Film School: Shot / Reverse Shot, and the 180 Rule

180 degree rule (via Film Editing Techniques) 180 degree rule (via Film Editing Techniques)

The filmmaker’s guide to shooting dialogue.

Dialogue is conventionally covered with mirroring shots, known as shot / reverse shot – described here by Every Frame A Painting:

The 180 degree rule is a guide to shooting dialogue so that:
• the individual shots cut together
• the viewer doesn’t become disoriented in the space where the scene takes place

180 degree rule
180 degree rule (via Film and Editing Techniques)

Examples of shot / reverse shot in action

Watch the way each of these scenes builds tension through having the camera get closer to each subject as it progresses. This scene from The Matrix builds tension with increasingly tighter shot / reverse shots, and peaks with an insert shot of the red and blue pills:

The first meeting between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs builds tension as the camera moves not only closer to each character’s face, but right onto the 180 line itself. In this sequence, instead of using a separate insert shot, the camera instead tilts upward – or reframes – to the holes in Hannibal’s window:

In the opening scene of Inglorious Basterds, director Quentin Tarantino creates tension by adhering strictly to the 180 rule – then ups the tension by deliberately breaking it, and taking us with him as he crosses the line (this version also shows the script, courtesy of Screenplayed):

Each of these scene builds tension through shot / reverse shot, peaks with its insert shot, and then concludes – as per the diagram above, courtesy of This Guy Edits, who has a bunch of tips for how to put these ideas into practice in your edit – which we look at over here:

Further Viewing

An example of how not to cover dialogue: Kong: Skull Island features problems in both its production and post-production – shots which in themselves are disorienting, edited together in ways which exhaust the viewer’s eye (and which we discuss further here):