Production: How To Apply the 180 Degree Rule

The 180 degree rule is very important to keep track of during production. Applying it to your shots will make all the difference when you get into the editing suite.

Step 1 - A Line

The 180 degree rule based on a line between two points. Draw a birds-eye view of your scene. You have two characters in a scene. Draw a line connecting the two characters. If you are to follow the 180 degree rule, all of your shots will be on one side of this line. Once you pick a side to shoot from, you no longer have 360 degrees of camera angles to choose from, but 180 degrees. Many filmmakers choose to follow this rule loosely for aesthetic reasons. But no established director or cinematographer will ever ignore its existence.

Step 2 - Orientation

The main reason to follow this rule is to keep the audience oriented. When you are sitting in a room listening to a conversation, you may look back and forth between the two people speaking. Naturally, you are already living in a world where you follow the 180 degree rule. Movies expand perspectives by providing different camera angles. However, jumping too far through space will not make any sense to the person watching. When viewing a normal scene, the average person will not pay too much attention to camera angles during coverage. However, if you jump the line, they will find themselves wondering why things seem misplaced. In certain cases, the scene may have progressed far enough that the audience is familiar with the space. This would be one of those rare cases where you may have the opportunity to step outside the confines of the line.

Step 3 - Eye-lines

While strictly following the 180 degree rule, you can still bend the space a bit. You may be shooting a scene in which you want to cheat the background of character A's shot in a completely different place than character B's shot. This is possible as long as you follow the rule. In this case you will need to draw the birds-eye view of the imaginary space that you are creating. Then keep it close by as you shoot in the true physical locations. As long as the eye-lines are going in opposite directions, you should be fine. So person A would be looking frame right to frame left, while person B is looking frame left to frame right. The audience will believe this cheat if the coverage is done right.

Step 4 - Groups

The 180 degree rule becomes hard to understand when you have more than two characters in your scene. Unfortunately there is no simple way to explain this. Basically, you need to examine your scene and find out where the important beats happen between which characters. Use this as the center of your scene and shoot to keep these interactions in accordance with the rule.

The 180 degree rule is an important guide to coherent filmmaking. Though there are always exceptions, this will serve as a basis to covering every scene.

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