Movie Terminology

Watch movies better with this guide which will help explain what you see on screen. Learn to better understand and appreciate film.

You go to the movies, eat your popcorn, watch the picture and then go out afterwards and discuss what you just saw with your friends. You are, in your own words: "˜a movie buff'. And yet you don't know the difference between a Dolly and a Denouement. Your description of a film often sounds like: "˜I really liked when...' That's why you need this basic list of movie terminology, which is here for you in the hopes of accomplishing three simple things: To give you a basic background look at what goes into making a movie, to further your appreciation for movies by understanding how they are made, and to make you a literate and well-spoken "˜movie buff'. Amaze your family and friends with your ability to relate, dissect and discuss the amazing art of film.

Production Terms:

Point of View: The image onscreen is what one of the characters sees.

Shot: A shot is a continuous series of footage from one character's point of view.

Scene: A series of shots that makes up part of the story. A scene will often run until a new location or actor is presented.

Mise - en - Scene: This is the placement of all of the elements in the shot to create the feel and look of the story. This includes everything you see on screen (props, actors, location, lighting etc.) and everything you don't see (camera technicalities etc.).

Tracking Shot: Where the camera moves in a parallel path with the object being filmed. (Most common when the camera moves along with an actor as they walk down the street.)

Tilt: The camera "˜tilts' up and down.

Pan: The camera "˜pans' side to side.

Dolly Shot: The camera moves forward or back on a truck or cart. This is different from a Zoom Shot. With a Dolly, the positions and size of the objects on screen do not remain consistent.

Zoom Shot: The camera is stationary but the movement of the lens brings objects closer or moves them farther away. With a zoom, the position and sizes of the objects on screen remain consistent.

Blue Screen (Green Screen): You often hear actors talk about working in front of a Blue Screen. It is just what the name says, a giant Blue (or sometimes Green) background that the actors work in front of. In the finished film, various images will be super-imposed over the screen in such a seamless manner that it will appear as if the actor was actually performing in that situation.

Prop: an object on the set to be used by the actors.

Incidental Sounds: The "˜everyday' sounds in the background of a film (traffic, birds, factory, talking, etc).

Score: The background music of a film: it's usually instrumental.

Soundtrack: All of the music of the film, including the score and any other songs involved.

Plot: The story.

Climax: The "˜height' of the story; what everything has been building up to.

Denouement: Occurs after the climax, the concluding scenes of the film.


Dissolve: Images of one shot are slowly replaced with the images of the next shot.

Fade: A smooth move in to an image from black or out of an image into black.

Cut: A move from one shot to the next.

Jump Cut: A cut that involves an abrupt change of time and place.

Montage: A collection of shots edited together to create a specific look and feel.

The Credits:

Something interesting to watch when you see a film are the credits. Often part of an actor or actress' contract is how they will receive credit for the film, or what their "˜Billing' will be. If they have Top Billing, you will see their name (alone) before the title (it is even negotiated out as to how big the type will be on the movie poster and how long their name will appear onscreen). If there is more than one major star in a picture, then there will usually be Equal Billing agreed to. This places both stars names above the title. If one star is "˜larger' than the other, their name may appear first onscreen and they will be given the top left position on the poster. If the stars are of equal stature, the positioning of their names may change throughout regions of the country (With equal billing Star A may get the top billed position West of the Mississippi River while Star B will receive the top billed position in all points east.) Although it may sound extreme, this is just one of the many concession that a studio will offer to an actor to get them to choose one of their movies next.

Trailer: These are also known as the Previews (Coming Attractions). They are called Trailers because they used to be shown at the end of the Newsreels, Cartoons and other shorts that would play before a movie.

Legs: A movie is said to have "˜Legs' if it continues to have great box-office for a long period of time.

Product Placement: This is an agreement between a company that produces some sort of consumer product and the film which states that the company will pay the film a certain amount of dollars for the characters in the movie to use their products on screen.

Bonus Fact: A film runs through a projector at a rate of 24 frames per second (fps). The human eye can only capture images 18-20 times a second, so to facilitate the appearance of motion, film runs through a camera at 24fps.

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