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180 Degree Rule: Why You Need to Know it

by Clarke Scott | Last Updated: August 30, 2021

Most filmmakers will tell you that the 180 degree rule is one of the most important rules in filmmaking. In fact, the 180-degree rule is one of the most common and frequently cited rules or standards in classic filmmaking.

The 180-degree rule imagines that there’s some kind of invisible line between the camera and the characters were being filmed, the camera will always stay on one side of that axis and the characters will always stay on the other.

It’s a guideline for directors to follow while they are shooting their movie, but it can also be used by viewers to analyze how well a film was shot and executed.

In this blog post, we’re going to break down what exactly the 180-degree rule is and why you should care about obeying it!

The belief was if the camera crossed that axis, and went to the other side, suddenly people would switch positions, that is, people on the right would now appear on the left and vice versa. This is a practice that was established, probably in Hollywood or in Western Europe sometime in the early part of the 20th century, as films began to be composed of more and more shots, practices were a sample the device to allow audiences to be able to move through these films with ease and the utmost clarity to never be confused as to when an action is taking place, where exactly we are actors or actresses were in relationship to each other.

What is the 180-degree Rule Why should it not be broken while shooting?

What is the 180 Degree Rule?

The 180-degree rule is the guideline that states a filmmaker should not cross over an imaginary line called the axis. The axis is usually drawn through the middle of characters, items or moving objects within a scene.

It’s important to understand why filmmakers follow this guideline because it directly affects how viewers interpret and process what they are watching on screen.

If a director films across the axis, it can create confusion for viewers watching the scene. The two main reasons why directors follow this rule are because they want to avoid an awkward cut and maintain continuity between shots. Let’s talk about what each of these means:

Avoiding An Awkward Cut  When a filmmaker moves over or across the axis, it can create an awkward cut. This is because the viewer will be instantly jarred by a sudden jump in camera placement and action that follows the shot. For example, let’s say there is a car driving down the street with two people sitting inside of it.

If you were to shoot this scene from straight on or where both characters in the car were in the frame, you would be following the axis. If instead of this shot, was a side profile or diagonal angle that only showed one character in the car, it could create an awkward cut for viewers because they have to adjust and reinterpret what is happening within the scene.

How to Follow the 180-degree Rule

Maintaining Continuity  When directors shoot the axis, it helps maintain continuity between shots. This is because the characters are not moving around within a scene and everything more or less looks as if it’s in the same place from shot to shot. If you were to shoot across the axis, then that would create major changes in camera angles and perspectives for viewers which could make them feel confused about what is happening.

If instead of using a diagonal shot, you had the character turn around and look out into another direction from where they were sitting or if there was a jump cut then that would disturb continuity within your scene.

Managing Eyelines in Scenes.

In scenes where characters are talking with each other, you need to manage where and how people are looking at each other. For example, if you were to shoot a scene between two characters who are sitting across from each other while following the 180-degree rule, then they would need to be looking at each other.

Instead of having them look in separate directions or worse have their eye lines cross over one another which creates that strange eye contact effect where it looks like both characters are looking at different parts of the screen.

This is why it’s important to manage eye lines in your scene and when you’re shooting a movie or video project, make sure that you’re managing them correctly by following the 180-degree rule!

Conclusion  When directors follow this guideline, they can create smooth edits and cuts for viewers which also help maintain continuity within their scenes. If you’re interested in learning more about how the 180-degree rule is used and why filmmakers tend to follow it, then this blog post by Jonny Elwyn covers that topic very well!

Directors should not cross over an imaginary line called the axis when they are shooting.

jump cut - next level filmmaker
jump cut - next level filmmaker
jump cut - next level filmmaker

Camera Movement & Manage Moving Objects

If a director moves over or across the axis, it can create an awkward cut. Maintaining continuity between shots is one of the main reasons why directors follow this rule. If you were to shoot across the axis, then that would create major changes in camera angles and perspectives for viewers which could make them feel confused about what is happening and what direction things are moving.

Managing cars, for instance, is another great way to maintain continuity. If you were shooting a car driving down the road, and it was crossing over an axis, then that would break continuity because if your camera angles are moving up or down as they cross over one direction of the axis then viewers could feel confused about what is happening in your scene.

To avoid this issue, it is best to have the car’s direction of movement stay along a single axis as you shoot this scene. If instead, there was a sudden jump in camera placement and action that follows the shot then that could create an awkward cut for viewers because they would have to adjust and reinterpret what happens within your scene.

Can You Break the 180 Degree Rule?

While it is a good idea to follow the 180 degree rule, in certain cases you can break this guideline if necessary. For instance, sometimes directors will purposely cross over an axis as they shoot their movie or video project to create specific effects and camera angles that suit what they are trying to do with each scene.

For example: in movies like the original Scarface there were a number of scenes where the director purposely crossed over an axis.

Scarface - Next Level Filmmaker

THis was done for the effect of creating an odd feeling that disorientates the viewer.

What’s more, some directors like Quentin Tarantino enjoy breaking this rule to achieve certain effects within their projects – and it has worked out quite well for them!

However: when you’re shooting your own project it is best to follow standard conventions like the 180 degree rule unless you have a specific reason to break it.

Nevertheless, if directors understand and follow this guideline then they can create smooth cuts for viewers while maintaining continuity within their scenes. Additionally: movies like The Godfather which are famous for following these conventions have had great success in the past!

Creative Ways Directors Break the 180-Degree Rule

While it can be a good idea to follow conventions like the 180-degree rule when you’re shooting your own project, sometimes directors will purposely break these guidelines in order to achieve specific camera angles and effects that they are looking for within a scene.

For instance: in the original Scarface, certain scenes were shot with characters crossing over an axis so that they would appear to be looking into or out of their own reflection! This can make viewers feel very confused about what is happening – but it also creates this surreal effect which makes sense given how disorienting the overall movie is.

In the case of Quentin Tarantino, for example, he has broken this rule more than once in his movies like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill to create unique effects within each scene – especially when it comes to shooting close-up shots!

While there are many cases where directors break these conventions as they shoot their project, it is best to follow them if you want your viewers to feel oriented about what they are watching.

In fact: movies like The Godfather have been praised for their adherence to these conventions and the success of this film has inspired many others in Hollywood!

Nevertheless, breaking these guidelines can be a good way to create interesting effects within your scene – but it is important to have a clear understanding as to how your viewers will interpret what they are watching.

Do you know how the 180-degree rule affects filmmaking? Do you think that directors should break these conventions in certain cases or stick with them all of the time? Please write about this topic!

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