The 180-degree rule is key to filmmaking, and every content creator should take the time to master it. But what is the 180-degree rule, how do you use it, and is there an upside to breaking it?
What is the 180-degree rule and why is it important?
The 180-degree rule is a basic filmmaking guideline that ensures continuity between shots. It tracks the relationship between two on-screen subjects – these could be characters, objects, locations, or a combination. You’d use this technique to draw an imaginary line of action in the middle of the scene, between the subjects. You’ll often find this used in dialogue-heavy scenes, where the 180-degree rule is represented as the space between two characters’ eyelines.
The cameras must not cross their respective halves of the line during the shoot, capturing the subjects from a consistent viewpoint. This means that when someone watches the footage, subject one is always in frame right of subject two. For example, one camera would capture subject one, then a second would capture subject two. This footage would be cut to create a seamless edit that jumps between subjects as they interact.
Let’s say you’re watching a conversation in a diner. In real life, one person will sit on the left and the other to the right. You’d use the 180-degree rule to recreate that on-screen, ensuring the subjects stay on ‘their’ side of the axis – they maintain the same left/right relationship for the whole scene, so they look like they’re facing one another in your edit.
The 180-degree rule creates a visual connection between the screen and audience – the consistency means it’s easy to follow what’s happening. While we used an example of the 180-degree rule to shoot a conversation in a diner, it’s vital in capturing scenes involving sport, fighting, travel, and more without causing confusion.
The 180-degree rule helps establish the tone and visual palette for your content. The soundtrack is another element that can make or break your scene – after all, bad music kills good video. At Epidemic Sound, we have 40,000 royalty-free tracks and 90,000 sound effects for you to dig into. Check out the catalog below and find the perfect tune today.
Why is it called the 180-degree rule?
It’s called the 180-degree rule because the imaginary line you draw splits the visual into two semi-circles, which are 180 degrees each. The subjects are positioned at the furthermost angles of their respective shapes, creating a distance between them of – you guessed it – 180 degrees.
What happens when you break the 180-degree rule?
Breaking the 180-degree rule is a common video editing mistake for beginners. If you don’t have your subjects on a 180 axis, it can make your content look pretty weird. Basically, if you break the 180-degree rule without meaning to, your content will most likely suffer.
What is the most common mistake that causes filmmakers to break the 180-degree rule?
Filmmakers might accidentally break the 180-degree rule by crossing the line of action. They might not mean to – they’re just tracking the subject, or they’ve gotten lost in the action and want to capture something special – but it usually results in a fumbled, disorientating edit.
When can you break the 180-degree rule?
Here comes the fun part – it’s time to break the 180-degree rule! If you understand what it is and when you should stick to it, breaking the 180-degree rule can add a stylized sheen to your content. It can draw out certain themes, highlight character motives and, sometimes, it can just look cool.
If you knowingly break the 180-degree rule, you can create something known as a reverse angle. These angles do what they say on the can, offering viewers a perspective 180 degrees from where they’d usually see it. So, if you’re filming two characters talking, a reverse angle could be a shot from behind one of their heads. It can look a little confusing if not done properly – or on purpose! – but it can also make for some exciting scenes.
One of the most famous examples of breaking the 180-degree rule is this one from ‘Jaws.’ You know it. ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat.’ That one. Roy Scheider’s Chief Brody aimlessly throws chum into the water, cracking a joke. The shark surfaces, and as Brody realizes, he jolts back in shock. The next shot shows him from the ‘wrong’ angle – it gives the frame a sense of unease and dread, which is pretty fitting for when a massive shark appears.
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