What is the 180 Degree Rule?

by Katelynn Mitchell
Read time: 2 min
Posted 26 March 2021

The 180-Degree Rule is one of the first concepts beginners get to learn in film school, but for some reason, it's one of the hardest to follow.

Today, we will go indepth of the principle and learn when you should follow it and when it is good to break it. 

Let's start with the formal definition.


180 degree rulecommons.wikimedia.org

The 180 degree rule is a filmmaking guideline for spatial relations between two characters on screen. The 180 rule sets an imaginary axis, or eye line, between two characters or between a character and an object. By keeping the camera on one side of this imaginary axis, the characters maintain the same left/right relationship to each other, keeping the space of the scene orderly and easy to follow.

When the camera jumps over the invisible axis, this is known as crossing the line or breaking the line, and it can produce a disorienting and distracting effect on a viewer.

How to follow the 180 degree rule

The Wolf Of Wall Street / Matthew McConaughey and Leonardo DiCaprio

First of all you need to establish the line. Then you have to plan your shots in advance to prevent you from accidentally crossing the line. Decide which side of the line you will have each subsequent shot. When its the dialogue between only two people, it is usually a two-shot technique with both characters in the shot and then close-up shots of each character from the same point of view. This establishes and follows your imaginary line and never crosses it.

Make sure your characters eyeline matches. You want to place your characters as they are facing each other. The character on the right side should face camera-left, and the character on the left side should face camera-right. This is done so the viewer keeps a sense of how characters are orientated during the scene.

When to Break the 180 degree Rule

Ocean's 11 Restaurant Scene / George Clooney and Julia Roberts

This scene from Ocean's Eleven is a good example of when you can break the line. You can see that the first half of the video, the shots are taken from one side of the characters. But in the second half of the video the shots are taken from the other side. However, the viewer still keeps the sense of orientation, because there is a shot of both characters being in the frame inbetween.

So..can you break the 180-Degree Rule?

The 180 degree rule is like any other rule in the world. You can break it, but make sure you do it intentionally, only when it improves the scene.

Preview picture by @cottonbro / pexels.com

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