Glossary of Film & Video Terms

“What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.”

– Cool Hand Luke (1967)


Please, for everyone’s sake, learn these film & video terms so we can all speak the same language. Thank you.

180 degree rule

– The convention that the camera can be placed in any position as long as it remains on one side of the action. A screen direction rule that camera operators must follow – an imaginary line on one side of the axis of action is made (e.g., between two principal actors in a scene), and the camera must not cross over that line – otherwise, there is a distressing visual discontinuity and disorientation; similar to the axis of action (an imaginary line that separates the camera from the action before it) that should not be crossed

24 frames per second

refers to the standard frame rate or film speed – the number of frames or images that are projected or displayed per second; in the silent era before a standard was set, many films were projected at 16 or 18 frames per second, but that rate proved to be too slow when attempting to record optical film sound tracks; aka 24fps or 24p


a film that has a three-dimensional, stereoscopic form or appearance, giving the life-like illusion of depth; often achieved by viewers donning special red/blue (or green) or polarized lens glasses; when 3-D images are made interactive so that users feel involved with the scene, the experience is called virtual reality; 3-D experienced a heyday in the early 1950s; aka 3D, three-D, Stereoscopic 3D, Natural Vision 3D, or three-dimensional

—– A —–

Above the line

– Usually refers to that part of a film’s budget that covers the costs associated with major creative talent: the stars, the director, the producer(s) and the writer(s), although films with expensive special effects (and few stars) have more ‘above the line’ budget costs for technical aspects; the term’s opposite is below the line


– a main division within the plot of a film; a film is often divided by ‘plot points’ (places of dramatic change) rather than acts; long films are divided mid-way with an intermission


(1) any movement or series of events (usually rehearsed) that take place before the camera and propel the story forward toward its conclusion; (2) the word called out (by a megaphone) at the start of the current take during filming to alert actors to begin performing; (3) also refers to the main component of action films – that often contain significant amounts of violence

Actor / Actress

refers either to a male performer, or to any male or female who plays a character role in an on-screen film; alternate gender-neutral terms: player, artist, or performer. The term “actress” refers to any female who portrays a role in a film.

Academy Awards / Oscars

the name given to the prestigious film awards presented each year by AMPAS (the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, or simply ‘The Academy’), a professional honorary organization within the industry, since 1927. The annual awards show, in slang, is sometimes referred to as a kudo-cast, see also Oscars

Ad lib

a line of dialogue improvised by an actor during a performance; can be either unscripted or deliberate; improvisation consists of ad-libbed dialogue (and action) that is invented or created by the performer


the presentation of one art form through another medium; a film based upon, derived from (or adapted from) a stage play (or from another medium such as a short story, book, article, history, novel, video game, comic strip/book, etc.) which basically preserves both the setting and dialogue of the original; can be in the form of a script (screenplay) or a proposal treatment

Aerial shot

– A camera shot filmed from an airplane, helicopter, blimp, balloon, kite or high building (higher than a crane). A camera shot filmed in an exterior location from far overhead (from a bird’s eye view), as from a helicopter (most common), blimp, balloon, plane, or kite; a variation on the crane shot; if the aerial shot is at the opening of a film, aka an establishing shot. – Shot Types Explained


a direct or indirect reference – through an image or through dialogue – to the Bible, a classic, a person, a place, an external and/or real-life event, another film, or a well-known cultural idea


related to different optical imaging effects; refers to a method of intentionally distorting and creating a wide screen image with standard film, using a conversion process or a special lens on the camera and projector to produce different magnifications in the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the picture; an anamorphic image usually appears “squished” horizontally, while retaining its full vertical resolution; see also aspect ratio and the trade name CinemaScope. Many studios produced anamorphic lenses, using other trade names such as Panavision, Technovision, and Technirama. On the right are examples of anamorphic imaging effects from the film Blade (1998) (with an aspect ratio of 2:35.1).

Ancillary rights

contractual agreement in which a percentage of the profits are received and derived from the sale of action figures, posters, CDs, books, T-shirts, etc.


– see “Camera Angle”

Animation / Animated films

a form or process of filmmaking in which inanimate, static objects or individual drawings (hand-drawn or CGI) are filmed “frame by frame” or one frame at a time (opposed to being shot “live”), each one differing slightly from the previous frame, to create the illusion of motion in a sequence, as opposed to filming naturally-occurring action or live objects at a regular frame rate. Often used as a synonym for cartoons (or toons for short), although animation includes other media such as claymation, computer animation; see also CGI, claymation, stop-motion, time lapse.


a distinctive style of animated film that has its roots in Japanese comic books (known as manga), yet covers a wide range of genres, such as romance, action/adventure, drama, gothic, historical, horror, mystery, erotica (hentai), children’s stories, although most notably sci-fi and fantasy themes; originally called ‘Japanimation‘ but this term is not used anymore; anime is found in a wide variety of storylines and settings, but usually recognizable and often characterized by heavily-stylized backgrounds, colorful images and graphics, highly exaggerated facial expressions with limited facial movement, simulation of motion through varying the background behind a static character or other foreground element, and frequently, big-headed characters with child-like, large eyes


the main character, person, group, society, nature, force, spirit world, bad guy, or villain of a film or script who is in adversarial conflict with the film’s hero, lead character or protagonist; also sometimes termed the heavy.

Anthology film

a multi-part or multi-segmented film with a collection or series of various tales or short stories sometimes linked together by some theme or by a ‘wrap-around’ tale; often the stories are directed by different directors or scripted by various screenwriters, and are in the horror film genre; also known as an episode film or omnibus film; this term may also refer to a full-length, compilation-documentary film of excerpted segments or clips from other films (i.e., That’s Entertainment (1974)).


the feeling or mood of a particular scene or setting


refers to the measurement of the opening in a camera lens that regulates the amount of light passing through and contacting the film.

Arc shot

– A shot in which a moving camera circles round the subject being photographed. – Shot Types Explained


a character, place, or thing, that is repeatedly presented in films with a particular style or characterization; an archetype usually applies to a specific genre or type classification.

Art Director

refers to the individual responsible for the design, look, and feel of a film’s set, including the number and type of props, furniture, windows, floors, ceilings dressings, and all other set materials; a member of the film’s art department (responsible for set construction, interior design, and prop placement).

Arthouse film

films, often low budget or ‘art’ films, that are acknowledged as having artistic merit or aesthetic pretensions, and are shown in an arthouse theatre; films shown usually include foreign-language films, independent films, non-mainstream (sometimes anti-Hollywood) films, shorts, documentaries, explicitly-erotic films, and other under-appreciated cinema of low mass appeal; began to appear in the 1950s and provided a distinct contrast to commercial films.


a motion picture theater that shows foreign or non-mainstream independent films, often considered high-brow or ‘art’ films.

Arthouse film

films, often low budget or ‘art’ films, that are acknowledged as having artistic merit or aesthetic pretensions, and are shown in an arthouse theatre; films shown usually include foreign-language films, independent films, non-mainstream (sometimes anti-Hollywood) films, shorts, documentaries, explicitly-erotic films, and other under-appreciated cinema of low mass appeal; began to appear in the 1950s and provided a distinct contrast to commercial films.

Aspect ratio

in general, a term for how the image appears on the screen based on how it was shot; refers to the ratio of width (horizontal or top) to height (vertical or side) of a film frame, image or screen; the most common or standard aspect ratio in early films to the 1950s was called Academy Aperture (or ratio), at a ratio of 1.33:1 (the same as 4:3 on a TV screen); normal 35mm films are shot at a ratio of 1.85:1; new widescreen formats and aspect ratios were introduced in the 1950s, from 1.65:1 and higher; CinemaScope (a trade name for a widescreen movie format used in the US from 1953 to 1967) and other anamorphic systems (such as Panavision) have a 2.35:1 AR, while 70mm formats have an AR of 2.2:1; Cinerama had a 2.77:1 aspect ratio; letterboxed videos for widescreen TV’s are frequently in 16:9 (or 1.77:1) AR.


occurs when a character in a film breaks the ‘fourth wall‘ and directly addresses the audience with a comment.


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


refers to spectators, viewers, participants – those who serve as a measure of a film’s success; although usually audiences are viewed in universal terms, they can also be segmented or categorized (e.g., ‘art-film’ audiences, ‘chick film’ audiences, etc.).


refers to the sound portion of a film.

Audio Bridge

refers to an outgoing sound (either dialogue or sound effects) in one scene that continues over into a new image or shot – in this case, the soundtrack, not a visual image, connects the two shots or scenes; aka lightning mix


the process whereby an actor-performer seeks a role by presenting to a director or casting director a prepared reading or by ‘reading cold’ from the film script, or performing a choreographed dance; after the initial audition, a performer may be called back for additional readings or run-throughs.

Available Light

the naturally-existing light in an off-set location; a film’s realism is enhanced by using available or natural light rather than having artificial light.

—– B —–

Back lot

an area, on studio property, in an open-air, outdoor space away from the studio stages, where real-life situations with backgrounds are filmed; contrasted to on-location shoots that are more expensive; various studios in the Los Angeles area offer back lot tours.


refers to a large photographic backing or painting for the background of a scene (e.g., a view seen outside a window, a landscape scene, mountains, etc.), usually painted on flats (composed of plywood or cloth); a large curved backdrop (often representing the sky) is known as a cyclorama; backdrops were more commonly used before the current trend toward on-location shooting and the use of bluescreens.

Background music

refers to part of the score that accompanies a scene or action in a film, usually to establish a specific mood or enhance the emotion.


this phenomenon occurs when the lighting for the shot is directed at the camera from behind the subject(s), causing the figure(s) in the foreground to appear in semi-darkness or as silhouettes, or highlighted; with backlighting, the subject is separated from the background.

Bridging shot

– A shot that connects one scene to another by showing a change in time or location. A bridging shot can also be used to connect two shots from the same scene by using a close-up, distant pan or different camera angle thus relating the shots via content. A shot used to cover a jump in time or place or other discontinuity. Examples are

  • falling calendar pages
  • railroad wheels
  • newspaper headlines
  • seasonal changes

– Shot Types Explained

—– C —–

Camera angle

– The position of the camera on a vertical continuum relative to the object being shot: eye-level, high-angle (looking down from above), low-angle (looking up from below), Dutch-angle (with the normal vertical axis tilted diagonally). The term can include the perspective given by the camera to the depth of focus, height and width of the particular object and action being photographed. refers to the perspective from which a camera depicts its subject; see camera angle, and other specific shots (high, low, oblique, etc.)



– A shot in which a smallish object (e.g. the human head) fits easily within the frame.


– The complete arrangement of a scene by the director. The process includes camera angles, lighting, properties, characters, and the movement of the actors.

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.

Continuity Editing

– The conventions through which the impression of an unbroken continuum of space and time is suggested, constructing a consistent storyline out of takes made at different times.

Crane Shot

– A shot in which the camera rises above the ground on a mobile support.


– Swiftly cutting backwards and forwards between more than one scene. Literally, cutting between different sets of action that can be occuring simultaneously or at different times, (this term is used synonomously but somewhat incorrectly with parallel editing.) Cross-cutting is used to build suspense, or to show the relationship between the different sets of action.

Crossing the line

– Breaking the 180º rule typical of continuity editing (see 180º rule).


– The splicing of 2 shots together. This cut is made by the film editor at the editing stage of a film. Between sequences the cut marks a rapid transition between one time and space and another, but depending on the nature of the cut it will have different meanings.


– A sudden shift to another scene of action or different viewing angle; or a shot inserted between scenes to effect a transition (as a bridging shot).

—– D —–

Depth of field / depth of focus

– The range of a camera lens. Depth of field refers to the distance furthest away from a lens in which the objects being photographed will remain in focus approaching infinity. Depth of focus refers to the closest proximity to the lens in which the objects being photographed will remain in focus approaching the infinitesimal.

Deep Focus

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


– The denotative material of film narrative, it includes, according to Christian Metz, not only the narration itself, but also the fictional space and time dimension implied by the narrative.

Dissolve / lap-dissolve

– The slow fading of one shot into another. These terms are used inter-changably to refer to a transition between 2 sequences or scenes. generally associated with earlier cinema but still used on occasion. In a dissolve a first image gradually dissolves or fades out and is replaced by another which fades in over it. This type of transition, which is known also as a soft transition (as opposed to the cut), suggests a longer passage of time than a cut.


– A trolley on which the camera is pulled along the ground. A set of wheels and a platform upon which the camera can be mounted to give it mobility. Dolly shot is a shot taken from a moving dolly. Almost synonomous in general usage with tracking shot or follow shot

Dynamic cutting

– Combining a series of seemingly unrelated shots, objects, people, situations, details and characters in juxtaposition with one another (a form of montage, opposed to continuity cutting).

—– E —–


– Editing refers literally to how shots are put together to make up a film. Traditionally a film is made up of sequences or in some cases, as with avant-garde or art cinema, or again, of successive shots that are assembled in what is known as collision editing, or montage.


– A term that refers to periods of time that have been left out of the narrative. The ellipsis is marked by an editing transitions which, while it leaves out a section of the action, none the less signifies that something has been elided. Thus, the fade or dissolve could indicate a passage of time, a wipe, a change of scene and so on. A jump cut transports the spectator from one action and time to another, giving the impression of rapid action or of disorientation if it is not matched.

Establishing shot

– A long shot, often the first in a sequence, which establishes the positions of elements relative to each other and identifies the setting.

Eyeline matching

A term used to point to the continuity editing practice ensuring the logic of the look or gaze. In other words, eyeline matching is based on the belief in mainstream cinema that when a character looks into off-screen space the spectator expects to see what he or she is looking at. Thus there will be a cut to show what is being looked at:

  • object
  • view
  • another character

Eyeline then refers to the trajectory of the looking eye. The eyeline match creates order and meaning in cinematic space. Thus, for example, character A will look off-screen at character B. Cut to character B, who-if she or he is in the same room and engaged in an exchange either of glances or words with character A-will return that look and so ‘certify’ that character A is indeed in the space from which we first saw her or him look. This “stabilising” is true in the other primary use of the eyeline match which is the shot/reverse angle shot, also known as the reverse angle shot, commonly used in close-up dialogue secenes. The camera adopts the eyeline trajectory of the interlocutor looking at the other person as she or he speaks, then switches to the other person’s position and does the same.

External diegetic sound

– Sound which comes from out of frame, but is understood as belonging within the story space (unlike incidental music, which is extra-diegetic).

Extreme close-up

– A shot in which a small object (e.g. a part of the body) fits easily within the frame.

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

—– F —–

Fade In

– A punctuation device. The screen is black at the beginning; gradually the image appears, brightening to full strength. The opposite happens in the fade out

Fill Light

– An auxiliary light, usually from the side of the subject that can soften shadows and illuminate areas not covered by the key light


– Narrative device in which the action is interrupted by scenes representing a character’s memory of events experienced before the time of the action. A scene or sequence (sometime an entire film), that is inserted into a scene in “present” time and that deals with the past. The flashback is the past tense of the film.


– The opposite of flashback: future events (or events imagined by a character) are shown. On the model of the flashback, scenes or shots of future time; the future tense of the film.


– The sharpness of th image. A range of distances from the camera will be acceptably sharp. Possible to have deep focus, shallow focus. Focus in, focus out: a punctuation device whereby the image gradually comes into focus or goes out of focus.

Follow Shot

– A tracking shot or zoom which follows the subject as it moves.


– Each individual photographic image making up the film. Also refers to the area of the picture seen on the screen. The way in which subjects and objects are framed within a shot produces specific readings. Size and volume within the frame speak as much as dialogue. So too do camera angles. Thus, for example, a high-angle extreme long shot of two men walking away in the distance, (as in the end of Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion, 1937) points to their vulnerablility – they are about to dissapear, possibly die. Low angle shots in medium close-up on a person can point to their power, but it can also point to ridicule because of the distortion factor.


– The size and position of objects relative to the edges of the screen; the arrangement of objects so that they fit within the actual boundaries of the film.


– The placing of the camera at a 90º angle to the action.

—– G —–

Graphic match

– A visual rhyme between two successive shots.

—– H I —–

Iris in / iris out

– An old technique of punctuation that utilises a diaphragm in front of the lens, which is opened (iris in) or closed (iris out) to begin or end a scene. The iris can also be used to focus attention on a detail of the scene.

—– J —–

Jump cut

– A rapid, jerky transition from one frame to the next, either disrupting the flow of time or movement within a scene or making an abrupt transition from one scene to another. Cut where there is no match between the 2 spliced shots. Within a sequence, or more particularly a scene, jump cuts give the effect of bad editing. The opposite of a match cut, the jump cut is an abrupt cut between 2 shots that calls attention to itself because it does not match the shots seamlessly. It marks a transition in time and space but is called a jump cut because it jars the sensibilities; it makes the spectator jump and wonder where the narrative has got to. Jean-Luc Godard is undoubtedly one of the best exponents of this use of the jump cut.

—– K —–

Key light

– The main light on a subject. Usually placed at a 45 degree angle to the camera-subject axis. In high key lighting, the key light provides all or most of the light in the scene. In low key lighting, the key light provides much less of the total illumination.

—– L —–

Long shot

– A shot in which a large object (e.g. a complete human figure) fits easily within the frame.

Long take

– A shot that is allowed to continue for longer than usual without editing.

—– M —–

Master shot

– A long take of an entire scene, generally a relatively long shot that facilitates the assembly of component closer shots and details. The editor can always fall back on the master shot: consequently, it is alo called a cover shot.

Match on action

– A cut between two shots of the same action from different positions, giving an impression of seamless simultaneity.

Match Cut

– The exact opposite of a jump cut within a scene. These cuts make sure that there is a spatial-visual logic between the differently positioned shots within a scene. thus, where the camera moves to, and the angle of the camera, makes visual sense to the spectator. Eyeline matching is part of the same visual logic: the first shot shows a character looking at something off-screen, the second shot shows what is being looked at. Match cuts then are also part of the seamlessness, the reality effect, so much favoured by Hollywood.

Medium long shot

– A shot in which a largish object (e.g. the human figure from lower leg up) fits easily within the frame.

Medium shot

– A shot in which a medium-size object (e.g. the top half of a human figure) fits easily within the frame. A shot intermediate between a close-up and a full shot.


– Everything placed within the frame, including set decoration, costume, and styles of performance (implies an emphasis on psychological and visual unity in a film from one frame to the next). The term usually used to denote that part of the cinematic process that takes place on the set, as opposed to editing, which takes place afterwards. Literally, the “putting-in-the-scene”:

  • the direction of actors
  • placement of cameras
  • choice of lenses etc


– Style of editing involving rapid cutting so that one image is juxtaposed with another or one scene quickly dissolves into the next. Angles, settings and framing are manipulated in a conspicuous way (violating coherent mise-en-scene) so as to convey a swift passage of time, to create some kind of visual or conceptual continuity, or to generate a distinctive rhythm. (See also dynamic cutting.) Simply, editing. More particularly: Eisenstein’s idea that adjacent shots should relate to each other in such a way that A and B combine to produce another meaning, C, which is not actually recorded on the film.

—– N —–


– The telling of a story and the information supplied to the audience by a voice coming from off screen who may or may not be a character in the story.

—– O —–

Off camera

– Out of the boundaries of the camera’s field of vision (although a performer’s presence may be indicated by the context of the scene or their presence in dialogue).


-See Academy Awards

Overhead shot

– A shot looking down vertically on the action from above.

—– P Q —–


– The tempo at which the storyline of a film unfolds, affected by various elements including action, the length of scenes, camera angles, colour levels, editing, lighting, composition and sound.


– A movement in which the camera turns to right or left on a horizontal axis. (abbreviation of panorma) Movement of the camera from left to right or right to left around the imaginary vertical axis that runs through the camera. A panning shot is sometimes confused with a tracking shot.

Parallel action

– Aspects of a story happening simultaneously with the primary performer’s situation, edited so that the projected image goes back and forth between the primary and secondary scenes (often leading up to a convergence of the two actions).

Passing shot

– A shot producing a projected image that travels quickly across the screen, either by moving the subject past a stationary camera or by panning the camera past a stationary subject.

Plan americain

– Same as medium long shot.

Point of view (POV)

– A shot which is understood to be seen from the point of view of a character within the scene. (Often abbreviated as ‘pov’). A shot which shows the scene from the specific point of view of one of the characters.

—– R —–

Racking focus

– A shift in focus between planes at different distances from the camera within the same shot. A technique that uses shallow focus (shallow depth of field) to direct the attention of the viewer forcibly from one subject to another. Focus is “pulled”, or changed, to shift the focus plane, often rapidly, sometimes several times within the shot.

Reaction shot

– A close-up in which an actor or group is seen to respond to an event, often accomplished with a cutaway from the primary action to someone viewing the occurrence.

Reverse angle

– Two successive shots from equal and opposite angles, typically of characters during conversation. A shot from the opposite side of a subject. In a dialogue scene, a shot of the second participant.

—– S —–


– 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 interchangably with sequence.


– A series of segments of a film narrative edited together and unified by a common setting, time, event or story-line.

Sequence shot

– A relatively long and complete scene shot in one take without editing (similar to long take).


– A constructed environment in which to shoot a scene: often consists of flat backdrops or façades, but can be a three-dimensional construction.

Shock cut

– The immediate juxtaposition of two incongruous shots (e.g. from a sex scene to a religious icon).

Shot / Countershot

– Same as reverse angle.


– A series of drawings and captions (sometimes resembling a comic strip) that shows the planned shot divisions and camera movements of the film.

Subjective camera

– A camera shot or film style that provides the audience with the specific vision or perspective of a character in the film (i.e. the technique of using POV).


– The ‘sewing’ together of imaginary and symbolic in Hollywood cinema carried out by continuity editing. It serves to ensure the sense of a unified narrative and subject position.

Swish Pan

– See Whip Pan

—– T —–


– One version of a shot.A film-maker shoots one or more takes of each shot or set-up. Only one of each group of takes appears in the final film.


– A movement by which the camera moves up or down while its support remains fixed. The camera tilts up or down, rotating around the axis that runs from left to right through the camera head.


– Any words that appear on the screen to convey information to the audience, including credit titles (identifying personnel), main title (the name of the film), end titles (closing credits), insert titles (announcing scenes or identifying settings) and subtitles (translation of foreign-language dialogue). Insert titles and subtitles can also be referred to as captions.

Tracking shot / travelling shot / dollying shot

– A shot in which the camera is pushed horizontally along the ground on a dolly.

Two shot

– A shot in which two actors appear within the frame.

—– U V W —–


– Voice heard while an image is projected but not being spoken in sync with one of the characters appearing on screen. Used to suggest a character’s thoughts or recall of something said earlier, or to provide objective (extra-diegetic) narrative or commentary. The narrator’s voice when the narrator is not seen. Common in television commercials, but also in film noir.


Wipe – An optical effect in which an image appears to “wipe-off” or push aside the preceeding image. Very common in the 1930s; less so today.

—– X Y Z —–


– The effect of rapid movement either towards or away from the subject being photographed, either by using a specialized zoom lens or by moving the camera on a boom, crane or dolly. Zoom effects can also be achieved and enhanced by the use of an optical printer.

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