180 Degree Rule – Can I cross the line?
Let us consider you are watching a movie and there is a scene which shows a car running at a considerable speed. You see the car entering the left side of the frame and exit on the right side of the frame on a highway background. But now in the next shot without any transition you see the car entering the right side of the frame and exit on the left side. What would you feel? Would you feel disoriented in figuring out which side the car is going? And if the car is actually moving forward? Well to avoid this phenomenon the film making process has framed a guideline called as the 180 degree rule.
180 degree rule is going to be the topic for this week’s Friday Fundas. 180 degree rule refers to the spatial relationship between the characters on screen. Let us look a setup in which two characters are conversing with each other. There is an imaginary line called the axis that connects the two characters. As depicted in the figure below the camera could be placed on either side of this line. This is denoted by Camera A and Camera B.
The shots as taken by the Camera A and B are shown in the illustration of Shot A and Shot B respectively. You would see based on which side the camera is the characters left and right position changes. For instance the green person is on the left in shot A while in shot B he is on the right. If the scene involves dialogue between the two characters and then it is advised to keep the camera on one side of the 180 degree axis line. The camera can move to any position within the side but cannot jump over to the other side. If it jumps over to the other side then it causes the audience to get disoriented like our example on the car scene.
If the shot after the original shot has the camera on the other side of the line then it is called as the Reverse cut. This usually disorients the viewers and their ability to connect to the visuals is lost. However many directors have broken the 180 degree rule to give more conveying newer meanings. These are part of the new wave film making. At most care should be taken when breaking this rule. Some of the directors who had broken this rule and succeeded are Stanely Kubrick (Shining), Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) and the Wachowskis (The Matrix).
In the movie The Matrix the bullet time technique is used and while crossing the line the frame is frozen on that time and the logical arrangement of cameras produces a continuous motion to cross the line there by adjusting the orientation of the viewers as well. Many film makers use a buffer shot while crossing the line. The buffer shot would involve a shot along the 180 degree line which separates the two sides. This minimizes the jolt and help in re-orientation of the audience.
In the movie Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, Peter Jackson has crossed this line to show Gollum’s split personalities of the good and the bad. The shots in which the Gollum is speaking good, he is on the right side while the shot in which he speaks evil, he is on the left side.
180 degree rule is not a hard and fast rule but film makers should give due respect to this and use this diligently to produce a visual connect for the audience with the movie.
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