Film Glossary

A beginner’s guide to film terms. From screenwriting to pre-production to marketing & distribution, it can be hard to navigate the film industry if you don’t know the right lingo. This film glossary covers pre-production, production, post-production, and marketing & distribution. Here are a few terms to get you on your way as an aspiring filmmaker.

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  • AVOD
    With Ad-Based Video-on-Demand, customers purchase a cheaper subscription with a company, but have to watch ads to make up for the lower price.
  • Awards Season
    Film awards season occurs between November and February each year, scheduled to culminate in the Academy Awards in late February or early March. Throughout the season, films gain exposure and gain new audiences with each award won.
  • Blocking
    Blocking refers to the movement and positioning of the actors on stage. The director and production staff determine blocking during reheasals based on dramatic effect, sight lines, lighting, and scene transitions. In particular, the postion of actors on stage impacts the movement of scenery between scenes and how each scene begins.
  • Cable TV
    Cable television is a system of delivering programming to consumers via signals transmitted through cables of different formats. Cable television contrasts with broadcast television, which is transmitted through the air by radio waves. Since programming is funded by a monthly subscription fee paid by viewers, cable television is not subject to the same regulations that govern public airwaves.
  • Cinematography
    Cinematography refers to the act of filming, the making of motion picture photography, using cameras. The cinematography involves the choice of cameras, camera angles, camera movements, and imagery.
  • Cross Cutting
    When editing a film, multiple shots of different actions can be cut and put together to give the impression of multiple actions occurring at the same time. This technique allows the viewer to experience multiple actions and locations within a large-scale event.
  • Crowdfunding
    Independent films are not funded by major studios or production companies, so film directors and producers look for public funding, such as crowdfunding online sites designed to have friends, family, and others help fund the film. It is the practice of finding financing for a project by raising relatively smaller sums from many individual donors, rather than finidng a small group of backers who contribute the bulk of the required funds.
  • Denouement
    The denouement is the final outcome of the story, generally occurring after the climax of the plot. Often it’s where all the secrets (if there are any) are revealed and loose ends are tied up.
  • Dialogue
    In film and television, dialogue or the moments' characters speak can occur in one of three methods: on-camera, off-screen, and voice-over. If a character or multiple characters can be seen on the screen when they are speaking, then they are on-camera. If the character can not be seen, the dialogue is off-camera. Sometimes this off-camera dialogue can be used strategically to help build the persona of an unseen character. A voice-over can be added over the film to give the viewers context or background on the story or characters.
  • Distribution
    The point at which the deliverables (video files) are exported and encoded to each platform's specifications and then uploaded to a distribution platform like YouTube or Vimeo to be shared with your intended audience.
  • Editing Machine: Steenbeck Flatbed
    Developed in the 1930s and used for over 50 years, the Steenbeck flatbed was a table editing machine, which allowed the user to move through film slowly to make edits safely for the fragile film.
  • Financial and Syndication Rule
    Financial Interest and Syndication Rules (fin-syn) were imposed in 1970 by the US Federal Communications Commission. In an effort to prevent broadcast monopolization, the rules prevented networks from owning any of the programming they aired in prime time and prohibited networks from airing syndicated programming in which they had a financial stake.
  • Fourth Wall
    The fourth wall is an invisible, imagined wall that separates the performance space from the audience. In the film, this is generally thought of as the position of the camera.
  • Frame Rate
    Film consists of still images moving in rapid succession in order to produce the illusion of movement. Each image is a single frame and frame rate refers to is how quickly the frames are moved through in terms of frames-per-second.
  • Genre TV
    Genre television refers to shows operating within a few particular genres: science fiction, fantasy, comic book, and horror.
  • Heidi Phone
    A dedicated phone and switchboard that was installed in the NBC control room so that network executives are able to communicate directly with the TV control room.
  • Mag Stock
    Mag stock, or magnetic film or mag track, is film designed to hold sound by being coated with an emulsion of magnetic oxide instead of silver halides.
  • Marketing
    Marketing is a holistic practice that involves research and analysis to ensure a film aligns with the audience to which it intends to speak. Marketing begins in the planning stage and continues through production. Marketing helps define the film.
  • Motion Capture
    Blending animation and live performance, motion capture is a modern film technique. Technology is used to capture a performer's movements and facial expressions, which are then translated into animation, so the animation takes on verisimilitude.
  • Multi-platform Entertainment
    Multi-platform entertainment (or transmedia storytelling) is a mode of storytelling that plays out across multiple entertainment channels with each platform contributing to the story in a way that leverages its distinct qualities and capabilities.
  • New Play Exchange
    The New Play Exchange contains the world's largest digital library of scripts by living writngs, which provides an open platform for authors to share their work. The platforms facilitates connections between artists and producers, a timely upgrade to the traditional submission process.
  • “OTT”
    Over-The-Top Video-On-Demand refers to streaming services that offer movies and television shows through high speed internet instead of through cable or satellite providers.
  • Packet
    A collection of sample work (jokes, sketches, scenes) used as application materials for a writer's position on a television show.
  • Pickups
    Pickups are short, carefully organized scenes with principal actors, filmed after prinicpal photography to fill holes or augment the footage already shot. When entire scenes are redone, it is referred to as a re-shoot or additional photography.
  • Points
    Points refers to an investor's ownership of a percentage of a film's gross profits or net profits. For example, an investor can own 1% of a film's net profits, which is rendered as points.
  • Post-production
    The work that is done on a video or audio recording after filming or recording has taken place. This can entail organizing, cutting, coloring and editing the footage that is captured in the production phase.
  • Press Kit
    A press kit is a pre-packaged set of documents, photographs, and other relevant materials about a film designed to generate interest in and acquaint professionals and media with the project. It is primarily aimed at media representatives, festival selectors, and buyers and is sent to festival organizing committees as part of an application. An increasingly common format, an EPK is a press kit in an electronic form, which can include trailers and other video material.
  • Principal Photography
    Principal photography is the production phase during which the bulk of the movie is filmed with actors on set and cameras rolling according to the plans made in pre-production.
  • Procedural
    A procedural drama is an episodic series that progresses according to a plot sequence based on a technical process. For example, some television procedurals focus on the criminal system processes and are centered on a law enforcement agency, legislative body, or court of law. Other professional processes can be focused on as well such as medicine. Typically, episodes feature stand-alone plots, wherein the story is introduced, developed, and resolved within the same episode.
  • Production
    The act of marking something or the process of capturing video footage, images, and sound.
  • Programming
    Festival programmers are in charge of selecting the most appropriate films for a festival, including films that will generate buzz. They select a diversity of films within the festival’s ambit for a balance of tone and to draw attention to lesser-known films.
  • “PVOD”
    Customers can purchase Premium Video-on-Demand instead of Ad-based. With Premium VOD, customers do not have to watch ads, but have to pay a higher set price to watch videos or television.
  • Red Herring
    A red herring is an idiom that refers to an element (clue, information, argument) that misleads or distracts, diverting attention from the real answer or issue as in mystery fiction or as part of a rhetorical strategy. A red herring may be used inadvertently or intentionally by the writer.
  • Resolution
    Resolution is a measure of the detail an image holds. Generally, resolution refers to the number of pixels present in an image - the higher then umber of pixels the more detail and higher the resolution. Film does not have pixels, but digital image processing does. Cinema has made innovations to make images have more resolution and clarity to keep up with other digital technologies.
  • Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Aftra
    SAG-AFTRA represents a wide range of entertainment jobs: broadcasting, dancing, acting, singers, stunt coordinators, puppeteers, DJs, and many other media professionals. Originally SAG- AFTRA was two separate labor unions (Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists).
  • Script Development
    Script development is the process by which a written submission is developed into a final shooting script. Those involved in development handle every facet of the written material - finding, evaluating, recommending, securing the rights to, and editing it.
  • Shot
    A shot is a series of frames that runs for an uninterrupted period of time. A shot is defined (and usually named) according to its size, framing depth of field, and the camera movement and angles used.
  • Sound Stage
    A soundstage is a soundproof space (often a hangar-like structure) designed to be a controlled environment in which to build sets and shoot films and television productions.
  • Spotting
    Spotting refers to sessions during which the director, editor, composer, and other relevant specialists to determine what kind of music is needed for the film's tone and narrative and where that score and sound effects will be located.
  • Star casting
    In star-casting, a celebrity is cast for a production to increase the marketability and interest in the performance.
  • Steam Platform
    Steam is a platform known for facilitating the playing, discussing, and creating of games. However, the software on the platform also allows for decent film editing, so its a potential place to do film editing, especially when on a tight budget.
  • "Story Beats"
    An element of plotting a story, story beats indicate the significant points of action, which hold up the plot and move the action along.
  • Storyboard
    To build the visual aesthetic of a film or television show, each scene is created on a storyboard, so that the production team can make sure to make the atmosphere and visuals consistent throughout the show. The visuals also directly impact story interpretation. A storyboard can be hand drawn, or created on different softwares to help plan camera angles, lighting, costumes, set design, and character movements.
  • SVOD
    Subscription Video-On-Demand refers to video streaming services that require customers to pay a monthly or yearly subscription to receive service.
  • Syncing
    Sync sound (synchronized sound recording) refers to sound recorded at the time of the filming of movies. There are three ways to ensure that the audio and video are matched properly: slating (the iconic chalkboard clap, which provides an audio-visual reference point), timecode, and scratch audio (low-quality audio recorded simultaneously with the video).
  • Television Network
    The term “network” refers to a telecommunications system built to distribute television content, in which a central entity responsible for producing programs provides programming to many geographically-distributed television stations or pay TV providers.
  • TVOD
    Transactional Video-On-Demand indicates the type of streaming services in which customers can purchase films or tv shows one at a time, so the interaction is a monetary transaction between customer and company for a specific item.
  • Twilight Zone
    The Twilight Zone originally ran on CBS from 1959 to 1964. The show leverages various genres (including fantasy, science fiction, suspense, horror, and psychological thriller) and episodes often concluded with a macabre or unexpected twist.
  • Uncanny Valley
    A heterogenous group of phenomena, the term "uncanny valley" refers to a dip in the human observer's affinity for human-like robots or other technical approximations of human beings. As the appearance of a robot is made more human, Humans' emotional response to the facsimile normally becomes increasingly positive as it more closely resembles a human until it reaches a point beyond which the response quickly becomes strong revulsion. On the other side of the valley, emotional responses become positive again.
  • “VOD”
    Video On Demand offers media viewers the ability to watch film and tv without having to adhere to specific broadcast schedules or using a video device.
  • Writer’s Room
    A writers' room is an office where writers of a TV show gather to work on the story and scripts. No two writers’ rooms are the same, as they must meet the needs of a particular show, but they typically include the showrunner, writers, staff writers, and script coordinator.

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