cinema glossary

Familiarize with the lingo on set

In an era of consuming movies via streaming, the inevitable fate of 35mm movie theaters seems to be coming to end… or not. In this documentary, you’ll hear stories from some of Hollywood’s most acclaimed filmmakers and lovers of the celluloid movie-theater experience; talking about their passion and memories of going to the cinema–and also, how much the impact of losing that space can hurt this art form in the future.


16MM & 35MM

The most common sizes of film stock used to shoot, print, and present movies. 35mm is preferred for commercial film and TV shoots, with multiple stocks for select shooting conditions. 16mm is more often used for lower-budget projects, commercial and industrial shoots, and previously as a “home movie” format.

180-Degree Rule

The 180-degree rule of shooting and editing keeps the camera on one side of the action.

3-D Film

3-D film has a three-dimensional, stereoscopic form, creating the illusion of depth.

4-Track Mag

A now-dormant process which allowed for multi-channel sound reproduction in theatres using magnetic striping attached to the film print. Often vulnerable to erasure and damage due to demagnetizing and detachment through aging, requiring strict storage and handling conditions. Supplanted by Dolby Stereo, an optical process requiring less delicacy and upkeep.


Aerial Shot

An aerial shot is typically made from a helicopter or created with miniatures (today, digitally), showing a location from high overhead.

Aspect Ratio

Aspect ratio refers to how the image appears on the screen based on how it was shot–the ratio of width (horizontal or top) to height (vertical or side) of a film frame, image, or screen. For example, 1.85:1, commonly called “flat”, means the picture is 1.85 times as wide to every increment of 1 it is high, and 2.35:1, or “scope”, means the picture will be even wider.


Black-and-White Film

Black-and-white film contains an emulsion that, when processed, changes colors into various shades of gray.


Camera Angle

Camera angle refers to where the camera is placed in relation to the subject of the image.

Camera Movement

Camera movement refers to the actual or perceived physical movement of the camera apparatus through space.

Canted Angle (Dutch Angle)

A canted angle is when the camera is tilted, usually to suggest imbalance, transition, or instability.


The process when the reel on one projector finishes, and the projectionist begins the next reel on the other projector. Detectable from observing cue marks in the upper-right corner of the film, which alert the projectionist when to start running the other machine, and then when to switch to it.


Cellulose nitrate was the original transparent material used as a base for film, which was then coated with light-sensitive emulsion.


Chiaroscuro refers to strong contrasts between light and dark.

Cinema Verité

Cinema verité is a French term that means “true cinema” or “cinema truth.”


Derived from the French word cinématographe, cinematography literally means “writing in movement” and is generally understood as the art and process of capturing visual images with a camera for cinema.


Cinerama is a process of simultaneous filming by three cameras. The cameras are pointed at different angles and are then projected by three synchronized projectors and shown on a curved screen.

Circular Pan

A circular pan is a shot in which the camera rotates 360 degrees around a fixed axis.

Clapboard (Slateboard)

Before each take, a clapboard appears in front of the camera, with the number of the take written on it.


A close-up is a shot in which a person’s face fills most of the screen, although the term can also refer to any shot that appears to have been taken at close range (or through a telephoto lens), and in which an object appears relatively large and in detail.

Color Film

Color film has been a possibility since the beginning of cinema. Technical problems and economic circumstances early on meant that it was not until the 1950s that color was viable in the film industry.

Crane Shot

A crane shot is achieved by a camera mounted on a platform, which is connected to a mechanical arm that can lift the platform up, bring it down, or move it laterally across space.


Day for Night

Day for night refers to the creation of a night effect while shooting during the day, through the manipulation of filters, underexposure, or printing.

Deep Focus

Deep focus is a style or technique of cinematography and staging with great depth of field, using relatively wide-angle lenses and small lens apertures to render in sharp focus near and distant planes simultaneously.

Depth of Field

Depth of field is the area, range of distance, or field (between the nearest and farthest planes) in which the elements captured in a camera image appear in sharp focus.


Dialogue is speech delivered by or between characters.


From the ancient Greek for “recounted story,” diegesis is a term used in film studies to refer to the story (or narrative) world of a film.

Diegetic Sound

Diegetic sound is any sound that emanates from the story (or narrative) world of a film, which is referred to in film studies as diegesis.


A dissolve is a transitional device in which one shot fades out while the next shot fades in, so it is briefly superimposed over the first and then replaces it altogether.

Dolby Digital

A modern cinema sound process where coded information directly etched onto a film print is read by a light beam connected to a computer and decoded into multiple discrete channels. Unlike regular Dolby Stereo, the reader is not affected by film splices or changeovers, resulting in clean, uninterrupted sound.

Dolly (Dolly Shot)

A dolly is a mobile platform on wheels with a camera, which can be driven or pushed by a dolly pusher or dolly grip.

Double (Multiple) Exposure

Double exposure is the superimposition of two images, one over the other, which results from exposing the same film twice.


Eastman Fade

A form of image deterioration associated with films printed on stock manufactured by Eastman Kodak (though other manufacturers and labs often come into play) in the ‘60’s through the ‘80’s, characterized by color shifts to one dominant tone – usually red, pink, or brown.


Editing is the process of putting a film together–the selection and arrangement of shots and scenes.

Establishing Shot

An establishing shot is a long shot at the start of a scene (or sequence) that shows things from a distance.


Exposure is the act of making film available to light so that an image is formed in the emulsion. 

Eye-Line Match

Eye-line match is a method of continuity editing whereby a cut between two shots creates the illusion of the character (in the first shot) looking at an object (in the second shot).



The fade is a means of gradually beginning or ending a scene, and is achieved in the camera by opening or closing the aperture; in an optical printer, this is achieved when the exposure light is increased or decreased.

Fisheye Lens

A fisheye lens is a wide-angle lens that takes in a nearly 180-degree field of view.


Frames-per-second is the rate at which film is exposed in a camera.


Freeze-frame is achieved when a single frame is repeatedly printed on a duplicate copy of the film.

Fuji Rot

A form of image deterioration associated with films printed on early stock manufactured by the Fuji company in the ‘60’s through the ‘80’s, characterized by large clusters of red, dot-like discolorations on the image.



Originally a nickname given to a theatre known for being in somewhat run-down or unkempt condition, and running older and/or non-prestigious films, usually in double- or triple-features (hence, “grinding” through the movies). Now better known to describe the kinds of genre and exploitation films that would play such a venue.


I.B. Technicolor

A now-extinct dye-transfer printing process which used three color-tinted negative sources (yellow, cyan, magenta) blended through imbibition (which I.B. represents) to create theatrical prints with extremely saturated colors that kept consistency for decades. In use until 1974, briefly revived in the late ‘90’s, then discontinued for good in 2002.


Handheld Shot

A handheld shot is one in which the cameraman or -woman holds the camera and moves through space while filming.

High-Angle Shot

A high-angle shot is one in which the camera is placed above eye level, creating a frame that looks down at the subject. Early examples of high-angle shots represent the point of view of a distant onlooker, as in James Williamson’s Attack on a Chinese Mission Station (1901) and Frank Mottershaw’s influential early crime film, Daring Daylight Burglary (1903).

The consistent use of high angle objective, expressive shots taken from close to the subject emerges in France in the 1920s with films such as Jean Epstein’s l’Auberge (1923) and Maurice L’Herbier’s L’inhumaine (1924).

Depending on the stylistic language established by the filmmaker, a high-angle shot may suggest that a character has lower status or is needier than another character.

CLIP proposed: Wild River (1960) dialog between Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick

It is tempting but inaccurate to read high angle shots consistently through an easy literal metaphor: in “looking down” on a subject, a high angle confers vulnerability and low status. If this were true, Hitchcock’s use of high angles would be illegible when, for example, in North by Northwest (1959), Van Damm decides to murder his mistress by pushing her out of an airplane.

Extreme high-angles can suggest surveillance, such as in the following shot from The Conversation (1974):

CLIP proposed: (Last shot of Conversation)

High-angle shots can imbue a sub-human character to a subject, as in this shot from Taxi Driver (1976):

CLIP: (Shot of Travis walking into diner)

A high angle shot may reframe authority, as in this shot from Ousmane Sembene’s Moolaadé, where Collé defies village traditionalists who seek to circumcise girls in her protection:

CLIP: (Shot of Village in stand-off.)



Lighting is responsible for the quality of a film’s images and often a film’s dramatic effect.

Long Shot

A long shot shows characters in their entirety, as well as some of the surrounding environment.

Long Take

The long take is a shot of some duration.

Low-Angle Shot

A low-angle shot is achieved when the camera is placed below eye level.


Medium Shot

A medium shot is one that can include several characters in a frame, usually showing a character from the waist up.


Mise-en-scène originated in the theater and is used in film to refer to everything that goes into the composition of a shot–framing, movement of the camera and characters, lighting, set design and the visual environment, and sound.


A single audio channel of sound. The manner in which almost all films and recorded music were presented until the late ‘50’s, when technology allowed for discrete divided channels of sound. When viewing a movie with such a soundtrack, the audio generally comes from the center speaker behind the screen.


At the core of montage is the idea that a single shot has meaning only in relation to another shot.


Iris Shot

The iris shot is a shot masked in a circular form.


Jump Cut

A jump cut is an editing technique in which some frames are taken out of a sequence.


Rear Projection

Rear projection involves the projection of either a still or a moving picture onto the back of a translucent screen.

Reel to Reel Projection

When a feature film is projected by running its individual reels on two or more projectors, changing from one reel to another in sequence. This is in contrast to “platter” projection, when a feature film is spliced together in its entirety and run through one projector as a continuous loop.


Trade name for the film loop used by projectionists to make sure the projected image is in focus, the masking is set for the correct ratio, and in some instances, that the two projectors are aimed precisely so that there is no picture shift when switching between them.


Non-Diegetic Sound

Non-diegetic sound is sound whose origin is from outside the story world.


Pan Shot

A pan shot is achieved with a camera mounted on a swivel head so that the camera body can turn from a fixed position.

Parallel Editing

Parallel editing is a technique whereby cutting occurs between two or more related actions occurring at the same time in two separate locations or different points in time.

Point of View

With POV, the audience is, in effect, looking through the character’s eye.


Shot, Scene, and Sequence

A shot consists of a single take. A scene is composed of several shots. A sequence is composed of scenes.

Slow Motion

Slow motion is typically achieved by shooting at a fast speed and then projecting at a normal speed.


Sound is the audio portion of a film.


Soundtrack refers to all the audio elements of a film–dialogue, music, sound effects, etc.


A method of joining two pieces of film so they can be projected as one continuous piece. There are three methods: the Tape Splice (usually used for editing), the Cement Splice (used for original material), and the far less common Ultra-Sonic Splice (used for Polyester Base film).

Split Screen

With POV, the audience is, in effect, looking through the character’s eye.


A gear inside a film camera or projector featuring pointed teeth, which latches onto similarly shaped holes in film stock, to feed it through the machine, without touching the image area on the film itself. Also can refer to the area on the film print where these holes are found.

Steadicam Shot

A Steadicam shot employs a kind of special hydraulic harness that smoothes out the bumps and jerkiness associated with the typical handheld style.


Superimposition is when two or more image are placed over each other in the frame.

Swish Pan

A swish pan looks like a blur as one scene changes to another–the camera appears to be moving rapidly from right to left or left to right.



A take is one run of the camera, recording a single shot.

Tracking (Trucking) Shot

A tracking, or trucking, shot is one in which a camera is mounted on some kind of conveyance (car, ship, airplane, etc.) and films while moving through space.


Vinegar Syndrome

Term for when a print begins to deteriorate in a manner that will ultimately render it unprojectable or worse, inspired by the smell that is often detected during this state. Symptoms involve warping and shrinking of the film stock and increasing inability to keep consistent image focus.

Virtual Camera Movement

Virtual camera movement refers to the creation of the perceptual sense of movement through space by the manipulation of focal length or by more irregular techniques.


Voice-over is dialogue, usually narration, that comes from an unseen, offscreen voice, character, or narrator.


Wide-Angle Lens

A wide-angle lens has a short focal length, which exaggerates the relative size of objects within field of view.

Wide-Angle Shot

A shot with a greater horizontal plane of action and greater depth of field is known as a wide-angle shot.


Wipes allow one scene to effectively erase the previous scene and replace it.


Zoom Shot

A zoom shot is one that permits the cinematographer to change the distance between the camera and the object being filmed without actually moving the camera.

The Columbia Film Language Glossary & The New Beverly Cinema