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180 Degree Rule    Noun, e.g., In “Final Destination 2” (2003), director David R. Ellis does not technically break the 180 Degree Rule circling Kimberly (A.J. Cook) and officer Burke (Michael Landes) in a panning shot.   

Definition: A rule in continuity editing that states the position of the camera should never change the right-to-left relationships of characters in a scene. The one exception is when the camera is panning, although too much of this can be dizzying if not confusing.  

History: It’s commonly assumed that the rule dates back to the beginning of cinema because breaking it so disorients an audience. However, directors as late as the early 1930s treated cinema as if they were directing theater; that is, they positioned cameras as if filming actors on a stage. Directors didn’t break the 180 Degree Rule because they didn’t think to do it.

Which leads some to believe the rule didn’t become part of the vocabulary until the 1930s when sound inspired such innovations as the over-the-shoulder shot (filming over the back shoulder of one person to show another person speaking). Trial-and-error quickly taught directors that shooting over one shoulder and then the next was an error.

And cutting room floors probably were strewn with “reverse angle” shots of combatants in 1930s Westerns and war movies. John Reed, a film editor and Vietnam infantry veteran, claims the greatest difference between war movies and real combat is that combat has no 180 Degree Rule. In movies, he said, we always follow soldiers forward toward the “enemy line.”  In combat, seeing comrades fall, soldiers hit the ground and, if inexperienced, tend to return fire in the direction they were heading. Discombobulating is the possibility they are being fired on from behind. 

Related Topics:    Framing     Dutch angle     POV shot    30 Degree Rule

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