Film Terms



Film Terms Glossary - Index
(alphabetical and illustrated)
Introduction | A - 1 | A - 2 | B - 1 | B - 2 | C - 1 | C - 2 | C - 3 | D | E | F
G - H | I - J - K | L - M | N - O | P | Q - R | S - 1 | S - 2 | T | U - V - W - X - Y - Z

Film Terms Glossary
Cinematic Terms
Definition and Explanation
Example (if applicable)
tag line
a clever phrase or short sentence to memorably characterize a film, and tease and attract potential viewers, or sell the movie; also creates a catchy 'soundbite' often repeated or presented in a trailer or on a film's poster, sometimes along with the film's leitmotif Examples: "This is the weekend they didn't play golf" (Deliverance (1972)), "The Night He Came Home!" (Halloween (1978)), "Where were you in '62?" (American Graffiti (1973)), "Small town. Big crime. Dead cold" (Fargo (1996)), "This is Maggie the Cat..." (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)), "It's Terrific!" (Citizen Kane (1941))
a single continuously-recorded performance, shot or version of a scene with a particular camera setup; often, multiple takes are made of the same shot during filming, before the director approves the shot; in box-office terms, take also refers to the money a film's release has made  
a term applied to the actors, as a group, on a film set  
the common term used for films with sound (beginning in 1927), although rarely used currently. The advent of talkies marked the dawning of the era of sound films, as opposed to silent films Example: the landmark film In Old Arizona (1929), was advertised as "100% All-Talking", and "You Hear What You See" on its poster, because it was the first sound western from a major studio (Fox Pictures); Singin' in the Rain (1952) took a look back at the dawning of the talkies
talking head(s)
a medium shot of people conversing; used as a criticism - denoting an uninteresting image  
a slang term, meaning to "pick", "select", "name", or "appoint"  
an excessively-sentimental or emotional film, usually with suffering female protagonists, tragic circumstances, manipulative scenes, and dramatic musical scoring; aka melodramas or weepies; derogatively known as a 'woman's film' or 'chick flick'; contrast to feel-good film Examples: Dark Victory (1939), Now, Voyager (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945), Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948), Love Story (1970) (pictured), Beaches (1988), and Steel Magnolias (1989)
the trade name for the best known color film process; 3-strip color is often used as a synonymous term; also used generically as a term for rich, bright, vibrant, sometimes garish colors; Technicolor films were described as highly saturated (with pure and vivid colors); Technicolor (a 3-color dye transfer system) was introduced in the Disney short cartoon, Flowers and Trees (1932) This new process in the 1930s involved a camera that used prisms to split the light coming through the lens onto three strips of black-and-white film, one each for the primary colors (red, green, blue; with complementary color dyes: cyan, magenta, yellow)
modern day (or post-modern) expressionistic film noirs set in the future, with dark, decaying societies Examples: Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982) (pictured), Outland (1981), Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), The Terminator (1984), Robocop (1987), Total Recall (1990), Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days (1995), Andrew Niccol's Gattaca (1997), Alex Proyas' Dark City (1998), and David Cronenberg's eXistenZ (1999)
refers to a feature-length motion picture made for television; also known as telepic or telepix; see also made-for TV movie  

refers to a camera lens with a very long focal length and narrow angle of view - the effect is to compress or condense depth in space, thereby bringing distant objects closer to the viewer (without moving the camera), but it also flattens the depth of the image; it has the opposite of the effect of a wide-angle lens

Example: Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967) and the extreme telephoto shot of Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) running towards the church - and appearing to run in place; or the scene of Indy Jones (Harrison Ford) running from natives in the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
an industry slang or trendy buzzword term, meaning a film that is expected to serve as a primary support for a studio, i.e., to be a top-grossing blockbuster (usually during the summer season), to compensate for a studio's other flops; usually the film is the start of, or an installment in, a franchise Example: Armageddon (1998) and other $100 million-plus films, such as Spider-Man (2002) or Shrek (2001)
theatre - theater
the place for screening, presenting, or viewing a film or motion picture; aka cinema  
a slang term referring to a feature-length motion picture  
the central characteristic, idea, concern or motif in a film  
theme music
the opening or closing music of a motion picture, often containing the film's 'signature' or leitmotif tune/phrase that is associated with a character or situation within the film Examples: 'Laura's theme' in Laura (1944), John Williams' shark music in Jaws (1975).
a film that has a three-dimensional, stereoscopic form or appearance, giving the life-like illusion of depth; often achieved by viewers donning special red/blue (or red/green) polarized lens glasses; when 3-D images are made interactive so that users feel involved with the scene, the experience is called virtual reality; 3-D experienced a heyday in the early 1950s; aka 3D, three-D, Stereoscopic 3D, Natural Vision 3D, or three-dimensional

Examples: the first major 3D feature film was Bwana Devil (1953) [the first was Power of Love (1922)], House of Wax (1953), Cat Women of the Moon (1953), the MGM musical Kiss Me Kate (1953), Warner's Hondo (1953), a version of Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954) and Universal's Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), Comin' At Ya! (1981), a segment of Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), Spy Kids 3D: Game Over (2003)

refers to a medium shot that contains three people; compare to two-shot  
refers to any commercial venture connected to a film Examples: the simultaneous release of a novel and the film based upon it, or of model characters, such as the Harry Potter novels
tight on
a cinematography term that refers to a close-up camera shot of the subject, aka extreme closeup or tight framing  
tilt shot
(or oblique angle)
a camera tilted up or down on a diagonal along a vertical axis; a vertical camera movement from a fixed position often used to suggest an imbalance, or strangeness, or to emphasize size, power or menace; also known as tilt pan, tilt up or tilt down (or reveal), or vertical pan, although not technically the same as "pan up" or "pan down", similar to a moving close-up; a dutch angle is filmed at an extreme diagonal tilt  
time lapse
a method of filming where frames are shot much slower than their normal rate, allowing action to take place between frames, and giving the appearance of the action taking place much faster in the finished product; often done for nature filming (the blooming of a flower, the movement of clouds, etc.), allowing the viewer to witness the event compressed from real time (hours or days) into a few seconds; (one frame shot every 30 seconds over 24 hours of real time would equal two minutes of film time); opposite of slow-motion Example: Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
the use of color to physically tint film stock to achieve a desired mood, usually done selectively by hand; often used by silent black-and-white films before the widespread use of color film. See gel and sepia. Example: The Great Train Robbery (1903) was selectively hand-tinted. D.W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916) (pictured) tinted each of its four episodes (and its "cradle rocking" interludes) in a different color: the "Modern" Story was tinted amber, the "Judean" Story was tinted blue, the "French" Story was tinted in sepia, and the "Babylonian" Story was tinted grey-green. Gold tinting was also used to "color" the gold, brass beds, gold teeth, gilt frames, and the canary cage in Greed (1924). The 1984 re-release of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) also tinted various scenes
title role
the lead part in a movie or other production for an actor or actress, that is named after the title of the film Example: Harrison Ford in the title role in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), or Angelina Jolie in the title role of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
the words that appear on the film screen and convey information; categories of titles include: credit titles, main titles, end titles, insert titles, and subtitles; a creeper title, also known as a roll-up title, refers to a film title that appears to move solwly across the screen - vertically or horizontally; in silent film, "titles" (called title cards or intertitles) included the written commentary and full screens of textual dialogue spliced within the action; title design refers to the artistic manner in which the title of a film is displayed on screen; the working title is the name by which a film is known while it is being made (e.g., during the filming of Psycho (1960), it was known as Production 9401); see Movie Title Screens; see also credits

Main title screen from Citizen Kane (1941)

A 'title' card (or intertitle) from The Crowd (1927).

Saul Bass' cleverly-designed titles for the opening credit sequence of North by Northwest (1959).

abbreviation for tickets
the mood or atmosphere of a film scene, often revealed by the director in the way a film is directed, e.g., serious, humorous, satiric, amusing, etc.  
abbreviation for cartoon  
to star; or to be billed above the title of a film; the topliner is the star of a particular film Example: Bette Davis, top-billed or starring in the melodrama Marked Woman (1937), with lesser billed and lesser-known actor Humphrey Bogart.
refers to the head of a company or organization  
tour de force
literally "forceful turn" (French); usually refers to a lead actor's performance that was incredibly skillful, brilliant, notable, masterful, reflecting a very high standard, and perfectly displaying the actor's ability; compare to 'stealing a scene' - the equivalent for a supporting actor role Examples: Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday (1940) as Hildy Johnson, and Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) as Randle P. McMurphy (pictured).
tracking shot 
(or truck)

a smooth shot in which the camera moves alongside ('tracking within') or follows the subject through space, usually with the camera mounted on a dolly (on a dolly track); often seen as a side-to-side motion (relative to the scene or the action); also known as following shot; sometimes used interchangeably with dolly shot, pull back shot (pull-out, push-out, widen-out or push-back), track back (moving away) or track in (or push-in) (moving forward), or zoom shot; see also Steadicam

Examples: from Eyes Wide Shut (1999) (pictured here); some other famous examples of tracking shots are examples of Steadicam 'tracking', including Danny's point of view (POV) shots in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980), when wheeling around the Overlook Hotel; the shot on top of the train or the shot walking through the camp in Bound for Glory (1976); the shot from the dressing room to the ring in Raging Bull (1980); the following and tracking shots in Marathon Man (1976); the entire Hitchcock film Rope (1948) - composed of long segments of uncut film; Mikhail Kalatozov's amazing hand-held tracking shot in I Am Cuba (1964) - beginning with views of a rooftop beauty pageant with contestants wearing swimwear that descended to an outdoor pool and went underwater; the continuous opening shot in Robert Altman's The Player (1992), or the lengthy 7-minute final shot in The Passenger (1975) which ended back in the Spanish hotel room and discovered the murdered body of David Locke (Jack Nicholson); also the famous track-back shot from upstairs to the outside of an apartment in Frenzy (1972) (pictured); the 8 minute shot in Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend (1967) viewing surrealistic and nightmarishly apocalyptic images of the roads littered with traffic jams, car wrecks and accidents, bloody casualties, and burning cars; the opening shot in Boogie Nights (1997) that tracked into the 70s disco; also the 3-minute entrance of Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco into the Copacabana club in Scorsese's GoodFellas (1990); the lengthy and uninterrupted crane and hand-held Steadicam shots in Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men (2006) in the car chase in the woods scene, and the 6-minute trek through an embattled war zone; and the uncut, single 5 1/2-minute Steadicam shot of British soldier Robbie (James McAvoy) along the embattled beach at 1940s Dunkirk in Atonement (2007) as the British Expeditionary Forces retreated

refers to a personal touch or embellishment of an actor, director, writer or producer within a film; aka signature, calling card. Example: Hitchcock's 'cameos' in all of his films, or Stanley Kubrick's use of the in-joke CRM-114 (in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969), the serial number on one of the pods was "CRM114"; in his A Clockwork Orange (1971), the central character Alex was injected with "serum 114" - CRM=serum; in Eyes Wide Shut (1999), the mortuary was located on Level/Wing C, Room 114)
refers to the professional magazines and publications that report the daily or weekly entertainment news of the entertainment industry. Examples: Variety, and the Hollywood Reporter (pictured here), and Boxoffice Magazine.
a short publicity film, preview, or advertisement composed of short excerpts and scenes from a forthcoming film or coming attraction, usually two-three minutes in length; often presented at the showing of another film. Historically, these advertisements were placed at the end of a newsreel or supporting feature and so "trailed" them, hence the name; also commonly known as preview(s); also, another name for the tail - a length of blank leader (strip of film) at the end of a reel; a teaser is basically a very short trailer (of 15-30 seconds in length) that only provides a few hints about the film (a Web address, a few bars of music, a quick sequence of images, specially-shot footage, etc.).
(or transitional technique or device)
one of several ways of moving from (or joining together) one shot or scene to the next one, including such transitional effects or shots as a cut, fade, dissolve, and wipe; a transition focus between two scenes means the current scene goes out of focus and the next scene comes into focus Example: in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the bone-cut-to-satellite transition - one of the most famous match cuts in cinematic history
trash film
refers to second-run, low-budget films that are deliberately over-the-top, infantile, amateurish, sometimes excessively gory or raunchy which are intended to shock, disgust, and repel mainstream audiences, and appeal to non-traditional audiences. Sometimes described as a sub-category of exploitation and cult films, or called a 'turkey' film. Compare with sexploitation, B-films, and Z-films. Examples: Films distributed and produced by Troma Studios, the splatter films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, Paul Morrissey's Trash (1970), John Waters' Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974), William Sach's The Incredible Melting Man (1977), Meir Zarchi's Day of the Woman (aka I Spit on Your Grave (1978)).
a film made for the purpose of showing scenes from foreign, exotic places Example: Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
a detailed literary summary or presentation of a film's story (and each major scene), with action and characters described in prose form, and sometimes including bits of dialogue; often used to market and/or sell a film project or script; usually it is an abridged script longer than a synopsis (a brief summation of a film); a completed treatment is a late stage in the development of a screenplay after several story conferences have incorporated changes into the script  
a group of three films that together compose a larger narrative and are related in subject or theme Examples: Coppola's three Godfather films, the Terminator films trilogy, Terry Gilliam's 'Age of Reason' trilogy, Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Ingmar Bergman's trilogy, the Qatsi trilogy, Spielberg's original trilogy of 'Indiana Jones' films, the original Star Wars trilogy, and Kieslowski's 'Three Colors' films
triple threat
refers to an actor or actress who can sing, dance and act skillfully and equally well on a consistent basis; usually applicable to performers in the musicals genre; it also could refer to a person who can act, direct, and screenwrite! Examples: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, James Cagney (pictured, from Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)), Deborah Kerr; also Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Warren Beatty, Woody Allen, Robert Redford, etc.
a term that denotes to promote or draw attention to; usually conducted by publicists, advertisers, and agents; from the ancient show business custom of actors wandering the streets banging on tubs and drums to draw an audience together  
refers to a film or project that has been abandoned by a studio and is no longer active (and now available for being shopped to another studio)  
24 frames per second
refers to the standard frame rate or film speed - the number of frames or images that are projected or displayed per second; in the silent era before a standard was set, many films were projected at 16 or 18 frames per second, but that rate proved to be too slow when attempting to record optical film sound tracks; aka 24fps or 24p
Example: at 24 fps, 4 projected frames take 1/6 second to view
twist ending
a film that is marketed as having a surprise ending that shouldn't be revealed (as a spoiler) to those who haven't seen the picture Examples: Citizen Kane (1941), Psycho (1960), Planet of the Apes (1968), Soylent Green (1973), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Angel Heart (1987), No Way Out (1987), The Crying Game (1992), Se7en (1995), The Usual Suspects (1995) (pictured), Primal Fear (1996), Arlington Road (1999), The Sixth Sense (1999), Fight Club (1999), The Others (2001), and Shrek (2001)
slang for coupons that discount an film's admission price to "two for" the price of one  
refers to a film with only two characters Example: Sleuth (1972), with Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier
in the silent era, this referred to a film lasting a little over 20 minutes Example: Silent era Edgar Kennedy's many two-reelers of comedy shorts (with Mack Sennett and Hal Roach)
a medium or close-up camera shot of two people (often in dialogue with each other), often framed from the chest up; often used to provide a contrast between the two characters; compare to three-shot

Examples of a medium closeup (two-shot)
from Pulp Fiction (1994) and Citizen Kane (1941)

when an actor or actress is commonly (but unfairly) identified, associated with, or 'stereotyped' by a particular character role; casting against type is the reverse of typecasting; typage refers to director Eisenstein's theory of casting that shunned professional actors in favor of 'types' or representative characters Example: Edward G. Robinson - well-known as a 'tough guy', snarling gangster, such as in Key Largo (1948) or Little Caesar (1930); or 'good-girl' Deanna Durbin cast against type in her first adult role as a sultry songstress-hostess (prostitute) in the film noirish Christmas Holiday (1944)

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