Filmmaking Terminology


A Collection of Production Terms and Their Meanings


A/B Roll – Principal and supportive footage separated into A and B groups, respectively.

Academy Leader – Also known as SMPTE LEADER. If you remember watching movies as a kid in school, you will also remember that funny countdown that goes from 8 to 2 just before the film begins. This is academy leader and it’s purpose is to identify the number of frames left before your film will begin. It is also there to help you synchronize your sound to the film. When the number 2 appears all of your sound tracks should beep, telling you that everything is in sync.

Aces and Deuces – These terms refer to the power of light. ACES are 1K or 1000 watt lights and deuces are 2K or 2000 watt lights.

Acrylic sheet filters – Acrylic filters are used outside windows to correct for color temperature of daylight to tungsten light or tungsten to daylight. They are heavy and a pain to carry but give you much better quality then sticking gels to a window. They have very little reflection and they are optically sound. There are also acrylic ND filters used to cut down the amount of light coming through a window.

Adaptor Rings – You can screw on an adaptor ring to most cameras into the front of the lens. This ring will allow you to use filters that are either too small or too large to normally mount onto that particular camera. Adaptor Rings save money because they allow you to use one filter set on multiple cameras.

Alligator Grip – This is a spring-loaded lighting grip used to attach a light to pipes, molding or even doors. The most common place to see these used is in a sound stage or studio. There are special lighting grids made of pipe hanging from the ceiling, allowing you to attach these lighting grips to them.
Ambient Light – Light that exists or naturally occurs in a scene.

Anamorphic Lenses – These particular types of lenses are used to squeeze the width of an image being shot so that it will fit on a film frame. When the image is projected it is un-squeezed and restored to its original aspect ratio.
Animation – It is creating the illusion of movement by using successive frames of the same image altered slightly between frames in a general pattern, i.e. moving an arm a little bit to the right in each frame to create the illusion of swinging a fist when sped up.

Answer Print – It is the final reel of a film when it has been cut, dubbed and cleaned. The answer print is made from a negative and then sent to theaters.

Anti-halation Backing – Most Kodak, Fuji and Agfa film stocks use an anti-halation backing to absorb unwanted light rays. This type of backing is built into the film emulsion to prevent a strong light source from bouncing back through the film, ruining your image.

Aperture (Lens) – This is the small hole that opens in the lens and directs the amount of light coming in contact with the film plane. As the Aperture or T-stop number increases the amount of light hitting the film through the gate decreases.

Arriflex – A company that manufactures 16mm and 35mm cameras.

Aspect Ratio – The aspect ratio is the specific proportions of a screen image. This of course various with different camera formats.

ASA Number – ASA stands for American Standards Association. The speed or light sensitivity of a film stock is measured by the ASA or ISO number. ASA and ISO numbers are completely identical in light sensitivity. ASA is something that you must compensate for when you shoot using a film stock with a different speed.

Avid – A company that builds digital non-linear editing suits. Most film producers use them to edit there films before they actually cut their negatives.

Backlight – Light coming from behind a subject and in the direction of the camera is called backlight. This can be anything, a bright wall, a window or even the sun. It becomes backlight when you position your subject in front of it. A kicker is also a form of backlight, except it’s a light that shines on your subject off to one side. Backlight serves not to illuminate but to define the edges of it’s subject.

Barn Doors – Lights can either have two or four barn doors, depending on the amount of control you need in a light. These doors can be opened wide or closed down to produce a relatively narrow beam of light. Barn doors are also the place you clip gels, diffusion, blackwrap and flags to the light.

Black Bag – A black changing bag functions as a portable darkroom. You can use a black bag to load a film magazine. This bag is basically two bags, one inside the other and is used from everything from loading film to fixing camera jams. Typically these bags are very inexpensive.

Blocking – in any scene where there is movement it is first necessary to block out or choreograph all movement and then rehearse it so that the camera and microphone can stay with the performer and also so that no unwanted images get caught on film.

Blimp – A fiberglass housing used to encase a noisy camera to make it suitable for sync sound filming.

Camera Speed (frame rate) – The standard frame rate for motion picture camera projectors is 24 frames per second or 24fps. If you shoot motion picture film at a frame speed higher then 24fps you will get a slow motion effect. If you shot at a lower level such as 8 frames per second you will automatically speed up the action. When you shoot at different frame rates you must also remember to compensate for the exposure.

Clapper Board – This is a form of slate onto which film information can be chalked to. The types of information you would place on a clapper board would includes, the production company, film name, director, cameraman, scene, take and the sound take number.

Claw – used to hold film in place during exposure.

Close Focusing – Zoom lenses often focus no closer than 3 feet if they are in front of an object or scene. Prime lenses will focus if the camera is closer and macro leses will usually focus at a ratio of 1:1.

Color Temperature – It is a measurement of the color of light in degrees Kelvin. This has to be measured in in film because the film itself is sees colours more easily then our eye. Our eye compensates and color corrects on it’s own. Color temperature is measured on a scale that takes its name from the scientist Lord Kelvin.

Cookie – A cookie is a cutout piece of pattern, cut out from a material and placed in front of a light to cast a patterned shadow. Cookies are most typically used to project the outline of a window frame or venetian blinds.

Cutaways – Shots done away from the main action, allowing you to delete uninteresting dialogues or mistakes in the main action. Typically in editing you would try to replace bad shots with cutaways.

Day-For-Night – This means shooting night scenes during the day. To this properly you have to use camera filters and underexposure. If you are shooting on B & W film use a red or yellow filter to darken the sky. With color film use an ND or Neutral Density filter. Shooting Day-For-Night works best on really sunny days, either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, because the shadows are hardest then. When you shoot, avoid shooting the sky and you should also underexpose the film two or three stops below what your light meter tells you.

Depth of Field – This refers to the area that is in focus when you shot your film. The smaller your aperture the greater the depth of field. But the smaller your aperture the more light is required to light the scene. So if you have more light in your scene this will allow you to have a greater depth of field.

Depth of Focus– It should never be confused with depth of field. It refers to the very small distance behind the lens on either side of the focal plane. This is where the lens can be situated and still record an acceptably sharp image.

Diffusion – 1.: A filter used on the camera to create a soft focus effect. 2.: A white or pearlescent sheet of material used on a movie light to soften the shadows.

Dimmers– Dimmers are used in home and theatrical lighting. They are there to regulate the intensity of your light. They can lower the voltage of a light. They also lower it’s color temperature so a dimmer can only be effective in Black and White film-making. When you use a color film, your film gets a red-ish cast when you use a dimmer.

Dolly – It is a camera term referring to when a camera moves in or out of a shot. There are two dolly moves, dolly in and dolly out. A dolly is usually done on wheels or tracks depending on the budget of the film.

Double Exposure – Used to create multiple images by exposing the same section of film two or more times.

Emulsion -The thin layer of silver attached to the base which, when exposed and developed, creates the film image through the areas of silver, which block light, and the clear areas which allow light to pass through.b>

Establishing Shot – Typically this type of shot is used to introduce a scene to the audience. It can be a wide shot revealing a new location or it can be a close up detail depending on what the director decides to film.

Eye Light – Filmmakers often use a low-powered light to produce a lively reflection in the subject’s eye. The light is usually there to substitute the sun’s reflection you get when you’re outside. If you have more then one eye light it looks very unnatural. There are exceptions to every rule. If you’re shooting Sci-fi films and there are more than one sun it would be alright to have multiple eye lights.

Eyepiece on Reflex Viewfinders– If you shoot a film using a reflex viewfinder, you will have to cover the eyepiece after you finish each shot. If you don’t, a single frame on your negative will be exposed and become a flash frame. There are usually small shutters on reflex viewfinders to allow you to prevent flash frames.

Fill Light – The main purpose of a fill light is to fill in the shadows left by the key light. This light is more diffused or softer then the key light and is less powerful too. The fill light isn’t supposed to create it’s own shadow. This defeats the purpose of a fill light.

Film Plane – This is the point onto which the lens focuses light onto.

Flags – Flags can be made of metal or foamcore. Typically flags can be used to protect the camera from stray light. They are also used for creating a gradual transition from light to dark. This is done to avoid hard shadow lines. They can also be used to help separate and control light spillage in your scene. If you have two characters standing side by side, you will want to flag off one from the other. This is done so that you get an equal exposure on both.

Fluorescent Lights – You will usually get a greenish tinge off of fluorescent lights. You will want to avoid shooting under them in most situations. However, in recent years many music videos have scenes that were shot under flourecent lights. We recommend you stay away from them.

Footage Counters – They are used to show you how much film you have exposed and how much is left to expose. Some footage meters on Panavision cameras have digital readouts accurate to the frame. But most average ones are only approximate to the foot. When you start they are usually set to zero feet. If not you should adjust it to zero.

Gaffer’s Tape – Gaffer’s tape is wide black tape that is very similar to silver duck tape. However, gaffers tape is better then duck tape because it leaves no sticky residue on your film equipment. It is also good because it can be ripped quite easily into smaller strips. The thing that holds up most Hollywood sets is definitely gaffer’s tape.

Gate – The opening on a camera or a projector just behind the lens, through which a single frame is exposed (in the camera) or projected (in the projector).

Gels – Large sheets of transparent tinted plastic used as a filter for a movie light, or to cover a window. There are two basic types: ones that will covert one color temperature to another (such as C.T.O. and C.T.B.), and others that come in a wide variety of colors.

Generators – Generators can be a set of ten 12-volt car batteries set up in a series or you can have a truck powered generator. The ultimate poor man’s battery is hardware store generator. It is very noisy.  But if you can do your shooting without sound this is your best solution.

Gray Card – A gray card is a piece of dull gray cardboard that reflects 18 percent of the light that strikes it. This card is intended as a representation of an object indoors with average reflective potential. However, this card is not an accurate reading for flesh tones. You have to do those separately

Hard Light – Hard light is usually from a key light and as the main source of illumination for most scenes it casts bold shadows and gives you the impression that the light in a scene comes from one particular direction.

HMI (halogen-metal-iodide) bulbs – They are relatively new lighting source that produce daylight-balanced light quality. They are also 3 times more powerful then tungsten halogen quartz lights for the equal amount of power used. however, the drawback of HMI’s is that they must be powered by heavy ballast units. If the ballast isn’t setup correctly then there will be a flickering in your film that will be uncorrectable. These lights are color balanced at 5600 degrees Kelvin.

Intercutting – Intercutting is an editing term used to describe the joining of two film sequences through parallel editing.

Intervolometer – An intervolometer is a camera feature that lets you preset or reset the frames per second you shoot at. You can use an intervolometer anywhere from 1fps onwards.

ISO Numbers – See ASA Number. (above)

Jump Cut – A disconcerting mismatch between shots is called a jump cut. Cutting from a person sitting, to a shot of the same person standing in the identical spot creates a disconcerting jump in time. Most of the time this is an editing error but it can be used for effect as well.

Key Light – The key light is the brightest light and casts the main shadows in a scene. It gives the sense of directionality to the lighting in any given scene.

Light Meters – A light meter is an instrument used to measure the intensity of light. There are three basic types of meters. One measures the amount of light reflected off a subject or scene. Another is called an incident meter and it measures the amount of light falling onto a subject. The third type is called a spot meter and it will measure the reflected light from an object or scene within a few degrees of accuracy. Each one is suited for varying light conditions.

Low-key Lighting – With Low key lighting, the lighting contrast is low and light tones predominate. This makes everything in a scene appear bright and cheery.

Macro Lenses – Macro lenses extend far enough to bring very close objects into focus. A good macro lens can reproduce and image at a 1:1 ratio.

Magic Hour – Magic Hour is the time just before sunrise or the time just after sunset. This is when there is enough light to get an exposure on buildings and on various landscapes but car headlights and building lights can still be seen as on.

ND Filter – An ND or Neutral density camera filter is used to reduce the intensity of light coming into the lens. A typical set of ND filters will reduce your exposure by 1, 2, 3-stops. The quality of light is not effected, only the intensity.

Magazine – An attachment to a camera with one or two light-proof chambers that hold 400 or 1,000 feet of film. One camera will typically have two or three magazines which can be loaded ahead of time.

Negative – The original film that is used in the camera, from which a positive print is made for editing. The negative is assembled to match the edited work-print, and an answer print, for projection of the completed film, is struck from the negative.

Pans – A pan is a camera movement along the horizontal axis. Pans are often used to follow action and reveal a scene’s contents to the audience.

Perforations on film – Perforations are the small holes that you see on a piece of film. They are there to allow the film to advance through the camera, projector, etc. There are single-perforated films and double-perforated ones. But in a camera the claw is what advances the film using the perfs.

Photographic Lens tissue – This form of tissue is used in conjunction with a lens cleaning fluid. The tissue is very soft so that the risk scratches to the lens can be minimized. Never rub this tissue on a dry lens. If you can’t afford a lens cleaning solution just blow on the lens. But be careful not to blow saliva onto it.

Practicals – Practicals are household light fixtures that are placed to be visible in a shot. Use only fixtures that allow the lights heat to escape upward, otherwise your practicals may burn out or melt.

Prime Lens – A prime lens is one with a single focal length, wide, normal or telephoto, as opposed to a Zoom Lens, which has a variable focal length. They often come in a set of different focal lengths. Prime lenses tend to be sharper, faster and will often focus closer than zoom lenses.

Registration Pin – Expensive film cameras have a feature called a registration pin. This pin increases the steadiness of an image during exposure. The pin enters a perforation while the film is stopped in the gate and holds in steady for exposure.

Reversal Film Stock – Reversal film stocks are very much like slide film in still photography. Reversal films show more noticeable grain in their images and the contrast is also high. But the advantage of Reversal film stock is the speed and the price. It’s faster to develop one piece of film instead of two and work-prints cost extra money as well.

Room Tone – This is the distinct sound every film location or set makes. It is used to bridge gaps in the sound track of a film, providing a consistent background.

Rushes(dailies) – Your work-prints are usually called rushes or dailies, because a film development lab can produce them so quickly. A days rushes are usually viewed the following morning or evening after the shoot.

Safe Area – When you shoot a film or video you must take into consideration that what you see through the viewfinder is often a larger area then your final product. You have to shoot and test to see how much of the viewable area can be seen. This includes any text you want to lay down on your images in post-production. Safe Area varies from one camera format to another.

Scrims – The are circular screens made of wire mesh and placed in front of a light. They are there to reduce the intensity of light without reducing the color temperature or quality. Scrim can also be a term used to describe a thin cloth used for diffusion.

Second Unit – Second unit refers to a crew that shoots scenes that require stunt scenes, crowd scenes, battle scenes and battle scenes. Basically they shoot any scenes that do not require sound. These scenes have a different director and camera crew then the first unit.

Shutter – The shutter in film cameras is a circular disc that changes in shape to increase or decrease the exposure of the film. Besides the aperture and film it is one of the most important parts of a camera. It was the camera part that took longest to develop when cinema was first introduced.

Sound Stage – A sound stage is where many films are produced. This is where elaborate sets are created and where films are shot. In recent years, as film speeds have gotten quicker, sound stages are being used less and less. You have complete control of your film if you shoot it in a sound stage.

SMPTE – It stands for Standard of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. This organization creates and regulates the technical standards for film and TV production.

Steadicam – The Steadicam allows a camera to be mounted on a person but it absorbs most of persons shocks or movements. This allows for fluent hand-held shots. Camera movements done this way are very similar to those done on a dolly. The Steadicam in film is great because it cuts down the shot setup time normally required.

Sun Guns – Sun Guns are camera mounted lights that are portable and provide constant and shadowless illumination. The problem with sun guns is that often a scene illuminated with one light is very unpleasant to look at. Also a scene with no shadows does not look very real or 3D. The most effective use of a sun gun is to use it off camera to the left or right side.

Telephoto Lens – Telephoto lenses are approximately 50% longer than normal lenses in the same camera format. Telephoto lenses render a subject large even at a great distance away. They allow you to shoot dangerous objects at a far away distance.

Time-Lapse Effects – With a very low film speed in your camera the effects of time are noticeably sped up. In time-lapse photography a flower can grow, blossom and die all in the course of one minute.

T-Stop – Similar to an F-Stop, some lenses, particularly zoom lenses, will have f-stops on one side of the aperture ring and t-stops on the other. To differentiate the two, the t-stops will be red and the f-stops white. T-stops are used in place of f-stops for setting exposure. Lenses with a lot of glass elements will often lose a little bit of light. The t-stops are calibrated to the actual amount of light that is hitting the film, rather than arrived at mathematically, as is the case with f-stops. However, the f-stops are still relevant, because while the t-stop should be used to set the exposure, the resulting f-stop will indicate how much Depth of Field you have.

Tungsten Lights – Tungsten balanced lights are those that are color balanced for 3400 degrees Kelvin. These are typically used in film and television.

UV Filter – When atmospheric haze scatters large amounts of ultraviolet light. This makes haze in the distance appear heavier when distant landscapes are photographed. You should use a UV or Skylight filters to minimize this effect. You should use this filter with both B&W and color films. This filter is also good for protecting the front element of your camera lens from difficult environmental conditions.

Work-print – A work-print is a film copy used for editing purposes. It is used instead of negatives. Because if the negatives are scratched your film will be ruined. A work-print can also be called dailies or rushes.

Zoom Lens – A zoom lens offers various focal lengths in a single lens. Focal lengths can be changed during a shot or between shots by zooming. Zoom lenses are heavier then prime lenses and more expensive. However, their optical quality is poorer then those of a prime lens.