The 180 Degree Rule in Filmmaking: Why It’s Important

There are many rules in the film world that filmmakers follow. But as we all know, rules are meant to be broken. Either way, it’s important to understand what the rules are so that if you decide to break them, it will be intentional. In this article we will be tackling what the 180 degree rule in filmmaking is and why it’s important!

What Exactly is The 180 Degree Rule in Filmmaking 

The 180 degree rule is an imaginary line drawn between the characters and crew that the cameras stay on one side of. This is not an elitist thing. Promise. This visual language helps the audience understand where the characters are not only in relation to each other, but also the world around them. 

For example, let’s say you have two characters sitting across from each other. If the camera is facing both of them at the same time you will see the right side of one character’s face, and the left side of the other. If you were to film these two people on their own and film one of them from the other side of that line, you would have broken the 180 rule. 

180 Degree Rule in Filmmaking - Schematic
The 180 Degree Rule in Filmmaking: Schematic

This can be extremely jarring to viewers and when you stitch the shots together in an edit, the characters no longer look like they are looking at each other. This change in perspective can confuse your audience making it harder for them to follow the story.

The Rules to the 180 Degree Rule in Filmmaking

Following the 180 degree rule can be extremely simple if you already have your line set. This can be done with gaff tape on the ground, story boarding early, and just getting a general visualization of your shots. Once you have that line set, don’t cross it unless it’s intentional. If you have the time for it it’s also great to have the actors rehearse in the space so you can see where their movements are.

However, there are also challenges when it comes to following this rule. If you have a scene with a ton of movement and a lot of different characters, it’s vital that you have your shots planned out ahead of time. Another great way to make sure you are following the rule in dialogue scenes is using your other actor as your “anchor”. Shooting over the shoulder shots can help you get a better visual with the actors eye line so the shots can stay continuous. 

Can You Break The 180 Degree Rule

Breaking the 180 rule can be done and can be beneficial in a lot of scenarios. That’s why it’s important to know the rule so you can break it for maximum effect. For example, in car chasing scenes there is a lot of action going on. To show multiple angles of the world and where the action is going will keep your audience invested as well as give them something new. Cloverfield is a great example of breaking that rule because the entire thing is told through found footage. In this example the 180 rule doesn’t need to be followed. 

If, and when because we all can’t help ourselves, you do break the rule and cross the line, it’s referred to as a reverse cut. A reverse cut is essentially showing the opposite side of your 180 line. If you do this in dialogue scenes the actors can look like they are looking in completely different directions even though they are looking right at each other. A better way to break this rule in a dialogue scene would be to cross the line with a camera movement instead of through a camera cut. That way the audience sees the perspective change as opposed to being thrown right into it. It’s a much more effective way to guide your audience. 

Awesome Examples of The 180 Degree Rule in Action

A great example of the 180 rule and then breaking it is the scene in the Dark Knight where Batman goes to visit the Joker in holding. The camera starts out on closeups, following the 180 rule, and then the Joke starts to talk about how he and Batman are very much the same, there is a shift in character.

180 Degree Rule in Filmmaking: The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight

It is a realization for Batman as the Joker says this, the camera slowly starts to move to break the 180 line. As Batman is absorbing the information, there is a shift in the camera demonstrating the shift in his reality.

The fantastic show Barry is another great representation of the 180 rule because in the acting class there is a stage to demonstrate how the rule works. If you think of your shot as a stage, then you immediately know what line you can’t cross.

Can You Use The 180-Degree Rule in Live Streaming?

You  can absolutely break the 180 rule in live streaming. The beauty of this is that it’s live and the people who are watching you get to interact with you. Therefore they want to see more of the world you’re in. The rule mostly applies to a fabricated setting to take the audience on a journey through location changes, and a lot of different setups.

On our Twitch Channel, I like using multiple cameras in our setup that break the rule because people are more curious about what the space looks like around you.

Conclusion 

Knowing this rule right off the bat will give you a really good starting point for filming your own projects! Remember that it’s not always about following the rules, but being intentional when you break them. Now that you know what the 180 degree rule is, let us know where you’ve seen it! More importantly, when it’s broken. Welcome to being the friend who over analyzes movies out loud. From personal experience…my friends absolutely LOVE it. So much that they no longer watch movies with me.

On that note, happy film dissecting and filmmaking!

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Courtney Birk

Courtney Birk is a Los Angeles-based actress, colorist, and multi-media artist. She’s never quite satisfied with having enough artistic outlets – so she’s usually painting, singing, and collaborating with her best friend to find creative ways for new storytelling. Her passion for the arts has driven her to work in many different mediums, including music, fine art, theater and film production.

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