180-degree rule: Do not cross the axis of action within a single scene. Adhering to the 180-degree rule maintains directionality of characters (one character always sits on the left of the screen; the other character always sits on the right).
Actualities: Early non-fiction short films that were often composed as static one-shots. The first films in cinema history were actualities.
ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement): An actor records her own voice in post-production for crisper sound quality.
Analogous color: Three colors next to each other on the color wheel; a dominant color, a supporting color and a color that is a mixture of the two preceding colors or an accent. Eg. blue, green and blue-green.
Anamorphic widescreen lens: A specific lens developed to capture more image onto the film stock through compression, which then would be expanded in projection. Had similar distortion problem as other wide-angle lenses.
Aspect ratio: The ratio of width to height of a screen.
Asynchronous sound: See Lack of Fidelity
Avant-garde: Vanguard, or ahead of the times. Avant-garde film is experimental in form, style, and/or subject.
Axis of action: An imaginary line that can be drawn between two characters in a shot/revere-shot setup. This line is the “180-degrees” of the 180-degree rule.
Back light: Defines the actor outline, separating them from the background. Can create a “halo effect” in blond hair.
Backstage musical: Musical subgenre that is self-reflexive, telling the story of the making of a musical.
Benshi: Film narrators who describe a silent film while standing just to the side of the screen. A Japanese tradition.
Black & white cinema: Films absent of color hues. Can be achieved with black & white film stock or in digital post-production.
Blimp: A large box that encases a camera to dampen the sound of cranking.
Blocking: See Choreography
Boom microphone: A mic attached to a long pole. Allows dialogue to be recorded discreetly, without microphones embedded in costumes or props.
Breaking the 180-degree rule: The camera crosses the axis of action in a conversation or fight scene so that each character flips positions in the screen with cuts. Creates a sense of unease or disruption.
Camera Obscura: a box with a hole on its side that reproduced a naturally occurring optical illusion.
Canted-angle / Dutch-angle shot: Camera is tilted on its axis to evoke imbalance, anxiety, or a mental break.
Causal narrative: Story events progress in a cause-and-effect relationship. Every event is the cause of a certain action, often creating predictable outcomes. There is little room for randomness or non-sequiturs in these narratives.
Cel animation: Celluloid sheets are painted and layered, then photographed in succession so that they appear to move.
Celluloid: A malleable thermoplastic. Used in cinema as photographic film stock.
CGI: Computer graphics imagery created in post-production. Often merged with live action footage.
Chiaroscuro lighting: See High-contrast lighting
Choreography / Blocking: The design of movement in space and time.
Chronophotography: Photography that captures a quick succession of movements in several images. Originally used for scientific study of body movement.
Cinema of attractions: Concept developed by theorist Tom Gunning to describe how early moviegoers were attracted to cinema primarily as a shocking and exciting new technology.
Cinématographe: A small, portable recording camera, printer, and projector, invented in 1895 by Frenchmen Louis and Auguste Lumière; known for being the first all-in-one commercially viable film camera.
City-symphony: Poetic film celebrating a specific city.
Clapboard: A film slate or device that creates synch points for image and sound.
Classical Hollywood narrative: A specific storytelling structure developed in early American cinema that has become the norm for narrative film. Includes elements like the three-act structure, causal relationships between events, clear character motivation, and often, a closed ending.
Claymation: A type of stop-motion animation that slightly molds clay models between takes. A joining of the words clay and animation.
Closed ending: The film ends with a clear resolution to story events. Most often seen in Classical Hollywood narratives.
Clothesline staging: the staging of so many characters side-by-side to fill a film frame that they look like they are pinned to a line.
Color correction: Adjusts color hue, light, and saturation across shots to create cohesive sequences.
Color grading: Creates world immersion by casting scenes in a particular color hue.
Color palette: Combination of color hues and saturations to convey mood and tone through visual means. Includes monochromatic, analogous, complementary, and triadic palettes.
Complementary colors: Colors opposite each other on the color wheel ( a circle showing the relationship of colors to each other). These colors strongly contrast with one another, and create tension in the storyworld.
Continuity system / Hollywood system: Standardized film conventions that make it easier for the viewer to understand the film’s time, space, and movements. Includes establishing shots, shot/reverse shots, the 180-degree rule, match-on-actions, and eyeline matches.
Costumes / Costume design: What a character wears in specific scenes to aid in the creation of meaning for audiences, for example by denoting the historical time period, characters’ emotions or development over the course of a story.
Crane shot: Camera and cinematographer sit on a crane, which films from above and can “fly” over the set.
Crosscutting / Parallel editing: A sequence that stitches together shots from two different spaces to show two events occurring at the same time.
Cut: The most common editing technique used to transition from one shot immediately to the next shot.
Dada: A short movement of the 1910s that expressed meaninglessness and disillusionment in the world. An absurdist view of life is portrayed with nonsense, unstable camera movements, and play with fast and slow motion.
Deep focus: A style developed in the late 1930s, often attributed to Orson Welles. Creates sharp focus through several planes of space in the frame. Requires a wide-angle lens, small aperture, set light, and deep space in the mise-en-scène.
Deep space: Many planes of space moving off into the distance, created by set design.
Defamiliarization: Taking an everyday, familiar object and rendering it strange in order to introduce new ways of seeing and experiencing the familiar thing.
Depth of field: The range of distance that is kept in sharp focus within the frame. A shallow depth of field keeps a small amount of space in focus. A large depth of field keeps a large amount of space in focus.
Diegesis: A story world within which characters live and interact with its own set of rules and customs. Includes what is seen in the frame and also what exists beyond the edges of the frame that characters react to.
Digital animation: Frames are drawn in a computer rather than by hand.
Direct address: When characters on screen appear to look at and speak ‘direct’ to the camera in an acknowledgement of the audience’s presence, often called ‘breaking the fourth wall’.
Direct Cinema / Observational Cinema: A 1960s movement that featured unmanipulated long takes, unnarrated footage, and undramatic editing.
Directional microphone: A mic that captures sound from a single source. (As opposed to “omnidirectional mic”)
Discontinuity editing: Does not follow conventions of the continuity or Hollywood system. Points attention to itself by disregarding “invisible editing” rules.
Dissolves: Transition between two shots where one image slowly disappears as the other image slowly appears.
Dolly shot: Camera is placed on a moving platform attached to a track. The track can be set up in a line or a curve. The cinematographer sits on the platform (dolly) with the camera as it is pushed along the track.
Dolly zoom / Vertigo Effect: A style developed by Hitchcock for his film Vertigo (1958) where the environment appears to contract or expand. Achieved with a dolly track and zoom lens. Double dolly shot: Both camera and actor sit on dollies whose movement is linked. Creates a dream-like effect of interiority.
Drone shot: A drone-mounted camera films from the air. Often used for establishing shots, and the footage is usually rendered in slow motion for a smoother effect.
Dubbing: One actor’s voice is replaced with another’s in post-production.
Dutch-angle shot: See Canted-angle
Elliptical editing: See Montage sequence
Essay film: Self-reflexive films that critique or openly discuss documentary conventions.
Establishing shot: A common way to introduce a new space at the beginning of a scene. Most often an establishing shot is an extreme long shot of a landscape and characters interacting within it.
Ethnographic film: A visual anthropological study.
Eyeline match: A shot of a character looking off-camera cut with a shot of an object. The cut suggests that the object is a point-of-view shot from the character’s perspective.
Fade in: A solid color gradually becomes an image. Usually signals the beginning of a story segment.
Fade out: An image gradually becomes a solid color. Traditionally often used to conclude a film.
Fast motion: Image is captured at a slower speed and so appears to speed up when projected.
Femme fatale: A seductive yet dangerous female villain in the film noir genre.
Figure expression: The posture of an actor and the expressions of their face.
Figure movement: An actor’s gestures and character action.
Fill light: A soft light that fills out the shadows cast by a key light.
Film / Movies / Cinema: Moving images and the telling of stories; the celluloid or film stock upon which these moving images were printed
Film Noir: Genre of the 1940s that features low angles, close-ups, harsh shadows, and deep space to represent psychological turmoil and anxiety. Associated with several historical moments: post-Depression threatened masculinity, the Hays Code, and the Red Scare.
Film Stock: See Celluloid
Final Girl: A slasher film trope coined by Carol J. Clover. Describes a female character who survives the serial killer’s attacks and becomes the film’s hero.
Foley: The reproduction of everyday sounds using various materials in a studio. Named after the sound-effects artist Jack Foley.
Frame / Film Frame: a still image on a strip of celluloid that together make up the entirety of a film.
Framing: Using the rectangular edges of the camera viewfinder to compose and choose what will be shot onscreen.
French Impressionism: A cinema movement of the 1920s in which character psychology is portrayed with point-of-view storytelling, lighting, mobile framing, and optical effects.
Genres: Categories of story-types that are used by studios for marketing purposes. The predictability and repetition of genre elements is the basis for film-watching choices, audience expectations, and creative surprises.
German Expressionism: A 1920s art and cinema movement that expressed suffering and angst through exaggerated acting, harsh shadows, and off-kilter set geometry.
Gimmick: An extraneous device or event meant to attract attention. Examples are marketing campaigns and 4D theater tricks.
Graphic match / Match cut: Adjoining shots use objects that take up similar shapes in the screen. This creates a comparison between objects. In discontinuity editing, the objects usually have no relation to each other and the non-sequitur is jarring. In continuity editing, the similar shapes help to blend the two shots together and the cut becomes “invisible”.
Green screens: Vivid green backdrops that, through a process called Chroma keying, allow media technicians to layer any other footage or background behind actors or foreground making one composite believable space.
Handheld camera: The camera is held in the hands of its operator, often to produce a shaky and more realistic effect.
Hard lighting: Lighting that casts sharp and defined shadow. Often shows imperfections.
High-angle shot: Camera is tilted down to film an object or character from above. This shot often makes a character look vulnerable and small.
High-contrast lighting / Chiaroscuro: A type of low-key lighting that emphasizes the difference between shadowy spaces and light spaces. Often used for metaphorical effect.
High-height camera: Camera is placed high above the ground to capture something in the air or a distant view.
High-key lighting: Brightly lights a scene with few (if any) shadows.
Hollywood system: See Continuity system
Horror genre: Broadly covers themes of violence, terror, taboos, fears, and anxieties. Sometimes allegorical, focusing on issues of female bodies, gender, and sexuality. Stylistically built on low-key lighting, sound effects, and jump scares.
Iconography: Objects that instantly identify a genre or subgenre.
Implicit meaning: Story meaning that is not given directly to the viewer, but is hidden and needs active interpretation to unpack.
Invisible editing: The prime goal of continuity editing is to be invisible to the viewer. This way, the viewer does not focus on the editing, but rather focuses on emotions, story, characters, etc.
Iris wipe: A transition used in early cinema that typically takes a circular shape and gradually grows smaller until the screen is left black and no image is visible.
J-cut: A type of sound bridge that bleeds the next scene’s sound into the first scene’s image.
J-Horror: Horror sub-genre from Japan that critiques alienating modern life through figures of ghosts (onryu) and familial relations.
Jump cut: A cut between two shots where the camera position remains the same. A small piece of film is cut out, so that the object on screen looks "jumpy".
Jump scare: A technique used in horror cinema to surprise or scare audiences through sudden movement or abrupt changing of an image. Usually punctuated by a character’s scream or an uncanny sound.
Key light: The main source of illumination.
Kinetoscope: A type of peep show device activated by putting a coin in the slot and invented by Thomas Edison and William Dickson in 1891.
Kuleshov Effect: The psychological principle that adjoining shots influence each other’s qualities in the viewer’s eyes.
Lack of fidelity (asynchronous sound): Sound effects are obviously different from the prop’s “natural” sound. Often used for exaggerated or comic effect.
L-cut: A type of sound bridge that bleeds a scene’s sound into the next scene’s image.
Leitmotif: A musical phrase that comes to be associated with a particular character or place.
Linear editing: A form of early film editing where strips of film were cut with a razor blade and taped back together with clear tape (splicing), arranging images and sound in a logical sequence to tell a story.
Low-angle shot: Camera is tilted up to film an object or character from below. This shot often makes a character look powerful and large.
Low-height camera: Camera is placed low to the ground, without a tilt. This shot may capture someone on ground-level, or it could capture feet.
Low-key lighting: Creates a dark, shadowy look with a softer key light.
Magic Lantern: One of the earliest pre-cinematic projectors that used a transparent plate, lens and light source to screen its images to audiences.
Match-on-action: A cut between two camera angles is “hidden” by an action that is shown in both shots. For example, the action of a door opening, when matched in two shots, “hides” the fact that one shot was filmed from inside a room and the next show was filmed from outside.
Matte painting: A painting that is composited with live footage to take the place of an on-location set.
Monochromatic color: Multiple saturations or values of the same color hue.
Montage sequence / Elliptical editing: A sequence that condenses great expanses of time by showing small portions of actions stitched together.
Motif: Any significant element of a film that is repeated to deepen narrative meaning.
Motion capture: Technology that translates live action movement to computer graphics in order to create more authentic movement and weight in digitally animated creatures.
Multiple exposures: A technique where two or more shots are superimposed in the same frame by exposing the original frame or still image repeatedly to light or other images.
Musical: New genre created in response to the rise of sound film. Features singing, dancing, and spectacle- driven camerawork.
Mutoscope: A type of flip-card peep show device invented by William Dickson and Herman Casler in 1894.
Narration: The subjective telling of story from a specific point of view. This point of view can be seen in plot organization, in a voiceover, and in cinematography, editing, or mise-en-scène choices.
Narrative film: A fictional or fictionalized story. As opposed to documentaries, which are often called “non-narrative” films.
Narrator: The character or characters from whose point of view the story is told. The character(s) may be on-screen or off-screen; they may be diegetic or non-diegetic.
Nickelodeon: Permanent indoor exhibition spaces that charged a nickel for admission in the early 1900s.
Non-diegetic: Elements that exist outside of the diegesis, or story world. Characters in the story cannot see or hear non-diegetic elements, for example credits, subtitles, or orchestral soundtrack. When a narrator is non-diegetic, they exist outside of the diegesis and characters on screen are not aware that he is speaking.
Objective / Objective Perspective: Everything that is visible before our eyes or understood about the storyworld. There are no emotional insights from a character’s perspective. This camera often keeps us at a distance, making us voyeurs.
Observational cinema: See Direct cinema
Off-screen: Events that occur beyond the film frame provided to the viewers. These events are in the diegesis and characters may have access to them, but viewers must learn of off-screen events by deduction.
Off-screen sound: Diegetic sound whose action is out of frame.
On-location: A real space is used as a set for a scene. As opposed to a “studio” set.
Onryou: Vengeful, wet female ghosts stemming from Japanese folklore and literature. Characterized by their long black hair, corpse-pale skin and inhuman movements that are the principal trope of J-Horror.
Open ending: The film intentionally leaves the audience uncertain about the future of characters.
Pan: Camera swivels from side to side.
Parallel editing: See Crosscutting
Pedestal: Camera axis is lifted up or down while camera itself remains level.
Persistence of vision: The effect of an afterimage on the retina persisting after an image has been shown. This allows for sequential images, as in optical toys or in film, to blend together to appear to be in motion.
Phantasmagoria: A horror exhibition chiefly produced through a magic lantern that projected images of demons and skeletons onto walls, smoke, and transparent curtains to frighten its audiences.
Phi phenomenon: The mental act of suturing the gaps between frames or images.
Photography: The creation of permanent images with light on a light-sensitive material, often an emulsion on paper or celluloid.
Pinhole Camera: See Camera Obscura
Plot: The arrangement of story elements in time. Events can be organized chronologically or told out of temporal order.
Prop: Short for “property”. Any object used in set design.
Psychological horror: A subgenre of horror that positions the spectator within the growing fear and mental instability of its characters.
Puppet animation: A type of stop-motion animation that moves puppets into slightly varying positions between takes.
Pure cinema: Experimental cinema that focuses on manipulating film material itself, like scratching and painting the celluloid, and creating shapes and forms rather than narrative story.
Ramping: Fast motion and slow motion used sequentially in a single shot.
Rashomon Effect: A term used to describe the unreliability of eyewitness accounts. Based on the film Rashomon (Kurosawa, 1950).
Rear projection: Footage is projected onto a backdrop while the actor is filmed in front of it.
Reenactments: Common convention of including staged scenarios of past events within non-fiction film.
Reestablishing shot: A return to a wide view of the setting, after the closer view that followed the establishing shot, to remind us of the map and where characters are situated within it.
Restricted narration: Both the protagonist and the audience are given access to the same story information.
Romantic comedy: Genre that follows a simple structural convention: a boy and girl alternate loving and hating each other until they are reunited through a grand romantic gesture.
Room tone: An ambient sound that is emitted from every room. Recorded room tone provides naturalism to a scene and helps to blend together sound recorded from different sites (for example, on set and in studio).
Scene-to-scene editing: Editing that stitches together multiple sequences. Often this type of editing moves between times and/or spaces.
Science Fiction / Sci-Fi: Speculative genre that follows themes of science, technology, ethical or moral anxieties, and social philosophy. Includes iconography of futuristic technology, scientists, or a dystopian setting. Often allegorical stories that address historical events and social systems through subtext.
Sequence: A larger unit of film that is made of several shots stitched together with cuts. Each sequence exists in a single time and space.
Set design: The dressing or décor of a set and the way that space is staged.
Shaky cam shot: A rough, bumpy shot often associated with Direct Cinema documentaries of the 1960. Can be achieved with a handheld camera on set or with computer graphics in post-production.
Shallow space: Few planes of space (sometimes only two). Often gives a sense of claustrophobia or a flattened image.
Shot: A single piece of footage without any cuts. The smallest unit of film.
Shot/Reverse-shot: A common way to edit two characters in conversation. One shot features one character; the other shot (the “reverse-shot”) features a second character. Cuts move us between these two shots as the characters converse.
Shot-to-shot editing: Editing that stitches together multiple shots into one sequence.
Slasher Film: Horror sub-genre popularized in the 1980s that typically features naive teenagers who become the prey of a serial killer.
Slow cinema: A style of poetic cinema that intentionally deviates form Hollywood standards of action and momentum.
Slow motion: Image is captured at a faster speed and so appears to slow down when projected.
Soft lighting: Diffused light that hides imperfections.
Sonic close-up: The volume of a certain sound effect is increased to bring attention to an object or experience.
Sound bridge: Bleeds sound from one scene into another. Creates a sense of continuity between sharp cuts.
Sound fidelity (synchronous sound): Each prop that we see on screen makes a believable sound in post- -production. The image and sound appear to match.
Sound-on-disc: Early sound technology that synched a record player’s sound with the projector’s image.
Sound-on-film (optical soundtrack): Sound technology that prints the sound track directly on the film strip itself. For celluloid film, this became the standard of production.
Sound perspective: Matches camera distance to sound volume. Sonic close-ups are matched with visual close-ups. Sound becomes muffled when it is far away from the camera or unimportant to the story.
Special Effects: Magic tricks or effects not occurring naturally that are achieved on set (commonly abbreviated as SFX) as compared to visual effects (VFX) that are added afterwards with a computer.
Steadicam: Technology developed by Garrett Brown in the 1970s where the camera can be attached to the cinematographer’s body with stabilizer mounts to create a smooth movement while walking.
Stop-motion / Stop-motion animation: Uses manipulated objects to create each film frame. Includes claymation, puppet animation, pinscreen animation, sand animation, and cutout animation.
Story: A series of events that form the building blocks of narrative.
Structural conventions: Expectations of plot, character, setting, or style.
Subjective / Subjective perspective: Places us within the character’s experience, that is, the particular emotional or mental state of the character.
Subtitles: Captioned dialogue printed on the screen on top of the film image. Used to provide translated dialogue information in foreign-language films and captioned dialogue for hearing-impaired viewers.
Surrealism: A 1920s art and cinema movement that focused on dream logic, absurd combinations of shots, and shocking imagery.
Suture: To fully immerse audiences into the screen so that they forget they are watching a film and identify with characters.
Talkie: Early term for sound cinema. The Jazz Singer (1927) is commonly descried as the first “talkie”, since it was the first sound film to feature spoken dialogue.
Talking heads: Common convention in which interview subjects are cut off at the shoulders.
Telephoto lens: Range in focal length from 70mm to 300mm or more. Captures a long range of space, which makes it optimal for filming at long distances. The distance of the telephoto lens flattens planes of space in the frame, making objects appear extremely close together.
Temporal frequency: The amount of times that an event or shot recurs in a film.
Thematic codes: Subtext embedded within genres and subgenres, often based in historical context.
Third Cinema: A political filmmaking movement originating in 1960s and 1970s Latin America that critiques neocolonialism, capitalism, and profit-oriented filmmaking.
Three-point lighting system: A convention of lighting that includes a key light, fill light, and back light. Part of the Classical Hollywood system that created "glamour" shots.
Tilt: Camera tilts up or down on its axis.
Time-lapse cinematography: Allows a naturally slow process to be accelerated, like the germination of a seed to a plant.
Tracking shot: A smooth camera movement that follows (tracks) a character as they move. Often achieved with a dolly or Steadicam.
Transitions: A style of scene-to-scene editing that uses an optical effect, like a fade, dissolve, wipe, or iris. These styles are usually meant to be obvious in order to mark a change in time and/or place.
Triadic color: Three complementary colors arranged in a triangle on the color wheel.
Underground film: Film movements of the 1950s and 1960s that showcased sub-cultures ignored by Hollywood, such as avant-garde artists, hipsters, and queer communities.
Unreliable narrator: Narrators who defy our expectation to be told the "true" story. Unreliable narrators have compromised memories, intentionally blur the truth, or straight out lie to the viewer.
Unrestricted narration: The audience knows more information than the protagonist. Often used to evoke suspense in narrative progression.
Vertigo effect: See Dolly zoom
Viewfinder: What the cinematographer looks through in a camera to compose his shot. It gives an idea of the scope of the subject or area to be recorded. In modern cameras, it is found in the center of the camera.
Voiceover: The voice of a character layered over the film image. This voice may be an omniscient perspective or an inner voice. Voiceovers most often are associated with the film’s narrator.
Wide-angle lens: Range in focal length from 24mm to 35mm. Captures a wide amount of space at close range, which makes it optimal for filming big sets. The shape of the wide-angle lens creates “bulging” at the edges of the frame and creates distance between objects.
Widescreen: Aspect ratio developed in the 1950s to create a bigger, more exciting image for theaters.
Wipe: A transition effect where a boundary line travels from one part of the frame to the other to signal one shot’s replacement by another shot.
Zoom lens: A variable lens that can move between several focal lengths, potentially creating both wide-angle and telephoto effects.
Zoopraxiscope: An early cinematic device invented by Eadweard Muybridge that created the illusion of moving images by rapidly projecting images painted on a rotating glass disk onto the screen.