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Crossing the line/180 degree rule broken


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#1 Ed Barton

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Posted 14 May 2010 - 08:21 AM

New to the forums and still learning but it'd be good to hear opinions on the following.

Ever since I've started learning cinematography, camera work, directing etc. the one thing that has always been drummed in is never to cross the line/break the 180 degree rule, particularly when shooting conversations. I understand that there are exceptions to this but largely it's one of those rules you'll rarely or never break.

So why is it that you can still see it on TV? I've just been catching up on House series 6 and in episode 18, there's a conversation shot as a 2 shot side-on, Thirteen left in frame, Foreman on the right, cut with the reverse angle (Thirteen right in frame, Foreman left). Shot sizes are identical, they just jump from one side of the frame to the other. To me this looks weird, why wouldn't any of the massive crew on House have picked this up?

So I guess my questions are as follows: Are there exceptions to this rule that I'm missing and if not how do they get away with it/not notice?
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 14 May 2010 - 11:42 AM

You're being overly picky or sensitive to the issue now.

The "rule" exists for one reason only -- to avoid confusion. If the audience isn't confused as to who is talking to whom, or where they are going, then it's not that critical.

Therefore in group shots, it becomes less critical than in single close-ups. I doubt in that episode of "House" you saw that two close-ups to two people talking to each other had them looking in the wrong directions. But in group shots where the people talking and listening are in the same frame, it matters less if you cut to a dead reverse angle on the room and people are flipped in their screen position.

For example, intercutting two people sitting side-by-side in a moving car talking -- for one thing, the backgrounds are going in opposite directions naturally for each person in the side angles, but you could also cut from looking through the front windshield to looking from the back seat (basically crossing the line) and no audience member is going to be confused as to who is talking to whom.

Not to mention, a little visual confusion in a dramatic scene is sometimes OK.

Look at this scene in "The Shining" -- Kubrick shoots wide shots from both directions, a 180 degree flip, crossing the line -- but he picks a screen direction to match close-ups on:

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#3 Tom Jensen

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Posted 14 May 2010 - 11:44 AM

It depends. Many people cross the line and depending on the action and the sequence you will see it if you are paying attention. The line establishes geography. Visually it should make sense but often times it's what the director wants. You better believe that on a show as big as house more than one person will notice it. Sometimes mistakes are made. If a shot is picked up later in the day it could get overlooked, a script supervisor may have written the wrong thing down, the editor may have made the decision, sometimes the director just doesn't care. I, personally, think the line should not be crossed under normal circumstances and you should assume your logic is correct.
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#4 Tom Jensen

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Posted 14 May 2010 - 11:51 AM

David, those are great examples. Once screen direction has been established in the close-up, you normally wouldn't cross the line if you were doing overs. I used to pretend I was a dolly or a steadicam and make the move around to the other side to figure out actor positioning or screen direction for the reverse.

Edited by Tom Jensen, 14 May 2010 - 11:56 AM.

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#5 George Ebersole

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Posted 14 May 2010 - 12:10 PM

Yeah, as long as you're not all over the place, and the audience has their bearings, you're okay. More of a guideline than a rule.
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#6 Rob Vogt

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Posted 14 May 2010 - 12:23 PM

Here's a scene from a film I shot a little while ago. I tried to cross the line in every scene. Sorry for the jumpiness in the first shot, the actress in the background didn't wait for action and we added a shot to the beggining anyway that was filmed on a different day, an XCU of the coffee being poured.
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#7 Dominic Case

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Posted 14 May 2010 - 11:13 PM

I think the don't cross the line" rule goes back to a much earlier period of filmmaking, when audiences were less sophisticated. It was there to avoid confusion, right back when the audience was used to much longer shots, even complete scenes in one wide shot. All this chopping and changing could be confusing. It goes along with avoiding jump cuts, seamless editing (as distinct from montage) maintaining story order (ie don't start the film with the ending, so popular now) and so on.

Today, it's a rule that it's good to know, and good to be able to break so long as the final result isn't confusing (as others have said).

Though God knows some films are confusing enough regardless of the 180 degree line.
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#8 timHealy

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Posted 16 May 2010 - 10:58 AM

One example I always looked at for keep the lines between multiple actors straight was the scene in Aliens where everyone is seated and eating breakfast. Multiple actors talking to each other and they never crossed the line. But more recently there have been plenty of examples of crossing the line, sometimes for an effect, or as David said as long as it is not confusing.

best

Tim
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#9 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 28 May 2010 - 11:32 AM

Like Dominic said - it almost is a rule you can forget about these days as audiences have become accustomed to the film language.

I actively try to brake it in non narrative work if I can.

But I must say it brings me extra joy when I see real pro's at work - when a line is brought over to the "wrong" side with a character move or a dolly move in a complicated setup. I love that, but unfortunately
that asks that the director knows his shit and can block down stuff. Most new directors can't or won't do that as they want to have all the options open to them and make the film in the edit. So they play safe and stay on the same side so they can cut the hell out of it. The result you see every night on TV; ping pong cutting between talking heads. Safe. Boring. Sloppy.

I wish more directors were as good at this as Spielberg, Scorsese. Or McTiernan for that matter.
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#10 Karel Bata

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Posted 28 May 2010 - 01:09 PM

when a line is brought over to the "wrong" side with a character move or a dolly move in a complicated setup


Then you're not crossing the line are you? :huh: You only cross the line during an edit.
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#11 Mark Dunn

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Posted 28 May 2010 - 01:28 PM

Never mind the discussion.
David, thanks for just posting those frame enlargements.
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#12 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 29 May 2010 - 01:57 PM


But I must say it brings me extra joy when I see real pro's at work - when a line is brought over to the "wrong" side with a character move or a dolly move in a complicated setup. I love that, but unfortunately
that asks that the director knows his shit and can block down stuff. Most new directors can't or won't do that as they want to have all the options open to them and make the film in the edit. So they play safe and stay on the same side so they can cut the hell out of it. The result you see every night on TV; ping pong cutting between talking heads. Safe. Boring. Sloppy.


Way back in Sandy Mackendrick's classes, he told us that on 'The Sweet Smell of Success', he would constantly have dolly moves that crossed the "line" so that the producers couldn't edit
the scenes differently from what he had planned.
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#13 Karel Bata

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Posted 29 May 2010 - 06:27 PM

Wow. That sounds paranoid. :lol:

But fact is, he didn't "cross" the line. He kept moving it around. If you have two characters, one left one right, and the camera dollies around them so they are now right and left, the editor has no choice but to leave the move in, and also can't (for example) move a close-up from the beginning of the sequence to the end. If he did it would be his edit that was crossing the line.

Perhaps we're just disagreeing about terminology here. We're not alone. I've heard the most extraordinary arguments about this on set where everyone has a different idea of what 'the line' is and are convinced that they, and only they, are right.
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#14 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 30 May 2010 - 02:58 AM

The line can move during a scene using various methods, some of which have been mentioned.

There is even line crossing during TV ping pong dialogue - programmes like NCIS (during which there's a cut on every line spoken by an actor). I suspect they get away with it because there's not enough thinking time for the audience with the fast cuts, so they just go with the flow.
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#15 Tom Jensen

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Posted 30 May 2010 - 10:20 AM

When you cross the line during a dolly move, you aren't really crossing the line. You are establishing a new eye line and play your actors off of that when you edit.
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#16 Karel Bata

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Posted 30 May 2010 - 01:34 PM

Fact is, 'Crossing the line' is misnomer, since 'the line' is often crossed willy-nilly during a shot. It should be called 'jumping the line' since what we're talking about is when you jump across the line during an edit, such as in the cut between the first and second framing in David's example above from the The Shining.

Let me attempt a definition:
1 - "The line" is a line (in fact a plane that extends vertically above and below, and continues behind the characters) between the subject of a shot (the subject being what the audience's attention is on at the time) and the focus of that subject's attention at the time.
2 - The line can stay stationary, or may move during a shot as the actors move, and as the focus of their attention shifts. A camera move may shift the physical relationship between "the line" and the camera (the camera may even cross it) but the camera move will not itself move the line, only the camera's relationship to it.
3 - You can cross the line if you cut to another character that is not the subject's focus of attention. However if that new character's focus of attention is the previous shot's subject then you should treat this shot as if it has it's own line, which you should not have crossed in the edit.

Hence the classic example of the difficulty of editing a group around a table. They may be stationary, but the character being filmed may keep changing, and each time what they're looking at may keep shifting, so the line is moving all over the place! Add to that any camera movement. Hence the desirability of having something to cut away to, a 'kitchen sink' shot.

Phew! :D What do you reckon?
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#17 Karel Bata

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Posted 30 May 2010 - 01:37 PM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vulNlhUI6m0


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#18 Jim Hyslop

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Posted 30 May 2010 - 09:13 PM

Let me attempt a definition:
1 - "The line" is a line (in fact a plane that extends vertically above and below, and continues behind the characters) between the subject of a shot (the subject being what the audience's attention is on at the time) and the focus of that subject's attention at the time.

I like that definition - it's a lot more flexible than the usual definition involving two people.
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#19 Shane Foster

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 12:03 PM

I don't like the term 180degree line because it simply isn't there. It's not a line. It's not a geometric shape... For this reason I call it an eyeline. It isn't determined by camera placement, or by actor blocking. It is determined by where the characters are looking. If you are standing there having a conversation with 2 other people, when they are talking, you are on one side of them. You remain on this side if you or they stand still. So it makes sense that Person A (to your left) talking to person B (to your right) is looking at person B, then they are facing to the right of you... camera right. Likewise person B is looking at person A so they are facing to the left of you. This is what makes that cut ok. It's as if you stepped forward to see their face a bit more and are turning your head back and forth through out the conversation. What happens if Person B looks off to your right as a friend shows up from behind you? Well naturally you turn around and look off to the side (logically your right side) and see your friend approaching. This has just established a new eyeline because person B has crossed the camera with his eyes. The same is true if Person B walks to your left side (effectively crossing the 180/eyeline) or if you walk around, or between them moving to the other side. (the camera crossing the 180/eyeline) There are many great films that use this for more dynamic shooting. Crossing the 180/eyeline is an amazing tool as long as you know how to manipulate it so you aren't confusing the audience... Unless you want to. :) Anyway, I like to think of it as an eyeline because I think of the camera as an active character in the film... In fact it is... it is the audiences character!
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#20 Ram Shani

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Posted 28 July 2012 - 03:27 PM

what so great in this scene is that the cutting create the felling that jack is talking to him self (which he dose in the subtext )
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