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

Examples of shot / reverse shot in action

The Matrix (1999)

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 (1999) builds tension with increasingly tighter shot / reverse shots, and peaks with an insert shot of the red and blue pills:

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The first meeting between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) 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:

Director Jonathan Demme explains his choice of camera angles in the scene (via All The Right Movies):

The Closer Look offers a detailed breakdown of exactly how the scene manages to terrify us using basic film language:

… while Lessons from the Screenplay breaks down, beat by beat, what the dialogue is doing in the scene:

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

In the opening scene of Inglorious Basterds (2009), 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 (via emotiondesigner):

The Social Network (2010)

Cutting Concepts recreates the editing timeline of the opening dialogue scene in The Social Network (2010), to learn how pacing and selection are used to reflect (or are determined by) which character “controls” the scene:

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Steven Spielberg manages all four types of shots – master, single, single reverse, and insert – within a single unedited take, by using reframing, in the bar scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981):

Each of these scene builds tension through shot / reverse shot, peaks with its insert shot, and then concludes – as This Guy Edits explains, offering a bunch of tips for how to put these ideas into practice in your edit:

Further Viewing

The dramatic peak of a dialogue scene is often a close-up of an object. Here’s more about the what, how, and why of The Insert Shot:

An example of how not to cover dialogueKong: Skull Island (2017) 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:

How to break the 180 rule well – one of Bong Joon Ho‘s directorial trademarks, as particularly examined in Parasite (2019), is establishing a line and then crossing it – thematically, as well as technically:

More on the famous Spielberg Oner:

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