Glossary

A Glossary of Film and Television terms

Books

Every profession has its jargon – and film and television have some of the quaintest.

We all know what a Best Man is, but what’s a Best Boy?

Are Redheads brighter than Blondes?

Is a Travelling Matte the same as a magic carpet?

Is a Butterfly Frame really used for catching moths?

Read on to find out what they, and all sorts of other trivia, mean (Except for the bits I forgot).

A

Aerial Shot
A shot taken from a high building, crane, plane, or helicopter. Not necessarily a moving shot.

Ambiance
The noise that is in the background of the sounds you want to record. Americans call it ‘Room Tone’.

Anamorphic lens
Squeezes wide screen shots onto normal geometry film. A similar lens in the projector expands the shot horizontally again.

Aperture
The variable opening that controls the amount of light entering the camera.

Art director
See Designer

Aspect Ratio
The ratio of width to height of a picture. Normal television is 4×3 and wide screen television is 16×9. The cinema uses all sorts of different formats, but the standard frame is 1.85×1.

Assistant director / First assistant
The person who directs additional action in shots, who runs rehearsals, and generally assists the director in the production process. Responsible for keeping communications flowing on the unit. Chief smoother of ruffled feathers.

Associate Producer
Someone who arranged for his brother-in-law to let the production borrow his holiday bungalow for a shoot.

Atmos Track
See Buzz Track

Audition
The process of assessing actors and actresses for certain parts in a production.

B

Background music
Music which is added to the film and not recorded as the film is being shot. Intended to heighten the mood of the production.

Backlight
The light behind the subject which separates it from the background and gives the shot depth.

Back Projection
A system whereby a fixed or moving image is projected onto a translucent screen behind the main action. Mostly superseded by matte processes.

Barn Doors
Metal flaps attached to the front of a lamp that give the user much more selectivity over the lighting.

Best Boy
Term used by the lighting gaffer and the senior grip for their number two. Originates from an apocryphal conversation between a cameraman and a gaffer. The cameraman wanted a very complicated set up. He said it was not a job for a junior person. “Right,” says the gaffer, “I’ll put my best boy onto it”.

Big Close-up
Very close shot of the face, cutting off the top of the head.

Black edging
Outlining letters on screen to help legibility.

Blonde
Smallish portable mains lamp, about 2 kilowatts of power. Also a hand-held device wielded by a producer to demonstrate his importance.

Boom
Long pole used to mount microphones above people’s heads and out of shot. The holder of the pole is the boom operator, sometimes also called boom.

Bounced Light
Light reflected off a wall or ceiling (or piece of card, or a shirt) before falling onto the subject. Gives a soft effect.

Bridging Shot
A shot used to cover a jump in time or place or other discontinuity. Common examples are falling leaves, changing calendar pages and newspaper headlines.

Broadcast Quality
A special technical term used to describe the output of a manufacturer’s product no matter how badly it works.

Brute
Very large bright light, usually carbon arc.

Buffer shot
A cheat shot put in to disguise a crossing line error. See Crossing the line.

Butterfly
Large frame used to mount a diffusion screen to control light.

Buzz Track
Recording of silence! Actually a recording of the ambient sounds present at any location – distant traffic, bird sound, air conditioners, etc. Can be used to cover any gap, or to disguise a jump when dialogue has been recorded with two slightly different background levels.

C

Camera Angle
The vertical angle at which the camera is pointed at the subject.

Cardioid Microphone
One with a directional pattern of sound pickup. A diagram of the acceptance pattern is heart-shaped or cardioid.

Cast
The people who actually play parts in a production.

Chroma-key
See Colour Separation Overlay.

Chrominance
The colour part of a video signal.

Cinematographer
The person in charge of how the photographic end of a film looks. He decides where lights go, what filters to use, etc. On large crews he might have six or more assistants as well as the electricians and grips. On small crews he do all of these jobs himself.

Clapper board
A board marked with the shot number and take (plus other information about the production). It is usually recorded at the start of each shot, and helps the editor find the preferred shot, and synchronise separate sound and vision sources.

Climax
The part of an action or drama movie when tension comes to its highest point, usually near the end.

Close-up
A shot in which a character’s face and shoulders are the main image, or where a single object or parts of objects are the main image.

Colour Balance
Generally you want to make sure that white looks white, not pale blue or yellow. Sunlight, fluorescent bulbs, tungsten bulbs, gas lamps give different kinds of light. The eye adapts automatically, but a camera has to be filtered and/or electrically adjusted to make white look white.

Colour Separation Overlay (CSO)
An electronic system for combining two images so that one appears to have the other as a background. At its simplest, a plain (usually blue) coloured background in the first shot operates an electronic. Where the switch sees blue, it puts in part of shot two; any other colour and it leaves in the original shot 1 On film it is called travelling matte or blue (green) screen process.

Colour Temperature
A measurement of the colour of light. Daylight is very blue, tungsten (ordinary household bulbs) is pinky-yellow, and most fluorescents are greenish. How blue they are is measured in degrees Kelvin, and filters can then be used to change the apparent colour.

Commentary
Spoken words by an invisible narrator. The words add information to the pictures. Found mostly in documentary films, but occasionally in dramatic, epic or docudrama.

Component Video
A video signal in which the Luminance and Chrominance parts are kept separate. This requires a higher bandwidth, but gives a better quality picture.

Composite Video
The luminance and chrominance signals are combined.

Compressor
Electronic device for increasing and decreasing the volume of a sound to bring it within a certain range.

Contrast Ratio
The difference between the lightest and darkest parts of a shot. The human eye can see into the darkest shadow on the brightest day – a ratio of maybe two thousand to one. Video can handle about 75 to 1.

Continuity
Making sure that all details of a scene or location are consistent from shot to shot.

Continuity cuts
These are cuts that take us seamlessly and logically from one sequence or scene to another. This is an unobtrusive cut that serves to move the narrative along.

Cookie (Cucaloris)
A piece of thin metal or similar that can be placed in front of a light to give a broken or spotty shadow. This is called an ulcer in certain places!

Coverage
Each scene is usually filmed from more than one angle, sometimes using more than one camera. This coverage gives the editor more than one option when putting the scene together.

Crab
A sideways movement of the camera. On film where railway lines are used, a crab is usually referred to as a track.

Crane
A camera platform that can be raised and lowered. Generally mounted on a rolling base.

Credits
A list of people involved in making a programme. The rules for who goes where in the list are enormously complex, but for a television programme at its simplest, the order is; leading on-screen people, minor on-screen parts, minor off-screen, then major off-screen ending with the director.

Crossing the line
Reversing the action (direction of travel or eyeline) in successive shots. This confuses the viewer’s sense of direction.

Cross-cutting
1 Cutting between two different actions, either occurring simultaneously or at different times. These scenes are often referred to as parallel action. Crosscutting is used to build suspense, or to show the relationship between the different sets of action.
2 Also used to refer to cutting between two people in one scene.

Cut
The joining of one shot to another. In its simplest form the cut imitates the way the eye switches between images.

Cutaway
A shot of something or someone related to, but not seen in, the main shot. It can help to shorten time, or to avoid a jump cut.

Cyclorama
A large white(ish) curtain used to provide a general background in a studio.

D

Dailies
See Rushes.

Decibel
Unit of measurement of the volume of sound. Also used to compare other signal levels.

Decor
See Props.

Deep focus
A technique in which objects very near the camera as well as those far away are in focus at the same time.

Depth of Field
Nearest to furthest parts of a shot that are in sharp focus.

Designer
The person who controls the look of the sets and locations to be used in the production.

Dialogue
Words spoken by performers.

Diffusion
Softening an image or light source. In emergency a pair of tights stretched over the lens can be used.

Director
Makes an artistic interpretation of the production. Decides how the movie should look and directs the actors and crew so as to achieve this.

Director of Photography or DOP or DP
See Cinematographer.

Dissolve / lap-dissolve / mix
These terms are used interchangeably to refer to a soft transition between 2 sequences or scenes. The first image gradually dissolves or fades out and is replaced by another which fades in over it. This type of transition can suggest the passage of time.

Documentary
A film or programme that deals with a non-fictional subject (though sometimes in a fictional kind of way).

Dolly
A set of wheels and a platform upon which the camera can be mounted to give it mobility. Often used on portable rails.

Downstage
Towards the camera.

Dub
1 Replacing the dialogue (spoken words) of a film. Can be done to translate the film into another language or to replace dialogue not recorded (deliberately or accidentally) during the shoot.
2 Mixing together of a film’s various sound tracks.
3 Copying a video.

DVE
Digital Video Effects. A device for juggling the video to create special effects. The picture can be inverted, twisted, spun, shrunk, slid sideways and so on.

E

EDL
Edit Decision List. A list of edit decisions made during an edit session – refers to shot name or number, and the time from the first frame of that shot.

Editing
The process by which the production is put together from bits that have been shot in different locations, studios and at different times, so that the result is the single story you get to watch.

Editor
1 Selects what he or she considers the best takes and pieces them together to produce a scene. Then he or she (in conjunction with the director) assembles the scenes to produce the finished programme.
2 In television also the senior producer in charge of a (usually non-fiction) series or magazine programme.

Effects Track
Separate sound track that contains all the non-dialogue sounds. Can be recorded synchronously with the picture or recorded wild.

End Board
When the clapper board is put (upside down) on the end of a shot instead of the start.

Establishing Shot
A shot, usually fairly wide, that establishes the layout of the location and action. Often used as the master shot for a scene.

Extreme long shot
A panoramic view of an exterior location photographed from a considerable distance, often as far as a quarter-mile away. May also serve as the establishing shot.

Eye-line
The direction in which a person is looking from the point of view of the camera. If the shot shows her looking left, her eyeline is left, etc.

F

Fade in
A punctuation device. The screen is black at the beginning; gradually the image appears, brightening to full strength.

Fade out
The opposite of a fade in! Often signifies the end of a scene.

Fill light
A soft light or lights that soften the shadows created by the key light.

Filter
1. Glass (or plastic) attachment put (usually) in front of the lens to modify the light entering the camera. It can change the colour of the light, or give a soft feel to the picture or make highlights look like stars.

2. Modification of the quality of the sound. Hollywood films often have the low upper frequencies exaggerated to make voices sound ‘nearer’.

Fine Cut
The final version of the edited production.

Fisheye
Very wide-angle lens. Usually gives quite a distorted picture.

Flag (French Flag)
Metal or cardboard sheet that can be clamped (or taped, or held) so as to block light falling where it’s not wanted. The American term is teaser.

Flare
Bright white, or coloured blob or streak on the image caused by a light shining directly onto the lens.

Flood
To adjust a light so as to make its beam wider and less intense.

Floor Plan
Scale drawing of a studio or location showing the positions of sets, performers, cameras, etc.

Foley
System for adding sound effects to a film and generally making the sound track more interesting.

Four Point Lighting
The basis of all film and television lighting. It uses a Key light to give shape, a Fill light to soften the shadows, a Back light to lift the subject away from the backing and (usually) a Background light to… er… light the background.

Flashback
A sequence in which something is shown which took place before the time in which the film’s story is set.

Flash-forward
On the model of the flashback, scenes or shots of future time; the future tense of the film. Not often used, for obvious reasons.

Focus
The sharpness of the image.

Follow shot
A tracking, pan or zoom which follows the subject as it moves.

Follow Focus
To adjust the focus while shooting so that a moving subject is kept in sharp focus.

Framing
The way in which subjects and objects are framed within a shot. Different shots and framing can convey different meanings to the viewer. A very long shot of a man walking on a beach can be used to indicate loneliness, for instance.

Fresnel Lens
Thin lens that gives precise control over a light’s output.

G

Gaffer
Chief electrician. Works to the Director of Photography.

Gel
Gelatine filter (not actually gelatine – just thin plastic) are often used when a large area is needed and glass ones would be too expensive.. A reddish gel can be taped or stapled over a window to convert the daylight to match that of the tungsten light inside.

Grip
Person (or people) in charge of moving camera dollies, tripods, etc.

Gun Microphone
See Rifle Mic.

H

Hard light
Light that throws very distinct hard-edged shadows.

Headroom
The screen space above a person’s head.
Also a sound recordists' term for recording a track with the level peaking about fifty percent so that if a performer gets excited and speaks loudly or shouts, the recording won't overload the system.

High Angle
Shot taken with the camera unusually high (though not as high as an aerial shot).

High Key
Scene lit so that it contains few dark areas. Contrast is low and shadows are not very deep.

Hot Spot
Very bright reflection from a surface.

I

Inky-Dink or Inkie
Small, very directional light with a fresnel lens. 50 to 100 watts.

Intern
Student working on a production to gain industry experience. Some get paid and learn a lot; others make coffee and sweep the floor and get nothing in return.

International Sound Track
See M & E.

J

Jump cut
Cut where there is no match between the 2 shots. Within a sequence, or more particularly a scene, jump cuts give the effect of bad editing. A jump cut ignores continuity of time, place and action. It makes the viewer jump and wonder where the narrative has got to.

Junior
Low wattage lamp with a fresnel lens.

K

Key light
The main light on a subject. In drama it simulates natural light. It reveals the shape of people and things.

Kicker
Small light used to pick out a detail. Often used as rim light for a face.

L

Lavalier Microphone
Strictly speaking this is worn on a string around the neck, but the term is sometimes used to refer to a microphone that can be clipped to a lapel or tie.

Lead
The actor and/or actress, who play the main parts in a film’s story.

Lead Room
The space in front of a moving person or car when the camera is panning with the subject. A good rule of thumb is two thirds of the screen space in front, one third behind.

Lip Sync
Relationship between the movements of a performer’s mouth and the words you hear. If they occur simultaneously, the shot is said to be in sync.

Location shooting
Anything shot outside the studio. Can be a short insert or the whole programme. Documentaries are nearly always shot completely on location.

Low Key
Scene lit so that the areas of darkness predominate. Contrast is high.

Luminance
The black and white, or brightness, part of a component video signal.

M

M & E
Full music and effects, without commentary. Might or might not contain sync dialogue.

Macro
Lens, or device on a lens, enabling very close shots.

Master shot
A long take of an entire scene, generally a relatively wide shot that facilitates the assembly of component closer shots and details. The editor can always fall back on the master shot: consequently, it is also called a cover shot. A shot which tries to contain the majority of the action.

Match cut
A cut where there is a logical connection between the two shots. The new shot immediately makes sense to the viewer. For example, the first shot shows a man looking at something off-screen, the second shot shows what he sees. It is so natural that the viewer doesn’t notice the cut.

Matte
A system for replacing a (usually plain blue) background of a scene with another picture. See CSO.

Matte box
A device that can be fixed in front of the camera lens to hold cut-out pieces of card or metal to simulate a keyhole or POV through binoculars, for instance.

Medium Close-up (MCU)
A ‘head and shoulders’ shot. Cuts the subject just below the armpits!

Mid Shot
(Also called a medium shot) About half the person. Cuts off just below the elbows – somewhere around waist level.

Mise-en-Scene
Term bandied about by film students who wish to impress.

Mix
See dissolve.

Mixed light
Mixture of two differently coloured kinds of light, e.g. daylight and ordinary tungsten lights.

Montage
1 Simply, editing.
2 An edited sequence of two or more shots that have no logical connection, but which, together, suggest something not specifically shown.

N

Narration
See Commentary.

Narrative Film
A film that tells a story. As they all should.

O

Omnidirectional microphone
A microphone that is sensitive to sounds from all directions.

Optical Barrier
An imaginary line along the direction of travel or eyeline. If you take shots from both sides of the line, the cuts will jump.

Overcranking
Shooting film or video faster than the usual 24 or 25 frames a second in order to produce a slow motion effect. Can be simulated during an edit, but the results may not be too pleasing.

P

Pan
Movement of the camera from left to right or right to left around the imaginary vertical axis that runs through the camera.

Parallel Action
See Crosscutting

Persistence of Vision
After an picture disappears, the eye continues to see the image for a short time. In cinemas and on television, the next picture is arranged to arrive just as the eye ceases to see the old shot. The brain therefore thinks the action is continuous and ‘sees’ moving pictures.

Plot
The sequence(s) of incidents, events and actions which make up the story.

Point of view shot (POV)
A shot which shows the scene from the specific point of view of one of the characters.

Polarising Filter
Filter that eliminates light reflected at a certain angle. Can help increase colour saturation, and reduce hot spots on water, car bodies, etc.

Prime Lens
A non-zoom lens. Generally gives better picture quality, and can enable the camera to shoot with less light than a zoom.

Producer
The person in charge of all the business aspects of a film or television programme. Usually initiates the creation of the production. On a feature film, he will find the script, hire a director, find financing and a studio to back the film, and market the film. In television, he or she performs a similar job, but usually works on a series of programmes. In nonfiction television programmes the producer is sometimes the director as well.

Props
All the furniture, decorations, properties and other bits of stuff in the picture you see on screen.

Q

R

Radio microphone
A microphone that works with a receiver to enable the user great freedom of movement.

Redhead
Small portable mains light of about 800 watts.

Reverse angle
A shot that complements a previous shot – in a drama, a shot of the second participant.

RGB
Red, Green, Blue. The primary colours that make up white light.

Rifle Microphone
Very directional device.

Rig or Rig In
Setting up lights, tripods, sound gear, etc., before production begins in a certain location.

Rough Cut
The first edit – done very quickly with no frills – to enable the editor and director to get an idea of how a production will look in its final form.

Rushes
All the shots (usually from a day’s work) with no editing, colour correction or other filtering applied.

S

Saturation
The purity of a colour. Pastel colours are not very saturated.

Scene
A complete unit of film narration. A series of shots (or a single shot) that takes place in a single location and that deals with a single action. Sometimes used interchangeably with sequence.

Scoop
Large softlight.

Screenplay
The complete written script of a film, including the dialogue and instructions for the director and cinematographer. In television, the equivalent is the teleplay.

Screenwriter
A person whose business it is to write screenplays.

Scrim
Wire mesh, gauze or fibreglass cloth placed in front of a light to soften and diffuse it.

Script
The master document for any production. Can be a complete treatment (see screenplay) or a simple list of ingredients (for a wildlife film, for instance).

Second Unit
Additional crew used when more than one camera is needed on a scene (e.g. a car crash) or to pick up additional shots in which the main cast doesn’t appear (an airliner landing, for instance).

Senior
Directional 5 kilowatt lamp using a Fresnel lens.

Sequence
Part of a production, consisting of a series of shots which have been edited together to appear as a single unbroken event.

Shot
A single view of the action or image.

Shooting Ratio
Ratio of amount of film or tape shot to that used in the final production.

Situation comedy
Usually called a sit-com. A series of short comedy movies following a formula and usually having the same cast.

Slate
Another name for the clapper board.

Snoot or Snood
Large black cone with the end cut off. The large end fits over a lamp and a very narrow beam of light comes out of the small end.

Softlight
Light that casts indistinct shadows. Can be a light with a large open face or hard light that has been bounced off a white surface or filtered through a piece of paper or scrim.

Spot
1 Very directional light, usually operated during shot to follow a subject.
2 To adjust a light to make the beam more narrow and concentrated.

Steadicam
A system which permits hand-held shooting with an image steadiness comparable with tracking shots on a dolly. It is basically a harness worn by the cameraman on which the camera is mounted on a head that allows it to ‘float’.

Stock Shot
A pre-existing shot taken from a library.

Storyboard
A sequence of cartoon frames showing the basic shots for a scene of a film or television programme. It is drawn during the planning stage, and gives the director a chance to try out ideas without spending much money.

Strike
To de-rig a set.

Subtitle
Written words placed usually at the bottom of the screen, often in a different language from the original.

Sun Gun
Small handheld battery light.

Swish pan
See whip pan.

Sync (Synchronisation)
Picture and sound exactly in time with each other.

T

Take
One version of a certain shot. A film-maker shoots one or more takes of each shot or set-up. The best of each appears in the final production.

Telephoto (lens)
Lens with a long focal distance – therefore a narrow angle of view. Magnifies distant objects.

Tilt
The camera looks up or down, rotating around the axis that runs from left to right through the camera head.

Tracking shot
A shot when the camera is moved by means of wheels. The movement is normally quite steady and can be fast or slow.

Two K (and similar)
Powerful mains light.

Teaser
See Flag.

Time Code
A time reference to identify each frame of film, videotape or sound tape.

Track
To move the camera forwards or backwards. Also to move it sideways. See Dolly.

Two-shot
A shot with two people (or one Dolly Parton) in it!

U

Undercrank
Shooting film slower than the usual 24 or 25 frames a second in order to make action in the finished shot appear faster.

Upstage
Away from the camera.

V

Voice-over
The voice of an unseen narrator.

Vox Pop
Vox Populi. Technique of asking a number of people for their views on one subject. Also the result – a series of short shots showing the replies.

W

Walk Through
Rehearsal of a scene without trying for a performance. It’s to let everyone see the action, positions, etc.

Wardrobe
Clothes worn by performers in a film’s action.

Whip pan
A fast pan in which the shot deteriorates to a blur.

Wide Angle
Lens with a short focal length, therefore a wide angle of view. Used close to a subject, it can distort the view.

Wild Track
Sound recorded on location independently from the picture.

Wipe
An optical effect in which an image appears to wipe over or push aside the previous shot.

White balance
See colour balance.

Wrap
To put away the equipment at the end of the day, or (especially) the end of the final day of a shoot.

X

Y

Z

Zoom
A lens whose focal length can be adjusted during a shot. Also the visual effect that results from that adjustment. Mimics a track, but is not the same.