How To Maintain Continuity In Film & Avoid Plot Holes

By: Domonique Salberg

Be it television or film, continuity in narrative stories is the principle of ensuring that all details are consistent from shot to shot and from scene to scene. When this is done successfully, each shot will feel seamless from the previous shot, reinforcing a sense of realism in the story. In reality, this is not the case since each shot may have been taken at a different time or place and in a completely different order.

That is where the rules of continuity come in to make a cohesive narrative for the viewer. If an actor is wearing a blue shirt in one shot, continuity depicts they should be in that same blue shirt throughout the scene. Even so, continuity problems occur or creep in—most often in scenes when there are both establishing shots and medium shots. It is because during filming, set crews will move props in and out for different types of shots, and in the mix of it all, errors happen.

In Pulp Fiction when Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson) are in the apartment, before any shots are fired you can see that the bullet holes are already in the wall.

But what filmmakers can do to avoid continuity errors as much as possible is considering the production tips below.

Equipment and Camera Continuity: Throughout the filming process, it is important that the picture settings and audio levels stay consistent. Meaning, creators need to ensure the same equipment and correct settings needs to be used for each shot in a scene. If not, variations in light levels, image sharpness, or volume, for example, can be distracting. 

The Dark Knight, which was shot in 35mm and IMAX, is an excellent example of how directors can successfully merge two different formats seamlessly and remain visually consistent.

Prop and Costume Continuity: These are the most common inconsistencies, as a short scene can easily take a day or more to shoot. Invariably, elements are moved around as lighting is adjusted, and objects are moved to balance compositions. Costume, hair, and makeup also require constant attention. 

The Wizard of Oz is pointed out for Dorothy's dramatic (sometimes changing within cuts) hair length inconsistencies.

Action Continuity: The position of actors and other moving elements within the frame must be carefully monitored. It refers to matching action between closer and longer shots as opposed to being concerned with what characters are wearing or how props are arranged in a scene. 

In Tangled when Flynn reaches up to brush hair out of Rapunzel's face during their conversation, the closeup shot shows all the way to his forearm. There is no shackle in sight. In the next wide shot, the shackle returns.

Time Continuity: Often, filming schedules require that shots in the same scene be filmed hours, days, or even months apart, so rigorous planning is crucial. 

Historical Continuity: Especially fundamental in period pieces, historical continuity refers to checking that all elements are historically accurate for the context of the film. Achieving historical continuity is often a matter of research. 

The Other Boleyn Girl

Plot Continuity: Arguably, the most significant consistency error is plot continuity. Audiences and critics usually call it “plot holes,” where conceptual inconsistencies can occur when a script has not been written carefully. Problems can also occur when the script undergoes significant revisions or when actors improvise during scenes. A notable plot hole example is in The Karate Kid and the illegal kick. We are told that kicks to the face are illegal and will not be tolerated, yet, Daniel defeats his nemesis, Johnny, in the final by a crane kick to the face.  

If storytellers consider these production tips, it could make the already chaotic medium a bit more manageable and continuity error-free.  

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