The 180° Rule (And How to Break It)

The 180° Rule (And How to Break It)


One of the fundamental basics of filmmaking is
where to put the actors and where to put the camera. So over time, cinema has developed its own
language and conventions like the 180 Degree Rule. The rule establishes a line of action
between two or more characters. The camera can move anywhere on one
side of the line and the cuts will feel natural. Think of a normal conversation. – It’s an imaginary shooting line used
to place subjects before the camera. Here. The camera mustn’t cross over the line. If it does, then the cut can’t be matched up. It’s reversed. I’ll give you a little demonstration. Watch. See what happens? You’re facing the opposite direction. – Exactly, jumping the line will feel
awkward or a little unprofessional. The rule is designed so that the
audience understands spatial awareness. This person is here, and they stay here… …this person is here, and they stay here. And it establishes screen direction. If the person on the left looks to the right,
and the person on the right looks to the left, we know they’re looking at each other,
and that can be manipulated for comedy. – This works, right?
– Never better – The 180 Degree Rule doesn’t apply in two cases. First, if there’s only one character. While you don’t want to flip-flop all the time, theoretically you can do
anything with a single character, as long as you’re not giving the audience whiplash. And second, if there’s no cut. The rule exists because you’re trying to establish natural
spatial awareness using an artificial device like editing. People don’t naturally change perspectives this quickly. But if a scene happens in one shot, it’s not jarring
if characters are crossing the axis over and over, because it’s happening in real time. Another reason why we all love long takes. Otherwise you want to adhere to the rule. – All I got are rules. – But rules are meant to be broken, right? So before I talk about breaking tradition,
I want to show why breaking it badly is so bad. First, an example from my
student film Car Keys to Romance. It’s not great, but overall it’s pretty competent
except one place where I crossed the axis. Basically a time-traveller shows the
protagonist the woman he’s going to marry. – There she is. – That’s her? – Wow. I–I don’t know if I can go through with this.
– Yes you can. – The protagonist is looking to the right,
and the time-traveller is looking to the left. So you know they’re looking at each other. And since the scene is about the
protagonist meeting the love of his life, it’s important that they have an axis too. The problem is when I cut to the
love interest I crossed the axis, and now the shot implies that she’s
looking at the time-traveler instead. It’s not terrible because I
established where everyone is, but it would be better if the
characters actually looked at each other. But the inspiration for this video
came from this scene in Broken City. Take a look. – What could I do? I was just a kid. A couple of years ago, I heard
Ingrisano got himself in some legal trouble, the kind of trouble another guy
could get himself out of easily. So I got involved. Now… …he scratches his ass without
permission, he spends a week in Rikers. – Did you catch that? Now, this scene is full of edits
that are really ugly to look at. The cuts are jarring because the camera
is creating a circle around the characters. The scene was probably filmed in one
motion and it was butchered in editing. The problem is we innately know the path of the
camera and where the characters are supposed to be. The velocity and the direction are established. But almost every time it cuts, we’re
moving somewhere else in the circle. It’s like the camera crabs past the characters,
and the axis changes in real time, and then– –OH! We’re back to where we were two
seconds ago…only to cross over again. – And you are beautiful. – Now, let’s look at a great example of
how to edit around a spinning camera. So the camera is constantly
crossing the axis in one shot, in real time, which like I
said earlier is not a problem. But where does the editor Lee Smith finally cut in? Here. The edit happens when both
shots are on the same side of the axis, so it doesn’t feel abrupt
when the perspective changes. It’s also edited on a particular action, when the
Joker grabs Rachel and threatens her with a knife. So even though the shot
changes, it feels like one motion. And when the shot goes back to spinning, it starts
on the same side before it crosses the line again. It basically keeps up this pattern every time it cuts,
and it always happens on the same side, so when you’re watching it, you’re
not really seeing the edit; it fades away. When the edit is bad, it stands out. – I say yes. – And it’s probably a sign that
the filmmaking overall is subpar. But in the hands of a great director,
breaking the rule can be really powerful. – (Cantonese) – (Cantonese) – So why break it at all? Usually three reasons. To challenge conventions,
a change in story, or visual variety. The stick-it-to-the-man policy was
popularized by the French New Wave, a series of films that proved you
could defy Hollywood conventions. In Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, he experiments
with jump cuts and breaking the 180 Degree Rule. – (French) – [ GUNSHOT ] This attempt to break conservative
paradigms bleeds into the Dogme 95 movement, popularized by Lars von Trier with his
handheld documentary-like cinematography. And he breaks the 180 Degree Rule all the time. – On the contrary… …grief… …it’s–it’s not a disease,
it’s a natural healthy reaction. – You could say they’re not seeing eye to eye. Filmmakers are allowed to do anything,
but it doesn’t mean the audience will accept it. I think intentional errors are sold by: one,
using incorrect techniques to make a statement. If it’s supposed to be there, then it has a purpose. So if it calls attention to itself…good. – It’s like a thought, isn’t it? – And two, these films are consistently inconsistent,
therefore giving the piece overall a recognizable style. If one scene is bad in an otherwise
conventional film, I call that a mistake. But experimental filmmakers aren’t the only
ones who break rules, they’re just obvious about it. How do other filmmakers
break rules and get away with it? Well like I mentioned, a lot of films
cross the axis when there’s a shift in story. If something jarring happens in a conversation,
then a jarring cut is appropriate. – That’s a nice fairy tale, but Wakanda is a third
world country and you stole all their vibranium. – I stole–
[ LAUGHS ] [ LAUGHS ] – ALL OF IT?! – Sign here, Mister Begbie. – I didn’t know you’d served in the army. – I huvnae. How could I? I’ve been in fucking jail for twenty years,
you not fucking notice?! – Of course! Of course. – In a scene in Skyfall, Bond is facing the right,
and behind the two-way mirror, M is facing the left. Bond participates in word
association until he hears: (Doctor): Skyfall. – Then we cut to the shot of M, and now
she’s facing the right, a complete 180 flip. Later we go back to the established set up. So we subconsciously feel like something
significant happened based on the visual storytelling. And this works really well in dream sequences
to let you know that something’s wrong. – Are you dreaming in their language? – In an attempt to try and see how can we cut this
scene in the shortest and most economical way, we just bashed together some sections of it. And for example, the first cut was
from Ian to Ian, a really ugly jump cut. I mean something so overtly wrong:
his head is down–his head is up and he’s talking. And it was just the accident you have
when you’re just throwing things together. – When’s the last time you saw Mulwray? – And listen to Robert Towne
and David Fincher discuss Chinatown. (Towne): The revelation that he knows that
John Huston has seen Mul–has seen Mulwray… (Fincher): Yeah. (Towne): …Jack reveals it on his back
so we get to see Houston’s reaction. – Do you remember the last time you saw Mulwray? (Fincher): And the beauty of it is of course,
it comes off a direct reverse, which of course… …children, don’t try this at home… …you never go from one side of a conversation to
the other side where the two people change places. But in a weird way, by changing places and by
occupying the space that the one occupied before, we’re now seeing something
that Nicholson isn’t seeing. And it’s the only time actually that
we see something that he isn’t seeing. – Crossing the line can be intense
like deciding to murder someone. – Dogs get put down. – Or subtle like finally installing
your operating system. (Computer): Please wait as your
individualized operating system is initiated. – The easiest way to break
the line is to do it in-camera, which isn’t technically a break,
but I still think it’s worth mentioning In Requiem for a Dream, Harry
makes a discovery about his mother. – [ TEETH GRINDING ] – Hey, Ma. – You on uppers?
– What? – We cross the line a few times throughout the scene,
mostly when Sara stands up or sits down. So editing on action is really important. In Fatal Attraction, the camera shifts when their polite
lunch transitions into a conversation about discretion, signaling the viewer to pay attention. – Ah, it’s funny being a lawyer,
you know it’s like being a doctor. Everybody’s telling you their innermost secrets. – You must have to be discreet.
– Oh God, yeah. – Are you? – In an episode of Peaky Blinders,
gangster and policemen go head-to-head. – How can we be on the same
side when I see things like this? – We establish a rhythm for a few minutes
until Thomas changes the conversation. – I have what you’re looking for. – And we cut to a reaction shot
on the opposite side of the axis. – I have the guns. – What guns? – There are a couple of shots of
Thomas that are back on the other side, but he quickly stands up, and the rest of
the scene takes place on the opposite side. And the camera moves just to sell it. Shot design really helps jumping around. If you cut from an
establishing shot to a close-up, the change in distance is more
noticeable than the change in screen direction. Or you can use something called a neutral shot. Eventually the conversation jumps back to
the original side when the tension is released. And the two shots before it are almost
so straight on that it switches over easily. You can see the same effect in Her, starting on one side, using a flat shot of the computer,
then cutting to the other side. But neutral shots work best when
you cut between two neutral shots. The Shining not only illustrates an uncanny
story moment, but cutting from front to back, especially if it’s the same
distance, makes sense. This kind of shot design is all over the Before Trilogy, where the characters mostly have conversations while
they walk, and the camera tracks them front to back. And I think when characters
face the same direction, the axis doesn’t really exist anymore,
and they kind of become one person. I’ve talked about the line between
characters and screen direction. And usually those two ideas go together. A character on the left will probably look left to right. And no matter where the camera is, if it stays on the same side, the character will still be looking left to right. But when characters face the same direction,
even if the camera stays on the same side, their screen direction is going to change,
so it kind of throws out the rulebook. It’s interesting that Satoshi Kon
explains the 180 Degree Rule in the theater, because I don’t think this cut is as
awkward as the character describes, because they’re facing the same direction. If this is about spatial awareness and flow, we know
what it’s like to sit in a theater, or a car…or a bar. – Well, we’d play faster if we could.
Yeah, I guess it’d just–come out like that. (James Mangold): To give you
an example, in this scene… …it’s very complicated, and a complicated
set of beats that move between the actors. If you notice, we’ve been shooting over
their backs, from behind them up to this point. We use the picture and the tilt up from
the picture to suddenly climb around them and be on the other side of the
counter, and now we’re inside them. – I got a little girl too. Her name’s Carlene.
Yeah, she’s about the same age. – At the end of the day, this is an illusion
and whatever improves the film is best. Sometimes it’s better to follow the rules. Sometimes it’s better to break them,
and a good filmmaker knows when. – I’m very strict about the axis.
I’m very academic about that. And–and I knew where I was gonna shoot it and
what axis I had established on the master before. And all of a sudden I go, “Eh, it’s not
the best side. I’m not that happy.” But you know, it’s
admissible. It’s in the movie. – And that’s what filmmaking is: putting a lot of effort
into devices that will go unnoticed by most people. Or if they do notice it,
it better mean something.

41 thoughts on “The 180° Rule (And How to Break It)”

  1. Another great and informative video! I honestly didn't know anything about this rule, but now I can see how effective breaking it can be, both good and bad. Your use of clips, visuals, and explanations makes it so entertaining to learn something new about film-making. Thanks!

  2. Excellent video!! I think this is one of the best videos I've found on something related to filmmaking. I also really appreciate how you used the little "ding" and red circle to point out every time a scene broke the rule because my untrained eye would probably have missed a lot of those lol

  3. It does apply when there is just one character, because if the one character walks there is an axis, if you break it the character walks the opposite way. And its like in the Her example, he is alone and the change of side means something

  4. When characters are in movement facing the same direction, you have to axis the action axis between characters and the travel axis, so there is a change of camara within the travel axis line, so not really breaking the rule

  5. I think many people notice the small details but on a subconscious level even though they don't know what makes them feel certain ways about certain movies and or scenes consciously. Likewise how the 180 rule and other rules in film it feels natural to the viewers but they don't know why if they had to answer.

  6. The most important thing videos like this leave out is. The 180 degree rule is great for editing. But when shooting you just take every angle you can get. So much time is wasted on discussion weather an angle is good or bad or can be used. Just do it. But be sure to have your masters.

  7. HEAT has a very similar scene as your WALK THE LINE example. Neil is at the counter reading and Eady begins asking him about his book. When he gets too defensive, the camera rotates around Eady, and Neil apologizes and opens up to her.

  8. Great video. Consider me subscribed.

    I'd love more videos on "film techniques" and "history" as well. I like this, because it shows a catalog of sensible design indices.

  9. I knew the rules, I knew what I was suppose to do but I didn't, I was compelled to break that rule. The character spun on a bar stool and while she spun around I put my camera to the complete other side while she spun from bartender POV to patron POV. Cutting on action help lessen the confusion.

  10. There's a great one in Ex Machina. Two-person outdoor scene with Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac. Master establishes the setting, then reverse mid-shots crossing the line with each cut. Alex Garland's directorial debut so I'm not sure whether he just didn't know about the rule or intentionally flouted it; either way, it works.

  11. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svejkenpjJU&ab_channel=KikeNarcea

    A short (in spanish haha) about a gal jumping the line and her friend getting angry for it. I don't know, something stupid about the subject

  12. I've always been of the opinion that you can break the 180 degree rule for any reason you damn well please.

    Just as long as that reason is in fact any actual reason and not some clumsy whim that's going to ruin your editor's life later.
    And if it must suck, at least it sucks deliberately.

  13. One of my favorite examples of breaking this was in the 2003 FMA in the conversation between Edward and Dante. They use so many different camera angles, everything from spinning around the characters to fish-eye, completely obliterating the 180-degree rule, and it works perfectly because their conversation is entirely about analyzing life philosophically and it's an argument back and forth as to which perspective is right. As they change perspectives and power, the camera angles change and twist around until the audience is just as dizzy as Edward feels by end of the conversation.

  14. There are two lines tho and a shot can be set up for either line

    The scene at 4:23 was set up where the relevant axis is actually perpendicular to the standard axis it breaks the leter of the rule but not the spirit.

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