//www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Cinematic Terms - A FilmMaking Glossary

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)
(or biographic)
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. Examples: The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936), or The Life of Emile Zola (1937), or the modern day Coal Miner's Daughter (1980) about Loretta Lynn.
bit part
(or bit player)
a small acting role (usually only one scene, such as a waiter) with very few lines or acting; contrast to a cameo, extra, or walk-on role. Example: Roger Corman making a brief appearance in The Godfather, Part II (1974) at the head table at Michael Corleone's Senate hearings.
in shorthand, refers to the "business", or "show business".  
black and white
simply means without color; before the invention of color film stock, all films were black and white; monochrome (literally meaning "one color") usually refers to a film shot in black and white, although it can refer to a film shot in shades of one color; grainy B&W is often used to convey authenticity; abbreviated as BW, B/W, and B&W; contrast to color. Example: For artistic reasons, Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1971) was purposely made in B&W.
black or 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
Examples: Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry (1955), Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), The Loved One (1965), Robert Altman's M*A*S*H (1970), Harold and Maude (1972), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Prizzi's Honor (1985), Heathers (1989), and Fargo (1996).
(and blacklist)
refers to late 40s and early 50s McCarthyism and the HUAC's (House UnAmerican Activities Committee) formal and informal discrimination and 'blacklisting' (effectively banning from employment) of various actors, artists and film-makers based upon their personal, political, social, or religious beliefs (i.e., "Communist sympathizers"); the blacklist was a roster of illegal artists who were not to be hired during the years 1947-1951. The Hollywood Ten were a group of playwrights and moviemakers who refused to answer questions claiming their First Amendment rights, and were charged with contempt - they included Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson, and Alvah Bessie; also informally blacklisted recently were Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave for outspoken attitudes
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. Examples: Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song (1971), Superfly (1972), and Ralph Bakshi's animated Coonskin (1975); a documentary titled Baadasssss Cinema (2003) from the Independent Film Channel by filmmaker Isaac Julien examined the early 70s and the phenomenon of blaxploitation films
used to refer to Britain  
the sound-deadening housing a noisy movie camera is put in to prevent the sound equipment from picking up extra sounds  
originally referred to a large bomb that would destroy an entire city block during World War II; now in common usage, an impactful movie that is a huge financial success - usually with box-office of more than $200 million (the new benchmark by the early 2000s, after the original mark was $100 million) upon release in North America; ticket lines for blockbusters literally go around the 'block'; also known as box-office hit; the term may also refer to a costly film that must be exceptionally popular in order to recoup its expenses and make a profit; the opposite of a blockbuster is a bomb, flop, or turkey. See All-Time Box-Office Bombs/Flops. Examples: The term was first applied to Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975), often acknowledged as the first blockbuster; James Cameron's Titanic (1997) was also a massive blockbuster hit. See All-Time Top 100 Box-Office Hits.
blocking a shot (or scene)
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 shooting
an actual error or mistake (misplaced action, or mis-spoken dialogue by a performer), usually embarrassing or humorous, made by a performer during filming; also known as a goof, flaw or flub; see also continuity Examples: in Jurassic Park (1993), the name of a common dinosaur (Stegosaurus) was spelled incorrectly; in the cafeteria scene at Mt. Rushmore in North by Northwest (1959), a boy extra in the cafeteria of Mt. Rushmore plugs his ears before a gun goes off; or in The Invisible Man (1933) when Claude Rains strips to avoid police, he leaves visible shoe prints in the snow; probably the most frequent flub in films is the appearance of the boom mike
an optical process - the enlargement of a photographic image or film frame; often used to create 70mm release prints from original 35mm films

Examples: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Altered States (1980), and the Star Wars trilogy were shot in 35mm and blown-up to 70mm; films originally shot in 70mm include Ben-Hur (1959), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), My Fair Lady (1964), etc.; in film itself, the development and blowing-up of photographic images to reveal a murder in Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966).

blue-screen shot
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

Example: a bluescreen for Jurassic Park III (2001), or greenscreen for Charlie's Angels (2000)

another name for a commercial or advertisement (usually for TV)  
body double
(or double)
a performer who takes the place of an actor in scenes that require a close-up of body parts without the face visible, often for nude scenes requiring exposed close-ups (considered distasteful by some actors), or scenes requiring physical fitness; not to be confused with stunt double or stand-in
Example: Marli Renfro, a hired double for Janet Leigh for test scenes in the shower scene in Psycho (1960).
refers to the burgeoning film industry of India, the world's biggest film industry, centered in Bombay (now Mumbai); the etymology of the word: from Bo(mbay) + (Ho)llywood; unlike Hollywood, however, Bollywood is a non-existent place.
Example: Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding (2001), a modern Indian film set in current-day New Delhi, echoes the Bollywood spirit with typical traits including music and dance, romance, and comedy. Also the Best Picture winning Slumdog Millionaire (2008).
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 Example: the view of Xanadu's gate in Citizen Kane (1941)
a traveling or moveable counter-balanced pole (also called fishpole or fishing rod), arm, or telescoped extension device upon which a microphone, light or camera can be suspended overhead above a scene and outside the frame during filming (by a boom operator or boom man); for example, a microphone (mike) boom, a camera boom, or a light boom; the most common film mistake is the appearance of the boom mike (or its shadow) in the frame; a mechanical boom mike is known as a 'giraffe.'

Example: A microphone boom stand from the late 40s
boom shot
a continuous single shot made from a moving boom, assembled like a montage, and incorporating any number of camera levels and angles. Example: Hitchcock used this filming technique for almost all of Rope (1948).
an illegally copied, unauthorized, and/or distributed version of a copyrighted film/video/DVD, often of second-rate quality; also termed pirated.

Example: a bootlegged DVD version of Star Wars (1977), mastered using an Asian release of the special edition laserdisc.
refers to purging anything considered disturbing, vulgar, or adult in content in order to make it sanitized for mass market consumption and appropriate for children; originally a literary term derived from the name of Englishman Thomas Bowdler who published a 'censored' Family Shakespeare version in the early 1800s. Examples: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1956) removed the stage play's references to homosexuality; Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) was a 'bowdlerized,' prudish and sterilized version of the original Grimm fairy tale, with darker and more adult content
the measure of the total amount of money or box-office receipts paid by movie-goers to view a movie; also referred to as B. O. or gross; usually divided into domestic grosses (unadjusted and adjusted for inflation), and worldwide grosses; films with great box-office results or a strong and outstanding performance are often termed 'boff', 'boffo', 'boffola', 'whammo', 'hotsy', or 'socko'.

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