Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

How That '70s Show Filmed Its Iconic 360 Shots

The 360 degree scenes in "That '70s Show" became a signature of the show. It was particularly unusual for a multi-camera sitcom, as those types of shows generally don't use sets with four walls because one has to be cut out for the audience. The famous scenes were usually — but not always — used for scenes in which the characters are implied to be smoking. The technique became so popular that, in the final season, it was used for the opening credits, featuring all of the main characters in the circle.

Fans have been speculating for years about how exactly the show shot these scenes. In a thread in the r/Filmmakers subreddit in 2015, a user from a now-deleted account asked how the 360 shots were accomplished, and suggested "either a PTZ camera or robotic head with preset positions." Redditor u/instantpancake pointed out that they seem to be "simple whip pans – a camera operator should be able to do these by hand (edit: not handheld, obviously)." They also pointed out that the shots wouldn't have to have been shot in one scene since it would be pretty easy to cut when the camera whips around between characters. Then u/flickerkuu suggested it could be a "hot head, or motion control rig," but suggested that might be too expensive and that it was probably just done manually.

Well, it turns out that the scenes were fairly hard to do, yet the setup they used was fairly simple.

The 360 scenes weren't shot with anything fancy

In an article for Tech the Lead, referencing a now-deleted YouTube video on the subject, it was explained that there was nothing fancy about the way they shot the scenes. A camera operator simply moved the camera to each different character and then it was edited together to look seamless. "The 360 are very, very hard," explained show star Debra Jo Rupp. "You all [sit] in a circle, in the middle, and it goes from person to person and it's right in your face."

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2020, Laura Prepon, who played Donna, gave a little more information about how the scenes were made and why they were groundbreaking for the time. "This was pretty risqué because we were insinuating that we were passing a joint, and they always pumped the smoke in there and everything," Prepon explained. "Back in 1998, for a network television show to have that, that was edgy."

The 360 scenes were very popular with viewers, particularly those who were participating in similar activities, as evidenced by u/digiplay who said the scenes were only funny in an altered state. Although, as one Redditor from a now-deleted account pointed out, the first time the circle is used in the pilot episode, Eric then goes up to the kitchen where his perception is suddenly very distorted, which makes it look like he was on hallucinogenics instead. So it seems that fans with experience in their own "circles" certainly relate to these scenes.