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)
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

Examples: earliest use in Bound for Glory (1976), some uses also in Rocky (1976), in the lengthy tracking shots down the corridors of the Overlook Hotel in Kubrick's The Shining (1980), and in Return of the Jedi (1983); also the over 5-minute uncut Steadicam shot along the beach at Dunkirk in Atonement (2007)

stealing a scene
(or scene-stealing)
usually refers to a supporting actor/actress attracting attention from the lead actor or actress to whom the center of interest legitimately belongs; see also 'tour de force' performance  
the act of portraying a particular character (or group) with a formulaic, conforming, exaggerated, and oversimplified representation, usually offensive and distorted Example: in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), the portrayal of Audrey Hepburn's upstairs neighbor, Mr. Yunioshi (Mickey Rooney) in an exaggerated way: with buck-teeth, a pronounced accent, and comic ineptness - all conveying a degrading and stereotypical view of Japanese or Asian men; this scene was also replayed in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1992)
refers to a single, static image, either (1) a frame still (possibly enlarged) from a finished film, (2) a production still taken from an unfinished film, or (3) a publicity shot (of an actor or scene); aka photogram.

Example: a publicity still of the major cast members of The Wizard of Oz (1939) and

a still taken from To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
a surprising, last-minute bit of dialogue (or footage) that appears after the end (or closing) credits Example: title character Ferris (Matthew Broderick) breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience: "You're still here? It's over! Go home. Go!" in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986); or the end of The Muppet Movie (1979) when Animal yells at the audience: "Go home! Go home! Bye-Bye."
stock character
a minor character whose actions are completely predictable, stereotypical, or standard for his/her job or profession; similarly, a stock situation is a basic, recognizable plot situation (e.g., a lover hiding in the closet, twins mistaken for each other, etc.). Examples: the wily servant, the braggart soldier, the innocent virgin, a drunken husband, etc.
stock footage
(or stock/library shot)
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 Example: The DC-3 flying over the Himalayas when Indy leaves Nepal in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) was lifted from Lost Horizon (1973); many films use historical footage of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, street scenes in NYC, or destruction sequences
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 Example: the stop motion animation in the first great monster movie, King Kong (1933); also in the landmark films by Ray Harryhausen such as Jason and the Argonauts (1963); The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985), The Sandman (1991), Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) and Corpse Bride (2005)
the events that appear in a film and what we can infer from these events; aka narrative or plot
a sequential series of illustrations, stills, rough sketches and/or captions (sometimes resembling a comic or cartoon strip) of events, as seen through the camera lens, that outline the various shots or provide a synopsis for a proposed film story (or for a complex scene) with its action and characters; the storyboards are displayed in sequence for the purpose of visually mapping out and crafting the various shot divisions and camera movements in an animated or live-action film; a blank storyboard is a piece of paper with rectangles drawn on it to represent the camera frame (for each successive shot); a sophisticated type of preview-storyboard (often shot and edited on video, with a soundtrack) is termed an animatic

Examples of two storyboard sketches (and the actual scene) from Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975).

straight man
an actor/actress who serves as a stooge for a comedian (or funnyman), usually by adopting a serious stance or reaction to the comic partner; the straight man often feeds lines to the other irreverent comedian - who replies with witty comments; aka second banana or foil Examples: Margaret Dumont in numerous Marx Brothers films (pictured here in the opening scene with Groucho in A Night at the Opera (1935)); also Bud Abbott to Lou Costello.
(1) the for-profit companies that specialize in developing, financing and distributing most American commercial films; (2) also refers to the actual site for a film production, with physical sets, stages, offices, backlots (located on the outdoor grounds of a film studio and used for filming exteriors), etc; see also majors and independents, and mogul.
Example: An archival view of the front entrance to Paramount Pictures film studio.
studio chief
the head or chairperson of a film studio who has the final authority for each film project (gives the green light - or authorization go-ahead), and oversees the many departments (financial, legal, marketing, advertising, distribution, etc.); also called the topper; in Hollywood's Golden Age, the chief was called a mogul Example: studio chief (mogul) Louis B. Mayer of MGM
studio system
refers to the all-powerful control the monopolistic film studios had over all aspects of assembly-line filmmaking and film production from the 1920s until the late 1950s, when chiefs - moguls (Mayer, Selznick and Zukor) ruled; tactics included the ownership of property, control of publicity and marketing, and iron-clad contracts with star-actors, directors, composers, cameramen, costume designers, writers, and producers.  
stunt double(s)
a stunt performer(s) (aka stunts) that take the place of an actor when the scene calls for a dangerous or risky action (car crash, fight, window jump, etc.); doubles usually have the same build or appearance as the star; also called stunt performer, stuntman or stuntwoman; not to be confused with a stand-in or a body double; stunts are supervised, conducted and planned by a stunt coordinator Example: Harrison Ford with his stunt double Vic Armstrong on the set of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
a term that refers to the artificial exaggeration or elimination of details in order to deliberately create an effect - in other words, to make (or interpret) a person, a face, a tree, a figure, or something as 'grotesque,' 'disturbing,' or 'overbright' as opposed to realistic or naturalistic. Examples: James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein (1935), stylized film noir classics T-Men (1947) and He Walked By Night (1948), Joseph Mankiewicz's Guys and Dolls (1955), or Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963)
a film in which the narrator has a limited point-of-view regarding the characters, events, action, places, thoughts, conversations, etc.; a subjective camera is a style of filming that allows the viewer to look at events from the POV of either a character or the author, when the camera position is close to the line of sight of the character; contrast to omniscient point-of-view Examples: Many of Hitchcock's films featured a subjective POV (ie. Scottie Ferguson's (James Stewart) distorting, swirling POV in Vertigo (1958) or Rear Window (1954)), or in Brian DePalma's Body Double (1984) (pictured); the many POV shots in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) (from computer HAL 9000's POV as well as Dave Bowman's (Keir Dullea)), and John Carpenter's Halloween (1978)) featured POV shots from Michael Myers and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis)
a secondary, subordinate, or auxiliary plotline, often complementary but independent from the main plot (the A story), and often involving supporting characters; not the same as multiple plotlines; aka the B story or C story Example: the additional plotline of 'video peeping tom' Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley), the teenage son of Col. Fitts (Chris Cooper) - the next-door, repressed, Nazi-worshipping neighbor, and how Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is mistaken for being gay in American Beauty (1999).
the deeper and usually unexpressed "real" meanings of a character's spoken lines or actions - if the viewer can 'read between the lines'.  
refers to the printed line(s) of text superimposed and displayed at the bottom of the screen frame, often used to translate a foreign-language phrase, or to describe a time/place; also the text translating an entire foreign language film (that hasn't been dubbed); often termed caption
short for the influential Sundance Film Festival, known for the exhibition and screening of the best of independent films each year in Utah; also see (film) festival  
(or superimposition)
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
Example: in Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) during Scottie's nightmare sequence, his face is superimposed over a drawing.
supporting role(s)
(or players, characters)
characters seen less frequently than the lead role characters, but still in important, secondary roles; often termed a featured player or feature player; well-known guest stars often play brief supporting roles in a film; character actors are usually in supporting roles  
surreal (surrealism)
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 Examples: the eerie Salvador Dali dream sequence in Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945), and David Lynch's Eraserhead (1977) (pictured).
another term for a suspense/thriller film Examples: Most of Alfred Hitchcock's films
usually refers to adventure films with an heroic, athletic, sword-wielding character Example: Errol Flynn's swashbucklers, such as Captain Blood (1935).

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