Film Language

The Film


positive print

fast film stock: film that is more sensitive to light (grainier image)

slow film stock: film that is less sensitive to light (needs more illumination)


wide-angle (short-focus): takes in a wide field of view - objects seem far away

telephoto (long-focus): takes in a narrow field of view - objects seem close

zoom: lens moves from a wide to narrow field of view (and vice versa)

Shutter Speed

persistence of vision: creates the illusion of motion on the screen

slow motion: produced by higher speed of film motion through camera (overcranking)

fast motion: produced by slower speed of film motion through camera (undercranking)

Shots and Angles

shot: a single continuous running of the camera

mise en scene: all elements within a shot

montage: the splicing of shots together to make a scene

close-up: shows moderate to extreme closeness to subjects head or hands

medium shot: focuses on one or two individuals from the knees up

long shot: focuses on moderate to extreme distance to show the environment

low-angle: shot from below the subject

high-angle: shot from above the subject


Camera Movement

pan: camera pivots right and left on the same level

tilt: camera pivots vertically

tracking shot: whole camera moves horizontally with, towards, or away from subject(note: do not confuse a zoom lens shot with a tracking shot)

boom (crane) shot: camera moves vertically and horizontally through space on a crane

hand-held shot

steadi-cam shot



key light: the chief light illuminating the subject

high key lighting: scene is flooded with brilliant illumination

low key lighting: illumination is low and soaked with shadows

spotlights: cast intense beams on the subject

floodlights: wash the scene with less focused illumination than a spotlight

fill light: used to fill in unwanted shadows

eyelight: placed near the camera to add sparkle to subject's eyes

backlighting: a strong light from behind the subject

front lighting: softens a face, flattens features

sidelight: adds solidity and depth, accentuates character features

scrim: a translucent shade placed between the subject and the key light to soften the light

Sound Track

dialogue: words spoken by on-screen characters

sound effects (sfx): natural sound representing the environment of the scene


voice-over: a narrative, off-screen voice

sound cut: a sharp shift from one sound to another

segue: a gradual transition between sounds

clapstick: the tool used to synchronize sound and picture

Special Effects

stop-motion photography: shooting is interrupted while the set is rearranged

animation: the drawing or clay object is changed slightly when the camera stops

pixillation: animation using live people

miniatures and model shots: a small-scale model is filmed to look full size

glass shot: action is filmed through scenery painted on glass

rear projection: action is filmed in front of a screen on which other action is projected from the rear

matte shot: uses an opaque screen to cover portions of the frame - film is exposed twice




synopsis/story outline: a very brief (1 page) description of the proposed film

treatment: a more extended development of the film idea

scenario/screenplay: contains most of the action, dialogue and some camera directions

shooting script: a shot-by-shot blueprint for the film


screen tests, casting, scouting locations, set design and construction, story boards, costume design, shooting schedule, production budget


director: turns the screenplay into a film by directing actors, supervising technicians, and managing all action on the set

producer: responsible for the totality of the final product, especially involved in financial decisions

cinematographer: director of photography, responsible for all camera work

gaffer: chief electrician, responsible for lighting according to cinematographer's plan

takes: repetitions of the same shot in filming

master shot: a continuous long shot covering the action

blocking: setting the precise movements of each actor before the camera

dailies/rushes: prints of the previous day's filming


editor: the one who composes the film from its parts (shots, sound-track, sfx)

scene: a section of the film made of individual shots

sequence: an extended section of related scenes

splices: pieces of film are connected with tape or glue

establishing shot: often a long shot chosen by the editor to orient the viewer

inserts: special shots spliced into a scene

cutaway: a shot that interrupts the main action, showing a simultaneous action

reverse-angle shots: in dialogue each actor is shot from the other's viewpoint

reaction shots: shows one character's reaction to an important event

match cut: a second shot begins precisely when and where a first shot ends

jump cut: creates deliberate discontinuity by omitting part of the action between shots

cross cutting/parallel montage: two simultaneous actions are shown in alternating shots

fade-out: each successive frame is darkened to a point of total blackness

fade-in: the reverse of a fade-out

dissolve: a superimposition of two shots, so one appears as the other disappears

wipe: one image seems to wipe another off the screen

blow-up: an image is enlarged

freeze-frame: an image is repeated frame after frame, creating " frozen action"

fast motion: images are skipped

superimposition: images are combined one over the other

music: music track, scoring session, conductor, click track, music editor

dubbing (post-synchronization): actors' voices are re-recorded in the studio

sound effects (sfx): studio-added sounds chosen from a sound library or created on the spot

titles: printed text at start and finish of film

credits: complete list of production staff at end of film

Film Theory Terms

Russian Formalist (Montage) theory: film is essentially the result of editing, new meanings grow from rearranged splicing of shots (associated with Sergei Eisenstein)

Realist (Mise-en-Scene) theory: because film reproduces reality so well, it has an obligation to record it, reveal it, and "redeem " it; prefers deep-focus photography over the rapid cutting of montage (associated with Andre Bazin)

genre theory: studies a film as belonging to a conventional type or style of film (science fiction, western, gangster, family melodrama, war, mystery, musical, screwball comedy, etc.)

auteur theory: studies film based on the belief that the director or producer has an influence on the film similar to that of an author on a book (promoted by Andrew Sarris)

feminist theory: studies film based on the belief that film represents a largely male point of view, that it is biased in favor of "the male gaze", that female characters are presented as men see them - not as they see themselves

psychoanalytic theory: studies film by using Freudian and post-Freudian psychologyto understand the power of film to attract and hold its audience; links film spectatorship with voyeurism, exhibitionism, fetishism, castration anxiety, and mythological archetypes

Marxist theory: studies film through Marx's view that art is an instrument for social change, that films are always ideological because they embody the value structures of the culture in which they are produced

Primary Source: William V. Costanza, Reading the Movies , Urbana: NCTE, 1992.

production code: a self-regulatory code of ethics created in 1930 by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (M.P.P.D.A.), under Will H. Hays, and put into strict effect on July 1, 1934, with Joseph I. Breen as director of the Code Administration. The code set forth general standards of "good taste" and specific do's and don't's concerning what could and could not be shown in American movies. (Katz's Film Encyclopedia)

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