The Invisible Editor: A Guide to Continuity Editing for Film and Video (2023)

Let’s face it: As much as any film and video editor would love to have their name front and center on a movie poster, all the glory will always go to the star actor and auteur director.

And sadly — from a publicity standpoint at least — a good editor is one whose name might not even be on the poster at all.

This is because of the old catch-22 that goes with film and video editing. When an editor does their job well, you really shouldn’t even notice their work at all. Instead, editing is all about invisibility. (You can rest assured that good directors and producers know this and look for editors that have a strong grasp of that concept.)

The best editors are the ones that hide their cuts right in front of the audience by using a technique called “continuity editing.” This editing trick is an important part of any film editor’s arsenal and can be traced back to the earliest days of film editing.

But how do you use continuity editing for a movie or a TV show? And how can you actually master the art of invisible editing?

Let’s define and trace how continuity editing has been used over the years, and explore other video editing techniques which you can use for video creation today.

What is continuity editing?

While there are many different ways to discuss continuity editing (or “invisible editing” as it's sometimes called), we might as well start with a basic definition of this film term that you should pay attention to.

Continuity editing is an editing process in film and video where multiple shots are cut together in a way that feels very natural and connected to how viewers consume content. The overall goal (or trick) is to make it feel like you’re not watching a series of shots, but rather one comprehensive story or action.

From there, it’s important to start thinking about continuity editing less as a technique and perhaps more as a phenomenon that happens when editing is done as it is meant to be done. That is to say, all editing really should be continuity editing (unless you’re specifically trying to break from the norm).

To do this, you just need to pay attention to the basics of how shots are edited together, along with some of the other actual techniques and rules that go into film editing and scene construction.

How to edit together two shots

To start, let’s take a step back and look at how shots and scenes are constructed before eventually being edited together. Even from an editor’s perspective, it’s helpful to think of shots as the building blocks of a scene. And to do that you really need to understand the different shot types.

Fromwide shots andestablishing shots tomedium shots and close-ups, the different shot types should all work together to construct a scene that feels diverse and full, even if it’s spliced together to bring the viewer into the story.

There are also plenty of continuity rules, guidelines, and editing techniques to keep in mind from a filmmaking and video production perspective. These details will inform how your shots are eventually cut together in a scene.

Some examples would include theshot-reverse-shot format, the180-degree rule, and evenkeeping focal lengths and depth-of-field in mind as a way to help construct a scene.

Examples of "invisible editing"

Now let’s take a look at some examples of the invisible art of continuity editing in action.

Keep in mind that when done correctly, this “trick” might not be a trick at all, but rather a seamless use of a few basic video editing techniques at once — several of which we’ll cover below.

Example of match cut editing

The match cut is probably the most important technique in an editor’s arsenal to aid with editing for continuity. It’s a powerful tool for creating seamless action and movement.

As you can see in the example above from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), match cuts can also be a very fun way to transition between scenes and make them feel like interconnected panels of a comic book.

However, from an invisible editing perspective, even a subtle use of match cuts can be a great way to make shots flow as the eye is led to connect two shots based on movement, action, dialogue, or even colors.

Examples of eye-line matching

If we’re going to talk about match cuts, we should also talk about eye-line matching and eye tracing. This is a very basic filmmaking (and film editing) technique that seems pretty obvious when you think about it, but it’s actually difficult to pull off without lots of practice.

Basically, when you have a character looking in one direction in your first shot, your audience's eyes are going to expect to see the subject or object they’re looking at or talking to in the space which the viewer thinks the character was looking in the previous shot.

You can see several examples of this eye-line matching technique in the video above. And truth be told if you watch pretty much any video content — whether that be feature films, television, or YouTube skits — then you’ll see this technique in action.

Example of cross-cutting

Cross-cutting is another critical film and video editing technique which is an awesome way to build tension and make scenes feel connected, even if they’re happening in a different place and time.

This sequence from Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a great example of how cross-cutting because you can see these different scenes dramatically cut together. (A technique which is actually used quite frequently across all of the Star Wars films.)

They might be all happening in different locations and at different times or even at different speeds, but they still feel connected. And while this is a dramatic version of cross-cutting, this technique can be helpful with a wide variety of project types because it provides a way for editor’s to help an audience feel connected and immersed in a story.

Example of parallel editing

Similar to (and at times used interchangeably with) cross-cutting, parallel editing is a variation of the same technique.

However, unlike the more abstract nature of cross-cutting, parallel editing is really meant to show two different sequences that might just happen to be in action at the same time.

You can see this best exemplified in the clip above from The Godfather where we see two key moments in the film cut together to make it apparent that they’re happening at the same time. It’s a bit more nuanced, but this technique is useful when looking to connect big moments, characters, or themes in a story.

How to avoid continuity errors

Hopefully those definitions and techniques give you an understanding of how continuity editing works, as well as how to make some strong connecting decisions in your edits. However, there are a lot of other pieces to these continuity rules.

Next, let’s talk about how to avoid those pesky continuity errors in your projects. (And if you’re not sure what a continuity error is, it’s basically anytime that one shot doesn’t connect with the next shot.)

We’ll cover when and how you might want to make these errors later. But for now, here’s a quick list of some of the most common continuity errors and how you can maintain continuity and avoid those obstacles.

  • Breaking in time: Unless you build in an explanation, shots in a scene should follow along in what the audience expects to be real-time. If you make a sudden jump, it can be startling for viewers unless you add in an explanation or a transition. (Examples could be a fade out, a cutaway to other action, or any other natural ellipses that can let the audience know that time is about to change.)

  • Not matching action: Any shot should ideally follow the same movement and action as the shot before it. These days, this match cut concept is really less of a technique and more of a rule unless you’re establishing a style that specifically breaks this rule, or you want to cause confusion in your audience from shot to shot.

  • Temporal continuity: This is another term for how audiences perceive time in a film or video. (It could also be called three dimensional continuity or spatial continuity.) Similar to just breaking time, you also want to avoid jumping in time without an explicit reason.

While you can make following the timeline a challenge for your viewers, an easy solution to jump in time is to show a flashback. You should give your audience some sort of spatial continuity cue, whether it’s a visual reference point to suggest it’s a different time, a soundtrack change, or a simple transition effect.

Those are some of the few types of continuity errors that we can clearly define. The real trick however is simply trying to be clear how every shot connects with the next one.

And if you do want to mess with your audience at bit, you should be clear in how and why you’re doing it.

Editing techniques for breaking continuity

Finally, now that we’ve gone over everything about continuity errors, let’s look a little deeper into the fascinating world of continuity editing. This will help us pin down why some filmmakers have chosen to make their edits visible by breaking continuity for style and effect.

We have to preface this with a quick reminder that breaking continuity should only be done when you specifically want your audience to feel challenged, awkward, or scared. These are the majority of the reasons why filmmakers most often choose to use these techniques.

  • Discontinuity editing: This is a technique that runs directly counter to continuity editing. You’ll see examples of discontinuity editing in experimental films or formats like music videos. Discontinuity editing works more as a thematic montage in which images are connected by motifs and themes rather than action and narrative.

  • Jump cut: Jump cuts were popularized by the filmmakers of the French New Wave. This technique features a harsh cut in a scene that “jumps” forward in time. The effect of these jump cuts is one that makes the audience very aware of the editor and filmmaker’s intentions for a scene by cutting out any unnecessary action, movement, or dialogue.

  • Jump scares: Similarly, jump scares are a modern form of the jump cut that is less abstract but more precise to elicit a specific response. These jump scares are popular in horror films and include the deliberate cutting of a scene to skip information and make the action more startling to an audience.

Again, these are just a few examples of ways in which filmmakers have chosen to make their editing visible and avoid the usual clarity that comes from a scene edited for continuity.

It’s worth noting that as content has evolved in recent years, audiences have become much more sophisticated and aware of how scenes flow and how edits are made.

However, if you remember these definitions, follow these guidelines, and avoid (or choose not to avoid) these breaks, you can make sure your films and videos flow invisibly and continuously.

Further reading

If you’d like to check out more film theory or pick up additional video editing tips and techniques, check out these articles from the Soundstripe blog:

  • Master Shot: The One Cinematography Shot to Rule Them All
  • How To Use A Green Screen For Any Video Project
  • How to Shoot an Effective Point of View Shot
  • How to Frame the Perfect Over-the-Shoulder Shot
  • How to Come Up with YouTube Video Ideas like Your Favorite Creators


The Invisible Editor: A Guide to Continuity Editing for Film and Video? ›

Invisible editing differs from visible editing, which simply is a cut of which the audience is aware. Visible edits make themselves known and are often achieved when jump cuts are used. Invisible edits are when the director tries to hide the cuts from the audience.

What is the invisible approach to editing? ›

Invisible editing differs from visible editing, which simply is a cut of which the audience is aware. Visible edits make themselves known and are often achieved when jump cuts are used. Invisible edits are when the director tries to hide the cuts from the audience.

Is continuity editing the same as invisible editing? ›

The match on action cut is one of the most useful tools in continuity editing. Sometimes called “invisible editing” because it is so basic and universal, the match on action cut maintains the flow of action between two shots.

What is a continuity editing in film? ›

Continuity editing is the process of ensuring that within a sequence of cuts, each shot shows the same information. For example, picture an over-the-shoulder shot-reverse-shot sequence with two characters speaking opposite each other at a restaurant table.

Why is effective editing called invisible editing? ›

It is often called “The Invisible Art” because a good editor will make a film so fluid that the audience will not be aware of the editing.

What is an example of an invisible cut transition? ›

Invisible cut

For example, if a character walks towards the camera, completely covering it, the cut is introduced when the back of the character is shown walking away. The invisible cut can also be hidden by a whip pan, entering/leaving a very dark or very light environment, or by an object crossing the screen.

What technique is used in continuity editing? ›

L-cuts and J-cuts

These auditory editing techniques are often used to make dialogue feel more natural and seamlessly bridge between scenes. L-cuts are when the audio of one shot or scene extends over into the next shot or scene; J-cuts are when you can hear the audio from the next shot or scene before you can see it.

What is the goal of continuity editing? ›

Continuity editing is a film editing technique in traditional narrative film and television. Continuity is the principle of making sure that all details in a film or TV show are consistent from shot to shot, and from scene to scene.

What are the 6 rules of edit? ›

Murch's six rules on editing consist of Emotion, Story, Rhythm, Eye trace, Two- dimensional Plane of Screen, and Three-dimensional Space of Action, which all have different values in order of importance for the cut.

What are the four stages of editing? ›

The four levels of editing and how they fit within the publishing...
  • Step 1: Beta read or manuscript evaluation. This type of editing is a reader's response to the manuscript. ...
  • Step 2: Developmental or structural editing. ...
  • Step 3: Line editing and copy-editing. ...
  • Step 4: Proofreading.
Apr 6, 2020

What are the two types of continuity editing? ›

The most common types of continuity editing include:

Within the scene, series of shots, or the sound.

What are the two types of continuity in film? ›

There are several categories of continuity in feature films and TV that filmmakers must be aware of during film production and post-production:
  • Prop and costume continuity. ...
  • Acting continuity. ...
  • Time continuity. ...
  • Plot continuity. ...
  • Camera and audio continuity.
Sep 28, 2021

What is the difference between montage editing and continuity editing? ›

Continuity editing lends itself much more to the Hollywood style of film-making. Montage editing, however, aims to be much more experimental and tends to draw the viewer's attention to the camera itself.

What is an alternative to continuity editing? ›

The main alternative to continuity editing is montage editing. Montage editing can be used to create excitement, terror or startling new meanings. Instead of allowing shots to flow smoothly from one to another, montage editing juxtaposes images for effect and can cut rapidly from wide shots to extreme close-ups.

What are the three main types of editing? ›

The tasks that an editor performs can be grouped broadly into three types: substantive editing, copyediting and proofreading.

What is invisible art in film? ›

There's a reason film editing is often called “the invisible art”: The goal of most editors is to create a seamless finished product, with no trace of their tampering.

Which transition is called the invisible transition? ›

A Fade Out Transition. During a Fade Out transition, the shot starts at full brightness and gradually becomes invisible. Using the Fade In and Fade Out together is an effective way of conveying the passage of time.

What is the difference between a cut and a transition? ›

In the post-production process of film editing and video editing, a cut is an abrupt, but usually trivial film transition from one sequence to another. It is synonymous with the term edit, though "edit" can imply any number of transitions or effects. The cut, dissolve, and wipe serve as the three primary transitions.

What is the basic purpose of the continuity system? ›

Generally speaking, the continuity system aims to present a scene so that the editing is "invisible" (not consciously noticed by the viewer) and the viewer is never distracted by awkward jumps between shots or by any confusion about the spatial lay-out of the scene.

What is the difference between continuity editing and discontinuity editing in film? ›

Continuity sound uses a sound bridge so that there is a natural connection of sounds from one to the next. Discontinuity sound represents the creation of a new song, section of music or notes specific for the film. It is not natural nor is it necessarily composed to match the natural flow of the film.

What is the 30 degree rule? ›

The 30-DEGREE RULE states that if an editor cuts to the same character or object in another shot, the second shot must be positioned at least 30 degrees away from the first camera setup. If the camera moves less than 30 degrees, the cut between shots can look like a JUMP CUT or a mistake.

What are some of the factors important to continuity editing? ›

The 180-degree rule, proper perspective shifts and camera movement are all essential factors in continuity.

What is the 180-degree rule in film? ›

The 180-degree rule states that two characters (or more) in a scene should always have the same left/right relationship with each other. – Filmmaking Gods. The rule dictates that you draw an imaginary line between these two characters (or subjects) and try to keep your camera(s) on the same side of this 180-degree line ...

What is 321 rule in editing? ›

Every video maker includes the 321 rule. This means that you should always keep three copies of every single thing that you make in two different places. You have one goal – to tell your audience a great story with your video. This can be achieved if you simply edit, edit and edit your content until perfection.

What are the 5 C's of editing? ›

Copyediting involves the "five Cs": making the article clear, correct, concise, comprehensible, and consistent.

What are the three C's of editing? ›

The 3Cs of Copy Editing – Correctness, Consistency, Completeness.

What is the first rule of editing? ›

Rule One: Never make a cut without a positive reason.

Some scenes require no editing at all if the composition and camera movement are strong enough to support the intent of the scene. Other scenarios, particularly action and montage sequences, require constant cuts in order to communicate the scene's intent.

What are the basic principles of editing? ›

Basic Editing Principles for Filmmakers
  • Shoot for editing. ...
  • Select just what the story needs. ...
  • Select the important action. ...
  • Show something new with each edit. ...
  • Vary the shot size and angle. ...
  • Step between shot sizes. ...
  • Use cutaways to hide jumpy edits. ...
  • Use a master shot for an overview.

What is the first edit called? ›

An editor's cut (sometimes referred to as the "Assembly edit" or "Rough cut") is normally the first pass of what the final film will be when it reaches picture lock.

What are the two main tasks of editing? ›

Editing involves looking at each sentence carefully, and making sure that it's well designed and serves its purpose. Proofreading involves checking for grammatical and punctuation errors, spelling mistakes, etc.

Who is in charge of continuity in films? ›

A script supervisor (sometimes called a continuity supervisor ) is an on-set member of a film crew whose sole responsibility is ensuring continuity throughout principal photography.

What is the invisible style quizlet? ›

What is invisible style? Matching the motion and making the switch between shots so smooth, making it look like one fluid motion, even if there is a change of shot composition.

What are the two approaches to editing? ›

One of the most important features of a video is editing. Editing is the process of taking many shots and combining them to form one cohesive story. There are two types of edits, cross-cutting and parallel editing.

Why is editing an invisible art? ›

Editing is the invisible art. When it's done well, the reader doesn't notice the editor's work, though you can bet the reader will notice a lack of editing. Good editors work behind the scenes, putting writers and their words at center stage.

Why do you think editing is referred to as an invisible art? ›

There's a reason film editing is often called “the invisible art”: The goal of most editors is to create a seamless finished product, with no trace of their tampering. In reality, their fingerprints are all over the final film, and they are often among the most important figures in the entire process.

What does invisible style mean in film? ›

An invisible cut (sometimes called an invisible edit) marries two scenes together with two similar frames. The goal is to hide the transition from viewers for a smooth, nearly unnoticeable cut. Film editors sew shots together with invisible cuts to make the production feel as though it's one long take.

Why does the narrator in Invisible Man say that he is invisible quizlet? ›

Because he has decided that the world is full of blind men and sleepwalkers who cannot see him for what he is, the narrator describes himself as an "invisible man." The motif of invisibility pervades the novel, often manifesting itself hand in hand with the motif of blindness—one person becomes invisible because ...

What is the invisible style? ›

The invisible style does not highlight the narrative directly. It achieves its goal by subordinating or even undermining the possible uniqueness of other elements such as lighting, camera angle, framing, costuming, etc. to guarantee the interest of the primary narrative.

What are the 3 editing techniques? ›

There are so many different editing techniques, and each one has something different about them. There are three main editing techniques in the film: continuity editing, montage, and juxtaposition.

What is the goal of film editing? ›

Film editing is crucial within the filmmaking process, as it can make or break a feature film. It is the step of transforming the raw footage into film footage with a logical sequence.

What are the hidden image art called? ›

One way to work your brain today is by hunting for hidden images in this optical illusion. It's more complicated than you might think. This beautiful oil painting illusion is known as a stereogram or an autostereogram. Hidden pictures lie within the canvas; some 2D stereograms contain hidden images that look 3D.

What is the art of the invisible? ›

Art of the Invisible aims to investigate artistic strategies for the invisible, across disciplinary, chronological, geographical, and medial boundaries.

Why is continuity editing important? ›

Continuity editing ensures consistency in a film's storyline, location and time. Continuity errors can break viewers' suspension of disbelief, but minor mistakes may go unnoticed. The 180-degree rule, proper perspective shifts and camera movement are all essential factors in continuity.

What are the different types of continuity in film? ›

There are two types of continuity in film: temporal continuity and spatial continuity. Temporal continuity ensures that a film seems to flow continuously in time, and spatial continuity ensures that the geography of a scene stays consistent.

What are the stages of film editing? ›

The editing process is essential to bringing a filmmaker's vision to life. There are three stages of the editing process that every filmmaker should know about: the rough cut, fine cut, and final cut. Each step has its specific purpose, requiring unique skills to complete.


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