Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about one of the core tenets of cinematography: the 180-degree rule.
If you’re a film fan, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the 180-degree rule. And if you haven’t, I can confidently guarantee that you’ve seen it in action. And even if you’re well-versed with this imaginary line in the proverbial sand, there’s still plenty to learn. After all, the simplest techniques can prove wildly complex in the right hands. After all, lest we forget: rules are meant to be broken.
The 180-degree rule has to do with where the camera is in relation to its subjects. It is the idea that if you are filming a sequence of shots with more than one character, there is an invisible straight line between them that the camera should not cross. By keeping the camera on one designated side of the line, you create a clear line of action between the characters and establish the scene spatially.
In short: by adhering to the rule, the sequence will feel natural and the audience will understand where things are and where characters are looking.
When a camera breaks the 180-degree rule and flip flops across the line, it can feel jarring, uncomfortable, and like things have suddenly been reversed. When you break the 180-degree rule, it’s noticeable. But if you’re trying to make a point, it makes sense to grab an audience’s attention.
As the video essay below explains, filmmakers break the rule for all sorts of reasons, such as to challenge convention or to signal a narrative shift in power, perspective, or understanding.
Ultimately, the 180-degree rule is an excellent example of how, in filmmaking, a lot of effort goes into things that are meant to go unnoticed. And, on the flip side (as it were), a lot of intention is required to justify shattering that illusion.
Watch “The 180° Rule (And How to Break It)“:
Who made this?
Jesse Tribble is an American video essayist and comic book scholar who has been digging into all things film on YouTube for six years. You can subscribe to Tribble’s channel and check out his back catalog here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.
More Videos Like This
- We’ve written previously about the 180-degree rule here at FSR. In fact, we’ve highlighted another video essay breaking down how it works. So, from four years ago, here’s another breakdown of the golden rule of film school.
- Queue favorite Studio Binder also has a wonderful essay on the 180-degree rule. They always do good work in breaking down techniques into clear, concise component parts. So if that speaks to you, give their video a look.
- We recently published a breakdown of how the dolly zoom special effect works. The article doesn’t get into it, but many animators replicate dolly zooms in animated space. Tribble has a really informative and fascinating breakdown of how Disney animators constructed a 2-D dolly zoom in The Lion King.
- And here’s another sample of Tribble’s work: an exploration of the business/pleasure balance that makes the James Bond franchise tick.