Is it Bad to Break the 180 Degree Rule for Filming?

Some call it “Crossing the line in film” and others call it, “breaking the 180 degree rule,” but for aspiring cinematographers are are just learning about the 180 degree rule and what it means in filmmaking, knowing when it’s okay to break the rules is tough to initially grasp. Crossing the imaginary line will happen at some point in your video production career, but understanding when it’s okay and why is incredibly important! Is it bad to break the 180 degree rule for filming?

Camera Crew

Not always! In fact, sometimes it’s incredibly valuable to cross the line and break the rules. Just as you have learned through English that the rules of language grammar exist as guidance and to establish working relationships between various words, sayings, and punctuation when telling a story, film grammar exists to dictate object relationships and the appropriate rules which provide filmmakers control over the images that they create.

What is the 180 Degree Rule?

Video Production Camera

Before we can explain how you would go about breaking the 180 degree rule for filming, it’s important to hammer out a clear explanation as to what this rule is. Some of the earliest aspiring cinematographers learn about the 180 degree rule in filmmaking because it’s one of the very first things that is taught in film school.

The goal of the 180 degree rule is to help you think visually about what you’re doing. The rule states that there are spatial relations between any two characters that are viewed on a screen. Using the 180 degree rule, an imaginary line exists between the two characters or between a character and an object, such that the camera exists on one side of the the imaginary axis or line and the characters or objects exist in a left/right relationship to one another.

Following the 180 Degree Rule

To better understand the 180 degree rule, and for you to fully understand what’s happening when you ask, “Is it bad to break the 180 degree rule for filming,” it’s important to visualize your line. Establishing your line and setting the stage for where you intend to set your camera with each subsequent setup is the first step. To follow the “rule” you’ll want to place your camera on the same side of the line with each setup.

When following the rules, one character or object will always move left and the other will always move right in a dialogue sequence. Keeping this imaginary dividing line between two actors or objects so that the camera operates to one side of the axis at all times essentially tells the brain that one character is always framed to the right of the other. Essentially, the cameras can move along a 180 degree axis from one side of the axis to the other, but never crossing the line.

Breaking the Rule

So, is it bad to break the 180 degree rule for filming? The answer is — not always! There are instances where it makes sense to break the rule and cross the line. Typically, doing so will create a jarring transition that leads the audience to feel or sense uneasiness as if something is not quite right.

Breaking the line signals to the viewer that something has gone wrong. As such, while it’s not always bad to break the rule, it’s important that you only break the rules when doing so is intentional and well-planned.

The best way to fully determine whether or not to break the 180 degree rule is to carefully examine your story and the meaning or emotions that will be built within your audience in breaking the rule. When you ask, “is it bad to break the 180 degree rule for filming,” the short answer is, “only if you’re breaking the rule without a clearly defined path and purpose!

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