Make Your Editor Happy with Screen Direction

Have you ever crossed the axis, and violated screen direction? Stop it!  

Ok, there are about 15-thousand reasons why you’ll do this. Relax, I’m here to help.  

A quick review just in case you don’t know what an axis in video production is and a few definitions.

Action Line – This imaginary line follows the direction that the people or objects are facing. 


If you keep your camera and people (or object) on one side of the action line, screen direction is never a problem.

  • Frame Left – indicates movement towards the left side of the screen.

  • Frame Right – indicates movement toward the right of the screen.

The story I’m going to use for this post is Slow, but Steady found on my Youtube page

The story starts out with a video that was given to us by Thunder Valley Motocross.  It’s a montage of shots from various races.

Even though this was given to me, I edited it with a screen direction in mind. Notice all shots from [:00] to [:11] are frame left.

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 There is one shot at [:11] in the full music montage I take from frame right.  Why?  When I’m in montage mode, I like to break the rules and go for the coolness of shots.  I liked the way the shots from frame left, and frame right worked.

After that montage, I go back to all shots frame left until I take the interview full at [:16].

Then all shots are frame right, back to the interview. After that, I tried to cluster several shots in which action is coming mostly straight at you. Some are frame left, and some are frame right, but because they are mostly head-on, I didn’t feel the direction change was too drastic to be visually unpleasant.

At [:38] is a shot of Kellie on the bike, followed by a shot of the wheel, followed by Kellie on a motorcycle going over a bump.  

I break screen direction with all three of these shots.  It works because they are all tight shots, I haven’t established any real screen direction, and it’s a mini-montage.

I want you to respect the guidelines of the screen direction.  I also want you to be creative and figure out ways to violate screen direction without it being visually jarring.

At [:40], Kellie and David are talking, getting her ready to ride.  

Screen Shot 2020-04-02 at 4.05.05 PM

The action line keeps David frame left and Kellie frame right. Pretty obvious. So, a bad idea would have been to all of a sudden start shooting from the other side of the axis.  

That would of put Kellie on the left side of the screen and David on the right.  That’s the type of screen violation you do want to avoid.  Keep people on the same active line unless you have a reason to break this.  Don’t just break your axis in this type of situation without a good reason.

Oh no!!! At [1:02], they switch sides.  

Screen Shot 2020-04-02 at 4.08.11 PM

Kellie is now frame left, and David is frame right.

Cutting those two shots together with the reverse in screen direction looks terrible, feels terrible, and I won’t do it.

Lucky for me, I have a pan-up that helps me get out of my reverse frame problem.  So, now the screen direction doesn’t look so bad.  You are going to run into screen direction problems all the time.  Find a solution.  It’ll make you better as an editor.

If you’re a videographer and this happens, remember to shoot yourself out of the problem.  You and your editor (again, maybe you) will thank you in the edit bay.  

Now, we cannot control David moving around, and sometimes we can control screen direction problems in the field. As an editor, it’s your job to make sure this doesn’t get in the way.

How do you do that?  

At [1:10], Dave is frame left.  I wait until he’s out of the shot to make the edit.

Screen Shot 2020-04-02 at 4.09.44 PM

Dave is now framed right.  I use a shot of Kellie’s hands and their torsos to make the jump less harsh.

Screen Shot 2020-04-02 at 4.10.24 PM

When Kellie finally starts riding the bike, she rides away from the camera.  Notice I take the edit when she slightly leans left to get her around and back.

From there on in the sequence, she’s always riding frame left.

Screen Shot 2020-04-02 at 4.12.10 PM

At [2:00], she reverses direction.  I use another pan up to help me get out of this looking too jarring.  Two pan-ups to get me out of screen direction problems.  Remember that.

The next 3 shots are frame right.  In the third shot, I allow her to turn in the shot.

Screen Shot 2020-04-02 at 4.12.45 PM

And now I can get her going frame left.

Screen Shot 2020-04-02 at 4.13.30 PM

At [2:22], I let her turn in the frame again, allowing me to get her going screen right again.  The reason why I turned her around back is that her final little post-interview she’s frame right.  I’m thinking ahead, making sure I don’t have a screen direction problem.  Yeah, you better be thinking ahead too!  

A 4 shot montage after the interview I break the screen direction rule (I mean guideline) again. Why?  I’m in montage mode and don’t follow the screen direction rule (That’s my own little rule or guidance).

  • Screen direction helps the viewer understand the visual realm you are creating.

  • The action line keeps people or objects on the right sides of the frame.

  • Imitate the eye.  People and objects don’t reverse screen direction in the real world, why do it in editing.

  • You can break screen direction, just understand the rule (or guideline) before you break it.

Thanks for reading.  Don’t forget to like The Edit Foundry on Facebook.