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)
the act of shooting a scene several times with different F-stops to try and get a certain desired effect  
bridging shot
a transitional type of shot used to cover or 'bridge' a jump in time or place or other discontinuity; see also audio bridge and match-cut
Examples of bridging shots include: falling calendar pages, newspaper headlines, railroad wheels, seasonal changes, and maps, such as the transitional travel maps (reminiscent of serials) in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
buddy film
a subgenre of film (comedies, westerns, dramas, action films, road films, etc.) in which two mismatched persons (usually males) are forced to work together, often a pair of police cops; situations are often contrived to present the pair with challenges or strains that both strengthen their bond and weaken it; buddy films are often action/comedy films with witty dialogue between the two characters and sometimes the inclusion of a love triangle; has been extended to include female buddies; compare to fish-out-of-water tale Examples: The Defiant Ones (1958), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Midnight Cowboy (1969), 48 HRs (1984), Lethal Weapon (1987), Midnight Run (1988) (pictured), Thelma & Louise (1991), Unforgiven (1992), Wayne's World (1992), Dumb and Dumber (1994), Leon (or The Professional) (1994), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Men in Black (1997)
building a scene
using dramatic devices such as increased tempo, volume, and emphasis to bring a scene to a climax  
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) Examples: MGM's lion, Universal's spinning globe, DreamWorks' cloudy scene with boy fishing, etc.
slang for the sense of excitement, expectancy, and hype that surrounds a film, an actor, or a director  
buzz track
a soundtrack of natural, atmospheric, on-location background noise that is added to the re-recorded (or looped) track of actors' dialogue and other sound effects recordings to create a more realistic sound; aka referred to as room tone or matching ambient sound; a wild track or sound refers to a soundtrack w/o any synchronized picture accompanying it (e.g., the sounds of a playground)  
call sheet
a type of schedule given out periodically during a film's production to let every department know when they are supposed to arrive and where they are to report Example: the call sheet from Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can (2002)
originally meaning "a small piece of artwork," refers to a bit part (usually a brief, non-speaking or walk-on role that is uncredited or unbilled) or special screen appearance by a famous actor, director, or prominent person who would ordinarily not take such a small part; contrast to a bit part; also refers to a type of camera shot in which the subject is filmed against a black or neutral background. See Directors' Cameos.
Examples: Alfred Hitchcock's witty, trademark cameos in his own films such as in North by Northwest (1959); and the many cameos in Robert Altman's The Player (1992), and in Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002); other directors with cameos (Roman Polanski, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Walter Huston); also other examples include Ted Knight in Psycho (1960), and Sylvester Stallone in Bananas (1971)
the basic machine involved in film-making, from a hand-held version to portables, to heavy studio cameras; some of the parts of a camera include the aperture, lens, film magazine (for storage), viewfinder, etc; the positioning of the camera by the camera operator is known as the setup
Example: a film camera
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.; see also framing

Example: Extreme camera angles can be found in The Third Man (1949).
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/crane shots, Steadicam, or hand-held)
Example: a camera on a dolly track while filming a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
camera operator
the individual who is responsible for operating the camera, under the direction of the film's director and director of photography (or cinematography)  
(or campy)
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

Examples: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and Barbarella (1968).
("in the can")
refers to the round metal/plastic container that holds or stores film (reels) for transport or for long-term storage; a film that has been completed is known colloquially as "in the can"; canned means pre-recorded; also see reel
A film can (or canister) with reel of film inside
candlelight (lighting)
refers to lighting that is provided by candlelight, to provide a warm hue or tone, and connote intimacy, romance, and harmony Example: Stanley Kubrick's period costume drama Barry Lyndon (1975) was largely filmed with natural light and candlelight
capsule review
a short movie review  
the descriptive, printed line(s) of text that occasionally appears on the screen, usually at the bottom of the frame, to describe the time/place, or to translate a foreign word/phrase; different from closed-captioning (closed captions are all white uppercase (capital) letters encased in a black box that require a decoder or television with a decoder chip to be viewed) for deaf or hard-of-hearing viewers; see also subtitles

Example: a caption from a foreign film, Kieslowski's Decalogue (1988)
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
A cartoon caricature of Groucho Marx.
an animated film that is usually not of feature length; also see animation

A poster from a Mickey Mouse animated cartoon Barn Dance (1928).
cash cow
in movie terms, a definitely guaranteed, 'can't-miss' blockbuster film that promises to generate disproportionately tremendous profits due to its lucrative franchise (sequels, merchandising, spin-offs, etc.). See Greatest Film Franchises of All-Time.
Examples: the Star Wars franchise, the Indiana Jones films, the Spider-Man films, etc.
a collective term for all of the actors/performers (or talent) appearing in a particular film: usually broken down into two parts: the leads with speaking roles, and the seconds or supporting characters, background players or extras, and bit players
Example: typical end credits (for the major cast members) from an older film.
cast against type
an actor playing a role distinctly different from roles previously played Humphrey Bogart, as good-guy Rick Blaine, was an example of casting against type - to give him a brand new image to portray. Bogart had played gangster figures in dozens in films before Casablanca (1942); also good-guy Henry Fonda as evil, blue-eyed Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968, It.)
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 A classic example of typecasting was Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind (1939), by producer David O. Selznick and by popular choice. In addition, John Wayne was often typecast as a western cowboy, Errol Flynn as a swashbuckler, Cary Grant as a debonair gentleman/lover, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as an indomitable strong-guy or 'terminator'.
casting couch
refers to the illegal practice (mostly during the heyday of the studio system) when unknown young actors or actresses (starlets) exchanged sex (literally on an office couch) with a casting director or producer in order to acquire/land a role in a film Example: Frances McDormand, who played the role of Marge Gunderson in Fargo (1996), once joked that she got the role by the 'casting couch' method - she 'slept with' the director Joel Coen - her husband!
cast of thousands
an advertising claim, often used in big-screen historical epics of the 1930s-60s, when literally 1,000s of extras were hired for crowd scenes, battle scenes, etc Examples: Spartacus (1960) (pictured), Cleopatra (1963). To reduce costs, recent films use CGI to create fictional crowds, such as in Gladiator (2000).
catchphrase (film)
short phrases, expressions, or words that have become favored and/or popularized due to repeated use, often by film critics Examples: "over the top", "indie-style", "laugh riot", "frightfest", "crowd-pleaser", "Oscar-worthy", "three-hankie ending", "haunting images", "urban comedy", "beautifully realized", etc.
during a film's climax, the audience may experience a purging or cleansing of emotional tension, providing relief or therapeutic restoration  
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; see also satire, morality tale and nihilism
Example: Reefer Madness (1936); Dr. Strangelove, Or:... (1964); Planet of the Apes (1968); WarGames (1983); the segment about Mr. Creosote and his gluttonous appetite in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983); The Evil Dead series; Gremlins (1984); thirteen (2002).
(or celluloid,
animation cel
refers to each of the thousands of hand-drawn sheets (of clear, transparent material, either celluloid or Mylar) representing a single animation frame to allow several layers of composition. Cels consist of character cels (containing only the foreground characters or objects - those things that move from frame to frame) and background cels, (static drawings of scenery that remain the same). The character cels are placed against the background cels and filmed or shot one frame (or picture) at a time to produce the effect of motion. Celluloid also refers to the thin strip of transparent plastic coating that forms the film's highly-flammable, light-sensitive base layer (such as nitrate base or acetate base); also used as an adjective related to some aspect of cinema (e.g., "the celluloid hero"); the light-sensitive substance coating on one side of the film base is termed emulsion; celluloid is also a slang word for a movie
Example: A production cel of Dumbo and Timothy the Mouse from Dumbo (1941).

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