A GLOSSARY OF FILM & CRITICAL TERMS

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A

Art Director

The person responsible for the designing of the sets and costumes for a film.

Associations

Other ideas that come to mind as we see, hear or think about a certain thing, e.g. we might see the colour green and think of ‘Ireland’. (= Connotations)

Auteur

A term used to refer to certain directors who see themselves as expressing their artistic vision through the medium of film.

B

Backlighting

The scene is lit from behind the subject, towards the camera.

Big Close-up

A shot taken from such a short distance that only part of the features of the subject appear in the picture, e.g. a picture showing only part of the face.

Bridging Shot

A shot used to connect two scenes that are far apart in time or space to avoid a jolting effect on the viewer, e.g. wheels turning to denote a journey.

C

Camera Angle

The height of the camera in relation to the subject. It can be higher than, lower than or level with the subject.

Camerawork

The technical codes associated with the movie camera, including Shot Distance, Camera Angle, Focus, Movement and Point of View.

Choreography

A term used to cover the movement of the characters in a scene in relation to each other and to the camera, e.g. a person in the background might move into the foreground as s/he becomes more and more prominent in the action.

Cinematographer

See Director of Photography.

Close-up

A shot showing only some of the features of the subject. In the case of a person, often the facial features.

Composition

The way an action or scene is framed by the camera. Elements like Lighting, Position in the Frame, and Camerawork have to be considered

Connotations

See Associations.

Crane Shot

A shot filmed with the camera on a crane which can move to follow the action.

Cross-cutting

A sequence of action that moves between two or more scenes that are filmed independently of each other but appear on the screen alternately giving the impression of parallel action.

Cut

One shot finishes and another appears immediately on the screen.

D

Deep Focus

An arrangement of the camera lens that catches objects near the camera and those far from it in focus.

Depth of Field

The area in the frame that is in focus.

Dialogue

The words spoken by the characters in a film. Strictly speaking the speech between two characters.

Director

The ‘author’ of a film. The person with overall artistic responsibility for getting the film made. See Auteur.

Director of Photography

The chief cameraman or cinematographer.

Discourse

A term that covers how a story-teller uses the features of a particular medium to tell a story. The discourse of literature is words. The discourse of theatre includes words, character, action and setting. The discourse of film consists of Mise en scène, Camera, Editing and Sound.

Dissolve

The shot on-screen gets another superimposed on it and both images can be seen before the first begins to fade from view. See Mix.

Dolly

A trolley or truck on which the camera is mounted so that it can move smoothly on rubber wheels around the set.

Dramatic Irony

A situation that arises when the audience is positioned so that it has more information about the action than one or more of the characters.

E

Edit

To splice a film together from all the shots that the director wants to use to get the story across.

Editor

The person who puts the filmed footage together to shape the final film.

Effects (F/X):

Visuals or sounds added to the film.

Establishing Shot

Usually a long shot to give the audience the general location of the action.

F

Fade-in

A scene appears gradually on the screen from complete blackness.

Fade-out

A scene disappears gradually from the screen into blackness.

Film-maker

See Director.

Flashback

Action from a time earlier than that of the main action is shown.

Focus

The way the camera photographs the subject. Deep focus will have everything in the frame in focus. Shallow focus will concentrate the eye on a particular point of interest by leaving the rest of the frame blurred. Soft focus will give a luscious, romantic image. These effects are achieved by adjusting the camera lens. See Rack Focus.

Footage

The length of film that has been shot. It is measured in feet and stored on reels.

Frame

The picture projected onto the screen.

Framing

See Composition.

Freeze-frame

A moving picture projected onto the screen as a still.

G

Genre

The French word for ‘type’ or ‘kind’. In film studies we speak of the ‘Gangster Genre’, the ‘Western Genre’ etc.

H

High Angle

The camera is pointed at a downward angle to the subject.

I

Iris In/Iris Out

A new image appears on the screen growing or spiralling from the centre while the old image shrinks into the centre.

J

Jump-cut

A cut from one part of an action to another in the same scene so as to condense the whole action in time, e.g. an interior shot of a person entering an office door and then we cut to a reverse shot of her reaching the desk.

L

Leitmotif

A term from Wagnerian opera. A musical phrase or tune that becomes associated with a character, place or issue which is repeated throughout a film in reference to them e.g. the ‘shark’ theme in Jaws, or the Harry Lime theme in The Third Man. See Music and Theme.

Linking Device

See Match Shot.

Long Shot

A picture taken at a distance from the subject.

Low Angle

The camera is pointed upwards at the subject.

M

Match Shot

A cut in which the two shots match each other by being linked in sound, visual composition or metaphor.

Medium Shot

A shot of the subject from a distance between close-up and long shot. In the case of a character it would show the subject from the knees up.

Metaphor

A comparison is suggested. The attributes of one character, set, prop or action are referring symbolically to another.

Mise en Scène

Whatever the camera catches on film. It includes Setting, Character, Lighting and Sound.

Mix

See Dissolve.

Monologue

A speech by one character.

Montage

A series of shots or stills in quick succession that usually give an impression of place or of time passing.

Music

See Score and Theme.

N

Narrative

The way a film gets across the details of its story i.e. characters involved in action over a certain time-span in a particular setting.

Newsreels

Short films that dealt with news events. They used to be shown in cinemas along with feature films in the days before television.

O

Oblique Angle

The camera is held so as to frame the scene off the horizontal. Doors, windows etc. look as if they are tilting off the vertical.

Over-the-shoulder shot

A shot from behind a character showing the side of the head and the shoulder.

P

Pan

A shot as the camera pivots horizontally across a scene.

Parallel Action

A means, in narrative, of showing the action in two different times or places by cross-cutting between them.

Plot

The events of a film as they are linked in a relationship of cause and effect by the narrator to involve the audience and maintain its interest.

Point of View

The narrative view of the action of a film. It is usually ‘third person’ or ‘objective’. When we are positioned by the camera so that we can get into the thoughts of a character the term
used is ‘first person point of view’.

Point of View Shot

A subjective shot (q.v.) from the point of view of one of the characters in a film.

Producer

The person in charge of the business side of getting a film made and distributed. The producer is often the one who commits the most time to a project, being involved from pre-production, through production and into post-production and distribution.

Props

Items used on the set by the characters apart from costumes.

Pull-back Shot

A shot in which the camera tracks or zooms back from an action to reveal its context.

R

Rack Focus

A technique that uses shallow depth of field selectively changing the focal plane within a shot to draw the viewer’s attention to another detail in the frame, e.g. a character who has been out of focus comes into focus to answer the speaker.

Reversal

A feature of the plot of a film, when the fortunes of a character change dramatically for the better or the worse.

Reverse Shot

See Shot-reverse-shot.

S

Scene

A series of shots that form a unit in time or action.

Score

The music for a film.

Screenplay

The film as a script. Depending on conditions during filming, the final version of the dialogue and action may vary from the original screenplay.

Scriptwriter

The person who writes the screenplay, the stage direction, action and dialogue for a film.

Sequence

A series of scenes that are united in subject matter or action.

Set

See Setting (ii).

Setting

(i) The period in which a film’s action occurs. (Time).
(ii) The physical environment in which a film’s action is set and the props handled by the characters. (Place).

Set-up

A single camera position and lighting arrangement during shooting.

Shallow Focus

When the lens is adjusted in such a way as to have only a very shallow depth of field in a shot in order to direct the attention of the viewer to certain details within the frame.

Shot Distance

The distance between the camera and the subject in a shot. The subject can be photographed in Close-up, Medium, or Long Shot.

Shot Length

In editing, the length of time an editor gives to a shot before cutting away from it. Quick cutting may build up a sense of excitement. Slow cutting or long takes may give a sense of serenity.

Shot-reverse-shot

The camera shows a scene from one point of view and then looks back 180°, for instance to film two people in conversation facing each other.

Slow Motion

The film is projected at a slower speed than that at which it was shot giving the impression of time being extended.

Soft Focus

A lens effect giving a hazy look to the shot.

Soundtrack

The audio recorded track of a film that includes dialogue, music, voices from television, radio etc. and sound effects.

Story Board

A series of drawings and captions, like a comic book, made up in the planning stages to show camera set-ups and action.

Subjective Shot

A shot that allows the viewer to observe the action from the point of view (q.v.) of one of the characters in a film.

Subtitles

See Titles.

Symbol

Anything that can stand for something else, e.g. the musical theme may stand for a character who may be on or off the screen; a sword may signify ‘violence’.

T

Theme

(i) An issue dealt with in the film.
(ii) A recurring musical motif (pattern) associated with a character, setting or idea. See Leitmotif.

Three-shot

A shot of three people.

Tilt Shot

The camera moves up or down over the subject on its horizontal axis.

Titles

Words that appear on the screen to give information to the audience. Their style or font may give an indication of the tone of the film or the attitude of the narrator to the subject matter.

Trailer

A series of shots from a film released before the film itself as part of its advertising campaign.

Transition

The way an editor manages the cut from one shot to another. See Iris, Wipe, Dissolve and Fade.

Tracking Shot

The camera is mounted on tracks and moves forwards, backwards or sideways to follow the action. It also refers to Dolly Shots and Hand-held shots.

Trolley

A vehicle on which the camera can be mounted to follow action.

Two-shot

A shot of two people.

V

Voice-over

The voice of a narrator heard over the action.

W

Wipe

A means of clearing one image from the screen to make way for the next one by, literally, wiping it from the screen.

Z

Zoom

A shift in the lens that appears to bring the camera nearer to the subject or away from it. In fact the shot distance remains the same as the focal length of the lens goes from Wide Angle to Telephoto or vice versa.