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Media - Films

Film jargon

Amplitude: volume or loudness of a sound

Animation: creating the illusion of movement by using successive frames of the same image altered slightly between frames in a general pattern, i.e. moving an arm a little bit to the right in each frame to create the illusion of swinging a fist when speeded up

Answer Print: the final reel of a film after it has been cut and dubbed and polished. Once that negative is finished, the answer print is made from it and sent to theatres

Aperture: either the opening in the iris that allows light in, or the cut out in the aperture plate inside the camera that lets light hit the film.

Arriflex: a manufacturer of 16-mm and 35-mm cameras

Arri Kit: a small kit about the size of a television and weighing twice as much containing 4 tungsten lamps, stands, and scrims. They are popular with films schools because they provide a lot of the basic lighting equipment in a single package.

Aspect Ratio: the aspect ratio is the proportions of the screen image. Standard 16 mm aspect ration is 1.33:1

Assembly: the initial splicing together of the shots to create the first story, rather than the jumbled up footage that results after all footage has been shot.

Avid: a company that builds digital non-linear editing systems. Many production companies use these to make a rough cut and later using higher end editing equipment to make the actual cuts to the negative.


Backlight: the backlight serves not to illuminate but to define the edges of its subject. It is placed on the other side of the subject from the camera and helps to define the subject’s outline.

Background Light: background light as opposed to backlight, illuminates not the subject, but the background so that the character does not appear out of darkness.

Barndoors: things that you let the cow out of. In the film industry it also refers to the metal flaps placed over a light and are adjusted to allow more or less light to escape.

Black-and-white film stock: film stock that does not reproduce colour, only black, white, and intermediary shades of grey. This film stock can be effective in films where there is high contrast or detail as it sometimes allows the audience, undistracted by colour, to pick up more information.

Blocking: in any scene where there is movement it is first necessary to block out or choreograph all movement and then rehearse it so that the camera and microphone can stay with the performer and also so that no unwanted images (such as background lights) get caught on tape).

Boom: piece of equipment that the boom microphone is attached to and is aimed at the mouths of the performers to pick up clear dialogue. This also refers to the operator of the boom.

Bounce Card: a sheet of reflective plastic or other material used to soften light by reflecting it from the light onto the subject, rather than shining the light directly on the subject. The umbrellas around the lights you always saw at your school pictures act like a bounce card.


Cable Sync: a way of ensuring that the camera and the mixer are recording at the same speed simultaneously. The camera and the sound recorder are hooked by a cable. For other sync methods see Crystal Sync.

Camera Gate: the area inside the camera that the film is exposed through.

Camera Original: the film stock that has run through to camera, it is either negative or reversal.

Cardiod Microphone: a microphone that picks up noise coming from it sides better than from the rear.

Conforming: also known as A and B rolling, this is the process by which the cuts between scenes are unified. In the early days of film this was done by cutting two pieces of film and literally pasting them together. The conforming process simply does this without using a cut and paste crudeness.

Colour Temperature: colour temperature is the degrees Kelvin of the colour quality of the light, lower degrees running towards the red/orange part of the spectrum and higher temperatures correlating to blues.

Condenser Microphone: a microphone that uses a power source to boost the audio signals.

Continuity: ensuring that temporal (time) and spatial (space) relationships are maintained in a fashion that seems both believable and natural to the audience, i.e. avoiding having a character speaking to the left of her face in a close up when the object of her speech was on her right side in a previous shot.

Contrast: the difference in intensity between dark areas on the screen and light areas.

CP 16: a small quiet camera originally designed for use in news gathering until it was replaced by video cameras, it now is used by many film schools.

Crystal sync: since the action and dialogue in a film are recorded separately they have to be coordinated. The quartz crystal oscillates at a very constant rate when electrified and is thus used to put multiple recording machines in sync.

Cut: the point at which a shot begins. In other words, the place where shot number 17 ends and shot number 18 begins.

Cutaway Shot: a shot that is seemingly not related to the action at hand but reveals some information that is significant to the audience or disrupts continuity so that a new 180 degree line can be established.


Dailies: dailies are the work prints of the previous days footage. Each day the producer, the director, and the cinematographer meet to review the footage before continuing with the current day’s filming.

Day-for-Night: a technique that attempts to simulate night by shooting during the day and avoiding getting any shots of the sky (which is too bright) or of shadows (because the light that breaks through them reveals that it is day), reducing the exposure to make it darker, and placing a blue filter over the lens to give it an bluish cast somewhat characteristic of night. See also Dusk-for-Night and Night-for-Night.

Daylight Balanced: in the case of a light, it is a head that emits light at 5500 K, the color temperature of natural light. In the case of colour film, it is film that is manufactured to reproduce exact colours when exposed to light at 5500 K.

Daylight spool: 100 feet of unexposed 16 mm film encased in a metal housing that does not allow any light to enter, thus eliminating the need for the film to be changed in a darkroom or changing bag.

Depth of Field: the area of the shot that is in focus

Diffusion: a material placed between a source and the subject, often on the barndoors, to soften the light on the subject’s face.

Documentary: a style of film in which one tries to record an aspect of real life as truthfully as possible.

Dolly: either the wheeled support that a camera rests on or the actual physical movement of moving a camera while it rests on a dolly.

Double System: a double system refers to a film setup that has one machine to record the sound and another machine to record the images. This setup is preferred as it allows the greatest flexibility.

Dusk-for-Night: a process by which night is faked by filming at dusk and avoiding any shots of the sky (which is still light enough to break the illusion). If night-for-night is not possible this is the most realistic looking alternative, however, proper dusk is so short that it is not useful for more than a short period of filming each day.

Dutch Angle: a shot that is slightly titled

Dynamic Microphone: a microphone that does not need a power source to boost its signal

Dynamic range: the range from the softest sound to the loudest sound that a piece of equipment can either record or produce


Eclair: short for Eclair International, a manufacturer of high quality cameras.

Element: a precision ground glass in a lens

Envelope: the glass housing of a lamp or bulb

Erase Head: in video recorders, the part of the recording device that is magnetized such that is destroys and image recorded on the tape just prior to the moment the new image is recorded.

Experimental: this is a type of film that evolved naturally from photography and painting. It is, simply put, cinematic art. Extremely interesting and often beautiful is often not considered true film because of its abstractness.


Falloff: a word to describe the phenomenon of the lessening intensity of light on a subject as the subject moves away from the source of light

Fast: in film stock, one with a larger grain and thus more sensitive to light, in lenses, one capable of letting more light in through its iris

Feed Reel: the reel in the camera that light is stored on before it is exposed.

Filament: in a light bulb, the wire that conducts electricity and subsequently glows

Fill Light: light used to lighten shadows and reduce contrast

Film Chain: a setup using a film projector, a video camera, and a mirror to transfer a movie from film to video.

Film Plane: the plane at which the film rests while it is being exposed, in order for the film to be in focus this plane must coincide with the focal plane

Filter: a coloured or otherwise altered piece of glass that changes the properties of light passing through it

Flatbed: an editing machine about the size of a small car on which the synched film and sound reels run across. They have been almost completely replaced by digital editing systems. Steenbeck is a well-known manufacturer of such machines.

Fine Cut: the stage in editing in which the cuts are refined and made sharper as the picture nears it completeness

Fish-Eye Lens: a lens that distorts the image, warping the perspective the

farther from the centre of the screen that the subject is.

Focal Length: measured in millimetres, the distance between the centre of the focal lens and the focal plane

F-stop: a number indicating the diameter of the iris aperture and thus how much light is hitting the camera

Frame: one single image on strip of film, or the edges of the shot as defined by the viewfinder


Gray Card: a rectangular piece of cardboard dyed 18% gray on one side. This is a neutral tone used to determine light readings and color readings in a shot.

Guild: a guild is a union, Hollywood style. There are guilds for all professions in Hollywood and each guild usually has signatories, or people and agencies that have contracts binding them to employ only Guild members (in return for getting highly qualified employees).


Hard Light: a quality of light defined by distinct shadows

Head: the beginning of a film strip or single lighting unit

Highlight: the area of brightest illumination


Incident Light Meter: a device that measures the amount of light falling on a subject

Intensity: brightness of a light source


Key Light: the primary source of light in a lighting configuration for a shot.

Lamp: the bulb in a lighting unit

Leader: the very beginning of a film reel that is either black, white, or clear, cannot be recorded on and it used for labelling purposes.

Leading the Action: when composing a shot that contains moving subject, composing it such that there is more space in front of the subject than there is behind giving the effect that your subject’s are going somewhere

Light Contrast Ratio: The ratio of the intensity of the key light plus to fill light in relation to the intensity of the fill light. The higher the ratio, the higher the contrast.

Linear editing: linear editing is a style of editing in which pieces of film are cut and placed next to each other in a very long strand resulting in the final work print. It is time consuming to try a number of different shots and sequences and has been replaced almost completely by the non-linear style.


Master Shot: a single shot of the entire action usually taken with a wide angle lens to provide both an establishing shot and also a blueprint for continuity while editing.

Match Cut: a smooth cut between two shots that maintains similar action from one to the other and upholds the illusion of continuous motion, i.e. a man hitting a golf club with a cut from a long shot to a close-up halfway between.

Motivated Light: light within the scene that results from an obvious source on camera, such as a bed lamp. See Unmotivated Light.


Narrative: the type of film that entails a plotline and developed characters, as opposed to documentary or experimental films.

Neutral Angle: a shot take exactly on the 180 degree line with a preference for neither the left nor the right.

Night-for-Night: the most desirable way to shoot a night scene although sometimes the most difficult. Night-for-night is shot using small lights to illuminate key portions of the scene while leaving the rest dark.

Non-linear editing: non-linear editing refers to the process of editing in which the source footage is placed into a digital machine and can be moved around and manipulated much more easily that when handling the film itself. Put another way, non-linear editing is to linear editing as word processor is typewriter.


Pan: a camera movement in which is rotated along a horizontal axis.

Plane of Critical Focus: the area of the shot where the subjects are in the sharpest focus.

Positive Print: the print made from a negative in which all colour values are as they were when the were filmed.

Pro Tools: a good quality digital audio editing system now owned and distributed by Avid.

Processing: the process by which the image that is invisible to the human eye on the film strip is fixed permanently to it and made visible.


Registration: registration refers to the steadiness of the recorded image. You’ve seen it yourself, while taking a still picture the camera got moved and the resulting image was slightly blurry even if it was in focus. Now imagine that same blurring at 24 frames per second. Good cameras use a registration pin with sticks into one of the sprockets on the side of the film tape or a plate the presses the film into place to eliminate any shaking for the fraction of the second that the film is be exposed.

Reversal stock: this type of film records a positive image (meaning it looks like real life looks) on the film so that it can be printed up faster that negative stock. This is good because it requires less money to develop large amounts of film, but bad because once you cut your print the cut cannot be undone and it cannot be reprinted, whereas with negative stock it can.

Rough Cut: the rough cut refers to the first cut made by the editor, following the script notes exactly as they appear and thus creating the movie that holds truest to it. This cut is then altered and tinkered with by the director, producer, and editor.

Running Time: the actual time that a film occupies the screen in a movie theater


Screen Direction: the direction of action that must be maintained to keep up the illusion of continued action for the audience. Thus if the actor on the screen is running screen-left (towards the left side of the screen) the next close-up cannot be from screen-right because he appears to be running the opposite way.

Shooting Plan: a list that groups together shots using a similar camera angle and light set-up so they can all be filmed together at once and thus film more economically.

Shooting Script: the director’s script, this script does not contain story elements so much as it contains the technical elements such as shots and lighting that the director feels will be appropriate for each shot.

Spielburg Game: a game in which you pick a name in Hollywood at random and attempt to connect them back to Steven Spielburg with points to the person who can connect the dots in the fewest steps. Its fun, try it.

Static Shot: a shot in which the camera does not move


Take: when filming a take is a single effort to film a scene or action and is often repeated until satisfactory results are achieved.

Telecine: a sophisticated device used to transfer film to video

Tilt: a camera motion in which the camera moves up or down.

Tracking Shot: a dolly movement in which the camera moves with the subject keeping it in focus.


Unmotivated Light: light that is necessary to illuminate the scene properly but has no apparent source in the film. Unmotivated light comes from the large lights off-camera.


Viewer: a device that allows the filmmaker to look and select shots from the film during the editing process.





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