Site MapHelpFeedbackGlossary
(See related pages)

Jump to terms beginning with:

0-9, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, N, P, R, S, T, V, W, Z

Academy ratio  The shape of the image projected on a screen or, more accurately, the aspect ratio or ratio of the width to height of the projected image as it was standardized (at 1.37:1) by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences circa 1930. See also aspect ratio.
after-markets  A term used to describe ancillary markets for merchandise related to the original motion picture, including video sales and rentals, DVDs, cable and pay-per-view distribution, sound track albums, video games, books, amusement park rides, toys, T-shirts, and other products.
anamorphic lens  A special lens used for filming and projecting widescreen images. The anamorphic lens in a camera records a wide, panoramic field of view onto standard 35mm film by compressing the image in the horizontal plane. In the theater, an anamorphic projection lens unsqueezes this compressed image, spreading it across a theater screen to produce an image with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. See also CinemaScope and Panavison.
art direction  The designing and building of the studio sets and the selection of nonstudio locations on which a film will be shot. Also called "set design."
aspect ratio  The ratio of width to height of the projected image. Before 1930, the standard aspect ratio of silent films was 1.33:1; that is, the width of the projected image was 1.33 times that of its height, resulting in a somewhat rectangular image. The 1930 Academy ratio, which remained a standard until 1953, was, at 1.37:1, more or less identical to the silent film aspect ratio. Starting with Cinerama in 1952, which featured a 2.77:1 aspect ratio, American films were filmed and/or projected in a variety of extremely rectangular widescreen formats, ranging from 1.66:1 (VistaVision) to 2.35:1 (CinemaScope) and 2.77:1. The current American widescreen standards are 1.85:1, 2.21.1 (70mm), and 2.40:1 (anamorphic Panavision). See also Academy ratio.
B films  Quickly made motion pictures, usually produced to fill the second half of a double bill that also features an A film. B films generally have a budget (and a running time) that is significantly less than that of A films.
backlight  Light used to illuminate the space between characters and their backgrounds to separate the characters from their backgrounds. See also three-point lighting.
biopic  A biographical film based on the life of a famous historical figure. This genre is generally associated with studios such as 20th Century-Fox (Young Mr. Lincoln, 1939) and Warner Bros. (The Life of Emile Zola, 1937) during the 1930s and 1940s, though other studios also made biopics and the genre survives today (Malcolm X, Warner Bros., 1992).
blaxploitation films  A term coined by Variety to describe a series of Hollywood genre films made in the early 1970s, featuring black performers, that were produced for a black audience.
blind bidding  A distribution system in which exhibitors are forced to contract for the rental of films prior to seeing them.
block booking  A distribution system in which exhibitors are forced to contract for the rental of groups of (two or more) films to secure the permission to exhibit any one film distributed by a particular studio.
cable television  A system for the transmission of television signals that uses cable wires or fiber optics instead of radio waves broadcast through the air.
camera angle  The angle at or from which the camera looks at the action. In a low-angle shot, the camera looks up from below at the action. In a high-angle shot, the camera looks down from above at the action. In an eye-level shot, the camera looks at the action head-on, from a position that is chest or head high.
camera distance  The relative distance of the camera from the action being filmed (e.g., extreme close-up, close-up, medium shot, long shot, and so on). The scale on which the distance is measured is generally that of the human body. (The content of the shots need not be restricted to human or even animate forms. Each film will establish its own scale of distances, depending, in part, on the subject matter of the film.) Thus, an extreme close-up presents only a portion of the face. A close-up frames the entire head, hand, foot, or other object. Medium close-ups give a chest-up view of individuals, as seen in most sequences in which two characters converse with one another, while medium shots tend to show the body from the waist up. Shots of characters that frame them from the knees up are referred to as medium long shots, while long shots range from full-figure images of characters to inclusion of some of the surrounding space immediately above and below them. In extreme long shots, the human body is overwhelmed by the setting within which it is placed, as in Westerns in which distant figures are seen as specks in a larger landscape.
camera movement  The physical movement of the camera, either through its rotation on an axis (that is, a pan or tilt shot) or through its movement on a track, a dolly, a crane, or other movable camera support. See also crane shot, dolly shot, pan, tilt, and tracking shot.
CinemaScope  A widescreen process, developed in 1953 by 20th Century-Fox, that relies on an anamorphic camera lens to squeeze a panoramic view onto standard 35mm film and an anamorphic projection lens to display the original view on a theater screen, producing an image with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The system was initially accompanied by four-track, magnetic stereo sound. See also aspect ratio.
Cinerama  A widescreen process, independently developed and introduced in 1952, that employed three interlocked cameras to record a panoramic view on three separate strips of 35mm motion picture film. In the theater, three interlocked projectors projected the three film strips side by side on a deeply curved screen. This projection produced an aspect ratio of 2.77:1. A separate strip of film carried the stereo magnetic sound, which consisted of six tracks that supplied sound to five speakers behind the screen and additional surround speakers, and a seventh track that was used to control the other six. See also aspect ratio.
classical Hollywood cinema  A mode of production associated with American cinema that involves certain narrative and stylistic practices. Narratives are structured around characters who have specific, clearly defined goals and deal with their triumph over various obstacles that stand in the way of the attainment of those goals. These narratives are presented in a manner that is both as efficient and as (stylistically) invisible as possible.
close-up  An image in which the size of the object shown is relatively large. See also camera distance.
continuity editing  A system of editing that attempts to create the illusion of temporal and spatial coherence, unity, and/or continuity. It relies on the 180-degree rule, the shot/reverse shot, and various matches.
costume design  The style or design of the clothing worn by the actors and actresses who appear in a film.
crane shot  A moving shot in which the camera, mounted on a crane, rises or descends as it views the action.
crosscutting  A form of editing that involves cutting back and forth between two or more separate scenes. See also parallel editing.
cut  A simple break in the film where two shots are joined together. In Rear Window (1954), there is a cut from James Stewart looking to a shot of what he sees (Miss Torso).
deep focus  A style of filming that relies on a wide-angle lens, coated lenses (lenses that have been treated with a special substance that enables them to transmit more light), fast film (i.e., film that is more sensitive to light and thus requires less exposure time than slow film), and powerful illumination to produce an image that possesses extreme depth of field (i.e., in which the extreme foreground and extreme background appear in sharp focus). See also depth of field.
depth of field  The range in front of an individual lens within which objects will appear in sharp focus. Depending on the focal length of the lens used, the range of sharp focus will be shallow, moderate, or deep.
diegetic/nondiegetic  Diegetic refers to the space or world of the story. Anything that belongs to this space (that could possibly be seen or heard by the characters in the story) is considered diegetic; that which does not belong to this space (e.g., a film's credits) is considered nondiegetic.
diegetic sound  Sound that comes from the world depicted in the film, including dialogue, sound effects, and music (from radios, orchestras, or other onscreen sources). This sound is produced within the space of the film and can be (or could be) heard by any characters who inhabit that space. Diegetic sound is distinguished from nondiegetic sound.
dissolve  A fluid form of shot transition that involves fading out on one shot while simultaneously fading in on another; for a brief moment, at the midpoint of the dissolve, both images are visible on the screen at the same time.
dolly shot  A shot in which the camera, mounted on a mobile platform or camera support with wheels, moves in any of a variety of different directions parallel to the floor.
DVD  The initials stand for either digital video disc or digital versatile disc. The size of a CD (compact disc), the DVD can store over two hours of high-quality digital video and up to eight tracks of CD-quality digital audio.
editing  A process that involves the selection of images (in the form of unedited takes or shots) and sounds for subsequent inclusion in the film and the assemblage of this material to produce a finished film. Though some editing occurs during production, the bulk of a film's editing takes place during the postproduction stage. Editing also refers to the sequence of shots in the finished film.
establishing shot  A shot that functions to present the spatial parameters within which the subsequent action of a scene takes place or otherwise introduce a scene.
eye-level shot  See camera angle.
eye-line matching  This feature of continuity editing involves two shots in which a character in the first shot looks offscreen at another character or object. The next shot then shows what that character is looking at from a position that reflects, in its angle, the character's position and the direction in which he or she has looked, but remains more or less objec-tive (as opposed to subjective) in nature. Point-of-view editing is a form of eye-line matching in which the second shot shows what is being looked at from the character's exact position.
fade  The gradual darkening of the image until it becomes black (the fade-out) or the gradual brightening of a darkened image until it becomes visible (the fade-in).
fill light  A light used to fill in shadows cast by the key lights. See also three-point lighting.
film noir  Literally meaning "black film," film noir refers to a style or mode of filmmaking, which flourished between 1941 and 1958, that presents narratives involving crime or criminal actions in a manner that disturbs, disorients, or otherwise induces anxiety in the viewer.
flashback  A shot or sequence that shows events that take place at an earlier moment than the present time in the film.
focal length  The distance from the center of a lens to the plane of the film. The focal lengths of lenses vary from relatively short lengths in wide-angle lenses to relatively long lengths in telephoto lenses.
Genre  A category of filmmaking that is recognized as a type possessing familiar narrative and stylistic conventions. Standard genres are the melodrama, Western, war film, musical, and comedy.
graphic match  A technique used in continuity editing in which the major features of the composition in one shot are duplicated or matched in the next shot, providing a graphic continuity that serves to bridge the edit.
high-angle shot  See camera angle.
high-key lighting  A style of lighting found in comedies, musicals, and other upbeat films, in which the fill light eliminates dark shadows cast by the key light, producing an image that is brightly and evenly lit. See also three-point lighting.
Independent cinema  A term used to describe films made outside the traditional studio system or made by independent producers (e.g., David O. Selznick, Samuel Goldwyn, Walter Wanger) within it. Contemporary independent cinema is generally independently financed; that is, films are made without funding from (and prior to having a contract with) a major distributor.
iris-in/iris-out  A major transition in the silent cinema in which an adjustable aperture on the camera would gradually open, in an iris-in, to reveal more and more image within an expanding, geometrically shaped frame, or would gradually close down, in an iris-out, to narrow the field of view, which is surrounded by more and more blackness.
key light  The chief or brightest source of light in a scene. See also three-point lighting.
letterboxing  A video format that enables widescreen films to be seen on television in (more or less) their original aspect ratio. It involves a reduction in the height of the image so that the full width of the image can be seen on the somewhat narrow television screen. If a film has been letterboxed, black (or blue) masking appears above and below the original widescreen image.
lighting  The illumination of the set or film-ing location by means of natural or artificial lights. See also three-point lighting.
long take  A shot that continues for a relatively long period of time (e.g., 20 or more seconds).
low-angle shot  See camera angle.
low-key lighting  A style of lighting, found in film noir, suspense, or horror films, in which there is little fill light, resulting in a dark or shadow-filled image. See also three-point lighting.
match on action  A technique of continuity editing that uses the carryover of physical movement from one shot to the next to conceal cuts. Thus, as a character begins to sit down in medium long shot, an editor will often cut in to a closer shot as the action continues.
medium shot  An image in which the size of the object or scene shown lies somewhere in between that of a close-up or medium close-up and a medium long shot or long shot; in terms of the human body, a shot that frames characters roughly from the knees up. See camera distance.
mise-en-scene  A French term that literally means "putting on the stage." Mise-en-scène encompasses a variety of theatrical categories related to the staging of action for the camera. These range from purely theatrical areas of expression (such as set design, costume design, the blocking of actors, performance, and lighting) to purely filmic techniques (such as camera movement, camera angle, camera distance, and composition). Strictly speaking, mise-en-scène includes the relation of everything within the shot to everything else within the shot-of actors to the décor; of décor and actors to the lighting; of actors, décor, and lighting to the camera position; and so forth.
mode of production  The particular system in which films are made. These systems range from home movies, in which amateur equipment is used by individuals to record everyday events for family viewing, to Hollywood productions, in which state-of-the-art equipment and experienced professionals (screenwriters, directors, actors, and other crafts-persons) are used to produce commercial products for a mass audience.
montage  The French word for "editing"; a style of editing associated with Soviet films of the late 1920s.
montage sequence  A sequence in a film that relies on editing to condense or expand action, space, or time. In a travel montage, for example, a lengthy journey of a character might be condensed to a handful of shots of various places which that character has visited that are connected by a series of dissolves. This kind of montage can be seen in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), when Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) takes a sight-seeing bus around Washington, D.C., and shots of various buildings and monuments are edited together to reflect his tour of the nation's cap-ital. On the other hand, the shower sequence in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) is also a montage sequence. It breaks the action down into over 75 separate shots, relying on montage to expand (and thus magnify the horror of) the brutal murder of the film's heroine.
movie palace  An enormous motion picture theater with lavish, often exotic, décor. Located in a large urban area, a movie palace typically had enough seats for several thousand spectators at once. The New York Roxy, for example, had 6,200 seats. The first movie palaces were built in the decade from 1910 to 1920.
multiplex  A cluster of several theaters under a single roof, economically operated by the same size staff required to run a single theater. Typically, three or four small theaters, each seating about 200 spectators, will be grouped around a single large theater, seating 500-800, to form a movie arcade.
nickelodeon  A small storefront motion picture theater, approximately 25 feet wide and 75-100 feet long, seating about 200 spectators. Introduced in about 1905, nickelodeons were so named because they charged customers a nickel (or a dime) for a full program of motion picture entertainment.
nondiegetic sound  Sound (generally music) that does not originate in the world depicted onscreen but comes from the space occupied by a nondramatized narrator. The music provided by the film's composer that underscores dramatic action (and that is not heard by the characters in the film) is nondiegetic. Voiceover narration provided by someone who is not a character in a film, such as the voice-of-God narration found in newsreels and certain documentaries, is nondiegetic.
normal lens  A camera lens that possesses an angle of view somewhat similar to that of the human eye, which thus provides a view of the action that seems less exaggerated or distorted than that provided by a wide-angle or telephoto lens. The range for normal lenses is roughly 40mm-50mm.
180-degree rule  A convention observed in filmmaking that ensures continuity in screen position and screen direction from one shot to the next. In cutting from shot to shot, the camera remains on one side of an imaginary line (the 180-degree line) that runs through the main actors or action. If the camera were to cross this line during a conversation sequence, for example, the screen position of players in the first shot would be reversed in the second.
pan  A camera movement in which the camera rotates horizontally on its axis, presenting a panoramic view of the scene by rotating from right to left (or from left to right) a certain number of degrees to reveal what lies before the camera on either side.
Panavision  An anamorphic, widescreen process similar to CinemaScope. Panavision re-placed CinemaScope as an industry standard for anamorphic filmmaking during the early 1960s.
Panning and scanning  A process employed in the adaptation of widescreen motion pictures for broadcast on television. In the transfer from original motion picture to television master, a special telecine device crops the film to make it fit on the television screen, introducing edits and pans from one part of the original image to another.
parallel editing  A style of editing that involves cutting back and forth between two or more scenes in which the action is taking place simultaneously or in which one action is compared or contrasted with another. See also crosscutting.
Pay-per-view  A cable television distribution system that enables cable companies to charge home viewers a fee for watching an individual film rather than a subscription fee for a particular premium cable channel such as HBO or Showtime.
persona  The "mask" or projected personality of an actor or star.
point-of-view editing  A form of eye-line matching that involves a series of three separate shots-a shot of a character looking offscreen, a point-of-view shot of what the character sees, and a reaction shot of the character as he or she reacts to the thing that has been seen.
point-of-view shot  A shot that is clearly marked as subjective in nature and that duplicates the optical perspective of a specific character in the film.
populism  A dominant myth that celebrates a certain kind of American identity based on preindustrial, agrarian ideals, such as that of Jefferson's yeoman farmer, the small businessperson, the opponent of big government, the anti-intellectual, and the good neighbor.
postproduction  The phase of motion picture production during which footage filmed during production is edited and assembled, special effects are created, music is composed and recorded, and the sound track is mixed.
preproduction  The phase of motion picture production during which a screenplay is written, parts are cast, a crew is assembled, and sets and costumes are designed and constructed.
production  The phase of motion picture production during which actual filming takes place.
Production Code  Rules and regulations, established (and subsequently revised) at various periods during the history of the studio system, that indicated particular subjects, ranging from nudity, white slavery, drug addiction, and other criminal acts to miscegenation, that were not permitted to be represented on the screen.
ratings  A system of film classification that rates films on the basis of the amount of sex, violence, or objectionable language contained in them. The Motion Picture Association of America has six ratings: G (suitable for a general audience), PG-13 (parental guidance recommended for children under the age of 13), PG (parental guidance suggested), R (restricted to persons over 17 unless accompanied by an adult), NC-17 (no child under 17 permitted), and X (prohibited to persons under 17). The difference between NC-17 and X is that the former rating is used for serious films with mature themes, such as Henry and June (1990), and the latter is now used solely for pornographic films.
roadshowing  A specialized distribution system, modeled on the legitimate theater, in which a film is shown at first-run theaters and tickets are sold, in advance, on a reserved-seat basis.
runs, zones, and clearances  A pattern of exhibition in which certain theaters secure the rights to exhibit films before other theaters are permitted to show them. Runs are broken down into first run, second run, and subsequent runs. New films are initially licensed only to first-run theaters, which are thus protected from competition with second- and sub-run theaters. Only one theater in a certain zone or geographical area will be permitted to exhibit the film in any particular run. And between each run, a certain period of time or clearance will be established to enable the various runs to maximize profits.
scene  The film's smallest dramatic unit; it consists of one or more shots presenting an action that is spatially and temporally continuous.
Scope  A shortening of the term "Cinema-Scope." It has become a generic term for any film made in an anamorphic process. See also Cinemascope.
segmentation  The breaking down of a film into its basic parts for purposes of analysis of the relationship of one part or segment to another.
set design  See art direction.
shot  An unbroken strip of film made by an uninterrupted running of the camera and edited at the beginning and end in preparation for its inclusion in a film. See also take.
shot/reverse shot  A multishot system (involving at least two shots), frequently used in filming conversations and other kinds of sequences, that observes the 180-degree rule. The shots alternate back and forth between an angled shot from one end of the 180-degree line and another from the other end. The second shot views the action from the same angle as the first, though that angle is now reversed, that is, the shot is taken from the opposite direction. In other words, the shot/reverse shot pattern involves an initial shot, from one angle favoring one character, followed by another shot, from another angle favoring the other character. The relative screen positions of both characters will be maintained from shot to shot and the camera will remain on the same side of the 180-degree line that runs through the center of the action.
sound mixing  The combination, during the phase of postproduction, of three different categories of film sound-dialogue, sound effects, and music.
stereo magnetic sound  A sound system that relies on magnetic recording and playback in the theater, using magnetically striped projection prints to produce stereo sound coming from three or more speakers in the theater.
take  An unbroken strip of yet unedited film made by an uninterrupted running of the camera; to be distinguished from a long take.
telephoto lens  A camera lens that has a long focal length and takes in a relatively narrow angle of view in comparison to a normal lens. Any lens that is longer (e.g., 75mm, 100mm) than the standard 40-50mm normal lens is a telephoto lens.
3-D  A system of motion picture production and exhibition, (re-)introduced in the 1950s, that involved the creation of an illusion of depth/emergence, which was based on the principles of binocular vision.
three-point lighting  The standard lighting set-up employed in Hollywood. The three points to which the term refers are the dominant sources of illumination-the key light (or chief directional light source), the fill light (or weaker light source that fills in the shadows cast by the key light), and the backlight, the minor light that illuminates the space between the back of the set and the characters in order to separate or distinguish the characters from the background.
tilt  A form of panning in which a stationary camera tilts upward or downward on its axis.
tracking shot  A shot in which the camera, mounted on any one of a variety of mobile camera supports (e.g., cranes, dollies, Steadicams, or tracks), moves bodily through space in any of a variety of directions parallel to the floor. In some situations, the camera is placed on tracks laid on the floor or built into the ceiling.
VCR  Abbreviation for "video cassette recorder."
vertical integration  A system of motion picture production, distribution, and exhibition in which these three sectors are controlled by a single economic entity, such as a studio, that both makes and distributes a product exhibited in its own theaters. This particular structure was outlawed by the courts in 1948.
VHS  Abbreviation for "video home system," a special system of VCRs and tapes that rely on a half-inch videotape format.
VistaVision  A widescreen process developed by Paramount in 1954. It relies on a special 35mm camera that exposes two frames of film horizontally (rather than one frame exposed vertically as in standard cameras) to record a panoramic view. It produced an extremely sharp image that was projected in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1.
voice-over narration  Speech that accompanies a previously filmed sequence but does not come from the sequence itself. The voice may be that of a character in the film who is describing onscreen events that are seen in a flashback or it may be that of an omniscient, unseen, offscreen commentator whose voice accompanies onscreen images, as in newsreels and certain forms of documentaries.
wide-angle lens  A camera lens that possesses a short focal length and takes in a fairly wide angle of view, relative to that captured by a normal lens. A 25mm lens (or any lens shorter than the 40-50mm normal lens) is a typical wide-angle lens.
widescreen  Any film production or projection format that uses an aspect ratio greater than the Academy ratio, that is, an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 or more.
wipe  A form of shot transition in which the second shot appears to wipe the first shot off the screen.
zoom  A special lens possessing a variety of different focal lengths that range from wide-angle to telephoto. Manipulation of the lens produces the impression of movement toward or away from objects by shifting from wide-angle to telephoto focal lengths or vice versa. These shifts simply enlarge or decrease the apparent size of the image but involve no actual movement of the camera.

American CinemaOnline Learning Center

Home > Glossary