Production: How To Use Screen Direction

Screen direction is a term used in video production and editing that refers to the direction an actor or object moves in relation to the camera position. One of the basic rules of editing states that the direction of the movement must be consistent between one edited shot to another, other wise the audience might become confused as to what is going on.

Understanding Screen Direction

Screen direction is all relative to the camera. The left of the frame is called 'camera left' while the right is called 'camera right. Objects close to the camera are the foreground while objects farther away are the background. Theatrical terms have also made there way into screen direction. Come 'down stage' means come closer to the camera while come 'up stage' means go farther away.

Avoiding Confusion

Let's say that we are editing a sequence where an actor is getting something. If we begin the shot with him sitting down on the left side of the frame and then getting up and walking camera right, then the next shot should have him walking from left to right. Otherwise, if the next shot has the actor walking right to left then the audience might think he has forgotten something and is moving back to his first position. 

Building Tension

You can also manipulate screen direction so that it builds tension in a sequence. For example, you can have someone running away from a killer. They can be running from camera left to right. Meanwhile you can have the killer move from camera right to left. This creates tension with the audience because they expect the two to eventually run into each other.

The 180 Degree Rule

One of the most basic rules when shooting is to never cross the 180 degree line. When blocking a scene you should create an imaginary line in the scene that the camera will never cross. This way the screen direction is consistent and matches between every shot. 

An example of this rule being broken would be a scene where we have a wide shot of an actor on the left and actress on the right. Then, in the medium shot, the camera crosses the line and the actor is now on the right and the actress is on the left. This break in screen direction will confuse the audience and disorient them. Getting an audience sucked into your movie is tough to do. Be careful not to break this rule otherwise it can snap them out of your illusion.

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