of Back Stage Reader’s Choice Awards: “Favorite Acting Coach,” “Favorite Acting Teacher” and “Best of: Acting Coach”. She has directed and/or developed over a dozen plays, including Yolanda King’s critically acclaimed homage to her father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Achieving The Dream. Kimberly won a Best Direction award from the Actors Film Festival for Reign. Reign went on to win nine awards including Best Short and Audience Favorite from the Louisville International Film Festival and New York Independent Film Festival. She also garnered awards for her film, Of Earth & Sky. She is the author of Acting with Impact and Life Emotion Cards, available at Samuel French Bookstore and at Amazon.com.

 

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Written by Kimberly Jentzen