Most of the jump cuts in that clip are on the main character, Selma. The style of the cuts and the fact that the shots linger on Selma gives a very specific style to the scene. Think about how differently this scene would be if cut in a more continuous style.
The 180° Rule is an important concept to understand as an editor. The rule refers to the positioning of the actors and the camera with regard to the actor’s eyelines. The rule is that the camera should not cross the 180° line between actors when filming.
Look at the following drawing:
This is a bird’s eye view (also referred to as a ‘top-view’) of a scene between two actors facing one another. If you pretend there is a straight line between the two actors, then the rule is that the camera should not cross that line.
Here is another drawing that illustrates where the camera can move in order to stay on one side of the line.
The reason for this rule mostly has to do with the comfort level of an audience and the way in which audiences have become accustomed to filmic spatial relation.
If two characters are talking to one another, then one of them generally is framed on the left side with eyes looking right. The other character, in response, is framed on the right side with eyes looking left. Audiences have become familiar with this type of framing, and therefore if the line is broken, their understanding of the space in the scene can become confused. To illustrate, let’s imagine we have a scene in which two characters are facing one another directly. For setups, the plan is to get one shot of the two characters in the same frame, a close up shot of Actor 1, and a close up shot of Actor 2. An overhead view of this scene would look something like this:
Notice that in the drawing, all three of the shots are taken from only one side of the 180° line. This is correct. To follow the rule, no shots should be filmed from the opposite side of the line. Now let’s discuss how these shots would translate inside of the frame. The next three images correlate with the camera setups in the above drawing. Shot 1A would look something like this:
Note that Actor 1 is on the left side of the frame looking right and Actor 2 is on the right side of the frame looking left.
Shot 1B would look like this:
Note that just as in the two shot, in this shot Actor 2 is still on the right side of the frame looking left.
Shot 1C would look like this:
Again note that just as in the two shot, Actor 1 is still on the left side of the frame looking right. Though an average audience may not considered screen direction when watching a screen, audiences are subconsciously accustomed to seeing characters face one another. If two characters are conversing, they will usually be facing opposite directions in the frame. If you were to cross the 180° line while filming one of the close up shots, then both Actor 1 and Actor 2 would be facing the same direction in the frame. That may cause the audience to be confused about the spatial relationship of the characters in the space.
In the majority of film and television, the 180° Rule is followed. There are times, however, when a filmmaker may choose to break the rule on purpose, in order to create a sense of uneasiness in the viewer.
Let’s watch a scene that adheres to the 180° Rule and one that intentionally breaks the line.
In this first scene from Boyz in the Hood (1991), the 180° Rule is followed.
Notice that each character stays on one side of the frame and looks to the other side of the frame. The line is never crossed in this scene. In the second clip from Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003), the line is broken. See if you can spot where the filmmaker chooses to cross the line and then cross back to the original side of the line.
This scene contains a charged conversation between two characters. The line is intentionally broken by the filmmaker. Notice whether or not the cuts are jarring to you as you watch the clip. What effect do you think this is intended to have on an audience? As an editor it is important to understand this spatial relationship between the camera position and the actor’s eyeline. You may edit a project where the director crossed the line accidentally. In that case, you may be the person who points this mistake out to the director. You also may be involved in a film where the director intended to cross the line, so she or he tells you to insert the line cross at a certain point in the scene. Either way it is important that you learn to recognize instances when the rule is observed and when it is broken.