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)
abbreviation for 'personal appearance' - often required of major stars - to promote or provide PR (p.r.) or 'public relations' (marketing) for their films  
the speed/tempo of the dramatic action, which is usually enhanced by the soundtrack and the speed of the dialogue, the type of editing, etc.  
the marketing elements of a film project, such as script, signed film stars, director, locations, 'high-concept' hook, etc.  
a noun, meaning 'to express a totally negative opinion of' a film, normally in a critical film review; also known as 'trashing' a film  
(or panning shot, or panoramic shot)
a verb, and the abbreviation for panorama shot; refers to the horizontal scan, movement, rotation or turning of the camera in one direction (to the right or left) around a fixed vertical axis while filming; a variation is the swish pan (also known as flash pan, flick pan, zip pan, blur pan, or whip pan), in which the camera is purposely panned in either direction at a very fast pace, creating the impression of a fast-moving horizontal blurring of images across the screen; also, the action of rotating a camera up and down its horizontal axis is known as a tilt; the term pan is often confused with a dolly or tracking shot. Examples: the call to roundup as the camera moves around and captures the faces of the cowpokes in Red River (1948); in John Ford's Stagecoach (1939) a panning shot reveals the presence of Indians just as the stagecoach seems to be heading to safety; and many films utilizing the swish pan -- a fast blurring panning action that blends two scenes together (signifying rapid movement from one place to the next).
pan and scan
a technique that avoids the 'letterboxing' of a widescreen film for a full-framed 4x3 home video or TV picture, by focusing on the elements of the picture that are most important to the plot and by adjusting or cropping the image; when an important part of the image drops out of the visible screen, the picture is mechanically panned to the side (left or right in a ping-pong effect) to show the missing part - hence, the term pan-and-scan; approximately 43% of the visuals are sacrificed or cropped out in the pan-and-scan version, affecting the director's original intent and aesthetic sense

Example: from the film Out of Sight (1998), with the yellow box showing the selected "pan and scanned" window or 4 x 3 image

"Pan and scan" encounters major problems, as in the climactic show-down cemetery scene in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), when the image takes up the entire screen
(editing, action, sound, etc.)
editing that cuts between two sequences taking place at different locations and possibly different times; parallel action refers to a narrative device in which two scenes are observed in parallel by cross-cutting; parallel sound refers to sound that matches the accompanying image; aka cross-cutting, inter-cutting  
refers to screenplay directions (shown in parentheses) to guide a performer to deliver his/her lines in a particular way, such as (calmly) or (angrily), etc., but should not be over-used  
a comedy that imitates or makes fun of an existing work(s) in an absurd, non-sensical way, and exaggerates its characteristics Examples: Airplane! (1980) - a parody of disaster films; Blazing Saddles (1974) - a parody of westerns.
a dramatic scene that justifies everything that preceded it; the necessary result of a complication for which the audience has been prepared; contrast to punchline and money shot Example: the startling scene with an admission of incest ("She's my sister and my daughter!") by Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) in Chinatown (1974)
refers to bribery or under-the-table payments  
literally, Latin for "mask"; related to the on-screen image or personality associated with a star Examples: Mae West: a sexually-bold vamp with one-liners filled with sexual innuendo; Groucho Marx: a sly, witty, irreverent, sarcastic insult-spewing, wisecracking scam artist
pic(s) (also pix)
slang terms for motion picture(s)  
picture within a picture
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 film within a film Example: the newsreel of Kane's life "News on the March" in Citizen Kane (1941), homage to the real "The March of Time" newsreel
pin-up girl
refers to the most sexually-attractive star-actresses of an era, who would be popularized in seductive poses usually semi-clad - in pictures, calendars, or mass-produced posters that were usually literally "pinned-up", usually with thumbtacks, on bedroom walls, the insides of lockers, and so forth; this practice started especially amongst GI servicemen away from home during military combat who pined for the 'girl-back-home'; related terms are cover girl (for magazine covers), model or cheesecake
Examples: Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Betty Page, Marilyn Monroe, Raquel Welch, Brigitte Bardot, Bo Derek, Farrah Fawcett
refers to movie projects in the system that are under development or production and scheduled for release in the future; synonyms = in the works, in process, under way, in the queue  
orally or written (sales) proposals for film projects usually made by screenwriters (to sell a screenplay idea), or independent producers for studio producers or executives to obtain financial backing; anything from a one-line description to a two- to three-page treatment of an idea (before becoming a script); also refers to short phrases that capture or succinctly sum up the script Examples: Jaws (1975): Man afraid of water pursues killer shark; or E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982): Loveable alien is left behind; or Toy Story (1995): Toys come to life
pivotal character
refers to the character that launches the action between the protagonist and the antagonist; or the character who sets the main events of the plot in motion; films with a classic "love triangle" involve a woman who serves as the 'pivotal character' between two rival suitors
an animation technique in which the illusion of continuous, real movement of three-dimensional objects, often people, is broken and/or made to move unevenly or jerky through the use of stop-action cinematography (single frame animation) or by printing only selected frames from the continuously-exposed negative Example: the infamous eating scene in Tom Jones (1963)
plot and
plot point
refers to a series of dramatic events or actions that make up a film's narrative; a plot point is a key turning point or moment in a film's story that significantly advances the action; plot points either set the story further into motion, or disrupt and complicate the plot; also known as beat or A story; contrast to a subplot (aka B story or C story) - a secondary plot in a film; a plot plant is the technique of 'planting' an apparently trivial piece of information early in a story - that becomes more important later on  
point of view
the perspective from which the film story is told, and to let the viewer know what the character is seeing; also refers to a shot that depicts the outlook, view, vantage point or position of a character; also see omniscient and subjective point of view, and P.O.V. shot  
P.O.V.  shot
(or point-of-view shot)
a subjective shot made from the perspective of one of the characters to show the audience the scene as it would look through the character's eyes; usually coupled (before and/or after) with a reaction shot (or a three-shot sequence called a shot reverse shot) to establish the POV; also known as first-person point-of-view shot or subjective camera (the use of the camera to suggest the POV of a particular character)

Examples: Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), also the opening scene of Halloween (1978) - filmed through the mask of a killer in his POV

or the serial killer's POV (with night goggles) in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

or pornographic)
refers to a film that exploits or graphically depicts sex, often rated XXX; see also nudie or skin flick  
portmanteau film
refers to a style of film (usually of interwoven stories, as in an anthology film) in which everything revolved around or was tied together by a single event, or person, or single location; aka package film or omnibus film Examples: Grand Hotel (1932) (a fashionable foreign hotel), Dinner at Eight (1933) (a high-society Manhattan dinner party), Wonder Bar (1934) (a Parisian nightclub), Altman's Nashville (1975) (the city), Arthur Hiller's Plaza Suite (1971) or Herbert Ross' California Suite (1978) (locations) or The Red Violin (1998) (owners of a violin)
positive print
refers to an original light image printed or captured on film; the opposite of negative print  
post-credits sequence
either a throwaway scene or an epilogue that happens during or after the end credits; sometimes used as a bonus for theatergoers who remain to watch the credits, and partly to generate 'buzz' about the extra scene Examples: Airplane! (1980) has the most famous example of a post-credits sequence when abandoned taxi passenger (politician and income-tax fighter Howard Jarvis), who was left in a cab's back-seat by driver Ted Striker (Robert Hayes) -- but with the meter still running, checks his watch and huffs with one final punchline: "Well, I'll give him another 20 minutes, but that's it!"; other films include Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), Angel Heart (1987), The Great Outdoors (1988), Cosi (1996), and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). Many films have post-credit sequences in the middle of the end credits, such as Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), Chicken Run (2000), and Shrek 2 (2004)
refers to a return to tradition, in reaction to more 'modernist' styles  
the final stage in a film's production after principal photography or shooting, involving picture editing, the addition of sound/visual effects, musical scoring, mixing, dubbing, distribution, etc.; in digital post-production, can also include changing facial expressions, removing flaws or obtrusive objects (microphone, boom, etc.), enhancing the visual image, etc.; aka post; contrast to pre-production  
post-synchronization (aka Automatic Dialogue Replacement, or ADR, or post synching)
refers to the post-production process of recording the sound after the film has been shot, often adding dialogue spoken by actors as they watch the projected film  
a literary reference to the hard-edged, American detective/crime thrillers (also often called 'pulp fiction' or 'dime novels') rapidly written and filled with violence, crime, and sex - to literally 'boil the pot'; also known as hard-boiled Examples: Most of the films based upon Raymond Chandler's, Dashiell Hammett's and Mickey Spillane's film-noirish crime novels, i.e., The Big Sleep (1939), The Maltese Falcon (1941), and Kiss Me Deadly (1955), featuring 'private dicks' and 'femme fatales'
refers to the four-five years (1930-1934) before the enforcement of the Hays Production Code in Hollywood, to rigidly sanitize and censor films. In film plots from mid-1935 and lasting about the next 30 years, adultery and promiscuity were prohibited (unless they ended in a miserable downfall), and all crimes (and their criminals) had to be punished. Examples: pre-Code films included Night Nurse (1931), Queen Christina (1933), Baby Face (1933), and The Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933). See History of Sex in Cinema for more.
the first official public screening of a movie, marking the kick-off, opening or opening night; a 'red carpet' premiere is one with greater publicity and hoopla (sensational promotion), ballyhoo, or hype; aka a bow, debut, or preem  
the main idea of a movie, usually explainable in a few sentences
the planning stage in a film's production after the project is finally greenlighted, and before principal photography or actual shooting commences, involving script treatment and editing/rewriting, scheduling, set design and construction, casting, budgeting and financial planning, and scouting/selection of locations; contrast to post-production  
the second or third film in a series of films that presents characters and/or events that are chronologically set before the time frame of the original movie; contrast to sequel Examples: Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), and Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002) are both prequels to Star Wars (1977); a combination prequel-sequel film was Coppola's The Godfather, Part II (1974); Another Part of the Forest (1948) was a prequel of The Little Foxes (1941)
a short film, usually with excerpts from a future film, intended as an advertisement; a sneak preview refers to an unadvertised, often surprise showing of an entire film before its general release or announced premiere, often to gauge audience reaction; aka trailer  
to view/watch/see a movie before it is released for the public (at the premiere)  
principal photography
refers to the filming of major and significant portions of a film production that involves the main/lead actors/actresses; contrast to second-unit photography  
refers to the main characters in a play or film (usually those that have dialogue); contrasted to protagonists or antagonists, or extras.  
refers to a positive copy of a film  
prison film
a very popular sub-genre with the film's plot usually set within the walls of an institutional prison; themes involve imprisonment and/or escape, the effects on the characters involved and interactions between officers and inmates, and issues of justice/injustice; the prison flick sub-genre can be found in any major genre (animated, drama, comedy, musical, science fiction, sexploitation, etc.) Examples: The Big House (1930), I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932), Brute Force (1947), Stalag 17 (1952), Riot In Cell Block Eleven (1954), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Jailhouse Rock (1957), The Defiant Ones (1958), The Great Escape (1963), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Take the Money and Run (1969), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), Papillon (1973), Caged Heat (1974), Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975), Midnight Express (1978), Escape from Alcatraz (1979), Stir Crazy (1980), Escape from New York (1981), 48 HRS (1982), Chained Heat (1983), Schindler's List (1993), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Rock (1996), The Green Mile (1999), Chicken Run (2000), O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)
(projection or shot)
a technique that shoots live action in front of a screen on which the background view is projected; a process shot refers to a shot of live action in front of a process projection  
producer (film)
one or more of the chiefs of a movie production, involved in various logistical matters (i.e., scheduling, financing, budgeting); raises funding and financing, acquires or develops a story, finalizes the script, hires key personnel for cast, crew, and director, and arranges for distributors of the film to theaters; serves as the liaison between the financiers and the film-makers, while managing the production from start to finish (post-production).  
product placement
refers to how companies buy advertising space within a film for their products, as a way for a producer to fund some film production costs

Example: the familiar brand names in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); Mountain Dew in Antz (1998); or Hershey's Reese's Pieces in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) - when Mars Inc. passed on using M&Ms

or the blatant placements of Coca-Cola in the company-owned Columbia Pictures' release Leonard Part 6 (1986); or Pampers in Three Men and a Baby (1987); or McDonalds and Coke in Mac and Me (1988); or Exxon in Days of Thunder (1990); or the numerous FedEx product placements in Cast Away (2000).

the general process of putting a film together, including casting, set construction, costuming, rehearsals, and shooting; also refers to the middle stage of production which is preceded by pre-production and followed by post-production  
production design
refers to a film's overall design, continuity, visual look and composition (colors, sets, costumes, scenery, props, locations, etc.) that are the responsibility of the production designer; the art department refers to the people in various roles (e.g., matte painters, set designers and decorators, illustrators, title designers, scenic artists, and storyboard artists) who work under the production designer's supervision; the art director is responsible for the film's physical settings (specifically refers to the interiors, landscapes, buildings, etc.) Example: Anton Furst's amazing, Oscar-winning Art Direction/Set Decoration of Gotham City in Batman (1989)
production (value)
production refers to an entire movie project; pre-production refers to the stage at which a film is prepared to go into production; post-production refers to the stage at which editing, scoring and effects are executed on a motion picture; production value refers to the overall quality of a film, based not on the script, acting, or director, but on criteria such as costumes, sets, design, etc.  
the machine that rapidly puts ('projects') a succession of motion picture images (individual frames) up onto a screen, using the principle of illusion of motion  
a speech, preface, introduction, or brief scene preceding the the main action or plot of a film; contrast to epilogue. Example: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) provided a prologue to briefly explain the essential history of Middle-Earth and its inhabitants
slang term for sales promotion  
(or property)
abbreviation for properties - refers to the furnishings, fixtures, hand-held objects, decorations, or any other moveable items that are seen or used on a film (or stage) set but that are not a structural part of the set; usually the responsibility of the prop man or property master.
Example: Life-size cutouts of celebrity guests, from the set of The King of Comedy (1982)
the lead or main character in a film; also known as hero/heroine; contrast to antagonist.  
pull back
a type of camera shot in which the camera physically moves away from or zooms out from the subject to reveal the full context of the scene; the opposite of push in  
a funny, witty line that culminates a story, joke or scene; contrast with payoff and one-liner Example: In When Harry Met Sally...(1989), the request of a female patron after Sally's fake orgasm in the deli: "I'll have what she's having."
push in
a type of camera shot in which the camera physically moves toward or zooms in to the subject or object for a closer look; the opposite of pull back  

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