Explainers

A Beginner’s Glossary Of Important Terms in Cinema

March 22, 2017
6 min read

As a fan of cinema, I often find myself debating about films in general with other people. While this is a very interesting facet of being a film buff, it can be a little difficult sometimes. This is because I come across certain terms that are often said but I don’t know what they mean. For example, someone might say, did you see that tracking shot in ‘Pulp Fiction’. If you don’t know what that refers to, it will be difficult to understand the value of such a statement. I’m sure that most of you reading this will already have a substantial glossary regarding films. But for the others, I would like to extend a helping hand. So, let’s look at basic terms you should know to have a better understanding and appreciation of cinema. This list is in alphabetical order:

180 Degree Rule:

This is an imaginary line between actors that a camera must not cross.

Abby Shot:

This is the penultimate shot of the day. It is named after the revered production manager and assistant director, Abby Singer. The final shot of the day is known as the martini shot.

Above The Line:

This refers to the proportion of the budget that covers all the technicians who are part of a film.

Arc Shot:

This is when a shot is filmed as the camera is moving or circling around the subject.

Assembly:

It is the first stage in the process of editing. The editor arranges or assembles all the shots in the required order.

Barney:

This is a piece of cloth that is put over the camera to reduce the noise that is present inside the camera.

Blocking:

This is the process of figuring out: where the camera is going to be set, how the actors are going to move around etc. It is one of the more common terms in any film buff’s glossary.

Bumper:

This is the segment that appears before the actual film. One of the most famous examples of this is the roar of the MGM lion.

Buzz Track:

Any sound that is recorded as part of the environment of the scene and then added in post-production.

Chiaroscuro:

This Italian term refers to the contrast that is got by bringing darkness and light together in a frame.

Cinema Verite:

A French term that refers to a style of film making that is made with as little technical influence as possible. In other words, the filmmaker shows it as it is.

Crane Shot:

A shot that is filmed from a very big height. The camera can move freely in many directions and therefore, the shot can show more.

Cross-Cutting:

The technique of cutting between two different scenes. The two scenes usually don’t take place in the same location.

Diegetic:

Any aspect of a film that occurs organically and happens in the scene and is not added after filming. This term usually refers to the music of the film.

Dissolve:

An editing technique where one scene literally dissolves into the next scene.

Dolly Shot:

A shot where the camera is placed on a dolly (a hydraulically powered platform) and then moved around. It is a very important piece of film equipment.

Establishing Shot:

A shot where the audience are made aware of the surroundings. A prime example of this would be when the plot moves to another city.

Exposition:

This is when dialogue is used to explain what is happening. It is the most important element of the voice-over.

Expressionism:

It is when anything from the lighting to the costumes are used to express the feelings of a character.

Fade:

When an image slowly or quickly changes to another. We have fade-in, fade-out etc.

Foley Artist:

An artist who has the task of adding appropriate sounds using props to match the action in the scene. This is named after Jack Foley.

Gaffer:

This is the man who is in charge of all the lighting and electrical equipment that is part of the film.

Jump Cut:

An editing device used to advance the plot from one scene to a seemingly similarly scene.

Leitmotif:

A theme, visual or even sound that keeps appearing throughout the film. For example, the theme music.

Line Producer:

This is the producer that supervises the film on location.

Mark:

A mark on the ground that is an indication to the actor as to where they should stand.

Match Cut:

When two unrelated shots are matched by something physical, oral etc. it becomes a match cut. One of the best examples can be seen in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.

MacGuffin:

A element of the plot that appears to be integral, but more often than not turns out to be of not much importance.

Mise En Scene:

A French term which describes the way in which the frame is structured, filled and laid out.

Oscar Bait:

This is any film that is designed to attract the Academy voters. Comedies usually don’t fall into this category.

Overcranking:

This is to increase the frame rate of the camera. When this is played at a normal speed, the shot appears to be in slow-motion.

Over The Shoulder Shot:

When a shot is filmed from the perspective of a character’s shoulder. The camera appears to be mounted on their shoulder.

Pan:

This is the simple movement or rotation of the camera. It can be left, right, up, down etc.

Principal Photography:

This is the stage of production that is concerned with the filming of the main actors.

Rushes:

This refers to the footage shot during the day and is presented in an unedited form.

Silver Bullet:

A simple often magical solution for a complicated problem in the plot.

Stock Footage:

Any footage used that has been shot previously.

Storyboard:

This is when the plot or certain parts of the plot are sketched or illustrated to give the people involved a better understanding of the film.

Tentpole:

An industry term for a film around which a franchise can be built. For example, a superhero film.

Tracking Shot:

A shot where the camera moves along with the subjects. This is usually done with the help of a dolly. It can also be handheld at times.

So, the next time you are discussing a film, use some of these terms to dazzle anyone with your impressive glossary.

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