I just saw this post on Reddit:
Christopher Nolan breaks the 180 degree rule in The Dark Knight
Can anyone explain why he did it, and also why it works?
I’m new to film making, and I’ve been told that this rule is a rule that you shouldn’t break. But after seeing that Christopher Nolan breaks this rule, I am left confused.
The replies ranged from “There ain’t no rules” to “He was trying to get into the psychology of the Joker and blah blah bliddy blah.” But here’s the truth– shit happens.
I didn’t work on The Dark Knight, but just by watching the camera movement, you can tell how it was shot. The camera was placed over Batman’s right shoulder, slowly drifting to the left as they spoke. Then they turned around, put the camera over Joker’s left shoulder, and slowly drifted right.1
The cameras pass behind their respective characters at almost the same time, but since they weren’t shot simultaneously (each camera would’ve seen the other, obviously), it’s unlikely that they’d be perfectly in sync, no matter how good the dolly grip was.
The fact that they were so close implies that the filmmakers intended to not jump over the line, but rather slide across it during the conversation. Maybe one or two takes even matched. But in the end, the editor, director, and anyone else with input decided that the performances trumped the rule violation.
The camera movement hides the jump a little bit, since we, the audience, are anticipating crossing behind the character’s heads, anyway. The fact that it is the Joker we’re talking about means you can do crazy things and get away with it. In the end, most people probably never even noticed. It certainly didn’t bug me until ilikefruitydrinks pointed it out.
But we’ve had auteur theory crammed down our throats for so long that young, aspiring filmmakers (and, sadly, many film critics) really believe that every single shot and cut is filled with intention and purpose.
That’s simply untrue.
There’s only so many hours in a day, and therefore only so many setups can be shot. Even David Fincher has to call out “Print! Moving on!” at some point. We don’t always get it perfect. Compromises will be made.
A lot of times, the mistake you see in a film really is that– a mistake. Then, in the cold darkness of the editing bay, the post team has to figure out how to make a film with the footage they have, not the shots they intended to get.
This isn’t what people mean when they say “fix it in post;” this is standard filmmaking. Every movie, from your first short film to the most expensive Hollywood blockbuster, is a series of compromises. Sometimes we call those compromises “collaboration;” sometimes we call them “fuck ups.”
So don’t look at a movie and assume everything about it was the way the director intended. Because it’s just not.
Some of it is, but some it is just shit that happened.