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Filmmaking Terminology Dictionary - Your Ultimate Guide

Updated: Jul 21

Whether you’re working on your first or 100th film, there is always something new to learn. When you need to update your film terminology, this resource will be your best friend. We’ve included as many film terms as humanly possible all on one page, so let’s get into it..




A

Adaptation


A text in one art form based upon, derived from (or adapted from) a text in another. For example, a film based on a stage play, novel, video game or comic strip, which basically preserves some of the setting and dialogue of the original.


Animatic


The process of animating a storyboard into a moving sequence.


Aperture


A measure of the width of the opening allowing light to enter the camera.


Aspect Ratio


A term used to define the shape of the screen, presented in the form width:height.


Art Department


Rresponsible for arranging the overall “look” of the film, including sets, décor, props.


Assembly


The first stage of editing, in which all the shots are arranged in script order.


Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR)


The post production re-recording of dialogue in a sound studio, usually performed to playback of edited picture in order to match lip movements on screen.


B

Backlighting


Lighting directed towards the camera from behind the subject.


Best Boy


Assistant to the Gaffer or the Key Grip head in either the lighting or the grip department


Blocking


Setting out where lighting and camera will go on the set by working out where actors will be standing or moving.


Boom Microphone


A long pole with a microphone on the end, extended towards the actors but placed in the ‘camera safe’ area, thus out of shot.


C

Camera Crew


The team directly involved with operating the camera, including clapper-loader, focus puller and grip, as well as the camera operator, all responsible to the Cinematographer/Director of Photography.


Casting


The process of hiring the actors to play the characters, usually done by a casting director at auditions, with input from director and producer.


Cinematographer


See Director of Photography


Compositing


Combining visual elements from separate sources into single images or sequences, usually to create the illusion that all those elements are parts of the same scene. Also known as a matte shot.


Continuity


This describes the extent to which a film has internal consistency. For example, if in a scene an actor has her hat on from one angle but is not wearing it when seen from another, the film would lose continuity. A continuity person is employed to check that continuity is maintained to avoid the expense of having to reshoot such errors.


Continuity System


This is the system of editing that developed in the early 20th century to provide a continuous and clear movement of events in a film; it refers to the final edited structure of a completed film, with the events arranged as if they had occurred continuously, when, often, they were shot out of sequence. It involves a series of rules, notably the 180 degree rule, the match on action, eyeline match and shot/reverse shot.


Coverage


This refers to all the shots, including close-ups 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 scenes, angles and close-ups needed to ensure that all desired options are possible in the edit.


Crane Shot


This is a camera shot taken from a device 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.


Cross Cutting


This is an editing technique involving alternating, interweaving, or interspersing one narrative action (scene, sequence, or event) with another – usually in different locations or places, thus combining the two, which suggests some kind of parallel action is taking place simultaneously. The technique is frequently used to dramatically build tension and suspense.


Cut


A change in camera angle or placement, location, or time.


D

Dailies


The first footage or rushes which the director and editor will see from the previous day’s shoot.


Depth of Field


The range in the camera’s line of sight in which objects will be in focus.


Diegetic sound


A sound that comes from the world of the film, created by something or someone visible on screen or the source of which is implied as present by the action of the film.


Director


The main creative artist on a film, usually the driving artistic source who orchestrates the various other creative personnel on the film, communicating to the actors how a scene should be played. Typically, a director has complete artistic control over all aspects of the film.


Director of Photography


The head of the camera and lighting crews, responsible for the look of the film on camera. Also known as Cinematographer or Lighting Cameraperson.


Dissolve


An editing technique between two sequences, shots or scenes, in which the visible image of one shot or scene is gradually replaced, superimposed or blended by an overlapping fade out and fade in. It is often used to suggest the passage of time.


Distribution


The process of getting the film to its audience, in all formats, including theatrical release and other formats such as DVD and online, which includes working with exhibitors and the marketing of the film.


Dolly


A dolly refers both to a device which allows the camera to be moved along a track and to the movement itself in relation to the object which it is filming.


E

Editing


The process by which shots are put together into sequences or scenes.


Editor


Someone who carries out the editing process, in consultation with the director.


Establishing shot


The first shot of a new scene, introducing the audience to the space in which the scene will take place.


Executive Producer


The producer who looks after business and legal issues, but has little input on the technical and creative side.


Expressionism


A stylised form of cinema, in which the elements of shot and editing are mobilised to evoke powerful emotion. Key features are high contrast of light and dark, extreme camera angles and shot composition.


F

Fade-Outs


Ending a shot by gradually darkening the image until it goes black.


Festival


A showcase event, at which films often premiere. In some cases it is an event where distribution rights are negotiated. Many festivals are competitive, with awards from a jury. For shorts, festivals are a key place for the films to be seen at all.


Fill Light


Diffused light, usually used to offset shadows from the key light source.


First Assistant Director


Responsible for the preparation of the shooting schedule and script breakdown, working with the Director to manage operations on the set during the process of filming, tracking the progress of filming versus the production schedule and ensuring that all safety and contract rules are adhered to.


Flashback


A scene which breaks with the forward chronology of the story to show events which happened in the past.


Focus


The sharpness of an image and adjustments made on the camera to achieve it.


Foley


Recreating sound effects (such as footsteps) in synchronisation with the visual element of a movie.


G

Gaffer


Chief electrician, responsible for the design and execution of the lighting plan for a production.


Grip


Specialist crew working under the Key Grip to provide camera mounts and support, especially if the camera is on a track, dolly or crane. In the USA grips support the lighting department as well.


H

High Key Lighting


A style of lighting that is bright, even and produces little contrast between light and dark areas of the scene.


I

In Camera Editing


Filming in the order required for the final product, thereby eliminating the editing stage.


Independent Film


A film which has not been produced by one of the major studios.


Insert


A close up shot of an object to be inserted into the film at the edit stage.


K

Key Grip


Heads the team on a film set that rig and operate camera mounting equipment such as dolly, track or crane. They may rig other mounted film set equipment.


Key light


The main light on a subject, often angled and off-centre that selectively illuminates various prominent features of the image to produce depth and shadows.


L

Location Filming


Filming which occurs at a place not constructed specifically for the film, such as outdoors, a well-known place, or in an interior suited to the purpose.


Location Manager


Organises various aspects of filming on location, such as arranging with authorities for permission to shoot in specific places.


Low Key lighting


A term used in cinematography to refer to high contrast lighting, especially if there is a predominance of shadowy areas.


M

Majors


The major Hollywood movie producer/distributor studios (MGM/UA, 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Universal, and Disney).


Master shot


A continuous shot that shows the main action or setting of an entire scene which will often be used as the establishing shot for the scene before moving into closer shots during editing.


Match cut


A technique in which a cut between two linked shots helps to seamlessly match them together. For example, a cut on the moment of opening a door to the same moment inside the room.


Mise-en-scene


Literally translates as “what is put into the scene”, includes décor, colours, costume, props, even the human figure. It is the sum of production design.


O

Off-line


The preliminary editing done to prepare a list of edits for the on-line edit stage.


On-line


The final editing and preparation for distribution of film, with edits often from a list of changes prepared during the off-line stage.


P

Pan


A shot which involves the horizontal movement of the camera in one direction while filming from a fixed axis.


Point of View


A camera angle in which the camera views what would be visible from a particular subject’s position.


Post-Production


Work performed on a movie after the end of shooting. It includes editing and any visual effects.


Pre-Production


Arrangements made before the start of filming, such as editing the script, constructing sets, finding locations and casting.


Pre-visualisation Artist


A specialist task involving conceptualising a sequence, often involving complex and expensive action, through the use of 3D FX character animation.


Producer


Responsible for raising finance, hiring key crew and arranging distribution. May also be involved in the day to day shoot at a more creative level.


Production


Can mean both the whole process of making a film, or more specifically the actual shoot.


Production design


This refers to the overall look and composition and is the responsibility of the production designer.


Production Manager


Reports to the Producer, supervising budget.


Production Sound Mixer


In charge of sound on the set, including selection and operation of the microphones and recording equipment and directing the boom operator.


Prop


Anything to be used by actors on set.


R

Reverse Shot


When used in dialogue scenes, reverse-shot editing usually alternates between over-the-shoulder shots that show each character speaking.


S

Score


The music in a film soundtrack, sometimes written specifically by a composer, sometimes put together from existing songs by a musical director.


Screenplay


A script written to be produced as a film.


Screenwriter


The writer who either adapts an existing work or creates a new screenplay.


Script


A general term for a written work detailing story, setting, and dialogue.


Set


An environment constructed especially for filming.


Sequence


A scene, or connected series of related scenes in a film.


Shot list


A list given to the film crew which indicates the order of shooting for the day.


Sound Designer


The leading creative for a film soundtrack, especially in post-production.


Sound Recordist


Also known as Production Sound Mixer, the person who records the audio on the shoot.


Special Effects


Something used to create an illusion in a film. Some may be produced on the set, such as smoke or fog, while others may be created in post-production such as multiplied crowds.


Storyboard


A sequence of planning pictures to communicate the visuals which the camera will capture.


Studio


A company that makes films. The largest ones have their own production spaces (studios) in which to film.


Synchronised sound


Sound recorded at the same time as the picture.


T

Take


A single continuous recorded performance of a scene.


Theme


An underlying idea explored by the film.


W

Wild sound


Non-synchronised sound recording, used to fill in or replace synchronised sound later.


Wipe


A technique of editing in which the images from one shot are replaced by those of another almost ‘chased’ across the screen.


Z

Zoom


A shot in which the magnification of the objects by the camera’s lenses is increased (zoom in) or decreased (zoom out).

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