Filmmaking Terms Glossary

Like many careers, filmmakers and film crews have their own terms and jargon to define their various jobs, duties, materials, equipment, positions, organisations, and more. Here is our list.


Abby (Abby Singer): A term for the second-to-last shot of the day on a shoot.

Above The Line: A budgeting term used to describe professionals who influence the creative direction of a film, such the screenwriter, producer, director, and actors.

Act: A main division within the plot of a film.

Aerial Shot: A bird’s eye view camera shot filmed in an exterior location in the air from far overhead as from a helicopter, blimp, balloon, plane, drone or kite. It is a variation on the crane shot.

Alan Smithee: The pseudonym used by directors who refuse to put their name on a film and want to disassociate themselves from the film they directed.

Allegory: An extended metaphor; taken in film terms to mean a suggestive resemblance or correspondence between a visible event or character in a film with other more significant or abstract levels of meaning outside of the film.

Allusion: A direct or indirect reference – through an image or through dialogue.

Ambiance: The feeling or mood of a particular scene or setting.

Ambient Light: The natural light or surrounding light around a subject in a scene; often soft light.

Anachronism: An element or artifact in a film that belongs to another time or place; often anachronistic elements are deemed as inconsistencies or mistakes.

Anamorphic: 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.

Angle: The perspective from which a camera depicts its subject.

Antagonist: 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. Sometimes termed ‘the heavy’.

Anthropomorphism: The tendency in animated films to give creatures or objects human qualities, abilities, and characteristics.

Anti-climax: Anything in a film, usually following the film’s high point, zenith, apex, crescendo, or climax, in which there is an unsatisfying and disappointing let-down of emotion, or what is expected doesn’t occur.

Anti-hero: the principal protagonist of a film who lacks the attributes or characteristics of a typical hero archetype, but with whom the audience identifies.

Arc Shot: A shot in which the subject or subjects are photographed by an encircling or moving camera.

Archetype: 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.

Aside: Occurs when a character in a film breaks the ‘fourth wall’ and directly addresses the audience with a comment.

Aspect Ratio:  A term for how the image appears on the screen based on how it was shot; refers to the ratio of width to height of a film frame, image or screen.

Atmosphere: Refers to any concrete or nebulous feeling that contributes a dimensional tone to a film’s action.

Auteur/ Auteur Theory: A critical theory that ascribes overall responsibility for the creation of a film and its personal vision, identifiable style, thematic aspects and techniques to its film director, rather than to the collaborative efforts of all involved; an auteur can refer to a director with a recognizable or signature style.

Available Light: The naturally-existing light in an off-set location rather than creating artificial light.

Axis of Action: An imaginary or invisible line (or axis) that passes through two main subjects being filmed in a scene, who face each other (one is left, the other is right); conventionally, the camera must maintain that left-right relationship or orientation in order to avoid disorienting or distracting the viewer with a reverse angle shot.

Back lot: An undeveloped area, on studio property, in an open-air, outdoor space away from the studio stages, where real-life situations with backgrounds can be filmed.

Back Projection: A photographic technique whereby live action is filmed in front of a transparent screen onto which background action is projected.

Balance: Within a film’s visual frame, refers to the composition, aesthetic quality, or working together of the figures, light, sound, and movement.

Barn doors: The black metal folding doors an all four sides of a light that can be bent back and forth on their hinges to control where the light is directed.

Below the line: A budgeting term used for professionals who are involved in the production of film but do not have creative influence on the film but still influence aspects of the film through their departments. Travel expenses and craft services fall “below the line”.

Blocking: The movements of an actor within a scene; the process of figuring out where the camera goes, how the lights will be arranged, and what the actors’ positions and movements will be when the shot happens ‘on the day’.

Blue-screen: A special effects process whereby actors work in front of an evenly-lit, monochromatic (usually blue or green) background, screen, or backdrop. The background is then replaced in post-production by chroma-keying or optical printer, allowing other footage or computer-generated images (CGI) to form the background image; since 1992, most films use a green-screen.

Bounce: Refers to a device or board to reflect light during filming; the board is usually a large white surface made of foam or poster board.

Camera blocking is the movement of the camera within the scene.

Call Sheet: A daily page sent out by the 2nd Assistant Director that states what scenes are happening that day as well as what time specific departments need to be on set by.

Call Time: The time that each person is expected to start work on a film set, as seen on the call sheet.

Camera Right/Camera Left: These refer to the direction from the way the camera is facing. This means that if a prop needs to be moved “camera left” and you are facing the camera, you actually need to move the prop to the right.

Caricature: A character appearing ridiculously out of proportion because of one physical, psychological, or moral trait that has been grossly or broadly exaggerated; a caricature often portrays a character in an unrealistic, stereotypical fashion.

Catharsis: During a film’s climax, the audience may experience a purging or cleansing of emotional tension, providing relief or therapeutic restoration.

CGI: Computer Generated Imagery or Images; a term referring to the use of 3D computer graphics and technology to create filmed images, special effects and the illusion of motion.

Checking The Gate: Taking off the camera lens and examining the film plan for scratches; this happens after every camera set up and is usually done by the 1st AC.

Chiaroscuro: the combination of the two Italian words for “clear/bright” and “dark”; refers to a notable, contrasting use of light and shade in scenes; often achieved by using a spotlight; this lighting technique had its roots in German Expressionistic cinematography.

Cineaste: Refers to a film/movie enthusiast or devotee.

Cinema Verité: A method or style of documentary and narrative filmmaking with long takes, no narration and little or no directorial or editing control exerted over the finished product; used to loosely refer to a documentary-style film or minimalist cinema; popularized in the 1950s French New Wave movement; now widely used (often inappropriately) to refer to the popular, artsy trend of using hand-held camera techniques.

Composition: Refers to the arrangement of different elements (i.e., colors, shapes, figures, lines, movement, and lighting) within a frame and in a scene.

Continuity: Making sure that locations, extras, props, and the actions of actors are similar enough from one take to another so that they will cut without issue in the editing room.

Contrast: Refers to the difference between light and shadow, or between maximum and minimum amounts of light, in a particular film image; can be either high contrast(with a sharp delineation between the bright and dark areas) or its opposite low contrast.

Coverage: The process of making sure that every scene has a variety of shots to make sure that the editor has enough film to be able to cut the scene together.

Craft Services: Provides food and drinks to the crew on set, not to be confused with catering, which refers to the hot meals given to the crew.

Crane Shot: A camera shot taken from a large camera dolly or electronic device (an apparatus, such as a crane), resembling an extendable mechanical arm (or boom), that can raise the camera up in the air above the ground 20 feet or more; the crane allows the camera to fluidly move in virtually any direction (with vertical and horizontal movement), providing shifts in levels and angles; crane shots usually provide some kind of overhead view of a scene.

Crawl: Refers to superimposed screen titles or text intended to move across, up, down, or diagonally on the screen.

Cyclorama: The curved, seamless, floor-to-ceiling backdrop or background used in studio sets.

Dailies: The immediately processed, rough cuts, digital files or exposed film, without edits for the director, producer, or key crew to review, to see how the film came out after the day’s (or previous day’s) shooting; more commonly in the form of digital dailies; aka rushes used to determine whether there is a need to re-shoot.

Day-for-night: A technique for using shots filmed during the day to appear as moonlit night shots on the screen, by using different lenses, filters, special lighting and underexposure.

Dolly: A piece of equipment on wheels or a track that creates fluid camera movements. A dolly could be anything  as low-tech as a wheelchair or as high-tech as a studio dolly using hydraulics. Usually the camera operator and assistant ride on the dolly; the crew member who operates it is called a dolly grip.

Green-screen: A special effects process whereby actors work in front of an evenly-lit, monochromatic (usually blue or green) background, screen, or backdrop. The background is then replaced in post-production by chroma-keying or optical printer, allowing other footage or computer-generated images (CGI) to form the background image.

Hot Set: A location or studio that is in use for filming – even if the camera isn’t rolling. You shouldn’t lounge around or touch anything on a hot set because it may disrupt continuity.

MacGuffin: Coined by Alfred Hitchcock to describe an item, goal, or piece of knowledge that seems very important to the characters in the film but is actually inconsequential.

Martini Shot: The last shot of the last scene of the day.

Mise en scène: “Putting in the scene” in French; refers to the composition and arrangement of visual elements within the frame of film, including costume, set décor, lighting, and character positioning.

MOS: A universal abbreviation for “Mit Out Sound”, which means there will be no audio on a take.

Motif: Refers to a recurrent thematic element in a film that is repeated in a significant way or pattern; examples of motifs – a symbol, stylistic device, image, object, word, spoken phrase, line, or sentence within a film that points to a theme.

Picture Vehicle: Any vehicle that is on screen in a movie.

Principal Photography: The main shooting dates of a film with the lead actors present.

Rate: A fixed price paid or charged for your goods or services.

Recce: A slang word for reconnaissance meaning an inspection or exploration of an area to gather information. (Mostly used in the European film/tv industry)

Second unit: A smaller or “skeleton” crew of filmmakers who film any shots without the main actors; this can include aerial shots, scenery, or crowd shots.

Sides: A small script that only contains the pages that will be filmed that specific day.

Squib: A small device that replicates a bullet wound, usually by squishing a capsule of fake blood.

Steadicam: A mount that is worn by the camera operator that allows for the camera movement to be separate from the operator’s movement, meaning a smooth shot can be created even while the operator is running and the camera movement is not held to the limitations of a dolly or tripod. It is important to know when a Steadicam is being used on set because most of the time, that means that most of the set will be shown.