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180 degree rule

What is the 180 degree rule?

The 180 degree rule is a filmmaking technique that helps an audience keep track of where characters are in a scene. When you have two people or two groups facing each other in the same shot, you have to establish a 180-degree angle, or a straight line, between them. When you’re filming your actors, you should stay on one side of this line.

When you have two actors in a scene, there are two basic shots possible:

  • Filming both actors in one frame, with them facing each other
  • Filming one actor from behind the other actor’s shoulder (single shot)

When filming a single shot, your actor shouldn’t be looking directly at the camera, but at the other actor. If Actor A is looking to the left, then Actor B needs to be looking to the right. If both actors are looking to the left for their single shots, the audience won’t know who they’re talking to. 

Moving the line

The 180 degree rule is a standard, but that doesn’t mean you can’t cross the line or move it sometimes. You can switch and film from the other side of the 180 line – as long as you flip the direction your actors are looking. Otherwise, it won’t make sense to the audience. 

Directors of large productions don’t want to have to take the time to find the 180 line and position the cameras for every scene. So they hire storyboard artists to do it for them. Independent filmmakers usually handle storyboarding on their own, however. 

The 180 degree rule in live streaming

The 180 camera rule applies to live streaming as well. Audiences are accustomed to watching movies or series on-screen that follow this rule, so they’ll expect to see it in live streams as well. Of course, how you follow the rule depends on the type of live stream you’re doing.

1. Multi-camera setup

Going from one camera to multiple can raise the quality of your live stream – but only if you do it correctly. A single camera following your subject is always better than several cameras creating disjointed angles.

How do you stick to the 180 degree rule with a multi-camera setup on a live stream? Make sure all of your cameras stay on one side of the line. When you’re filming the live stream, communicate often with your team to ensure that all the camera angles you’re capturing are different enough from each other to be interesting. 

2. Sports live streaming

The 180 rule is especially important in sports matches. In basketball or football, for example, you have two teams advancing toward each other from opposite ends of the court or field. You should set up your camera so each team is always moving toward their goal from the same direction on screen. If you have two cameras on opposite sides of the field, and you switch back and forth, viewers will get confused.

If you have to break the 180 degree rule because your sport’s action doesn’t take place in linear directions (golf, racing, baseball, roller derby, etc.), try to keep your camera angles consistent to avoid viewer confusion.

3. Live interviews

Interviews are one of the most common formats for live streaming. Following the 180 camera rule for an interview is simple if you have two people on screen. You position the two people across from each other, draw a line, and then don’t cross that line. 

What about interviews where the interviewer is off-screen? Do you still have to draw a line with only one subject in the shot? Yes! Even if there is only one person in the frame, a line still exists between the interviewer and the interviewee. Set up your cameras on one side of the line to avoid having your on-screen subject look off into different directions with each new shot.