The 180 degree rule is one of the oldest rules in filmmaking, and without it your shots can be disjointed and disorientating. But breaking the 180 degree rule carefully in the right shots can make a scene more powerful and effective.
Working out the imaginary line of each scene and the instances where you would deliberately break the 180 degree line should be done at the planning stage, and incorporated into the storyboard. Waiting until the editing stage is too late, and some of your completed shots might look wrong if you use them.
See the 180 degree rule in action:
Credit – StudioBinder: The 180 Degree Rule in Film (and How to Break The Line)
Following the 180 degree rule in film
The 180 degree rule is the imaginary straight line you draw between two characters in a scene, and you keep your camera on the same side of that line.
Following this rule establishes orientation and screen direction. So, for example, where two characters sit on opposite sides of a small table, one actor looks camera right in each shot, while the other looks camera left, and to the viewer the eye line of each actor feels natural.
The 180 degree rule also applies if there are more than two characters in a scene. An example of this is a scene set in a theatre. Site the camera in the seats, where the camera takes in the conversation or facial expressions of the seated actors, and then swings round to face the actors on stage.
Breaking the 180 degree rule in film
Breaking the 180 degree rule in film means moving your camera across the imaginary line drawn between two subjects in a scene. It’s a useful way to cause a slight sense of disorentation in the viewer as they watch a scene of action, uncertainty or chaos.
When the rule is broken, the eyeline of the characters work differently. So you can now have two characters in dialogue across from each other, but they are both facing camera left, for example.
Or breaking the line can be the moment something between the two characters.
Bending the 180 degree rule in film
Bending the 180 degree rule in film means creating the invisible line in the establishing shot, inserting a quick neutral shot of something completely different to break the line, and then coming back to the scene from across the original imaginary line.
Or an actor can be placed on top of the imaginary line instead of the neutral shot, before the camera moves across to the other side.
Camera movement is another effective way to bend the 180 degree rule. Where the camera is initially placed, and where it moves to during the conversation, can reveal a character’s changing emotional reaction to the other person during the scene.
For most shots, you need to know where your invisible line is and keep your camera to one side of it. Incorporating the 180 degree rule into your storyboard planning means you’ll create frames with a believable actor eyeline.
But sometimes you’ll add extra depth to your screen image by bending or breaking the 180 degree rule, perhaps by jumping to opposite sides of the imaginary line, or with camera movements through it. Only do this intentionally, at the right moments to convey altered power in relationships, emotional reaction, or a sense of insecurity and danger.