How To Use the 180-Degree Rule (And How to Break It)

A closer look at the golden rule of film school.

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A closer look at the golden rule of film school.

It’s the rule of filmmaking that everyone has heard: don’t cross the 180-degree line. A fundamental concept of filmmaking that has stuck around since the advent of celluloid, it has remained the rule of thumb for all films to maintain a consistent visual language. Unless, of course, your name is Stanley Kubrick, Spike Lee, or Darren Aronofsky just a handful of directors who have found innovative and jarring ways to break the rule, usually as a way to disorient or unsettle the audience. One also does not have to worry about the rule during a continuous long take, in which the audience is experiencing the environment of the scene firsthand. But for the most part, if you are shooting a scene with more than one character while also trying to establish their environment, the 180-degree rule and the consequences of breaking it are as inevitable as the laws of physics.

While you may think yourself familiar with the rule, there is so much more to learn about it and how to use it effectively, as shown here in a new instructional video essay by Wolfcrow. He breaks down the technique and how filmmakers have followed it — and broken it — to maximize the visual language of scenes and their impact. It’s a refreshing and educational look at a rule most of us have long considered to be simple, when it is clearly anything but.

21. Filmmaker. Writer for Film School Rejects. Featured on MTV, Indiewire & The A.V. Club.