Features and Columns · Movies

What is the 180° Rule, Anyway?

It’s the golden rule of film school and one of the most reliable tools in a cinematographer’s toolkit. So, how does the 180° rule work?
Paprika Degree Rule
Sony Pictures
By  · Published on January 11th, 2021

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.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.