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Our Guide To Screen Direction

Photograph of the blog post author, Jodie Francis

Jodie Francis


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Would you like to learn about screen direction? Then welcome to our complete screen direction guide! Screen direction is an often overlooked part of filmmaking, and some people confuse it with other processes. It’s of vital importance to maintain the fluidity of a storyline.

screen direction

In this article, we will consider what is screen direction, why it’s beneficial for films, and some helpful rules to follow to help get you started. So, make sure that you keep reading to become an expert in screen direction!

What Is Screen Direction?

video camera

Screen direction is the direction that both objects and characters move in the scene you’re shooting in relation to the frame.

For example, on set, you could state that an object is moving camera left vs camera right. The terms camera left and screen left convey the same thing in screen direction. It’s important that you understand these terms. This way, you will ensure that the clarity of the scene isn’t lost in translation. 

Screen direction is a vital part of the continuity of motion in film. And the key to telling the story effectively. You may be familiar with the term ‘camera direction’ and this is a term that can be used interchangeably when it comes to screen direction. 

Why Screen Direction Is Important

film camera

So, why is screen direction important in film? Well, it is extremely beneficial to your overall film. Unless you’re making a film with zero motion involved, you will need to consider screen direction every step of the way.

You need to think about your camera direction and if you need to change screen orientation. Screen direction is vital to ensuring that your final product demonstrates consistent motion throughout. Keep reading as in the next section of our article, we will address some of the rules that you can use to ensure that you get your screen direction correct every time – without fail! 

It all comes down to making sure that everything is as simple for your viewer as possible. After all, you don’t want to confuse your viewer on the simplest of things. Simply due to incorrect screen direction. This could take them out of the story and negatively impact their opinion of your film. This is the last thing you want to happen. Everything needs to be smooth sailing!

Rules Of Screen Direction

screen direction

When it comes to the rules of screen direction, there are a few that we recommend following. We go into more detail about these below.

180-Degree Rule

Also sometimes referred to as the ‘line of action’ or the ‘motion vector line’, but most commonly referred to as the 180-degree rule.

This rule ensures that the characters are always moving or looking in the right direction when on the screen. Put simply, if an object is moving in a particular direction, or two characters are talking, you can draw an imaginary line through them in the particular direction that they are facing.

This rule ensures that the characters or objects are always going to be looking or moving in the correct screen direction. This is because the camera will never leave 180 degrees of space on any side of the line.

Top tip: if you are shooting a conversion scene between two characters then never place the camera over the imaginary line. Ensure that you stay put on the same side. That way the characters will always be looking the correct way, at each other. If the camera crosses the line this will result in them looking in the same direction. 

If you aren’t shooting a conversation, rather an action sequence like a car chase, then ensure that you keep the camera shooting on the same side as the action that’s occurring.

Of course, you will need to decide whether you wish to film the case from either the driver or the passenger’s perspective. And not move from that side of the car. You see, if you switch perspectives then the cars will look as if they are moving away from one another. Or, even crashing into each other. 

The same goes for a chase between your characters. You will need to choose if you want to shoot from the right or left side and remain with that side. While this rule may seem confusing at times, just remember to stick with one side.

Entering & Exiting The Frame 

Another rule to consider is how your characters enter and exit the frame. They will need to enter and exit it in the same direction. If this rule isn’t followed, then it may confuse and disorientate the audience that the character had sharply altered their direction between takes. Therefore, this applies to diagonal movement.

One key thing to keep in mind is that these types of shots can alter the sizing of things and create an imbalance. Particularly if there is a close-up shot and then a cut to where they are further away from it.

Ensure that the cut maintains the same size of the character in the head for the next scene or shot. 

Cutting On Action 

Finally, cutting on action is a great guideline to follow. This process can help to maintain the continuity of screen direction and maintain the correct feeling of movement through time.

So, when it comes to editing your film, it’s recommended that you make a cut when the actor has finished doing something. This is opposed to when they are getting ready to do something. So the action has already been completed for the scene. 

If your character is sitting down in the shot, then cut while they are moving their way down. As opposed to while they are standing above the seat. Making your cut on the action is also a great idea. This is because it will hide the cut and keep the focus of the audience from noticing the hard cut or transition

Furthermore, this process can also allow you to do something referred to as a parallel cut. This type of cut takes place between two actions that are similar. However, it will involve two different characters in two separate places.

An example of this could be a friend going to meet another friend. Friend A has to get in a lift and Friend B needs to walk through a door. You pick which angle to shoot from, either the left or the right, for each character and this can demonstrate that they are moving in the same direction.

Cutting on when they both open the door can create a feeling of speed, and it helps to move the story along in a simple, yet creative manner. This is a good example of all of the rules working together to help create a continuous storyline for the viewer to enjoy. 

Creative Uses Of Screen Direction

film crew

You can always get creative when it comes to screen direction. Using it can really help to make your film stand out from the crowd.

It’s important to ensure that you plan everything out before you consider how to change screen direction, and if it will positively impact your film.

You see, sometimes it’s a good thing to break the rules a little! However, it’s always good to learn the basics of a process before getting experimental. And screen direction is a great example of this!

So, how can you use screen direction creatively?

Use Screen Right & Screen Left

One idea could be using screen right and screen left to help indicate that a character is trying to make a decision. This can also convey confusion as well. Camera direction has the power to convey many psychological effects for the audience and the viewer will appreciate this.

For example, following the movements of a character from screen left to screen right will give the feeling of a natural process for the audience. This is because many countries read from the left to the right. And therefore it is a common and relatable form of movement for people already. 

If you turn this arguably comfortable movement on its head, then you could flip this around. This could turn a normal scene into something unsettling for the viewer if done correctly. Such a simple turn can psychologically impact the scene. This is a great tip for movies in the horror or thriller genre. Creepy visuals and feelings can be conveyed with a simple trick of camera and screen direction. 

Be A Rule Breaker

Why not also consider being a rule breaker? Although the 180-degree rule is extremely useful for the most part, sometimes rules need to be broken for a film to have the desired effect. After all, this can help to create a sense of chaos and an unsettling atmosphere.

Again, this is ideal for the thriller or horror genre. But it could be useful for any genre. It’s a great way to convey that your character is going through an emotional breakdown.

So, next time you create your film consider breaking the rules, just as much as following them!

Now You Know Everything About Screen Direction

man using screen direction

That completes our guide to screen direction! We hope that you enjoyed reading about screen direction and that you have learned something useful that you can apply to your future projects. Despite the fact that it’s not a hugely talked about subject, it’s vital for every shot that you make.

Before you film, make sure that you sit down and plan out all of your screen directions and put some serious thought into it. This can take your film to the next level. However, most importantly, it ensures that the film runs smoothly. And that the continuity of movement keeps the viewer invested in the storyline. 

Although learning the rules of screen direction is highly recommended (and important) you can also consider breaking them for the sake of your film. They are extremely useful guidelines, but the rules aren’t set in stone! Sit down and consider the ways in which you can break the rules where it will enhance your film and create feelings in the viewer. This is particularly relevant when it comes to making the viewer uncomfortable. Use storyboards to help ensure that your screen direction remains consistent. 

So, what are you waiting for? Get planning today and use screen direction to take your films to the next level! We would advise learning the basic principles of screen direction in the first instance, and then get more experimental once you become comfortable with the basics. 

Would you like to learn more about movies and the filmmaking process? Then make sure that you check out the blog here at Мusic Gateway! Here you can discover great articles like How to Become a Filmmaker, How to Write a Script, the most Famous Movie Props, and so much more! 

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