Video Editing: Obay the 180-Degree Rule

The 180 degree rule is one of film making's most important guidelines because it will have a huge impact on the video editing process. It states that two characters should have the same left-right relationships to each other. It is important for all filmmakers to remember this rule when shooting because it will determine how their final product that will appear on the screen.

Conversations

The 180 degree rule is best illustrated in a scene where two characters, Bob and Jill, are sitting across from each other having a conversation. The camera set ups would include a wide master shot of the two and individual shots of both characters. In the master shot Bob is facing the right and Jill is facing the left. We will have to obey this established set up and have them face the same directions in their individual coverage or else we may disorient our viewer. To help make sure this does not happen we create an imaginary line behind Bob and Jill that we will not cross with the camera. This is the 180 degree line.

We cannot have a sequence where we open with a wide shot of Bob facing the right and Jill facing the left. Then we cut to a close up of Bob facing the right and then a close up of Jill facing the right because the camera has crossed the line. Two characters that are talking to each other in a scene need to be looking at each other all the time in the editing or else the flow of the scene will be broken.

Action Sequences

The 180 degree rule is not limited to conversation scenes. An action sequence's editing needs to conform to the 180 degree rule for the audience to remain connected. If a car enters the frame from the left and exits from the right then it needs to enter the next shot from the left instead of the right so that it appears to be traveling in the same direction. If it constantly alternates between entering from the left and right then the audience will get the impression that they are going back and forth in the same directions and not really going anywhere. 

The rule also works when two forces are moving towards each other. Cutting between one character moving towards the left of the frame with another one moving towards the right gives the audience the feeling that these two are moving towards each other and will eventually meet. Where as Both characters moving towards the left gives the impression that one is being chased. The audience would find it weird if both characters were moving left and then ran into each other.

The 180 degree rule maintains spatial relationships in the film world. All filmmakers need to obey this rule so that their audiences are drawn into the film. Breaking the rule causes minor confusion and calls attention to the fact that we are watching a movie. You want the audience to get sucked into the story and forget where they are for two hours.

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