Film & TV

Film 101: What Are Eyelines? How to Use Eyeline Match to Tell a Story and Drive a Narrative

Written by MasterClass

Jun 26, 2019 • 3 min read

When shooting a film or video production, actors need to know where to look. Consistent eyelines affect continuity in editing, so it is important to consider eyelines in every shot.

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What Is an Eyeline in Film?

Eyelines are where actors look while acting in a scene. They help the audience understand what the character is looking at. Often, when an actor appears to be talking directly to another character, their eye line is directed at the camera, not at the other actor. Maintaining the right eyeline is an essential part of film acting technique—learn more about film acting here.

What Is Eyeline Match?

Eyeline match is a film editing technique to indicate to the audience what a character is seeing. Eyeline match allows the audience to believe that they’re looking at something through the eyes of the character. For example, you might see a character looks at someone or something outside of the frame. In the next shot, you’ll see exactly what the character sees, from the same angle they appear to see it.

Eyeline match also refers to an editing technique that ensures continuity of the characters’ gazes. It gives the illusion that the two characters are looking at each other. In a scene with multiple shots of different characters interacting, it must be clear who is looking at whom. This is achieved through having the actor focus on a mark—usually a pink X next to the camera lens— when shooting close ups. Characters are shown talking to one another in a wide shot, and then in the close up they look at the camera from the same angle that they previously looked at the other character, and the shots are intercut in post production.

Why Eyeline Match Matters

Eyeline match is essential for telling a coherent story on film. Consider, for example, Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rear Window, which makes frequent use of eyeline match. Jeff, the protagonist, often looks out of the rear window of his apartment to watch his neighbors in apartments across the street. Shots of Jeff looking at something out of frame are intercut with shots of the neighbors in their apartments, and because the eyelines match, you always understand that the neighbors are the focus of his gaze.

Without skillful eyeline matching, the audience will have trouble following who is interacting with whom and the story will fall flat.

Effective Eyeline Match Techniques

A director should consider these techniques for effective eyeline matching:

  • Matching close-ups: A framing technique that shoots two actors with the same camera lens, height, distance, and placement to make their eyelines match. When edited together, their matching eyelines reinforce to the audience that they’re looking at one another and engaged in conversation. Pay careful attention to actors’ heights; if one is significantly taller than another, you may need to adjust the camera angles to give the illusion that they’re looking at each other.
  • Shot reverse shot: An editing technique that indicates two characters are looking at each other, often with an over-the-shoulder shot. When the two shots are stitched together, their eyelines should match and it should be clear they’re looking at each other, even though you can only see one character at a time.
  • The 180-degree rule: A camera movement guideline that helps viewers understand how two characters stand and experience their surroundings in relation to one another. The 180-degree rule draws an imaginary axis between two characters. One side of the axis shows one character’s point of view, and the other side shows the other character’s point of view. When the camera crosses that imaginary line, the characters switch places on screen; their eyelines no longer match up properly, and they no longer appear to be looking at each other. The intention of the 180-degree rule is to avoid disorientation and distraction for the audience by maintaining the same left/right relationship between the two characters. During blocking rehearsal, create a line on the ground with gaffer’s tape so everyone is on the same page about the imaginary axis and how crossing the line affects eyelines.

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