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 highest point of anxiety or tension in a story or film in which the central character/protagonist faces, confronts, and deals with the consequence(s) of all his/her actions, or faces the antagonist in a climactic battle or final engagement; a crisis often leads to a climax; also called the film's high point, zenith, apex, or crescendo; a climax may be followed by an anti-climax or denouement
Example: the two protagonists cling for their lives from Mount Rushmore in the climax of Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959).
see film clip  
a shot taken from a close distance in which the scale of the object is magnified, appears relatively large and fills the entire frame to focus attention and emphasize its importance; i.e., a person's head from the shoulders or neck up is a commonly-filmed close-up; a tight shot makes the subject fill almost the entire frame; also extreme close-up (ECU or XCU) is a shot of a part of a character (e.g., face, head, hands) to emphasize detail; also known as detail shot or close on; contrast to long-shot (LS)

Examples: an extreme close-up or tight shot from Hitchcock's Psycho (1960)

and a closeup of Becky Driscoll's (Dana Wynter) face, after Miles (Kevin McCarthy) gives her apathetic lips a kiss, and realizes that she is "one of them" in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
(the) Coast
slang meaning either Hollywood or Los Angeles, both entertainment centers  
literally, means "tail" in Italian, and usually refers to musical selections; in film, it refers to the epilogue, ending or last section of a film (often wordless), that provides closure, a conclusion, or a summary of the preceding storyline Examples: the long-view of the tree-lined road in The Third Man (1949), the final shot of the stairway in The Exorcist (1973), or the gravesite epilogue in Schindler's List (1993)
a slang term for money or financing  
a phenomenon of light or visual perception that enables one to differentiate otherwise identical objects caused by differing qualities of the light reflected or emitted; contrast to black and white.
Example: Pleasantville (1998) combined both black and white and color images in the same frame.
the film-altering process whereby a black and white film is digitally changed to include color; popularized but controversial in the 1980s.

Examples: The title from King Kong (1933) - the colorized version;

and a colorized still from The Third Man (1949).

an actor who specializes in genre films that are designed to elicit laughter from audiences; also known as a comic
Example: Steve Martin in The Jerk (1979).
comedy (film)
a film with elicits laughter or humor by celebrating or showing the eternal ironies of human existence; types include screwball, dark/black, farce, slapstick, dead-pan, parody, romantic comedy, etc. Example: See many examples in the genre section on comedy films
comic relief
a humorous or farcical interlude in a dramatic film, usually provided by a buffoonish character, intended to relieve the dramatic, built-up tension or heighten the emotional impact by means of contrast Example: Walter Huston as a grizzly prospector - dancing a jig on ground laced with gold in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
coming-of-age (film)
a film associated with difficult teen rites of passage (from adolescence to adulthood), the onset of puberty, the loss of naive innocence and childhood dreams, the experience of growing up, achieving sexual identity, etc.; aka teen films Examples: Rebel Without A Cause (1955) with iconic James Dean, Summer of '42 (1971), American Graffiti (1973), Breaking Away (1979), the films of John Hughes
command performance
a great performance in a film by an actor, sometimes referring to the one before his or her death; it originally referred to a special performance that was requested by a sovereign, royal, head of state, or other important person  
an objective opinion or description of characters or events occurring in the film, presented from an omniscient point of view by a commentator; the commentator's voice comes from off-camera, and is presented on the soundtrack as a voice-over; also refers to one of the added features on various DVDs in which a cast member, director, film critic, or film historian 'comments' on the film in some way
Example: the newsreel "News on the March" prologue to Citizen Kane (1941); also the commentary provided by critic Roger Ebert, or film directors Peter Bogdanovich or Martin Scorsese on special editions of DVDs
compilation film
a film made up of shots, scenes, or sequences from other films Example: Chuck Workman's compilation film - 100 Years at the Movies (1994)
a plot event that complicates or tightens the tension of a film  
the musician who creates (writes or adapts) the film's musical score; contrast to a conductor (who directs the orchestra's performance of the score), or a lyricist (who writes a song's words)
Example: Jerry Goldsmith, composer of original music for Patton (1970), Chinatown (1974), Poltergeist (1982), and many more excellent films.
refers to the arrangement of different elements (i.e., colors, shapes, figures, lines, movement, and lighting) within a frame and in a scene
Example: the clever composition of frames in The Sixth Sense (1999).
concert film
(rock or comedy)
a film that records the live concert performance of musician(s), a band/group, or stand-up comic(s); concert films are often edited over the course of many performances and/or staged for the camera with multiple set-ups, and can be considered pseudo-documentaries; a rock concert is aka rockumentary Examples: famous musical rock concert films include Monterey Pop (1968), The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter (1970), Let It Be (1970), Woodstock (1970), George Harrison's "Concert for Bangladesh" (1972), The Last Waltz (1978), Stop Making Sense (1984), and Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991); famous stand-up comedy concert film performances include Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982) and Bill Cosby, Himself (1983)
(editing or cutting)
the system of editing that developed in the early 20th century to provide a continuous and clear movement of events/images in a film; refers to the final edited structure of a completed film, with the events or scenes/sequences arranged as if they had occurred continuously, when, in fact, they were shot out of sequence; continuity also refers to the degree to which a film is self-consistent without errors, jump cuts, or mis-matched shots and details; a continuity cut refers to a editing cut that takes the viewer seamlessly, unobtrusively, and logically from one sequence or scene to another, to propel the narrative along; a blooper or flub is a continuity error
Example: Error in continuity in Pretty Woman (1990) during the breakfast scene, in which Julia Roberts is first eating a croissant that quickly switches to a pancake; or the view of a gas cartridge on a Roman chariot in Gladiator (2000).
contract player
an actor (both stars and bit players) who has a contractual commitment or agreement to a studio/producer/company Examples: minor contract players included Ward Bond, Thomas Mitchell (pictured here as drunken Doc Boone in Stagecoach (1939)), Henry Travers, Wallace Ford, Beulah Bondi
refers to the difference between light and shadow, or between maximum and minimum amounts of light, in a particular film image; can be either high contrast (with a sharp delineation between the bright and dark areas) or its opposite low contrast; color can also be contrasted; see also chiaroscuro  
the expected elements in a type of film, without question, thought, or judgment Example: Film noir is expected to be a dark, pessimistic, shadowy-filmed story about human betrayal or corruption, such as The Maltese Falcon (1941) (pictured); documentaries are expected to usually include factual information and interviews
Coogan's Law
refers to landmark legislation in the late 30s designed to protect a child actor's earnings, by depositing some of the minor's earnings in court-administered trust funds that the child receives when he/she reaches the age of majority; named after child actor Jackie Coogan Example: as a result of The Kid (1921) opposite Charlie Chaplin, 7-year old child actor Jackie Coogan was one of the most highly-paid actors in Hollywood, but lost his earnings to his exploitative parents
(or wardrobe) and costume design
refers to the garments or clothing worn by actors/performers in a film; a costume (or wardrobe) designer researches, designs, and selects the costumes to be appropriate to the film's time period, the characters, their location, and their occupations, whereas the costumer (or stylist) is responsible for acquiring, selecting, manufacturing, and/or handling the clothing and accessories; a costume drama is a film set in a particular historical time period, often with elaborate costuming
Example: Superman: The Movie (1978) (pictured); also films with important wardrobe elements include Cabaret (1972), 3 Women (1977), Ed Wood (1994), and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
courtroom drama
a drama and/or mystery story, in which the main protagonist is a lawyer, and a majority of the drama and dramatic action takes place in a courtroom setting; the plot revolves around the preparation of a trial and its result of guilt or innocence Examples: The Life of Emile Zola (1937), Adam's Rib (1949), 12 Angry Men (1957), Witness For the Prosecution (1957), Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Compulsion (1959), Inherit the Wind (1960), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) (pictured), The Verdict (1982), A Soldier's Story (1984), Suspect (1987), The Accused (1988), A Cry in the Dark (1988), Reversal of Fortune (1990), A Few Good Men (1992), Philadelphia (1993), The People Vs. Larry Flynt (1996), Primal Fear (1996)
refers to all the shots, including closeups and reverse angles, that a director takes in addition to the master shot, to make up the final product; to have proper coverage means having all the proper scenes, angles, lightings, close-ups, and directions  
crane shot
a camera shot taken from a large camera dolly or electronic device (an apparatus, such as a crane), resembling a extendable mechanical arm (or boom), that can raise the camera up in the air above the ground 20 feet or more; the crane allows the camera to fluidly move in virtually any direction (with vertical and horizontal movement), providing shifts in levels and angles; crane shots usually provide some kind of overhead view of a scene
Examples: the opening, long-take sequence in Altman's The Player (1992) was shot with a crane, as was the classic 3-minute opening credits sequence of Touch of Evil (1958); also, the shot in High Noon (1952) where the Marshal is left in the empty street prior to his confrontation with the four gunman, to emphasize his isolation, rejection and vulnerability; and the spectacular shots using remote cranes in the car-chase sequence of To Live And Die In L.A. (1985).
in general, this term refers to the text appearing on screen - composed of a list of technical personnel, cast, and production crew of a film; specifically, it refers to the list of names and functions of persons and corporations contributing and responsible for the artistic or intellectual content of a film, such as: "Story by...", "Screenplay by...", "Photography by...", etc.; sometimes distinguished from the cast (the performers in front of the camera); see also front (or opening) credits, end (or closing) credits, or (beginning or end) titles.

Example: The beginning of the stark credits in Citizen Kane (1941);

Spellbound (1945)
and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) are unusual in that they both don't have end credits; in the latter's case, it concludes with a placard reading "EXIT MUSIC" while soft mandolin music plays.

refers to those involved in the technical production of a film who are not actual performers  

the period of highest tension just before the climax of a film (there can be more than one); the point at which events reach their highest level of tension

(or film critic,
film reviewer)
an individual who writes and/or publishes a review of a film from either an artistic or entertainment point of view. Film reviews often analyze and discuss a film's details, its content and characters, a critique of the performances, camera work, directing, editing, production, and script; film critics are usually more philosophical and theoretical than film reviewers or commentators; film criticism refers to the analysis of the narrative, historical and stylistic characteristics of film; 'critics' is sometimes abbreviated as crix.
Example: One of the best known and most knowledgeable film critics of all time, Chicago Tribune's Roger Ebert, known for his 'thumbs-up' and 'thumbs-down' reviews.

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