Many filmmakers will tell you that the most important rule of filmmaking is that there are no rules. However, as a creative expression, I would argue that this statement differs between filmmakers. In the visual realm of filmmaking, all creative filmmakers have to grasp an understanding of the concept of screen direction. In my opinion, the screen direction has the potential to either make or break the overall quality of a film.
For example, most everyone finds that reading from left to right is most comfortable. Because we’ve been trained to consume information through reading in this direction, it has implications on how we watch films and interpret other forms of visual media. Generally speaking, it feels more comfortable when we watch sequences of shots that follow this same “left to right” rule.
As an illustration, imagine a person enters a scene of a film on the left side of the screen. If this person walks towards the right, the next shot should include them continuing to walk in a left to right motion. In subsequent scenes, the person would continue to enter through the left frame and walk in the direction of the right frame (as long as the direction and movement within the scene calls for it).
As a filmmaker, it’s your decision how you choose to present your story visually. However, it’s important to keep in mind that reversed direction (meaning right to left movement) can create a sense of tension within your film.
Although the audience cannot articulate their expectations to you, it’s important to remember that they have predetermined expectations of your film due to the precedents set by earlier films. Great filmmaking does not come naturally, so it’s important to know these rules and plan each shot in advance. Each shot in your film needs to be well thought out and intentional. There’s always room for spontaneity in filmmaking, but with the risk of breaking the rules comes the potential for technical errors.
If your intention is to film something unconventional, always have a strategy in place. There is a huge difference between strategically breaking the rules of traditional filmmaking and being a horrible filmmaker.
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