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 process of determining what can or can not be viewed by the public or depicted by the motion picture industry; also refers to changes required of a movie by some person or body (other than the studios or film-makers, such as a national or regional film classification board); see also rating systems and banned. See Sex in Cinema and Most Controversial Films of All-Time.

Example: the arthouse film Last Tango in Paris (1972) with adult-oriented sexual content, now rated NC-17, was originally rated X, and banned in various places for its "obscenity"

Example: to avoid an NC-17 rating, the orgy scene in Kubrick's last film Eyes Wide Shut (1999) was released in different DVD versions for Regions 1 and 2 (seen above) with computer-generated inserted figures blocking the more explicit sexual activity in Region 1 copies

or Computer-Generated Imagery (or Images), a term referring to the use of 3D computer graphics and technology (digital computers and specialized software) in film-making to create filmed images, special effects and the illusion of motion; often used to cut down on the cost of hiring extras. See Visual/Special Effects.
Example: Jurassic Park (1993) and its giant dinosaurs, or used in large crowd scenes in Gladiator (2000) or in the prologue battle scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
change-over cue
the small dot, oval or mark on the top-right corner of a film frame that signaled to the projectionist to change over from one projector (or film reel) to another (about every 15-20 minutes); nowadays, most film theatres have only one projector - the reels are spliced together into one giant roll and fed into a single projector from a horizontal revolving turntable called a platter Example: the change-over cue during the Broadway Melody musical number in Singin' in the Rain (1952)
the fictitious or real individual in a story, performed by an actor; also called players.

Example: The cast of players in Duck Soup (1933) from Paramount's press book.
character actor
an actor who specializes in playing well-defined, stereotypical, archetypal, off-beat, humorous, or highly-recognizable, fictional roles of a particular physical, emotional, or behavioral type, in a supporting role; see also typecasting. Examples: Hattie McDaniel as a black maid, such as in Alice Adams (1935) and Gone With the Wind (1939), or Walter Brennan as a Western sidekick, such as in Red River (1948).
character color coding
refers to identifying a film's character or persona with a particular color; changes in color often represent transformations, shifts, merges, or changes in persona Examples: the explicit naming of the characters by color in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992); also the color-coded couples in Kenneth Branagh's Love's Labour's Lost (2000)
character study
a film that uses strong characterizations, interactions and the personalities of its characters to tell a story, with plot and narrative almost secondary to them
Examples: The Seven Samurai (1954), Atlantic City (1980), The Grifters (1990), Dead Man Walking (1995).
cheater cut
the footage put into the beginning of a serial episode to show what happened at the end of the previous episode  
chemistry (or screen chemistry)
referring to performances between actors who are uncommonly suited and perfectly complementary to each other; performances that lack screen chemistry can sometimes be disastrous for a film; see also buddy film Examples: Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon (1987), Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally... (1989), Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in Spider-Man (2002), Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic (1997), Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black (1997), Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not (1944), Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938); examples of poor screen chemistry: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in Gigli (2003), Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), and Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
literally, the combination of the two Italian words for "clear/bright" and "dark"; refers to a notable, contrasting use of light and shade in scenes; often achieved by using a spotlight; this lighting technique had its roots in German Expressionistic cinematography; aka high-contrast lighting or Rembrandt lighting; flat lighting or TV lighting (bright and flat lighting with no shadows) is its opposite

Example: commonly used in most film noirs, such as The Big Combo (1955) (pictured)

'chick flicks'
refers to films popular with women, but also used in a derogatory sense to marginalize films with heavy, sappy emotion and numerous female characters; aka tearjerkers Examples: Steel Magnolias (1989), Thelma & Louise (1991)
child actor
technically, any actor under the age of 18; aka moppet Examples: Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon (1973), Jackie Coogan in The Kid (1921), Jackie Cooper in The Champ (1931)
slang for a martial arts film  
choreographer (and choreography)
a person who plans, designs, organizes, sequences, and directs dancing, fighting, or other physical actions or movements in a film or stage production; a dancer is known as a hoofer.
Examples: Busby Berkeley was the most famous early choreographer. Bob Fosse more recently directed heavily-choreographed films such as Cabaret (1972) and All That Jazz (1979). This image was taken from a choreographed dance sequence in Singin' in the Rain (1952).
refers to a film/movie enthusiast or devotee; also used in the name of a leading film magazine
the term commonly refers to widescreen processes or anamorphic techniques, that use different magnifications in the horizontal and the vertical to fill the screen; it is also the specific trademark name for 20th Century Fox's commercially-successful widescreen process which uses an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (originally it could be as wide as 2:66:1 - to compete with Cinerama and 3-D processes in the 1950s.
Example: 20th Century Fox's The Egyptian (1954) was shown in CinemaScope; the first CinemaScope feature was The Robe (1953).
relating to or suggestive of motion pictures; having the qualities of a film.  
cinematographer (also cinematography)
specifically refers to the art and technique of film photography, the capture of images, and lighting effects, or to the person expert in and responsible for capturing or recording-photographing images for a film, through the selection of visual recording devices, camera angles, film stock, lenses, framing, and arrangement of lighting; the chief cinematographer responsible for a movie is called the director of photography (or D.P.), or first cameraman; one of the earliest movie-picture machines, patented by the Lumiere brothers in 1895, was termed a Cinematographe. Example: Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography (1993) profiled a history of the art of cinematography with examples from more than 125 films from some of the greatest film-makers of all time
cinema verité
a French word that literally means "true cinema" or "cinema truth"; a method or style of documentary movie-making with long takes, no narration and little or no directorial or editing control exerted over the finished product; usually made without actors, and often with a minimum of film equipment, a small film crew (camera and sound), impromptu interview techniques, and a hand-held camera and portable sound equipment; sometimes used to loosely refer to a documentary-style film or minimalist cinema; popularized in the 1950s French New Wave movement; now widely used (often inappropriately) to refer to the popular, artsy trend of using hand-held camera techniques; also termed free cinema (UK) or direct cinema (UK)
Example: the Canadian film Warrendale (1967) by Allan King, set in a school for severely disturbed children, was a classic of cinéma vérité film-making.
a wide-screen filming process that first used three cameras and three projectors to achieve an encompassing view of the subject matter, and was projected on a curved screen of about 160 degrees; it was the first commercially-successful multiple-camera/multiple-screen process.
Examples: This is Cinerama (1952), Cinerama Holiday (1955), Seven Wonders of the World (1955), Search for Paradise (1957), South Seas Adventure (1958), How the West Was Won (1962), and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962).
(clapper (board) or slate)
a small black or white board or slate with a hinged stick on top that displays identifying information for each shot in a movie, and is filmed at the beginning of a take. The board typically contains the working title of the movie, the names of the director, the editor, and the director of photography, the scene and take numbers, the date, and the time. On the top of the clapboard is a hinged wooden stick (called a clapstick or clapper) which is often clapped to provide audio/visual synchronization of the sound with the picture during editing; electronic clappers and synchronization are currently in use instead of the old-fashioned clapboard.
Example: the clapboard or slate from Hitchcock's Psycho (1960).
refers to the animation of models constructed of clay, putty, plasticine, or other moldable materials, often through stop-motion. Examples: the Wallace & Gromit animated films, and Chicken Run (2000).
slang denoting a 'hit' film  

a film characterized by scenes of great tension, danger, adventure, suspense, or high drama, often climaxing at the end of a film, or at the end of a multi-part serial episode, where the plot ending and the fate of the protagonist(s) are left unresolved; the name was derived from the movie serials of the 1930's where each week the hero (or heroine) was perilously left dangling from a cliff -- with a 'to-be-continued' ending -- to increase interest for the next episode (sequel).

A good example of early movie serial cliffhangers is The Perils of Pauline (1914), from which the term originated; also, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) ended with Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) leaving in the Millenium Falcon to rescue frozen Han Solo (Harrison Ford) - with the unresolved issue between Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) after their climactic duel (Was Vader really Luke's father?)

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