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)
a transitional device consisting of a gradual change in the intensity of an image or sound, such as from a normally-lit scene to darkness (fade out, fade-to-black) or vice versa, from complete black to full exposure (fade in), or from silence to sound or vice versa; a 'fade in' is often at the beginning of a sequence, and a 'fade out' at the end of a sequence.
Examples: Face-outs usually occur at the end of a sequence, and fade-ins at the beginning of a sequence
refers to a light-hearted, gleeful, often fast-paced, crudely humorous, contrived and 'over-the-top' comedy that broadly satirizes, pokes fun, exaggerates, or gleefully presents an unlikely or improbable stock situation (e.g., a tale of mistaken identity, cross-dressing, etc.) often characterized by slapstick, pratfalls, and other physical antics; types of farces include screwball comedy, bedroom/sex farce/comedy; contrast to parody and satire.
Examples: Duck Soup (1933), To Be or Not to Be (1942), Victor/Victoria (1982) (shown here)
fast motion
(or accelerated motion)
a camera device or effect to compress reality and highlight a scene or cause a dramatic effect, created by filming a scene with the film running at a rate less than the normal 24 frames per second and then projecting it back at standard speed, thereby creating the effect of moving faster than normal; generally used for comic effect; contrast to slow-motion or time-compression.  
feature (film)
a "full-length" motion picture, one greater than 60 minutes in length - but usually about 90-120 minutes on one particular topic; also known as a theatrical; contrast to shorts.  
a term often used before the 1970s to refer to a 20 to 45 minute film (longer than a short subject but shorter than a feature film), usually a "making of" or "behind the scenes" mini-documentary, or an extended trailer, which was usually displayed by theater owners to "sell" a film for exhibition in their movie house -- nowadays, featurettes are commonly run on premium cable stations, or offered as a 'bonus feature' as part of a DVD's extras; see also "Making of..." Examples: One of the most notorious featurettes was Alfred Hitchcock's extended trailer for Psycho (1960), in which the director explored the set of the Bates Motel, and coyly described the film's murders
"feel good" film (or movie)
usually a light-hearted, upbeat comedy or romance that ends with an audience-pleasing conclusion; sometimes used derogatively; compare to tearjerker Examples: Singin' in the Rain (1952), Rocky (1976), Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), Field of Dreams (1989), When Harry Met Sally... (1989), Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Amelie (2001)
an event at which films can often be premiered, exhibited, awarded, and engaged in distribution deals, such as Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, etc.; also known as fest Example: the Cannes Film Festival (France) is the best known of various film festivals, with its Palm D'Or grand award
'fifteen minutes of fame'
a cliched term popularized by pop artist/painter Andy Warhol in the late 60s, who predicted that everyone could be famous for 15 minutes and experience a moment of 'crowning glory'; aka one-hit wonders; due to today's increasing demands for pseudo-celebrities or 'personalities', headline-grabbers, and the widespread dissemination of information by cable TV, talk radio, and the WWW, it may be possible for everyone to 'bask in the limelight' for a fleeting moment (a flash in the pan). Examples: Tiny Tim, Dr. Laura, Amy Fisher, Tonya Harding, Kato, Rodney King, Tammy Faye Bakker, Jessica Lynch, Pee Wee Herman, Mr. T., Reality TV show contestants (i.e., Omarosa), Ken Jennings (on Jeopardy), etc.
(1) as a verb, to record a scene or make (or lense) a motion picture; (2) as a noun, refers to a motion picture, or (3) the thin strip of material on the film negative (with a base and light-sensitive coating of emulsion) that is used to create images - through light exposure.
film aesthetics
the examination or study of film as an art form  
film artifact
unwanted film damage that could be a defect or error - dust, hair, specks, emulsion scratches, splices, reel-change marks, a hiss, crackle or pop on the soundtrack, mottling of the image, scratches on the negative being printed positive, etc.; film preservation, restoration, and archival efforts help to keep older, decomposing, and endangered films from deteriorating and acquiring artifacts, through painstaking processes (often digital restoration) Example: heavy damage and scratches in a still from Judex (1916), a silent serial in twelve episodes made by French director Louis Feuillade
film clip
a short section of film removed from a movie and often exhibited; a part of a film, and sometimes a complete scene or sequence, taken from a film; similar to an excerpt.  
film(ic) codes (or conventions)
many elements within a film (the use of music, audio, costuming, scripting, camera angles, framing, shot duration, a character's actions, etc.) speak a 'language,' 'grammar,' or code that when used by the filmmaker help the viewer to understand more about the plot and its characters Examples: silence (long pauses) in dialogue, odd camera angles, gothic clothing, loud or harsh symphonic bursts, dark shadowing, etc. all communicate meaning (the character is evil or villainous, possibly) and are used by the filmmaker to imply a certain meaning for the film viewer.
film d'art
an early movement in French cinema to film more respectable stage productions  
film form
refers to various technical or logistical aspects which make up, compose, or produce a finished film, including Cinematography (Camera Movement), Sound and Editing, Lighting, Framing, Acting, and the Narrative itself
film gauge
refers to the measurement of a width of a film strip (in millimeters) used in a camera; see 35mm, film stock, Cinerama, Cinemascope, etc.; see also digital video
Example: from The Maltese Falcon (1941), the most common film gauge - used for most films until 1953, 35mm film with four perforations on each side for each frame, and running at 24 fps; the frame area was 1" wide and 3/4" high, producing an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (called the Academy ratio)
film grain
the amount of light-sensitive material in the film's coating or emulsion; results can either be fine-grained (or sharp) - that requires more light for filming, or excessively grainy (or coarse) - best for low-light situations.  
a collective term used to refer to a person(s) who have a significant degree of control over the creation of a film: directors, producers, screenwriters, and editors.  See section of site on "Greatest Directors."
film noir
a French phrase literally meaning "black film" that developed in the early 40s; refers to a genre of mostly black/white films that blossomed in the post-war era in American cinema, with bleak subject matter and a somber, downbeat tone; the plot (often a quest), low-key lighting (harsh shadows and chiaroscuro) often in night scenes, camera angles (often canted or high angle shots), the setting (the gloomy underworld of crime and corruption), iconography (guns, urban settings), characters (disillusioned, jaded), and other elements (voice-overs and flashbacks) combined to present a dark atmosphere of pessimism, tension, cynicism, or oppression. Film noirs, often crime films, were usually set in grim and seedy cities, with characters including criminals, anti-heroes, private detectives, and duplicitous femme fatales; see also tech-noir Examples: American films of the 1940s and early 1950s, including The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), and Sunset Boulevard (1950). Also present day noirs, such as Body Heat (1981) and The Man Who Wasn't There (2001); Carl Reiner's Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) was a parody of film noir (and contained excerpted footage from classic film noir films)
a comprehensive (often chronological by year) listing of films featuring the work of an actor/actress, director, or other crew member; may also be a list of films for a specific genre or topic; a filmographer is another term for a film-maker or a person who studies film See filmographies of many prominent actors and actresses, or director-filmographies.
film review
an evaluative oral or written judgment about the quality of a movie, based upon various assumptions, facts, biases, etc; professional film reviewers are known as critics; a film review usually includes a brief synopsis (avoiding spoilers, usually), a balanced notation of both the film's plusses and minuses, quotable wording, and some judgments; more extensive, in-depth film evaluations are called analytical essays.
Film critics-reviewers Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert in the mid-80s presenting a critique on their TV show about Blue Velvet (1986)
film stock
refers to film size or gauge (8mm, 16mm, 35mm, 70mm, 105mm, for example), and film speed, among other things; also refers to raw unused, unexposed film; various kinds of film stock include tungsten (for use with artificial light, usually indoors) and daylight film stock (for use with natural light, usually outdoors)  
film within a film
a particular story-telling approach, literally, to have one film within another; in some cases, the characters are aware of the 'film-within-a-film,' and break the fourth wall and enter into or interact with it; aka subset film or picture within a picture Examples: the opening of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) with silent film footage of the historical Butch Cassidy's 'Hole in the Wall' Gang; also found in Buster Keaton's Sherlock, Jr. (1924); the "News on the March" segment in Citizen Kane (1941), Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), The Player (1992), Last Action Hero (1993), Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994), and Steven Soderbergh's Full Frontal (2002)
glass, plastic, or gelatinous substance placed before or behind a camera lens to change the effect and character of the lighting within the film's frame  
final cut
the last edited version of a film as it will be released; see also rough cut  
an extreme type of super wide-angle lens with a very short focal point (and nearly infinite depth-of-field), that exaggerates and distorts the linear dimensions of the image, giving it a sense of curvature Example: the image of Ruth Gordon (as nosey neighbor Minnie Castevet) in a ludicrously distorted fish-eye view seen through neighbor Rosemary's (Mia Farrow) security door peephole in Rosemary's Baby (1968)); also common in dream sequences
'fish-out-of-water' tale
a film (usually humorous) in which the main character(s) faces 'culture shock' by being placed in unfamiliar or new surroundings or situations Examples: any version of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942), Trading Places (1983), 'Crocodile' Dundee (1986), Babe: Pig in the City (1998)
a filmic technique that alters the natural order of the narrative; a flashback may often be the entire film; it takes the story order back chronologically in time to a previous or past event, scene, or sequence that took place prior to the present time frame of the film; the flashbacked story that provides background on action and events is often called the backstory; contrast to flash-forward
Examples: Citizen Kane (1941) is composed mostly of flashbacks and flash-forwards - i.e., Joseph Cotten in a rest home remembering the past, in a flashback; also many film noirs begin with a flashback, such as Mildred Pierce (1945) and Out of the Past (1947)
(or flash-ahead)
simply put, the opposite of flashback; a filmic technique that depicts a scene, event or shot taking place (or imagined) or expected that is projected into a future time beyond the present time of the film, or it can be a flashforward from the past to the present Example: very common in futuristic science-fiction films (e.g., 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), or Jacob's Ladder (1990)), or in reflecting a character's hopes/dreams
flash frame
(or shot)
a single clear frame that is inserted between two shots that can barely be perceived, giving the appearance of a flash of white when viewed, and for the intention of producing a shock or sudden dramatic effect Example: in Hitchcock's black and white Spellbound (1945), two frames are hand-tinted red (Hitchcock's first use of color) in a gigantic closeup of a gun that rotates slowly and fires directly at the camera

flash in the pan
transitory, impermanent success or recognition; derived from panning for gold experience; see fifteen minutes of fame  
a section of a studio's set, consisting of a constructed wooden frame covered with materials (such as plywood that is treated or covered with fabric, metal, paint, wallpaper, etc.)  
the flickering image in early films gave rise to the generic term flicks when referring to the movies; often used in a condescending way, such as stating that a film is a 'horror flick' or 'chick-flick'  
refers to the unsteady, stroboscopic, fluctuating effect perceived by the viewer, often produced by an improperly-photographed or projected film; similar to the old-time movie effect  
a lamp that provides general diffuse lighting on a studio set  
a film that is a failure at the box-office; also known as floppola, bomb, turkey. See Greatest All-Time Film Flops. Examples: Heaven's Gate (1980) and Ishtar (1987) are two notorious examples of major flops
refers to the degree of sharpness or distinctness of an image (or an element of an image such as a person, object, etc.); as a verb, it refers to the manipulation or adjustment of the lens to create a sharper image; terms related are deep focus, shallow focus (very common in close-ups), soft focus, and rack focusing
an acting role that is used for personality comparison or contrast, usually with the protagonist or main character, as a means to show and highlight a character trait  
foley artist
in the post-production and editing stage of a film's production, the foley artist (named after pioneer Jack Foley) creates or adds sound effects/noises (e.g., footsteps, gunshots, kisses, punches, storm noises, slamming doors, explosions, etc.) to the film as it is projected, often with props that mimic the action  

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