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ARTH 334 Film Terms
3D – a film that has a three-dimensional, stereoscopic form or appearance, giving the life-like illusion of depth; often
achieved by viewers donning special red/blue (or green) or polarized lens glasses; when 3-D images are made
interactive so that users feel involved with the scene, the experience is called virtual reality; 3-D experienced a
heyday in the early 1950s; aka 3D, three-D, Stereoscopic 3D, Natural Vision 3D, or three-dimensional.
24 frames per second – refers to the standard frame rate or film speed – the number of frames or images that are
projected or displayed per second; in the silent era before a standard was set, many films were
projected at 16 or 18 frames per second, but that rate proved to be too slow when attempting
to record optical film sound tracks; aka 24fps or 24p.
180-Degree Rule – refers to the rule that once a spatial relationship has been confirmed with the establishing shot, no
close-up will cross the imaginary line drawn between those two actors until a new line (or axis) has
been established, usually through another establishing shot; camera operators must follow – an
imaginary line on one side of the axis of action is made (e.g., between two principal actors in a
scene), and the camera must not cross over that line – otherwise, there is a distressing visual
discontinuity and disorientation; similar to the axis of action (an imaginary line that separates the
camera from the action before it) that should not be crossed.
Above the Line – usually refers to that part of a film’s budget that covers the costs associated with major creative
talent: the stars, the director, the producer(s) and the writer(s), although films with expensive special
effects (and few stars) have more ‘above the line’ budget costs for technical aspects; the term’s
opposite is below the line.
Accelerated Montage – a sequence edited into progressively shorter shots to create a mood of tension and excitement.
Adaptation – the presentation of one art form through another medium; a film based upon, derived from (or adapted
from) a stage play (or from another medium such as a short story, book, article, history, novel, video
game, comic strip/book, etc.) which basically preserves both the setting and dialogue of the original; can
be in the form of a script (screenplay) or a proposal treatment.
Aerial shot – a shot taken from a crane, plane, drone, or helicopter. Not necessarily a moving shot.
Alan Smithee film – the pseudonym used by directors who refuse to put their name on a film and want to disassociate
themselves, usually when they believe their control or vision has been co-opted by the studio (i.e.,
the film could have been recut, mutilated and altered against their wishes); aka Alan Smithee Jr.,
Allan Smithee, or Allen Smithee.
Allegory – a story whose every object, event, and person has a corresponding symbolic meaning.
Allusion – a direct or indirect reference – through an image or through dialogue – to the Bible, a classic, a person, a
place, an external and/or real-life event, another film, or a well-known cultural idea.
Ambiance – the feeling or mood of a particular scene or setting.
Ambient Light – the natural light surrounding the subject, usually understood to be soft.
Ambient Sound – refers to any sounds that are used to establish location; sounds natural to the scene’s environment.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Ambiguity – a situation, story-line, scene, or character, etc. in which there are apparent contradictions; an event (and
its outcome) is deliberately left unclear, and there may exist more than one meaning or interpretation;
can be either intentional or unintentional, to deliberately provoke imaginative thinking or confusion.
Anamorphic lens – a camera lens that squeezes a wide image to conform to the dimensions of standard frame width.
Angle of view – the angle subtended by the lens. Wide-angle lenses have broad angles of view, telephoto lenses have
very narrow angles of view. Not to be confused with camera angle.
Animation – a form or process of filmmaking in which inanimate, static objects or individual drawings (hand-drawn or
CGI) are filmed “frame by frame” or one frame at a time (opposed to being shot “live”), each one differing
slightly from the previous frame, to create the illusion of motion in a sequence, as opposed to filming
naturally-occurring action or live objects at a regular frame rate. Often used as a synonym for cartoons(or
toons for short), although animation includes other media such as claymation, computer animation; see
also CGI,claymation, stop-motion, time lapse.
Anime – a distinctive style of animated film that has its roots in Japanese comic books (known as manga), yet covers a
wide range of genres, such as romance, action/adventure, drama, gothic, historical, horror, mystery, erotica
(hentai), children’s stories, although most notably sci-fi and fantasy themes; originally called ‘Japanimation’
but this term is not used anymore; anime is found in a wide variety of storylines and settings, but usually
recognizable and often characterized by heavily-stylized backgrounds, colorful images and graphics, highly
exaggerated facial expressions with limited facial movement, simulation of motion through varying the
background behind a static character or other foreground element, and frequently, big-headed characters
with child-like, large eyes.
Antagonist – the main character, person, group, society, nature, force, spirit world, bad guy, or villain of a film or script
who is in adversarial conflict with the film’s hero, lead character or protagonist; also sometimes termed
the heavy.
Anthology film – a multi-part or multi-segmented film with a collection or series of various tales or short stories
sometimes linked together by some theme or by a ‘wrap-around’ tale; often the stories are directed
by different directors or scripted by various screenwriters, and are in the horror film genre; also
known as an episode film or omnibus film; this term may also refer to a full-length, compilationdocumentary film of excerpted segments or clips from other films.
Anthropomorphism – the tendency in animated films to give creatures or objects human qualities, abilities, and
Anticlimax – anything in a film, usually following the film’s high point, zenith, apex, crescendo, or climax, in which
there is an unsatisfying and disappointing let-down of emotion, or what is expected doesn’t occur.
Anti-hero – the principal protagonist of a film who lacks the attributes or characteristics of a typical hero archetype,
but with whom the audience identifies. The character is often confused or conflicted with ambiguous
morals, or character defects and eccentricities, and lacks courage, honesty, or grace. The antihero can be
tough yet sympathetic, or display vulnerable and weak traits. Specifically, the anti-hero often functions
outside the mainstream and challenges it.
Archetype – a character, place, or thing, that is repeatedly presented in films with a particular style or
characterization; an archetype usually applies to a specific genre or type classification.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Arc Shot – a shot in which the subject(s) is photographed by an encircling or moving camera.
Arthouse Film – films, often low budget or ‘art’ films, that are acknowledged as having artistic merit or aesthetic
pretensions, and are shown in an arthouse theatre; films shown usually include foreign language films,
independent films, non-mainstream (sometimes anti-Hollywood) films, shorts, documentaries,
explicitly-erotic films, and other under-appreciated cinema of low mass appeal; began to appear in the
1950s and provided a distinct contrast to commercial films.
Aside – occurs when a character in a film breaks the ‘fourth wall’ and directly addresses the audience with a comment.
Asynchronous Sound – sound which does not operate in unison with the image. Sound belonging to a particular scene
which is heard while the images of the previous scene are still on screen, or which continue over
a 2 Music and the Moving Image (IPM).
Atmosphere – refers to any concrete or nebulous quality or feeling that contributes a dimensional tone to a film’s
Auteur – the director controls all aspects of the creative filmmaking process, especially script, editing, art direction,
cinematography, lighting, directing; literally the French word for “author”; in film criticism, used in the terms
auteurism or auteur theory, denoting a critical theory (originally known as la politique des auteurs or “the
policy of authors”) popular in France in the late 1940s and early 1950s that was introduced by Francois
Truffaut and the editors (including legendary film critic and theorist Andre Bazin) of the celebrated French
film journal Cahiers du Cinéma (literally ‘cinema notebooks’), arguably the most influential film magazine in
film history; their ideas were subsequently enlarged upon in the 1960s by American critic Andrew Sarris,
among others; the theory ascribed overall responsibility for the creation of a film and its personal vision,
identifiable style, thematic aspects and techniques to its filmmaker or director, rather than to the
collaborative efforts of all involved (actors, producer, production designer, special effects supervisor, etc); the
theory posited that directors should be considered the ‘true’ authors of film (rather than the screenwriters)
because they exercise a great deal of control over all facets of film making and impart a distinctive, personal
style to their films; simply stated, an auteur can refer to a director with a recognizable or signature style.
Available Light – the naturally-existing light in an off-set location; a film’s realism is enhanced by using available or
natural light rather than having artificial light.
Avant-garde – refers to an experimental, abstract, or highly independent, non-independent film that is often the
forerunner of a new artistic genre or art form; avant-garde films self-consciously emphasize technique
over substance; also loosely applies to a group of French and German filmmakers in the early 20th
century and to some modern American experimental filmmakers (e.g., Andy Warhol), and their film
movement that challenged conventional film-making; see also cinema verite, surrealism, and abstract
Backdrop – refers to a large photographic backing or painting for the background of a scene (e.g., a view seen outside
a window, a landscape scene, mountains, etc.), usually painted on flats(composed of plywood or cloth); a
large curved backdrop (often representing the sky) is known as a cyclorama; backdrops were more
commonly used before the current trend toward on-location shooting and the use of bluescreens.
Backlighting – the main source of light is behind the subject, silhouetting it, and directed toward the camera; this
phenomenon occurs when the lighting for the shot is directed at the camera from behind the subject(s),
causing the figure(s) in the foreground to appear in semi-darkness or as silhouettes, or highlighted; with
backlighting, the subject is separated from the background.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Back Projection – a photographic technique whereby live action is filmed in front of a transparent screen onto which
background action is projected. Back projection was often used to provide the special effect of
motion in vehicles during dialogue scenes, but has become outmoded and replaced by bluescreen (or
green screen) processing and traveling mattes; also known as rear projection or process photography
(or shot); contrast to matte shot.
Backstory – refers to the events that directly happened prior to the beginning of the story, or lead to the story;
composed of information that helps fill out the skeletal story of a screenplay or a character’s background,
often to help actors (or the audience) understand motivation.
Balance – within a film’s visual frame, refers to the composition, aesthetic quality, or working together of the figures,
light, sound, and movement.
Beat – refers to an actor’s term for how long to wait before doing an action; a beat is usually about one second.
B-film – an off-beat, low-budget, second-tier film, usually from an independent producer; they were predominant from
the 1920s to the late 1940s; they were shot quickly with little-known, second rate actors, short run times, and
low production values; often the second film (or the ‘lower half’) of a double feature, and paired with an Afeature; the vintage B-movie began to decrease in the 50s, or morphed into inferior TV series; sometimes Bfilms were exclusively shown in grindhouse, especially in the 50s and 1960s; as code restrictions waned in the
late 60s, B-films often became exploitation films, which added sensational and catchy titles, campy acting,
cheesy special effects, and gratuitous violence and sexuality (nudity); contrast to A pictures (first-class, bigbudget films with high-level production values and star-power); not to be confused with cult films, although
some B-films attained cult status.
Bio-pic – a biographical film of the life of a famous personality or historical figure, particularly popularized by Warner
Bros. in the 1930s; a sub-genre of drama and epic films.
Black/Dark Comedy – a type of comedy film, first popular during the late 1950s and early 1960s in which normally
serious subjects, such as war, death, dismemberment, misery, suffering, or murder, are treated
with macabre humor and satire through iconography, dialogue, and the characters; settings may
include cemeteries, war rooms, funerals.
Blaxploitation – a combination of the terms “black” and “exploitation”; refers mainly to sensational, low-budget films
in the 1970’s featuring mostly African-American casts (and directors), that broke the mold of black
characterization in feature films; usually emphasized fads of the time in hairstyles, music and
costuming, and also brutality, sleazy sex, street-life, racist and militant attitudes, etc.
Blocking – the process of figuring out where the camera goes, how the lights will be arranged, and what the actors’
positions and movements – moment by moment – are for each shot or take; often, the specific staging of a
film’s movements are worked out by the director, often with stand-ins and the lighting crew before actual
Blue-Screen – a special-effects process whereby actors work in front of an evenly-lit, monochromatic (usually blue or
green) background or screen. The background is then replaced (or matted) in post-production by
chroma-keying or optical printer, allowing other footage or computer-generated images to form the
image; since 1992, most films use a green-screen.
Bookends – a term denoting scenes at the beginning and end of a film that complement each other and help tie a film
together; aka framing device.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Bridge – a passage linking two scenes either by continuing music across the transition or by beginning the sound (incl.
dialogue or music) of the next scene over images of the previous scene (a.k.a. ‘sound advance’): a very
common phenomenon in contemporary cinema.
Bridging shot – a shot used to cover a jump in time or place or other discontinual changes.
Building a Scene – using dramatic devices such as increased tempo, volume, and emphasis to bring a scene to a climax.
Bumper – usually refers to the pre-film segment of pre-made film that contains studio trademark and logo or title
identification; also refers to a period of positive financial growth (i.e., it was a ‘bumper year’ for films).
Camera Angle – the point of view (POV) or perspective (including relative height or direction) chosen from which to
photograph a subject. Various camera angles, compositions, or positions include: front, behind, side,
top, high (looking down), low (looking up), straight-on or eye-level (standard or neutral angle), tilted
(canted or oblique), or subjective, etc.; also called framing.
Camera Movement – the use of the camera to obtain various camera angles and perspectives. (See motion picture
camera shots below, including the pan, tilt, track, and zoom; also boom/craneshots, Steadicam,
or hand-held).
Camp – a type of comedy parody wherein conventional (and especially overused or clichéd) situations and plot devices
are intentionally exaggerated to the point of absurdity to produce humor.
Candlelight – refers to lighting that is provided by candlelight, to provide a warm hue or tone, and connote intimacy,
romance, and harmony.
Caricature – the exaggeration of one or more personality traits in a character; a character appearing ridiculously out of
proportion because of one physical, psychological or moral trait that has been grossly or broadly
exaggerated; a caricature often portrays a character in an unrealistic, stereotypical fashion.
Casting – the process of selecting and hiring actors to play the roles and characters in a film production, and be
brought under contract; the lead roles are typically cast or selected by the director or a producer, and the
minor or supporting roles and bit parts by a casting director; type-casting refers to an actor playing only roles
similar to those he/she has played before.
Cautionary Tale – a literary term, referring to a narrative with a moral message warning of the consequences of
certain actions, ideologies, character flaws, technologies or institutions, often with a downbeat
ending; many slasher horror films are semi cautionary tales about one of the consequences of sex or
experimenting with the occult — death; satire, morality tale and nihilism.
Censorship – the process of determining what can or cannot be viewed by the public or depicted by the motion picture
industry; also refers to changes required of a movie by some person or body (other than the studios or
film-makers, such as a national or regional film classification board); see also rating systems and banned.
CGI – or Computer-Generated Imagery (or Images), a term referring to the use of 3D computer graphics and technology
(digital computers and specialized software) in film-making to create filmed images, special effects and the
illusion of motion; often used to cut down on the cost of hiring extras.
Change-over Cue – small dot or other mark in the top right-hand corner of the frame, often in series, that signals the
projectionist to switch from one projector to another.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Character – the fictitious or real individual in a story, performed by an actor; also called players.
Character Actor – an actor who specializes in playing well-defined, stereotypical, archetypal, off-beat, humorous, or
highly recognizable, fictional roles of a particular physical, emotional, or behavioral type, in a
supporting role; see also typecasting.
Character Color Coding – refers to identifying a film’s character or persona with a particular color; changes in color
often represent transformations, shifts, merges, or changes in persona.
Chiaroscuro – literally, the combination of the two Italian words for “clear/bright” and “dark”; refers to a notable,
contrasting use of light and shade in scenes; often achieved by using a spotlight; this lighting technique
had its roots in German Expressionistic cinematography; aka high-contrast lighting or Rembrandt
Choreographer – a person who plans, designs, organizes, sequences, and directs dancing, fighting, or other physical
actions or movements in a film or stage production; a dancer is known as a hoofer.
Cinematic Film – a movie that uses the special qualities and potential of the film medium to a great extent. Its first and
most essential property is continuous motion.
Cinema Verite – a documentary approach that strives for immediacy, spontaneity, and authenticity by using
unobtrusive equipment and by avoiding preconceived attitudes, story lines, and concepts. However,
the filmmaker’s voice intrudes into the film, questioning and probing the subjects to elicit truth and to
create dramatic exposure and situation.
Claymation – refers to the animation of models constructed of clay, putty, plasticine, or other moldable materials,
often through stop motion.
Cliffhanger – a film characterized by scenes of great tension, danger, adventure, suspense, or high drama, often
climaxing at the end of a film, or at the end of a multi-part serial episode, where the plot ending and the
fate of the protagonist(s) are left unresolved; the name was derived from the movie serials of the 1930’s
where each week the hero (or heroine) was perilously left dangling from a cliff — with a ‘to be-continued’
ending — to increase interest for the next episode (sequel).
Climax – physical or emotional resolution of the conflict at the moment of maximum tension; the highest point of
anxiety or tension in a story or film in which the central character/protagonist faces, confronts, and deals with
the consequence(s) of all his/her actions, or faces the antagonist in a climactic battle or final engagement; a
crisis often leads to a climax; also called the film’s high point, zenith, apex, or crescendo; a climax may be
followed by an anti-climax ordenouement.
Close-up – one can see only the subject’s face; the subject is as large as or larger than the frame; reveals much detail.
Coda – literally, means “tail” in Italian, and usually refers to musical selections; in film, it refers to the epilogue, ending
or last section of a film (often wordless), that provides closure, a conclusion, or a summary of the preceding
Colorization – the film-altering process whereby a black and white film is digitally changed to include color;
popularized but controversial in the 1980s.
Color Palette—a limited number of specific colors used or emphasized throughout a film.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Complication— begins the conflict which grows in clarity, intensity and importance.
Composition – refers to the arrangement of different elements (i.e., colors, shapes, figures, lines, movement, and
lighting) within a frame and in a scene.
Continuity – the illusion of a real or logical sequence of events across cuts or other edits between different shots. The
script supervisor is in charge of the continuity of a film production, making sure that details in one shot
will match details in another, even though the shots may be filmed weeks or months apart. The script
supervisor also keeps detailed records of takes.
Continuity Editing – also called invisible editing or Classic Hollywood editing. This system of editing is the system that
Classic Hollywood established (though it had been in use before that period) and is essentially the
system that exists today. Understanding this system is crucial to understanding cinema, since
even those directors who break with this system are in a sense defining themselves against it. This
system is associated with the following other terms: establishing shot, shot/reverse shot, matchon-action, eyeline match, the 180-degree rule.
Contrapuntal Sound – sound used in counterpoint to the image.
Contrast – refers to the difference between light and shadow, or between maximum and minimum amounts of light, in
a particular film image; can be either high contrast (with a sharp delineation between the bright and dark
areas) or its opposite low contrast; color can also be contrasted.
Convention – the expected elements in a type of film, without question, thought, or judgment.
Cosmic Irony— the idea that life is a continuous series of paradoxes and contradictions, characterized by ambiguities
and discrepancies.
Costume – what the characters are wearing. Bear in mind that even if a character is wearing contemporary clothing (in
some cases, the actors’ own clothing), that clothing is still considered a costume.
Crane – A shot taken from a crane. You often see these shots at the beginning of a scene (using it as an establishing
shot) or the end of a scene. The end of a movie, in fact, often uses a crane shot (though sometimes is even
more extreme).
Cross-cutting – intermingling the shots of two or more scenes to suggest parallel action; the editing technique of
alternating, interweaving, or interspersing one narrative action (scene, sequence, or event) with
another – usually in different locations or places, thus combining the two; this editing method suggests
parallel action (that takes place simultaneously); often used to dramatically build tension and suspense
in chase scenes, or to compare two different scenes; also known as intercutting or parallel editing.
Cut – The most common method of connecting images — the physical act of splicing the end of one shot to the
beginning of the next. A cut appears as an instantaneous transference from one shot to another.
Cutaway – a shot inserted in a scene to show action at another location, usually brief, and most often used to cover
breaks in the main TAKE, as in television and documentary interviews. Also used to provide comment on the
Dailies— unedited footage of the day’s shooting; the immediately processed, rough cuts, exposed film, or first prints of
a film (w/o special effects or edits) for the director (producer, cinematographer, or editor) to review, to see
how the film came out after the day’s (or previous day’s) shooting; more commonly in the form of videotape
ARTH 334: Film Terms
or digital dailies nowadays; aka rushes (referring to the haste taken to make them available); used to
determine if continuity is correct, if props are missing or out of place, or if sound is poor.
Deadpan – a specific type of comedic device in which the performer assumes an expressionless (deadpan) quality to
her/his face demonstrating absolutely no emotion or feeling.
Dead Screen—a screen with little dramatically or aesthetically interesting visual information.
Découpage – the design of the film, the arrangement of its shots. ‘Découpage classique’ is the French term for the old
Hollywood style of seamless narration.
Deep Focus—approximates the human eye’s ability to see a deep range of objects in clear focus; refers to a shot in
which everything, including the background, is in focus. This type of shot is much more difficult to
achieve, since the entire set must be adequately lit, designed, etc. Also, the danger is that the viewer’s
attention will shift from subject to backdrop, but some directors use this “danger” to their advantage.
Denouement—a brief period of calm following a story’s climax, during which a state of equilibrium returns.
Depth of Field – the range of distances from the camera at which the subject is acceptably sharp.
Deus ex machina – literally, the resolution of the plot by the device of a god (“deus”) arriving onstage by means of a
piece of equipment (“machina”) and solving all the characters’ problems; usually refers to an
unlikely, improbable, contrived, illogical, or clumsy ending or suddenly-appearing plot device that
alleviates a difficult situation or brings about a denouement – just in the nick of time; can
sometimes refer to an unexpected, artificial, or improbable character.
Dialog – any spoken lines in a film by an actor/actress; may be considered overlapping if two or more characters speak
simultaneously; in film-making, recording dialogue to match lip movements on previously-recorded film is
called dubbing or looping.
Diegesis – refers to the narrative that we see on screen. This term is much more specific to film, however, and refers to
the world that the characters inhabit as much as the plot of the film. The adjective diegetic, for instance,
refers to something the characters in the film could perceive, whereas nondiegetic refers to something they
could not (see diegetic and nondiegetic sound).
Diegetic Sound – sound that other characters would be able to hear; a sound that characters could hear, even if they
are not present when that sound occurs.
Diffusion – the reduction or softening of the harshness or intensity of light achieved by using a diffuser or translucent
sheet (lace or silk) in front of the light to cut down shadows; materials include screen, glass, filters, gauze,
wire mesh, or smoke; also see soft-focus.
Direct Cinema— a documentary approach that strives for direct, immediate, and authentic subject matter. Events
seem filmed exactly as they happened without rehearsal and with minimal editing. Subjects speak
without guidance or interruption.
Director’s Interpretive Point of View—we are consciously aware that the director wants us to view the action in some
unusual way.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Discovery Shot – in a film scene, when the moving or panning camera unexpectedly comes upon or ‘discovers’ an
object or person previously undisclosed to the viewer.
Dissolve – transition of images in which one shot seems to FADE out as the next shot fades in over the first, eventually
replacing it altogether; often used to change setting involving a longer lapse of time than usually implied by
a straight cut; often used to start and end flashbacks.
Docudrama – semi-fictionalized versions of actual events, docudramas became popular staples of American television
in the early seventies.
Documentary – an adjective or noun category used to describe a work of nonfiction; a non-fiction (factual), narrative
film with real people (not performers or actors); typically, a documentary is a low budget, journalistic
record of an event, person, or place; a documentary film-maker should be an unobtrusive observer like a fly-on-the-wall, capturing reality as it happens; aka doc or docu; also called direct cinema; one
type is termed docudrama; contrast with cinema verite and mockumentary.
Dogme 95 – a collective of film directors founded in Denmark in 1995 led by Lars von Trier, with a distinctive
democratizing philosophy and set of rules (termed “the vow of chastity”) that rejected special effects and
contrived lighting/staging and camera work, and espoused returning to more “truthful” and honest, “nonHollywood” forms of cinema; the ten rules included shooting on location, use of hand-held cameras,
natural lighting only, no props, use of digital-video (DV), lack of credits for the director, etc.
Dolly – which refers to what the camera rests on (a platform with wheels) while the camera moves in certain kinds of
shots; Mounted on rails, the dolly is used for tracking shots; the shot is taken from a camera that is mounted on
a hydraulically-powered wheeled camera platform (sometimes referred to as a truck or dolly), pushed on rails
(special tracks) and moved smoothly and noiselessly during filming while the camera is running; a pull-back
shot(or dolly out) is the moving back (‘tracking back’) of the camera from a scene to reveal a character or object
that was previously out of the frame, dolly in is when the camera moves closer (‘tracking in’) towards the
subject, and dollying along with (or ‘tracking within’) refers to the camera moving beside the subject; also
known as tracking shot, trucking shot, follow shot, or traveling shot; contrast with zoomshots.
Double Exposure – to expose a single frame twice so that elements of both images are visible in the finished product;
produces an effect similar to superimposition and is often used to produce ‘ghostly’ effects.
Double-take – a comedic convention that refers to the way in which an actor first looks at an object (subject, event,
scene, etc.), then looks away, and then snaps his head back to the situation for a second look – with
surprise, disgust, sexual longing, etc.; a variation is termed a spit-take (the double-take causes the
character to spit out whatever he is drinking).
Dramatic Irony—the audience has knowledge that a character in a story does not have when saying or doing
something that has one meaning but which the audience realizes possesses a totally different
Drive-by Shot – view of person, object or place from a camera located in/ on a moving vehicle as it passes by.
Dubbing – the act of putting a new soundtrack on a film or adding a soundtrack (of dialogue, sound effects, or music)
after production, to match the action and/or lip movements of already-filmed shots; commonly used when
films are shot on location in noisy environments; also refers to adding translated dialogue to a foreignlanguage film; as opposed to direct sound – which is sound recorded when filming a scene; contrast to
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Dutch Angle – also called canted angle or canted shot; this shot is tilted and is used when something unusal is about to
Dynamic Frame – a photographic technique used to mask the projected image size and shape to any ratio that seems
appropriate for the scene (e.g., the image narrows as an actor passes through a narrow passageway,
and then widens as he emerges).
Dynamic or Developing character—deeply affected by action of story, significantly changed as a result; also called
Dystopia – an imaginary, wretched, dehumanized, dismal, fearful, bad, oppressive place or landscape, often initiated
by a major world crisis (post-war destruction) coupled with, an oppressive government, crime, abnormal
behavior, etc.; the opposite of utopia (a state of ideal perfection).
Editing – refers to the way that individual shots are connected to one another to make the film.
Ellipsis – the shortening of the plot duration of a film achieved by deliberately omitting intervals or sections of the
narrative story or action; an ellipsis is marked by an editing transition (a fade, dissolve, wipe, jump cut, or
change of scene) to omit a period or gap of time from the film’s narrative.
Ensemble—refers to the cast of a film with a number of leading roles as opposed to any one starring role dominating
the others.
Epic – a costly film made on an unusually large scale or scope of dramatic production, that often portrays a spectacle
with historic, ancient world, or biblical significance.
Epilogue – a short, concluding scene in a film in which characters (sometimes older) reflect on the preceding events.
Establishing Shot—offered at the beginning of a sequence to provide a broad picture of the setting so that the audience can get a feel for the environment in which the action of the scene occurs; establishes the
spatial relationships in a given scene.
Experimental Film – refers to a film, usually a low-budget or indie film not oriented toward profit-making, that
challenges conventional filmmaking by using camera techniques, imagery, sound, editing, and/or
acting in unusual or never-before-seen ways; sometimes aka avante-garde, art films
Exploitation film – a sensational, often trashy B-film aimed at a particular audience and designed to succeed
commercially and profitably by appealing to specific psychological traits or needs in that audience without
any fuller analysis or exposition; often refers to films with extremely violent or sexual scenes; not
necessarily a derogatory term; various types include Blaxploitation, sexploitation, splatter films.
Exposition—introduces the characters, shows relationships, and establishes a believable time and place; the
conveyance (usually by dialogue or action) of important background information for the events of a story;
or the setup of a film’s story, including what’s at stake for the characters, the initial problem, and other
main problems.
Expressionism – refers to the distortion of reality through lighting, editing, and costumes, to reflect the inner feelings
and emotions of the characters and/or the filmmaker; a cinematic style of fantasy film common in
post-WWI Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, characterized by dramatic lighting, dark visual images
and shadows, grotesque and fantastic shots, distorted sets and angles, heavy makeup, highly stylized
acting, and symbolic mime-like action and characters; opposed to realism.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Extreme Close-up – where you can only see part of the subject’s face (just the eyes, for example); The subject is much
larger than the frame; provides more detail than a close-up.
Extreme Long Shot – a panoramic view of an exterior location photographed from a considerable distance, often as
far as a quarter-mile away.
Extrinsic Metaphor—a comparison that is imposed artificially although it has no place in the context of the action and
details of the film.
Eyeline Match – The directions that actors look affect the way we perceive their spatial relationships to one another.
Eyeline matches are important for establishing who a character is talking to or what a character is
looking at.
Fade-in – Going from black (nothing on the screen) to a shot; These transitions usually (but not always) connote a
larger amount of time passing or might also be used to signal a break in the narrative (the end of an act, for
Fade-out – going from a shot to black; These transitions usually (but not always) connote a larger amount of time
passing or might also be used to signal a break in the narrative (the end of an act, for instance).
Farce – refers to a light-hearted, gleeful, often fast-paced, crudely humorous, contrived and ‘over-the-top’ comedy that
broadly satirizes, pokes fun, exaggerates, or gleefully presents an unlikely or improbable stock situation (e.g., a
tale of mistaken identity, cross-dressing, etc.) often characterized by slapstick, pratfalls, and other physical
antics; types of farces include screwball comedy, bedroom/sex farce/comedy; contrast to parody and satire.
Fast Action – shot at less than 24 frames per second so that when it is projected at the normal speed actions appear to
move much faster. the camera is undercranked. often useful for comic effect.
Film Acting—actor’s efforts to make the audience believe in the reality of the character being portrayed.
Film Aesthetics – the examination or study of film as an art form.
Film Gauge – refers to the measurement of a width of a film strip (in millimeters) used in a camera; see 35mm, film
stock, Cinerama, Cinemascope, etc.
Filmic Codes – many elements within a film (the use of music, audio, costuming, scripting, camera angles, framing,
shot duration, a character’s actions, etc.) speak a ‘language,’ ‘grammar,’ or code that when used by the
filmmaker help the viewer to understand more about the plot and its characters.
Filmic Space – a phrase not in wide use, which refers to the power of the film medium that makes possible the
combination of shots of widely separated origins into a single framework of fictional space.
Film Noir—a dark, somber, cynical, and pessimistic film genre in which a beautiful temptress leads a man down an
increasingly inescapable path of destruction; a French phrase literally meaning “black film” that developed
in the early 40s; refers to a genre of mostly black/white films that blossomed in the post-war era in
American cinema, with bleak subject matter and a somber, downbeat tone; the plot (often a quest), lowkey lighting (harsh shadows and chiaroscuro) often in night scenes, camera angles (often canted or high
angle shots), the setting (the gloomy underworld of crime and corruption), iconography (guns, urban
settings), characters (disillusioned, jaded), and other elements (voice-overs and flashbacks) combined to
present a dark atmosphere of pessimism, tension, cynicism, or oppression. Film noirs, often crime films,
ARTH 334: Film Terms
were usually set in grim and seedy cities, with characters including criminals, anti-heroes, private
detectives, and duplicitous femme fatales; see also tech-noir.
Fish-eye Lens – an extremely wide-angle lens that has an angle of view approaching 180 degrees. it greatly distorts the
Flashback—a film sequence that interrupts the narrative by jumping back in time, usually for exposition.
Flashforward—a film sequence that interrupts the narrative by jumping ahead in time.
Flash Frame – a shot of only a few frames duration, sometimes a single frame, which can just barely be perceived by
the audience.
Flat characters—two dimensional predictable characters.
Focal Length – the length of the lens, a measurement (usually in millimeters) of tile distance from the center of the
outside surface of the lens to the film plane. long lenses are telephoto lenses, short lenses are wideangle lenses.
Focus – the sharpness of the image. A range of distances from the camera will be acceptably sharp.
Focus In/Out – a punctuation device. The image gradually comes into focus or goes out of focus.
Focus Pull – to pull focus during a shot in order to follow a subject as it moves away from or toward the camera.
Foils—contrasting characters with opposite behavior, attitudes, opinions, lifestyles, physical appearances, etc.
Foley – all those created sounds that are not dialogue or music.
Foley Artist—person who creates sound effects.
Follow Focus – to pull focus during a shot in order to follow a subject as it moves away from or toward the camera.
Follow Shot – a tracking shot or zoom, which follows the subject as it moves.
Forced Perspective—diminishing the size of objects and people in the background is to create the illusion of greater
foreground-to-background distance.
Foreshadowing – to supply hints (in the form of symbols, images, motifs, repetition, dialogue or mood) within a film
about the outcome of the plot, or about an upcoming action that will take place, in order to prepare
the viewer for later events, revelations, or plot developments; also, ominous music often
foreshadows danger or builds suspense.
Form Cut—matching the shape of an object to a similarly shaped object in the next shot.
Fourth Wall – refers to the imaginary, illusory invisible plane through which the film viewer or audience is thought to
look through toward the action; the fourth wall that separates the audience from the characters is
‘broken through’ when the barrier between the fictional world of the film’s story and the “real world” of
the audience is shattered – when an actor speaks directly to the viewers by making an aside.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Frame – refers to the smallest unit of film possible. Film frames appear on a film strip, which, when projected, creates
the illusion of motion. Film is shown at 24 frames per second (or f.p.s., a common abbreviation); the four sides
of the film as it is being projected, and they also often use it as a verb.
Framing – refers to the way a shot is composed, and the manner in which subjects and objects are surrounded
(‘framed’) by the boundaries or perimeter of the film image, or by the use of a rectangle or enclosing shape
(such as a shadow, mirror, door or hallway) within the film image; also, camera angles such as low-angle
and high-angle shots contribute to the framing; reframing refers to short panning or tilting movements of
the camera to adjust to the character’s movements and keep them onscreen, centered, and in the frame.
Freeze Frame—a frame that is reprinted so many times that when the film is shown the action seems to stop; an
optical printing effect in which a single frame image is identically repeated, reprinted or replicated over
several frames; when projected, a freeze frame gives the illusion of a still photograph in which the
action has ceased; often used at the end of a film to indicate death or ambiguity, and to provide an
iconic lasting image.
Front Projection – a film process developed in the 1950s in which actors and foreground objects were filmed in front of
a projection screen, with a previously-filmed background projected onto it.
Genre Film—A film type, such as a western, musical, gangster, horror. The advantages to directors include:
a. Using characters, plotlines, and conventions that have already been established can provide directors
with a form of cinematic shorthand that can greatly simplify their task of storytelling.
b. Because formulaic stories are generally easy to understand, they are easy for directors to put on film.
c. Accepting the limitations and formal requirements of a genre film as a challenge, directors can be
creative in providing variations, refinements, and complexities to their material that can be rewarding
for both filmmakers and their audiences.
Glass Shot—photographing live action through a scene painted on glass. Now replaced by the blue screen or green
screen CGI technology.
Grain – a quality of the emulsion of a film; grainy emulsions, which have poor powers of definition, are sometimes
preferred for their ‘realistic’ connotations; the visibility of the grain varies inversely with the size of the film
gauge and directly with the amount of overdevelopment.
Grindhouse Film – a grindhouse originally signified a burlesque, strip-tease theatre (for “bumps and grinds”) in a redlight district, or a blue-collar downtown cinema-house that featured racy films, chopsocky films, or
other marginal fare; as a film, it first referred to a cheap, low-budget, non-mainstream, sleazy,
hard-core film that played in an ‘adults-only’ venue, scruffy downtown area or drive-in in the 60s or
70s; early topics included nudist pictures, kung-fu flicks, and cheesy/sexy potboilers, but then
branched out to refer to any genre of film with little plot, but with lots of action, sex and nudity,
violence, taboo drug-use, lewdness, atrocities, Hong Kong martial arts content, or just plain
weirdness; see also B movies, exploitation or trash films, slasher films, Blaxploitation films.
Guerilla Film – a low-budget film usually shot without seeking location permits, using non-SAG (Screen Actors Guild)
actors, etc.
Handheld Shot – refers to a shot where the camera is held by the camera operator. Hand-held shots are often
associated with a certain look, which is shaky, and most people associate the handheld shot with a
kind of documentary realism. Narrative films and television often use the hand-held for this reason, as
they are able to create a sense of gritty realism.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Hays Office, The—the film industry self-censoring organization started in 1922, after 1930 known as the MPAA,
Motion Picture Association of America.
Head-on shot – a shot in which the action moves or comes directly toward or at the camera, to enhance the audience’s
feelings of participation; works well with 3-D films; also may refer to ahead shot
Hero/heroine – refers to the major male and female protagonists in a film with whom the audience identifies and
sympathizes. Character traits often include being young, virtuous, handsome, pretty, etc.; contrast
with the antagonist or heavy(the villain or evil force).
High-angle shot—a technique used to dwarf the subject and diminish its importance; refer to camera placement; a
camera is looking down on an actor from a high vantage; can emphasize that characters are being
overwhelmed by their circumstances.
High-Concept – refers to the saleable or marketable elements of a film; a high concept (actually low-concept in
practice) refers to a film’s main premise expressed as a simple formula in just a few words (as a oneliner) that can be easily understood by all; this idea portrays a shallow, condescending attitude toward
undiscriminating film audiences by Hollywood’s marketers and often results in having film content
controlled by what appeals to the lowest common denominator type market).
High-key Lighting – a type of lighting arrangement in which the key light is very bright, often producing shadows.
Highlighting – sometimes pencil-thin beams of light are used to illuminate certain parts of the subject (most often the
actress’s eyes).
Homage – usually a respectful tribute to someone or something; this often occurs within one movie when a reference is
made to another film’s scene, image, etc.
Hybrid Film – a film or production that combines or intersects two or more distinct genre types, and cannot be
categorized by a single genre type; see also cross-over.
Iconography – the use of a well-known symbol or icon; a means to analyze the themes and various styles in a film.
In medias res— beginning a story in the midst of the action, after the conflicts have already started to build.
Independent Films – small independent, low-budget companies, mini-majors, or entities for financing, producing, and
distributing films (i.e., Miramax, New Line Cinema, Polygram) working outside of the system or a
major Hollywood studio; however, an indie may lose its independent status when its grows large
and powerful; also refers to a movie, director, distributor or producer (sometimes
unconventional) not associated with or produced by a major Hollywood film studio; often with
groundbreaking subject matter designed for sophisticated audiences, and not necessarily
produced with commercial success as the goal, unlike mainstream films.
Indirect Subjective Point-of-View—used primarily to make the viewer feel intensely involved in the action.
Insert Shot – a shot that occurs in the middle of a larger scene or shot, usually a close-up of some detail or object, that
draws audience attention, provides specific information, or simply breaks up the film sequence (e.g., a
quivering hand above a gun holster in a Western, a wristwatch face, a letter, a doorbell button, a
newspaper headline, a calendar, a clock face); an insert shot is filmed from a different angle and/or focal
length from the master shot and is different from cutaway shot (that includes action not covered in the
master shot); also known as cut-in.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Inside-out Editing—beginning a scene with a close-up detail shot, and then, in a series of related shots, backing off
from the detail to show its relationship to a larger visual setting.
Intercut Shots – usually refers to a series of shots, consisting of two simultaneous events, that are alternated together
to create suspense; intercutting can also consist of shots of two people involved in a telephone
Interlude – a brief, intervening film scene or sequence, not specifically tied to the plot, that appears within a film.
Intrinsic Metaphor—a comparison that arises out of the action and details of the film.
Invisible Sound—can be just as significant as visual images because the audience cannot see the sources suggested
through the sound effects and has to imagine them.
Iris-in – the shot goes from a full frame to focusing a small circle around a certain part of the shot, with everything else
blacked out; this transition almost never appears in contemporary films and was used much more commonly in
early cinema.
Iris-out – the shot goes from a small circle around a certain part of the shot with everything else blacked out to a full
frame; this transition almost never appears in contemporary films and was used much more commonly in
early cinema.
Irony—a result that is the opposite of expectation.
Jump Cut—eliminating a strip of insignificant or unnecessary action from a continuous shot; also, joining two shots
that do not match in action and continuity.
Juxtaposition – in a film, the contiguous positioning of either two images, characters, objects, or two scenes in
sequence, in order to compare and contrast them, or establish a relationship between them; see also
L-cut – a digital film editing term, also known as a split edit, J-cut or delayed edit; it refers to a transitional edit in which
the audio and video edit do not start at the same time; the audio starts before (or after) the picture cut.
Leitmotif—a motif that has become a trademark of a character; an intentionally-repeated, recurring element or theme
associated with a particular person, idea, milieu, or action; the element presents itself as a repeated sound,
shot, bit of dialogue, piece of music, etc., that helps unify a film by reminding the viewer of its earlier
appearance; sometimes presented along with a film’s tag line on a film poster.
Lens – an optical device used by a camera to focus an image.
Letterboxing – the technique of shrinking the film image just enough so that its entire width appears on TV screen,
with black areas above and below the image; refers to the way that videos emulate the widescreen
format on television screens; if a widescreen film is not in the letterbox format it is often in pan-and
scan format.
Lighting – This term refers to the way in which lights are used for a given film. Lighting, in conjunction with the camera,
sets the visual look for a film. The key light is the main light used for a scene; back light refers to a secondary
source, usually placed behind the actors; and fill refers to a light placed to the side of the actors. This system
is called three-point lighting and was very common in classical Hollywood films. You may also run across the
ARTH 334: Film Terms
term low-key lighting, which means that the film was shot often using only the key light at a very low setting.
This low level of lighting creates dark shadows on the faces of actors and is particularly moody when used
with black-and-white film. It is most often associated with film noir but is not exclusive to that genre.
Linear Structure—when the events of the story are presented in strict chronological order.
Live Screen—a screen packed with dramatically or aesthetically interesting visual information, often with movement.
Location – the properties or places (interior or exterior) used for filming away from the studio, set, or (back)lot, often to
increase the authenticity and realism of the film’s appearance; exteriors are abbreviated as ext., and
interiors as int.
Lockdown Shot – refers to a camera shot in which the camera remains immobile, while something happens off-screen
(e.g., an off-screen death) – a technique to create suspense.
Long Shot—placing the camera far away from the subject; one can see the entire body of the subject; A camera shot
from a great distance, usually showing the characters as very small in comparison to their surroundings.
Long Take—a continuous film shot that lasts for several minutes; refer to a single unbroken shot that lasts for a larger
amount of time–thirty seconds, for instance.
Looping – refers to the process in which dialogue is re-recorded by actors in the studio during post-production,
matching the actor’s voice to lip movements on screen; aka ADR(Automated Dialogue Replacement);
contrast with dubbing; loop refers to a length of film joined from beginning to end for repeated continuous
Low-angle Shot— a technique used to magnify the subject and increase its importance; a camera is placed very low to
the ground and looks “up” at actors; can emphasize that characters are somehow larger than life.
Mask – refers to covering up or blocking out a portion of the frame with blackness or opaqueness; most masks are
black, but they could be white or some other color.
Match-on-action – connects two shots cut together by having a character finish an action in the second shot begun in
the first shot. For instance, if a character lights a match in the first shot, the same character will
draw it up to a cigarette in the second.
Matte Shot – the optical process of combining (or compositing) separately photographed shots (usually actors in the
foreground and the setting in the background) onto one print through a double exposure that does not
meld two images on top of each other, but masks off (or makes opaque and blank) part of the frame
area for one exposure and the opposite area for another exposure; the second image is printed in the
masked-off area; it is a photographic technique whereby a matte painting or artwork from a matte artist
– usually painted on glass – is combined with live action footage to provide a convincing setting for the
action; also sometimes known as split-screen.
McGuffin – Alfred Hitchcock’s term for the device or plot element (an item, object, goal, event, or piece of knowledge)
that catches the viewer’s attention or drives the logic or action of the plot and appears extremely
important to the film characters, but often turns out to be insignificant or is to be ignored after it has
served its purpose; its derivation is Scottish, meaning a “lion trap” for trapping lions in the lion-less Scottish
Highlands (i.e., a trap that means nothing, since it is for an animal where there is no such animal).
Medium Close-up Shot – The subject is closer than a medium shot and further than a close-up.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Medium Shot – one can see the subject from the waist up; A camera shot from a medium distance, usually showing
the characters from the waist up; allows the audience to see body language, but not as much facial
Melodrama – originally, simply a drama with music; more precisely, the type of nineteenth-century drama that
centered on the simplistic conflict between heroes and villains; a film characterized by expressive plots
with strong and intensified emotion, often with elements of pathos, illness and hardship; called ‘women’s
films’ or ‘weepies’ (tearjerkers) during the 1940s; sometimes used disparagingly to describe films that are
manipulative and crudely appeal to emotions.
Metaphor—showing that two objects, beings, or actions are alike; a filmic device in which a scene, character, object,
and/or action may be associated, identified, or interpreted as an implied representation of something else
(that is unrelated).
Method Acting – a style of acting first expounded by Konstantine Stanislavsky in the early 1900s, and popularized by
Lee Strasberg (1899- 1982) in the US in his Actors Studio; refers to actors who gave realistic
performances based upon and drawn from their own personal experiences and emotions; refers to
not emoting in the traditional manner of stage conventions, but to speak and gesture in a manner
used in private life.
Mickey Mousing—the exact, calculated synchronization of music and physical action or movement in films.
Microcosm—the world in miniature.
Mise-en-scene—refers to everything in the frame of the film, which would include lighting, set, props, and the staging
and movement of actors. The term derives from the theater, where it is used in a similar way. In the
1950s, a group of French critics at the journal Cahiers du Cinéma used this term in a different way.
For them, mise-en-scène meant a special aspect of cinema associated with certain directors; the
composition of the individual frame: the relation of objects, people, and masses; the interplay of light
and dark; the pattern of color; the camera position and angle of view; the movement within the
Mockumentary – a fictional, farcical film that has the style, ‘look and feel’ of a documentary, with irreverent humor,
parody, or slapstick, that is deliberately designed to ‘mock’ the documentary or subject that it
features; related to docudrama (a film that depicts real people and actual events in their lives.
Montage—a compressed series of related images and sounds to convey much information quickly, such as creating a
farm out of wilderness or a politician rising from obscurity to power; refers to a series of shots edited
together to show a longer activity evolving in a shorter amount of time or to show a series of related
Monologue – a scene or a portion of a script in which an actor gives a lengthy, unbroken speech without interruption
by another character.
Morality Tale – a literary term mostly, but used also to refer to a film (often heavy-handed and obvious in tone) that
presents a judgment on the goodness/badness of human behavior and character, and emphasizes the
struggle between good and evil.
Motifs—repeated images, patterns, sounds, or ideas, to convey a theme; examples of motifs – a symbol, stylistic
device, image, object, word, spoken phrase, line, or sentence within a film that points to a theme.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Name Typing— having the name’s sound, meaning, or connotation help to establish character either symbolically or
Narration – spoken description or analysis of action.
Narrative – An adjective describing a film as being primarily a work of fiction, or a noun that loosely means a fictional
Neo-realism – an influential movement of the late 1940s and 1950s that originated in Italy; inaugurated by Jean
Renoir, but associated with Italian post-war directors (Rossellini, Visconti, and De Sica); refers to films
made outside the studio, with shooting on real locations, sometimes the absence of a script and/or nonprofessional casts and actors – all designed simultaneously to cut costs and increase the impression of
spontaneity; neo-realistic films often deal with contemporary social and political issues.
New Waves – also known as Nouvelle Vague; originally referred to a group of individualistic, innovative, and nontraditional French filmmakers, directors and producers in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including
Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, and Alain Resnais, who began as
critics on Cahiers du Cinema and espoused the principles of auteur theory; the New Wave film style was
characterized by a cinema verite style with the use of the jump cut, the hand-held camera, non-linear
storytelling, and loose, improvised direction; now used to generally refer to any new movement in a
national cinema.
Nondiegetic sound – sound that characters cannot hear. The two most common types of nondiegetic sound are
voiceovers, which is a character’s narration that plays over any given scene, and nondiegetic
music, which is music used to inflect the mood of a given scene.
Objective Camera—when the camera views the action as a remote spectator.
Objective Point-of-view—the viewpoint of a character on the sidelines of the action.
Obligatory Scene – a cliched and expected scene for a particular genre, e.g., a love scene in a romance or dramatic
film, a shoot-out in a Western, the solving of a crime in a mystery, a rescue in an action film, etc.
Off-screen Action – refers to action or dialogue off the visible stage, or beyond the boundaries of the camera’s field of
vision or depicted frame.
On-screen Action – on the visible stage, or within the boundaries of the camera’s field of vision.
Outside-in Editing—beginning a scene with an establishing shot, and then closing in on the detail.
Panning—moving the camera’s “line of sight” in a horizontal plane, left or right; refers to the horizontal scan,
movement, rotation or turning of the camera in one direction (to the right or left) around a fixed axis while
filming; a variation is the swish pan (also known as flash pan, flick pan, zip pan, blur pan, or whip pan), in
which the camera is purposely panned in either direction at a very fast pace, creating the impression of a
fast-moving horizontal blurring of images across the screen; often confused with a dolly or tracking shot.
Panning and Scanning—a technique for transferring widescreen films to TV. The lost information often ruins the
original composition and pacing.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Parallel Cuts—shots that alternate between two actions happening at the same time in separate places creating the
expectation that the actions will converge; sometimes called intercutting.
Parallel Sound – sound that matches its accompanying image.
Pan – the movement of a stationary camera on a horizontal axis. A camera on a tripod that moves from left to right
(following a parade, for instance), would be panning.
Period Piece—a film that is set in an earlier time in history.
Peter and Wolfing—scoring in which certain musical instruments and types of music represent and signal the presence
of certain characters.
Plot – refers to all aspects of the narrative that we see on screen. For example, in the film Jaws, Chief Brody’s talking to
the town council on screen would be part of the plot.
Poetic Justice—entails the idea that virtue will be rewarded and evil punished.
Point-of-view Character—the character that we emotionally or intellectually identify with and through whom we
experience the film; Most people assume film always has a third-person perspective, but
even when it does not use a POV shot, film often has a more subjective perspective through
the use of camera placement, voiceover, and other cinema techniques.
Point-of-view Shot – This type of shot does not refer to the technology used so much as the way we interpret it. In this
kind of shot, we are looking through the eyes of a character; you have probably seen a POV shot
when a character who has been rendered unconscious is waking.
Production Code— devised by the MPAA to insure that American films released by the Hollywood studios would
reflect, respect, and protect the institutions and values of the American middle class.
Prop – A prop is generally any object on a set, though clearly the objects that characters will touch become more
Rack Focus—when the camera lens shifts focus in one continuous shot to objects in different planes of depth one after
another; Sometimes, directors will use a rack focus when two characters are on screen at once but are
positioned at different distances from the camera.
Reaction Shot—reveals information by focusing on the listener rather than the speaker, or focusing on the observer
rather than the doer. The emphasis of film acting is on “reacting” rather than on acting.
Realism – in film, that attitude opposed to expressionism that emphasizes the subject as opposed to the director’s view
of the subject. Usually concerns topics.
Red Herring – an instance of foreshadowing that is deliberately planted to make viewers suspect an outcome–but the
audience is to be deceived – the opposite happens and the false clue ‘plant’ is irrelevant; often done for
humor, irony, or for other thematic reasons; contrast to McGuffin.
Reverse Angle – a shot from the opposite side of a subject; in a dialogue scene, a shot of the second participant.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Reverse Motion/Action – movement in reverse, opposite to the way it was shot. Often used for comic effect and in
stunts (which can be better controlled by staging in reverse for playback in apparently
forward motion).
Revisionistic – refers to films that present an apparent genre stereotype and then subvert, revise, or challenge it; aka
Rising Action—the conflict grows in clarity, intensity and importance—another name for complication.
Rotation – refers to a camera rotation – which can be a vertical or horizontal pan; or it may refer to a camera move in
which the camera is moved in a complete (or half) circle to produce a spinning, disorienting effect to the
viewer; a partial rotation is termed a tilt.
Round Characters— three dimensional characters with some degree of complexity and ambiguity who cannot easily be
characterized. They can be dynamic or static.
Rushes—unedited footage of the day’s shooting.
Satire – a mocking, ridiculing commentary on an economic, political, religious or social institution, ideology or belief,
person (or group), policy, or human vice.
Scene—a series of shots joined so to communicate a unified action at one time and place; Films have both acts and
scenes, like theater, although they are often less obvious because there are rarely intermissions or
accompanying programs in film. Screenwriters typically use acts when writing a film. Scholars, however,
almost never discuss an act of a film, whereas scene is used extensively.
Score – the musical component of a movie’s soundtrack, usually composed specifically for the film by a film composer;
the background music in a film, usually specially composed for the film; may be orchestral, synthesized, or
performed by a small group of musicians; also refers to the act of writing music for a film.
Screen – often used with on or off to refer to what we see within the frame. On-screen action, for instance, is
something we can see, whereas off-screen action might be something we hear but which takes place outside
the frame. Screen also refers to the actual physical screen on which we project a film.
Screen Direction – refers to the direction that characters or objects are moving in a film’s scene or visual frame;
common screen directions include “camera left” (movement to the left) or “camera right”
(movement to the right); a neutral shot is a head-on shot of a subject with no evident screen
direction; a jump-cut often indicates a change in screen direction.
Screenplay – refers to the written text of a film – a blueprint for producing a film detailing the story, setting, dialogue,
movements and gestures of actors, and the shape and sequence of all events in the film; in various
forms, such as a screenplay, shooting script, breakdown script (a very detailed, day-to-day listing of all
requirements for shooting, used mostly by crew), lined script, continuity script, or a spec script (written to
studio specifications); a screenplay writer is known as ascreenwriter, scripter, scribbler, scribe or penner;
a last-minute script re-writer is known as a script doctor; a scenario is a script that includes camera and
set direction as well as dialogue and cast direction; a shooting script is a detailed final version of the
screenplay with the separate scenes arranged in proper sequence, and used by the cast
Sentimentality—asking the audience for an emotional response that has not been earned (“disproportionate to the
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Sequence—a series of scenes which functions much like an act in a stage play; a scene, or connected series of related
scenes that are edited together and comprise a single, unified event, setting, or story within a film’s
narrative; also refers to scenes that structurally fit together in the plot; sequence usually refers to a longer
segment of film than a scene; sequences are often grouped into acts (like a three-act play); a sequence
shot refers to a long, normally complicated shot with complex camera movements and actions; see also
shot and scene.
Set – This term refers to the actual construction in which the actors are filmed; Sets are usually built for a film, as
opposed to shooting on location, where a scene is shot in the actual place in which it occurs in the film; Set is also
used generally, however, as a designation for the place where a film is being shot. (So even in location shooting,
the director would be “on the set” of his or her film every time he or she went to the place where the crew was
shooting for that day.)
Set-piece – usually a self-contained, elaborate scene or sequence that stands on its own (i.e., a helicopter chase, a
dance number, a memorable fight, etc.), and serves as a key moment in the film; in terms of production, it
may also refer to a scene with a large set.
Setting—the time and place of the film including terrain, climate, population density, social structures and economic
factors, customs, moral attitudes, and codes of behavior.
Shallow Focus – refers to how much of the shot is in focus. With shallow or soft focus, generally we can only see the
actor’s face in focus. The background appears blurry. This kind of focus was common in Classic
Hollywood and is still common, because if the viewer cannot see the background, then the director
does not need to light the background, for instance, or make sure the background is perfectly ordered.
Also, a blurry background focuses our attention all the more on what is in focus, which is generally the
actor’s face. Shallow focus is achieved with a long lens (this can be confusing, since one would assume
a shallow focus would require a short lens).
Short Take – refers to the time a shot is begun to the time it stops; might be one or two seconds long, although
contemporary films continue to use shorter and shorter takes of less than a single second (making two or
three seconds, which sounds like a short amount of time, not very short at all).
Shot—a strip of film produced by a single continuous run of the camera; single piece of film, however long or short,
without cuts, exposed continuously. A film may be composed of more than a thousand shots or it may seem to be
a single shot.
Shot/reverse shot – refers to the close-ups used when two characters are in conversation.
Smash Cut – a cinematic term that refers to an abrupt, jarring and unexpected change in the scene or film’s image (and
the audio), in order to surprise the viewing audience.
Soft Focus – filters, Vaseline, or specially constructed lenses soften the delineation of lines and points, usually to create
a romantic effect.
Sollioquy – a dramatic monologue delivered by a single actor with no one else onstage; sometimes expressed as a
‘thinking aloud’ dialogue of inner reflections; delivered by a character to him or herself, or directly to the
audience; contrast to an aside.
Sound – everything we hear from the audio track of the film; includes: music, score, soundtrack, diegetic sound, nondiegetic sound, ambient sound.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Soundtrack – use of popular music in a film rather than a score; characters may or may not perform these songs.
Special Effects – a broad term for a wide range of devices and processes, including some kinds of work performed by
stunt men, model shots, opticals, in-camera effects, matte shots, rear projection, solarization,
negative image and much more; a broad, wide-ranging term used by the film industry meaning to
create fantastic visual and audio illusions that cannot be accomplished by normal means, such as
travel into space. Many visual (photographic) or mechanical (physical) filmic techniques or processes
are used to produce special illusionary effects, such as optical and digital effects, CGI, in camera
effects, the use of miniatures/models, mattes, rear camera projections, stop-motion animation,
bluescreens, full scale mockups, pyrotechnics (squibs (miniature explosions, i.e. a gunshot)), stunt
men, animatronics (electronic puppets), rain/snow/wind machines, etc.; F/X are coordinated by the
visual effects and the special effects supervisors; known negatively as trick photography; see also
visual effects – a sub-category of special effects.
Split-screen – the combination of two actions filmed separately by copying them onto the same negative and having
them appear side by-side within a single frame (without overlapping); a slight variation on split-screen
is termed multiple image (different images are set alongside each other within a single frame); splitscreen is usually intended to signify simultaneous action; also see bluescreen and matte shot.
Standard Screen—width is 1.33 times the height.
Static Characters—remain essentially unchanged throughout a film story.
Static shot – an unmoving camera shot that is stationary, due to the use of a tripod.
Steadicam Shot – a hand-held camera technique using a stabilizing Steadicam (introduced in the late 70s), developed
by inventor Garrett Brown, with a special, mechanical harness that allows the camera operator to
take relatively smooth and steady shots, though hand-held, while moving along with the action; the
resulting images are comparable to normal tracking shots on a wheeled dolly.
Stereotypes—characters who fit into preconceived patterns of behavior (the nosey neighbor), allowing
economize in treating them.
directors to
Stock Characters—minor characters whose actions are completely predictable due to their job.
Stock Footage – previously-shot footage or film of common elements or scenes, such as canyons or deserts in the
American West, or travelogue shots (e.g., skylines, airplane takeoffs/landings, famous places, etc.)
that are kept in a film archive or library and used to fill in portions of a movie in different film
productions, thereby saving the time of reshooting similar scenes over and over; a stock shot refers to
an unimaginative or commonplace shot that looks like it could be stock footage.
Stop-motion – a special-effects animation technique where objects, such as solid 3-D puppets, figures, or models are
shot one frame at a time and moved or repositioned slightly between each frame, giving the illusion of
lifelike motion. Stop-motion was one of the earliest special-effects techniques for science-fiction films,
now replaced by CGI and animatronics; aka stop-frame motion.
Story – refers to all aspects of the narrative that we do not see on screen; these aspects may include events before,
during, or even after the plot of the film.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Storyboard – creating images of the shots used to plan to shoot in a film; a series of drawings and captions (sometimes
resembling a comic strip) that shows the planned shot divisions and camera movements of the film-its
Subjective Camera— when the camera views the scene from the visual or emotional viewpoint of a participant in the
action; a style that allows the viewer to observe events from the point of view of either a
character or the PERSONA of the author.
Subjective Point-of-view—the viewpoint of a character participating in the action.
Superimpose – an optical printing process that places or ‘exposes’ one image on top of another on the same piece of
filmstock, such as inserted credits and titles at the beginning of a film; sometimes composed as a
double exposure.
Surrealism—Using fantastic images to convey the subconscious, creating a dreamlike or unreal quality; a term applied
to a film, signifying a distorted or fantastic dream state, a nightmarish or hallucinogenic world, or a
subconscious thought or death experience; often expressed by a random, non-sequential juxtaposition of
images that go beyond realism.
Swish Pan – also called flick pan, zip pan, whip pan. A PAN in which the intervening scene moves past too quickly to be
observed. It approximates psychologically the action of the human eye as it moves from one subject to
Symbol—an object, name, or gesture that stands for an abstract idea; an object in a film that stands for an idea, or
that has a second level of meaning to it, e.g., a window or train=freedom, a rose=beauty, a cross-roads=a
decision point, etc.; the more a symbol is repeated, the greater its significance.
Symmetry – within a film when two or more distinct plotlines ‘mirror’ each other or develop variations on the film’s
theme or plot.
Synchronous sound – sound whose source is visible in the frame of the image or whose source is understandable from
the context of the image, e.g. source music.
Take—variations of the same shot in the cutting room.
Technicolor – the trade name for the best known color film process; 3-strip color is often used as a synonymous term;
also used generically as a term for rich, bright, vibrant, sometimes garish colors; Technicolor films were
described as highly saturated (with pure and vivid colors.
Tech-noir – modern day (or post-modern) expressionistic film noirs set in the future, with dark, decaying societies.
Telephoto Lens—draws objects closer but diminishes the illusion of depth; acts like a telescope to magnify distant
objects. It has a very narrow angle of view and flattens depth of perception.
Thawed Frame—a freeze frame that thaws and action begins.
Theme—the central concern around which a film is constructed. It can be plot, emotional effect or mood, character,
style, or idea.
Three Point Lighting – Standard lighting using three light sources: a key light to provide the main source of illumination
along with a fill light from another side and back light from behind.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Tilt – the movement of a stationary camera on a vertical axis. A camera on a tripod that moves up and down (following
a plane landing, for instance), would be performing a tilt; a vertical camera movement from a fixed position often
used to suggest an imbalance, or strangeness, or to emphasize size, power or menace; also known as tilt pan, tilt
up or tilt down (or reveal), or vertical pan, although not technically the same as “pan up” or “pan down”, similar
to a moving close-up; a Dutch angle is filmed at an extreme diagonal tilt.
Time Lapse – method of filming where frames are shot much slower than their normal rate, allowing action to take
place between frames, and giving the appearance of the action taking place much faster in the finished
product; often done for nature filming (the blooming of a flower, the movement of clouds, etc.), allowing
the viewer to witness the event compressed from real time (hours or days) into a few seconds; (one
frame shot every 30 seconds over 24 hours of real time would equal two minutes of film time); opposite
of slow-motion.
Tracking Shot – the movement of the shot when the camera is no longer stationary. The term refers to the tracks that
cameras were once rolled on when creating one of these shots. Although tracks are still often used
with a tracking shot, the term might also refer more generally to a moving shot that appears stable,
such as a Steadicam shot, which uses a gyroscope to avoid the shaky effects associated with hand-held
Transition – refers to the way a shot moves from one to the next. Films use several different kinds of transitions,
including: cut, dissolve, fade in, fade out, iris in, iris out, wipe, match cut.
Two-Shot – generally a medium to medium-long shot of two actors; two-shots were very common in the classical
Hollywood era and continue to be used today.
Typecasting— the process by which an actor gets cast in a narrow range of almost identical roles. It helps directors
communicate information because the audience already knows what to expect.
Unreliable Narrator – a literary term meaning a protagonist or narrator whose perspective is skewed to their own
perspective, producing a portrayal of events that may or may not be accurate or truthful; the
lack of credibility may be deliberate or due to a lack of knowledge.
Utopia – refers to an imaginary, ideal (or mythical), perfect state or place (especially in its laws, government, social
and moral conditions), often with magical healing, restorative properties.
Verisimilitude—having accurate and authentic details that make a scene seem true.
Visible Sound—sounds that would naturally and realistically come from the images seen on screen.
Visual Composition – the standard principles are as follows:
a. vertical lines—suggest strength, authority, and dignity.
b. diagonal lines—suggest uncertainty, tension, dynamic movement to overcome obstacles.
c. curved lines—suggest calmness, fluidity, and sensuality.
Visual Effects – considered a sub-category of special effects; refers to anything added to the final picture that was not
in the original shot; visual effects can be accomplished in-camera (like stop motion, double exposures
and rear/front projection) or via a number of different optical or digital post-production processes (CGI,
for example), usually with a computer.
ARTH 334: Film Terms
Voice-over Narration—an off-screen voice, usually of a character in the film, that gives background information, fills in
gaps in continuity, and sometimes comments on the action, often ironically; Voice-over is not
considered a cinematic technique.
Wide-angle Lens—takes in a broad area and increases the illusion of depth but sometimes distorts the edges of the
Widescreen—width varies from 1.66 to 1.85 to 2.35 to 2.55 times the height; Any one of a number of ASPECT RATIOS
of 1.66:1 or greater. Almost all theatrical films today are widescreen. Widescreen processes are not
necessarily ANAMORPHIC; some processes simply mask the top and bottom of the aperture during
shooting or projection in order to increase the aspect ratio. Techniscope utilizes a two-hole PULL-DOWN
MECHANISM (rather than the 35mm standard four-hole ‘fupp-down’) in order not to waste filmstock
while shooting. The resulting negative is then printed in a standard four-hole format for projection. The
most common nonanamorphic widescreen ratios in use today are 1.66:1 (European) and 1.85:1
Wide shot – a shot (often abbreviated WS) taken with a lens that is able to take in a wider field or range of view (to
capture more of the scene’s elements or objects) than a regular or normal lens; a wide-angle shot
exaggerates the distance, depth or disparity between foreground and background planes, thereby creating
greater depth-of-field and keeping all objects in focus and in perspective; an extreme or ultra-wide-angle
lens giving a 180 degree view is called a ‘fish-eye’ lens.
Wipe – one shot “wipes” across the screen and replaces another. You do not see wipes used overly often in
contemporary films, although some directors use them often (the Star Wars films use wipes consistently).
Zoom –in – using certain lenses, the camera can move more closely into a subject; sometimes called a push-in.
Zoom-out – using certain lenses, the camera can pull back; sometimes called a pull-back.
Zoom lens—a type of lens that keeps an image in constant focus while appearing to glide toward or away from the subject without any camera movement.
Tips for Earning an A on the Film Analysis Essays
Review all of the requirements for the film analysis and make certain you are completing all that is required.
A wide-ranging film vocabulary used appropriately and effectively (see vocabulary located in readings and film
terms handout);
A variety of sentence structures, including appropriate use of subordination and coordination;
A logical organization enhanced by specific techniques to increase coherence, such as repetition, transitions, and
A balance of generalization and specific illustrative detail;
An effective use of rhetoric including controlling tone, establishing and maintaining voice, an achieving
appropriate emphasis through diction and sentence structure
DO NOT write a plot summary. Repeating the plot takes up a great deal of space, but it does not reveal your
thinking about the plot, characters, causal logic, and narrative. Hence plot summaries are useless.
Give each paragraph a topic sentence, supporting evidence related to this topic sentence, and a conclusion that
ties together the topic sentence and the evidence.
Identify and explore, in writing, one meaningful idea/argument about the techniques of the film, as detailed in
the assignment, which can be well supported.
Run spell check. Proofread on your own. Make corrections. Print. Proofread. Make corrections. Print again.
Take your paper to the Tutoring Center and have it evaluated. Make corrections. Run spell check. Proofread on
your own. Make corrections. Print.
Do not use slang unless it is quoted from a primary or secondary source.
Take your time as I would rather see your thought process on paper, than see your first response on paper.
The essay should include a thesis, a conclusion, topic sentences that are supported by film based evidence, and
standard grammatical ideals.
Take notes on the film and answer the following questions to guide your writing:
o What idea does my evidence point to?
o What do I know from reading my notes?
o What do I know now, that I did not know before?
o What do I want the reader to know and watch for (what do you want to teach the reader to observe?)
o How did all of these experiences change the way I viewed the film?
Read the essay and decide what you can edit out because it is off point and what you need to put in because you
have not sufficiently supported your thesis.
DO NOT under any circumstances plagiarize the paper. A plagiarized paper will result in an automatic failure of
the course with established meetings with the Dean of Communications and Humanities and the Dean of
Be sure to engage with the readings, in-class lectures, supplementary lectures, and the films screened to
support your arguments.

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