November 30, 2016

How to Follow the 180-Degree Rule While Shooting Coverage

It's easy to get disoriented while shooting coverage, which is why it's important to be able to conceptualize the 180-degree rule.

When you're shooting coverage, meaning capturing the scene from many different angles, it can get kind of dizzying and difficult to keep track of that all too important imaginary line that bisects the set, the line of action. Crossing said line would mean breaking the 180-degree rule, which can be cool if that's your intention, but pretty disastrous if it's not. Here to explain this concept and how to keep your marbles while shooting is Matthew Workman of Cinematography Database:

It's definitely crucial to understand this cinematic "rule", because the line of action helps keep the viewer oriented while watching the screen, and unintentionally crossing it could leave your audience confused as to what they're seeing—in one shot a character is facing screen left as they have a conversation, and in the next they're facing screen right. 

Of course, rules are meant to be broken, and plenty of filmmakers have broken the 180-degree rule to achieve different psychological and stylistic effects. One of the most notable examples comes from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, in which Jack Torrance has a conversation with Grady in the red bathroom. Kubrick does this to put the audience on edge; it's a visual representation of the madness Jack is falling into.

But, since this is a rule you'll probably be abiding by most of the time, it'd be helpful to orient yourself before you start shooting. Drawing up diagrams is a great way of seeing where the line of action is and planning out each shot in advance to avoid any mistakes.      

Your Comment

6 Comments

The Kubrick example at the bottom is a perfect demonstration of the confusion around this "rule". Cutting from a two-shot one side to a two-shot the other isn't remotely confusing and can be an excellent choice. Watch out for it and you'll see it happens quite often, in scenes that aren't anything to do with representing madness.

You'll notice when he cuts into the CU at the end, he doesn't break the line - at that point it *would* be confusing (not to mention visually ugly) so he doesn't do it.

November 30, 2016 at 8:43AM, Edited November 30, 8:43AM

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The 180-degree rule ticks me off to no end whenever I'm on set. In MANY cases--I'm tempted to say MOST--this rule DOES NOT APPLY.

The Kubrick scene is a perfect example. The two-shots are wide enough that we can see the room, and the mirrors on one side are different enough from the urinals on the other, that the cut isn't jarring or confusing at all. It has nothing to do with representing a descent into insanity. It's just a confident understanding of what the 180 rule really is.

The 180 degree rule applies ONLY when two characters are interacting, and ONLY if the geography of the room is not obvious in the composition. Put a desk between them, or a bed under them, or a wall beside them, and the rule DOES NOT APPLY.

I've had enough of 19-year-old film students think they're helpful on a set by pointing out a supposed 180-degree violation.

Confident filmmakers understand the rules and when they apply. Posers cling to the rules for protection.

November 30, 2016 at 12:54PM

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Agree 100%
there is nothing confusing about the Shining scene. I know exactly where I am looking and where the actors are. These 'rules' are, more-or-less, for people still trying to make film-school-films.
Can we please look forward to something different?

December 4, 2016 at 2:51AM

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Michael Ryan
Editor
88

Sorry to say but this is a bit confusing tutorial if you ask me. The rule is much easier to understand if you are taking about a dialogue between 2 people, which is what mostly happens in movies. In that case, as long as you stay on one side you can put the camera anywhere and you'll be pretty much okay. But with 3 people things get much more difficult. Like in the tutorial: person 1 and 2 talk to each other and then person 2 and 3 talk to each other. But what if person 1 and 3 talk to each other? In that case you already have to put a camera across both of the lines to get coverage.

Also, eye line has not much to do with camera placement. Eye line is mostly important when you do a close-up of an actor and for instance the other actor in the dialogue takes a break. In that case you want to make sure the actor has something to focus on at the same place the other actor was, like a stand-in or even a mark on a wall so the eyes don't go wondering off.

December 1, 2016 at 2:39AM

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Those headphones would work better if you removed your hoodie.

December 1, 2016 at 6:52PM, Edited December 1, 6:52PM

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dean cameron
survivor
8

Dude! get over yourself! what's with the clown microphones?

May 21, 2017 at 12:21AM

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Steve chase
Director
113