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)
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) Examples: This is Spinal Tap (1984) (pictured), Best in Show (2000), Zelig (1983), Husbands and Wives (1991), Bob Roberts (1992), Waiting for Guffman (1996), Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
(or modern-day) classic
a popular, critically-acclaimed film in recent years destined (possibly?) to ultimately become an all-time classic Examples: Saving Private Ryan (1998), or Groundhog Day (1993)
refers to a domineering, autocratic head of a major film studio; most commonly used when the studio system dominated film-making; now popularly called a studio chief Example: Louis B. Mayer of MGM
money shot
aka payoff shot; a term originally borrowed from the pornographic film industry; referring to a scene, image, revelation, or climactic moment that gives the audience "their money's worth," may have cost the most money to produce - and may be the key to the movie's success Examples: the transformation scene in classic horror films in which the character grows hair and fangs; Darth Vader cutting off Luke Skywalker's hand in The Empire Strikes Back (1980), the attack and bomb 'POV' (point-of-view) shot in Pearl Harbor (2001) (above), the first sight of Gilda in Gilda (1946), or Halle Berry's toplessness revealed behind a book in Swordfish (2001)
refers to a small television screen hooked up to the camera and/or recording device that allows crew other than the camera operator to check the quality of a scene as it is being shot or to check and see if it needs to be reshot
a scene or a portion of a script in which an actor gives a lengthy, unbroken speech without interruption by another character; see also soliloquy. See Best Film Speeches and Monologues
Example: Keyes' (Edward G. Robinson) long speech about suicide statistics in Double Indemnity (1944), or Romeo's last embrace and death scene in Romeo and Juliet (1968)

a French word literally meaning "editing", "putting together" or "assembling shots"; refers to a filming technique, editing style, or form of movie collage consisting of a series of short shots or images that are rapidly put together into a coherent sequence to create a composite picture, or to suggest meaning or a larger idea; in simple terms, the structure of editing within a film; a montage is usually not accompanied with dialogue; dissolves, cuts, fades, super-impositions, and wipes are often used to link the images in a montage sequence; an accelerated montage is composed of shots of increasingly-shorter lengths; contrast to mise-en-scene

Examples: the famous 'breakfast' montage scene in Citizen Kane (1941) - that dramatized the deterioration of Kane's first marriage; the ambush scene in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), the 45 second shower scene in Psycho (1960) - with between 71-78 camera set-ups for the shooting of the scene and 50 splices (where two pieces of film are joined); or the 'Odessa Steps' montage in Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925) including three successive shots of stone lions in various positions - filmed to look as though they were one lion rising to its feet and roaring in fury and anger at the massacre
the term for a child, or pre-teen child actor Examples: Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet (1944) (pictured), Shirley Temple, or Mickey Rooney.
morality tale (or play)
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 Examples: Intolerance (1916), Quiz Show (1994), The Lord of the Rings trilogy
the transformation of one digital image into another with computer animation.
Examples: The Mask (1994) (shown above), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Stargate (1994), and Interview with the Vampire (1994).
refers to a recurrent thematic element in a film that is repeated in a significant way or pattern; examples of motifs - a symbol, stylistic device, image, object, word, spoken phrase, line, or sentence within a film that points to a theme.
Examples: Keys in Hitchcock's Notorious (1946), seen in the poster design for the film; the word 'Rosebud' in Citizen Kane (1941); and the visual use of the X-symbol in the gangster film Scarface (1932) signifying male violence
motion pictures
(movies, pic(s), pix, or "moving pictures")
a length of film (with or without sound) with a sequence of images that create an illusion of movement when projected; originally referred to the motion or movement (due to the principle of persistence of vision) perceived when a string of celluloid-recorded images were projected at a rate of 16 or more frames per second; an art form, and one of the most popular forms of entertainment, known archaically as a photoplay during the silent era.
Example: from Edweard Muybridge's 'animal animation' or 'persistence of vision' experiments in the late 19th century.
motivated and unmotivated lighting
refers to lighting (or a light source) that is naturally existing in the real world, i.e., from a lamp post, table lamp, sunlight shining through a window, etc., that appears in a scene; for the lighting to appear natural in a film scene, it should seem to be coming from light sources that are visible or implied within the scene; the opposite effect is unmotivated lighting Example: Andy's crucifixion victory stance in The Shawshank Redemption (1994) was lit by unmotivated or inexplicable lighting
Mouse (House)
a slang term for the Walt Disney Co. or any division thereof -- refers to the company's most famous animated character: Mickey Mouse  
acronym-initials meaning 'Motion Picture Association of America' - an organization that represents the interests of the major motion picture studios  
MTV style editing
refers to the style of filming and editing first found on the MTV cable channel in the 1980s and its music videos, consisting of rapidly-cut shots, fast-paced action, jump-cuts, fast-edits, numerous camera angles Example: first evidenced in the films of surrealists, and during the New Wave era; more recently in films such as Easy Rider (1969), Flashdance (1983), and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994)
musical (film)
a major film genre category denoting a film that emphasizes segments of song and dance interspersed within the action and dialogue; known for its distinctive artists, stars, singers, and dancers; two major types are 'backstage' musicals and 'music-integrated' musicals. Examples: 42nd Street (1933), Singin' in the Rain (1952), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), An American in Paris (1951), West Side Story (1961), The Music Man (1962), My Fair Lady (1964), The Sound of Music (1965), and Mary Poppins (1964)
a print with only the picture image (minus the sound track)  
the telling of a story, and the supplemental information given to the film audience by an off-screen voice; sometimes the narrator is a character in the film, who provides information in a flashback; see also voice-over.
Examples: during the opening credits in Casablanca (1942), and throughout Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948); also the lyrics-as-narration (by the Doors' song 'The End') in the opening of Apocalypse Now (1979)
narrative film
a structured series of events, linked by cause and effect, that provide the plot of a film; a film that tells a chronological or linear story (with a beginning, middle, and end), as opposed to non-narrative films, such as poetic or abstract films.  
a stage, artistic, philosophical, or literary term as well as a film term, signifying an extreme form of realism in which life is depicted in a stoic, unbiased way; see also Neo-Realism. Examples: Dead End (1937), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), On the Waterfront (1954)
refers to film that has an inverted record of the light and dark areas of the photographed scene  
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 non-professional 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; see also naturalism. Example: De Sica's definitive The Bicycle Thief (1948, It.)
network TV
originally referred to the "Big Three" (ABC, NBC and CBS), but now with additional competitors, including Fox Channel, often known as 'free-TV' Example: the prescient Network (1976) forecast the development of a fourth sensationalist network, with its fictional UBS channel that specialized in reality television programming
New Wave
also known as Nouvelle Vague; originally referred to a group of individualistic, innovative, and non-traditional 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. Examples: Chabrol's Le Beau Serge (1958) (aka Bitter Reunion), Truffaut's feature film debut The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups) (1959), Godard's Breathless (A Bout de Souffle) (1959), Marcel Camus' Black Orpheus (1959), Chabrol's Les Cousins (1959), and Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)
refers to a filmed cinema news report  
the term for a makeshift motion picture theater, often a converted store, which proliferated all over the US, mostly in working-class areas of metropolitan centers, during the first decade of the 20th century. The name was derived from the 5 cents/nickel charged to patrons.
A nickelodeon or 'storefront theatre' from the late 1800s or early 1900s.
nihilistic (nihilism)
a dark and brooding film that features a downbeat, depressing, dreary, cynical, gloomy or bleak tone; often doom-laden and concerned with the subjects of death, suffering, tragedy, unhappiness, and existential despair; the protagonist often meets with death or tragedy in a film's conclusion; see also dystopia. Examples: Almost all film noirs are nihilistic, such as The Killers (1946), D.O.A. (1950), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Taxi Driver (1976), and American Beauty (1999)
nitrate film base
a highly-flammable kind of film base, composed of cellulose nitrate, used up until the late 1940s when it was then supplanted by acetate base.
Example: deteriorating and powdery nitrate-based film, one of the most important reasons for film archival work and preservation.
see film noir, tech-noir  
non-speaking role
a small role in a film, usually a brief appearance on screen, that has no dialogue but where the individual is clearly identifiable and usually appears in the credits; see also extra, cameo, bit, and walk-on.  
refers to a scene shot without synchronized sound - and sounds must be added later during the editing stage; sync sound is its opposite; also refers to a mis-matched soundtrack; aka asynchronous  
non-traditional casting
a movement, now officially headed by the Non-Traditional Casting Project (NTCP) to "promote inclusive hiring practices and standards, diversity in leadership and balanced portrayals of persons of color and persons with disabilities"; not to be confused with cast against type or miscast Example: Morgan Freeman as Red in The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - a role originally written for an Irish character
nostalgia film
A film that wistfully looks back at an earlier past time, often depicting it as more innocent and uncomplicated than it actually was, historically; nostalgia films usually look back on the protagonist's or narrator's childhood. See also coming of age film. Examples: How Green Was My Valley (1941), Amarcord (1973), American Graffiti (1973), A Christmas Story (1983), Radio Days (1987), Cinema Paradiso (1988, It./Fr.), Avalon (1990), Crooklyn (1994), The Inkwell (1994).
refers to making a novel from a film or screenplay  
an abbreviation, refers specifically to National Television System Committee that sets TV and video standards; also refers to the US and Japanese video systems that have 525 horizontal scan lines, 16 million different colors, and 30 frames per second (or 60 half-frames (interlaced) per second); competing systems in Europe and worldwide are PAL (Phase Alternating Line) and SECAM (Sequential Color with Memory)  
(or nudie flick)
an old term for a pornographic movie, often used during the age of the Hayes Code when nudity was forbidden by censors in mainstream films on the silver screen; an era of nudie films was generated by filmmaker Russ Meyer in the late 50s; also see porn. Examples: Russ Meyer's cheaply-made The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959) was known as a 'nudie-cutie'. Ecstasy (1933) and Blow-Up (1966) - examples of two other films with nudity that generated controversy when first released
in the movie-theatre business, refers to operating expenses associated with a film (the exhibitor's calculation of what it takes to lease his theater, to staff and run it, etc.); aka house nut  
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. Example: The famous waves-churning embrace in From Here to Eternity (1953)
off or offstage
(or off-camera)
refers to action or dialogue off the visible stage, or beyond the boundaries of the camera's field of vision or depicted frame; aka off-screen  

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