Film Terms


Film Terms Glossary - Index
(alphabetical and illustrated)
Introduction | A1 | A2-B1 | B2 | B3-C1 | C2 | C3 | C4-D1 | D2-E1 | F1 | F2-I1
I2-L1 | L2-M1 | M2-O1 | O2-P1 | P2-S1 | S2 | S3 | S4 | S5-T1 | T2-Z

Film Terms Glossary
Cinematic Terms
Definition and Explanation
Example (if applicable)
in-camera editing
refers to filming in the exact order required for the final product, thereby eliminating the post-production editing stage; a fast, albeit unprofessional way to produce a film, often employed by student or amateur film-makers; requires advanced planning to tell the desired story in order; aka in-camera effects, such as double-exposures, split-screen shots, rear-screen and front-projection process shots, etc.  
(indie and 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
Example: California-based Miramax, although the leader in the independent film movement in the early 1990s, has become so powerful and successful that it has lost most of its independent studio status; indie films include Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise (1984), and Kevin Smith's Clerks (1994); the cable TV Independent Film Channel showcases indie films; see 50 Greatest Independent Films
industry, the
another name for the film or entertainment industry; also referred to as the biz, show business, show-biz, Hollywood, or the town.  
a young, teenaged female actress often in an important or lead role in a film; usually portrays an innocent, sometimes naive, and attractive character; also refers to an actress sometimes known as a starlet; the male counterpart is known as a juvenile. Example: young Leslie Caron as Lise in An American in Paris (1951) in contrast to Nina Foch as womanly-wise Milo
slang term meaning to 'sign' a contract  
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 a cutaway shot (that includes action not covered in the master shot); also known as cut-in.
Example: an insert shot during the car crash scene with an hysterical Lana Turner, in The Bad and the Beautiful (1954)
inside joke
in a film, an obscure, show-biz related joke that is understood (or realized) only by those who know the reference (outside the context of the film) Example: Finding Nemo (2003) names its great white shark Bruce - the same name given to the mechanical shark on the set of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975); in A Clockwork Orange (1971), the soundtrack to Kubrick's earlier film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is very visible in the record store scene
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 conversation Example: Speed (1994) - the bomb, the bus' speedometer, other action, all intercut
a brief, intervening film scene or sequence, not specifically tied to the plot, that appears within a film. Example: Harpo Marx's musical interlude performances of his harp in the Marx Brothers films.
a break in the middle of a film, normally in a feature-length film of three hours or more (although rare in current-day films); originally, intermissions served as a 'stretch-restroom' opportunity, or provided time for the projectionist to change reels; they often were accompanied by a medley of the film's score - or a song score for musicals; the strategy of film theaters nowadays is to show a film as many times as possible during the day Examples: West Side Story (1961), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), My Fair Lady (1964), Doctor Zhivago (1965)
in the can
a term for an entire film or a subset of shots that are all finished shooting; also denotes when a director has the take that he wanted  
(or irising)
an earlier cinematographic technique or wipe effect, in the form of an expanding or diminishing circle, in which a part of the screen is blacked out so that only a portion of the image can be seen by the viewer; usually the lens aperture is circular or oval shaped and is often expanded or contracted as the film rolls, often from one scene to the next; known also as diaphragm. The camera movment is often termed iris wipe, circle-in/circle-out, or iris-in/iris-out; also refers to the adjustable opening in the lens that allows light to pass through - the measurement for the iris opening is f-stop
Example: Commonly used in silent films, such as The Birth of a Nation (1915), or here in Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) as Eugene's horseless carriage drives away
"It" List
refers to the tendency in show business to prioritize individuals (stars, writers, would-be celebrities, or up-and-comers) as 'hot' or 'watchable' - highlighting those who have suddenly 'burst onto the scene' and are either notable and bankable; those who had some transient success or 'brush with greatness, but then were demoted from the list are called forgotten, has-beens, shooting stars, or flashes in the pan (after "fifteen minutes of fame" - an Andy Warhol expression); aka "A" List Example: "It" originally referred to the sex appeal of 20s flapper star and "It Girl" Clara Bow, popularized in the film It (1927); a modern day "It" List individual is (was) Monica Lewinsky.
see L-cut (below); aka split edit  
jukebox musical
a filmed musical (drama, or animation, etc.) that uses pre-existing popular songs (usually from a variety of artistic sources) as its song score; the songs are often re-imagined with different song styles; aka karaoke musical Examples: Singin' in the Rain (1952), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1964), Everyone Says I Love You (1996), A Knight's Tale (2001), Moulin Rouge! (2001), Happy Feet (2006)
jump cut
an abrupt, disorienting transitional device in the middle of a continuous shot in which the action is noticeably advanced in time and/or cut between two similar scenes, either done accidentally (a technical flaw or the result of bad editing) or purposefully (to create discontinuity for artistic effect); also contrast with an ellipsis and match cut Example: in The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935) the screams of the chambermaid/landlady at the sight of a murdered corpse are replaced by the piercing screeches from a train whistle as a train emerges from a tunnel, in Don't Look Now (1973), the director Nicolas Roeg cuts from the wife's scream on seeing her dead daughter to the drill her husband is using in his work on the church in Venice - a sound match and cut; in Deconstructing Harry (1997), jump cuts indicate the protagonist's fractured, distracted mind; also, the car ride with the camera behind Jean Seberg in Godard's New Wave film Breathless (1960, Fr.) (pictured)
the role of a young, teenaged male character; the female counterpart is known as an ingenue.  
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 sequence, symmetry, and composition. Example: the famous 'baptism scene' - the murders of the heads of various crime families juxtaposed with the baptism ceremony for Michael's god child at the conclusion of The Godfather (1972); the parallel imagery in the "Making Christmas" sequence of The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
key light
the main or primary light on a subject, often angled and off-center (or from above) that selectively illuminates various prominent features of the image to produce depth, shadows, etc.; high-key lighting (with everything evenly and brightly lit, with a minimum of shadows) is termed realistic (and often used in musicals and comedies), while low-key lighting (with less illumination, more shadows, and many grayish, dark areas) is termed expressionistic (and often used in film noir); three-point lighting uses: (1) a fill (or filler) light - an auxiliary light to soften shadows and areas not covered by the key light, (2) a back light behind to add depth to a subject, and (3) a bright key light
Example: low-key lighting in the film-noirish Touch of Evil (1958).
a term denoting the start of production or principal photography  
a type of powerful carbon-arc lamp that produces an intense light, often used in film-making; also used for promotional purposes at film premieres  
another term for an awards show; see Academy Awards  
landmark film
a revolutionary film, due to either its technical or performance artistry; those films recognized by the National Film Registry Examples: The Jazz Singer (1927) (the first 'talkie'), Footlight Parade (1933) (Busby Berkeley's landmark musical), Citizen Kane (1941), Jaws (1975) (the first 'blockbuster')
lavalier (microphone)
a miniature type of microphone, usually omni-directional and wireless, and small enough to be taped or clipped to an actor, to record dialogue; aka lav, lapel or lap microphones  
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  
lead role
refers to the most important, main character in a film, often distinguished by gender; usually there is at least one male and female lead role; also usually known as protagonist; contrasted to supporting roles or characters.
Example: Julie Andrews in the lead role in Mary Poppins (1964)
a film that has 'legs' has strong and profitable box-office, stamina and audience drawing power far beyond the opening weekend; the term usually applies to films that last many months Examples: Il Postino (1994), Titanic (1997), Hoop Dreams (1994), My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
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. Examples: John Williams' ominous, chromatic scale music signifying that a shark attack is imminent in Jaws (1975); or in Fritz Lang's M (1931) - the M in the title sequence is associated with a fragment of Edward Grieg’s Peer Gynt - and thereafter connected with the whistled tune of the murderer; the many musical leitmotifs in Laura (1944); or the sounds of heavy breathing of killer Michael Myers in Halloween (1978)
a piece of glass in a camera through which light passes before hitting the film stock inside; various types include wide-angle lens, telephoto lens, normal, etc.; to lense means to film a motion picture  
(or letterboxed)
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.
An example of letterboxing, from Apocalypse Now (1979).
library shot
a stock shot, often unimaginative or commonplace  
refers to the illumination of a scene, and the manipulation of light and shadows by the cinematographer.  
refers to the spoken dialogue belonging to a single performer; also refers to the full complement of spoken words in a film or stage script; also known simply as dialogue. See this site's information on "Greatest Film Quotes and Movie Dialogues"
the Lion (Leo)
a slang term that refers to Metro-Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) Studios -- with the legendary "Leo the Lion" logo  
lip sync
refers to synchronization between mouth movement and the words on the film's soundtrack  
(or on 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. Example: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) opens with the camera descending into the small town of Maycomb, Alabama, with the voice-over narration of the older Scout (uncredited Kim Stanley) describing the location: "Maycomb was a tired old town, even in 1932 when I first knew it..."
location sound
refers to recording background sound on location, to improve the film's realism; see also buzz track  

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