180 Degree Rule in Filmmaking

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Filmmaking is a creative field and creativity is not supposed to be bounded by rules. However, there are many rules that help to keep the audience engaged and 180 degree rule is one of them.

It is a very simple but an extremely important rule to follow in filmmaking. It helps the audience to understand and keep up with what’s happening on the screen without any confusion.

This rule is helpful when you are filming practically anything and even applies to live streaming.

Filmmaking is often thought to be only focused on video , however the audio is also equally important. If you want to get better audio for your video then please refer our guide on best DSLR microphones for video work.

What is 180 degree rule ?

Imagine a situation where two people are talking to each other and a line is drawn right sown the middle. We start the scene with both actors in the frame in a wide establishing shot . Now 180 degree rule means that you always stay on that same side of the actors throughout the scene.

You can then move on to a over the shoulder shot for one actor or over the shoulder for second actor or even close up shots. 180 degree rule states that you always have your camera on the same side of the actors.

In other words the camera should always stay on one side of the imaginary line passing through the center of the scene.

180 Degree rule
180 Degree rule

No matter how many camera positions you have for a particular scene , the camera should never cross the actors and goes to the other side.

180 Degree rule simply states that the camera should stay on one side of an imaginary line drawn between two characters . This means that each character always appears to be facing the same direction throughout the scene, regardless of where the camera is positioned.

This ensures that the actors are always looking in the same direction , moving in the same direction and the frame of reference in the minds of the audience remains intact.

Why 180 degree rule is so important ?

Lets take an example of a simple conversation shot. The two actors are facing each other and having a conversation. In the establishing shot actor 1 is looking from left to right and actor 2 is looking from right to left.

Now as long as we stay on the same side of the actors. They will always look in the same direction as in the establishing shot. Actor 1 is always looking from left to right and actor 2 is always looking from right to left.

Below are two examples of 180 degree rule in cinema. One scene from film Tenet and one from Midnight in Paris. Both images show an establishing wide shot where the imaginary line is established and then two close up shots where it is maintained.

180 degree rule cinema
180 degree rule example ” Tenet”
180 degree rule film
180 degree rule example ” Midnight in paris”

This situation is very easy for the audience to grasp and appears more natural. It also avoids any confusion and establishes the position of both the actors firmly in the minds of the viewers.

But whenever we cross that 180 degree Rule and have one camera on one side and one camera on the other , then both actors are now looking from left to right? And now this makes it look like they’re both talking in the same direction. Maybe they’re standing next to each other and just talking to someone off screen. This is very weird and is not appreciated by the viewers.

What happens when 180 Degree rule is broken ?

When one breaks the 180 rule it creates confusion in the minds of the audience. Imagine a chase scene where one actor is chasing the other and both are running in a particular direction.

Imagine if we break the 180 rule! both actors will now appear to be running towards each other and this will crate a lot of confusion in the minds of the viewers.

Same is the situation in most scenes , especially when it involves two or more actors interacting with each other.

Many new filmmakers tend to break this rule just because they don’t know or aren’t aware of such a rule. Many experienced filmmakers even break this rule from time to time because they may have had so many camera changes or are trying to get different interesting angles, they forget where about the 180 rule.

When the 180 degree rule can be broken ?

Like all other rules , the 180 degree rule is also broken on multiple occasions by filmmakers. But this is always for a purpose and its still an exception.

180 degree rule is generally broken to show confusion , something awkward or something important like power shift from one character to another.

In the film Upside , a paralyzed man is dating a woman and every time they talk about his disability the 180 degree rule is broken. This is done purposefully to show that something is wrong and awkword.

How to follow the 180 degree rule while shooting ?

There are a number of ways to ensure that you consistently follow the 180 rule when shooting a film.

How to Follow the 180-Degree Rule

There are a number of ways to ensure that you consistently follow the 180-degree rule when shooting a film.

  • Where are the actors looking : If you pay attention and ensure that your actors are always looking in the same direction throughout the scene then the job is half done. This automatically ensures that the 180 rule is followed.
  • Storyboarding : Storyboarding helps to plan your shots in advance. You should select the camera positions before filming to ensure that you establish and do not cross the imaginary line . This ensures that you are not breaking the 180 rule. Start with a wide establishing shot and then move closer to your characters with a close up or head shots. Always maintain the camera position on the same side of the actors.
  • Blocking the scene : Blocking the scene involves preparing for the scene with the actors to understand the movement during the scene. You can draw the 180 degree line on floors for different sections of the moving scene and ensure that your camera positions do not break the 180 rule.
  • Establish a new line with moving characters : If your characters are moving then you may need to reestablish the imaginary line midway through the scene by having one more wide shot.

180 rule in sports streaming

The 180 degree rule is especially important in live streaming or sports streaming. For games like football or basketball the two teams are attacking in a particular direction. If you have two cameras on two sides of the pitch and continuously switch back and forth then audience will get confused.

180 degree rule in football match

You need to have the camera only on one side of the pitch and stay that way throughout the match.

180 rule for shooting interviews

Interviews are one of the most widely seen video formats. You always need to draw an imaginary line between the interviewer and the interviewee. The person giving the interview should always see in the same direction throughout the interview.

Even if you have multiple cameras they should all be located on one side of the lne.

180 Degree shutter speed rule

There is one more rule in filmmaking which is known by the same name i.e the 180 rule. However , this rule is related to how shutter speed is related to framerate at which you are shooting. This rule mainly applies to filmmaking with a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

What is 180 degree shutter speed rule

This rule basically states that if you are shooting at a particular framerate say “X” then your shutter speed should be 2 times “X”.

This means if you are shooting at 24 FPS then your shutter speed should be 1/ 48. Most cameras do not have 1/48 shutter speed option and hence you go with 1/50. Similarly if you are shooting at 30 framerate then you need to set your shutter speed to 1/60 and so on.

This rule helps to keep the motion blur to the required level while shooting. A very fast shutter speed makes the video very jagged and edgy while very slow shutter speed makes it very smooth and dreamy.

Final Words

Both the 180 degree rules for cinematography and shutter speed are meant to help the audience.

180 degree cinematography rule helps to avoid audience to remain oriented throughout the scene while the shutter speed rule ensures motion blur is appropriate.

Filmmakers can always break these rules as an exception as long as they know why these were there in first place.