Screen Direction: Hitchcock

Screen direction is a vital part of creating any form of video whether it be a feature, short film or student project. It’s a basic technique taught in video production classes. Screen direction is the direction actors appear to be moving, or facing, and is key if you want the audience to know what’s going on in the shot. Watch the video below for an excellent example of screen direction from the movie “Strangers On a Train” by Hitchcock.

The only reason this sequence works is because they deliberately shot one man walking towards the left side of the frame, and the other man walking towards the right side of the frame giving off the appearance that they are getting closer and closer to each other. What if both men were walking from left to right? The effect would be completely different, and to the audience, it might look like one man is following the other. One of the biggest ways to pull your audience out of the story is to have bad screen direction. It’s up to you to lead their emotions and pull.

Another good example of when screen direction is vital is when filming a conversation. When two characters are talking, you never want to unintentionally break the 180 degree rule. The purpose of the 180 degree rule is to keep the audience oriented and is broken mostly when a conversation is taking place. Below is a diagram of the 180 degree rule. This set up has two over the shoulder shots and a single shot of both actors. The idea of the rule is that you can have free range to move the camera anywhere within the green side of the characters. Passing over to the red side, in most cases, is confusing and makes it seem like the actor is facing a different direction.

Check out the video below for more explanation of the 180 degree rule and screen direction.

Now that you know these basic storytelling rules, you can use them and break them in order to tell your story the best way possible!

Josh Layton

Josh Layton is a 21-year-old cinematography student  from Pennsylvania. He attends school at Center for Creative Media, a Christian film school in Tyler, TX. He draws much of his inspiration from adventure and being in nature. He sites bacon as one of his greatest creative muses.

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