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The 180 Degree Rule is a facet of continuity editing. It is the notion that the camera should stay within a semicircle on one side of the action in order to maintain consistent screen direction.[1]

The 180 Degree Rule

The 180 degree rule gets its name from the 180º range of motion a camera has on one side of the action. The camera may move anywhere within the
Diagram illustrating the 180º Rule (Wikimedia Commons)
Diagram illustrating the 180º Rule (Wikimedia Commons)
established semi-circle, 180º from the "axis of action." For example, when shooting a conversation between two people facing each other, the axis of action is an infinite line that connects their two faces. Crossing this line would confuse the viewer because the directions established for the action have changed.[2] According to Joseph D. Anderson, humans generally operate under the assumption that "moving objects will continue to move in the same direction unless we see them change direction."[3]

This aspect of continuity editing, as well as continuity editing as a whole, contributes to the notion that incorporated into a film is an "invisible observer," one who sits behind the 180º axis of action and watches the action, as a member of a stage audience watches a play.

Using the 180 Degree Rule

As observed before, the 180 degree rule can be used in shots including conversations to provide the action with continuity. The 180 degree rule also applies to more action-oriented shots. For example, if a person filming a football game placed a camera on both ends of the stadium and alternated between them, the orientation of direction would change. Each shot from the two different cameras would fea
The 180º Rule in "My Gal Friday" (Wac6arts)
The 180º Rule in "My Gal Friday" (Wac6arts)
ture the action moving in the opposite direction. A player running towards the north endzone would suddenly appear to be running towards the south endzone when the cameras switched. Such directing violates the 180 degree rule, and confuses the viewer.[4]

Similarly, in a scene featuring a car chase, if the car exits the shot on the right side, it should enter the next shot from the left side. If it exits from the right side and enters again on the right side, it would appear to be going in the opposite direction.[5] [6]

Breaking the 180 Degree Rule

Many renowned directors have broken the 180 degree rule while still successfully portraying their subjects. In the 1930s, Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu consistently broke the 180 degree rule, instead choosing to film in a full 360º circle, with the camera consistently rotating. Ozu edited as much for visual pattern as for dramatic emphasis, creating graphic matches using his 360º technique.[7] In 2002's Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, director Peter Jackson violates the 180 degree rule in order to simulate a character's conversation with his own split personality. By breaking the axis of action, the character Gollum clearly seems to be having a conversation with itself, employing the standard shot - reverse shot technique typical for conversations, but with the same character in both shots.[8] [9]

Edward Brannigan also talks about the practical, more straightforward values of breaking the 180 degree rule. Breaking the 180 degree rule provides the opportunity for the filmmaker to transition into a different situation, whether it be a new geographical location or a new narrative circumstance.[10]

External Links

180 Degree Rule


Moviemaking Techniques 180 Degree Rule


Thompson, Kristin and David Bordwell (2003). Film History: An Introduction. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. ISBN: 0-07-338613-3


  1. ^ Thompson and Bordwell, Film History, p. 38.
  2. ^ The 180 Degree Axis rule and coverage. Retrieved 10/27/09
  3. ^ Anderson, The Reality of Illusion: An Ecological Approach to Cognitive Film Theory, p.102
  4. ^ eHow. How to Use the Filmmaker's 180 Degree Rule. Retrieved 10/27/09.
  5. ^ Everything2. 180 Degree rule. Retrieved 10/27/09.
  6. ^ Wikipedia. 180 degree rule. Retrieved 10/27/09.
  7. ^ Thompson and Bordwell, Film History, p. 229.
  8. ^ Everything2. 180 degree rule. Retrieved 10/27/09.
  9. ^ Wikipedia. 180 degree rule. Retrieved 10/27/09.
  10. ^ Brannigan, Narrative Comprehension and Film, p. 138