CINEMATOGRAPHICAL TERMS – Diccionario cinematográfico
FILM PRODUCTION TERMS
Taken mainly from James Monaco: How to Read a Film (Oxford, 1981)
and The Film Studies Dictionary (ed. Blandford, Grant & Hillier; London 2001).
Merci à Lauren Alexandre (Paris) pour les équivalents en français.
ACADEMY APERTURE The standard frame mask established by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1932. A ratio of width to height of 4:3, or 1.33:1.
ACCELERATED MONTAGE A sequence edited into progressively shorter shots to create a mood of tension and excitement.
ACTUAL SOUND Sound whose source is an object or person in the scene.
AERIAL SHOT / PRISE DE VUE AÉRIENNE. A shot taken from a crane, plane, or helicopter. Not necessarily a moving shot.
AMBIENT LIGHT The natural light surrounding the subject, usually understood to be soft.
ANAMORPHIC LENS A camera lens that squeezes a wide image to conform to the dimensions of standard frame width. The anamorphic lens on the projector then unsqueezes the image.
ANGLE OF VIEW The angle subtended by the lens. WIDE-ANGLE lenses have broad angles of view, TELEPHOTO lenses have very narrow angles of view. Not to be confused with CAMERA ANGLE.
ARC LIGHT Used both on the set and in projectors to provide high energy illumination. An electric current arcs across the gap between two pieces of carbon creating a very white, strong light with a COLOUR TEMPERATURE close to 6000K.
ART DIRECTOR The designer, in charge of sets and costumes. Sometimes a major contributor to a film, play, or media presentation.
ART FILM In the mid-fifties, a distinction grew up between the art film — often of foreign origin — with distinct aesthetic pretensions, and the commercial film of the Hollywood tradition. Art films were shown in ‘art houses’, usually small theatres catering to a discriminating clientele; commercial movies were shown in larger theatres. Although the range of film activity is at least as great today, the dichotomy between art and commercial film has largely died out.
ASPECT RATIO The ratio of the width to the height of the film or television image. The formerly standard ACADEMY APERTURE is 1.33:1. WIDESCREEN ratios vary. In Europe 1.66:1 is most common, in the U.S., 1.85:1. ANAMORPHIC processes such as CINEMASCOPE and PANAVISION are even wider. 2.00:1 to 2.55:1.
ASYNCHRONOUS SOUND Sound which does not operate in unison with the image. Sound belonging to a particular scene which is heard while the images of the previous scene are still on screen, or which continue over a following scene. Also: diegetic sound whose source cannot be seen on screen or sound unintentionally out of sync with the image track.
AVAILABLE-LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY No artificial light is used; the cinematographer uses only natural light or PRACTICAL LIGHTING such as the sure and normal household lamps.
BACKLIGHTING The main source of light is behind the subject, silhouetting it, and directed toward the camera.
BACKWARD MOTION See REVERSE MOTION.
BARN DOORS ‘Blinders’ placed on set lights to direct the flow of the lightbeam in a certain direction.
BIOPIC Film based on a real person’s life, but often relying heavily on speculation and fantasy.
BIRD’S-EYE SHOT Same as OVERHEAD SHOT.
BLIMP A semipermanent soundproofing cover for the camera. Many cameras are now selfblimped; that is, constructed in such a way that they operate relatively noiselessly.
BLOCKBUSTER Jargon term for a film that either is highly successful commercially or has cost so much to make that it must be extraordinarily popular in order to return a profit.
BLOOP A small patch placed over a splice in a soundtrack or tape in order to cover the noise made by the splice moving across the sound HEAD.
BLUE SCREEN A process of combining separate images using a TRAVELLING MATTE.
BOLLYWOOD Contraction of ‘Bombay’ (Mumbai) and ‘Hollywood’. Refers to Bombay as the centre of Indian popular cinema and its major studios with their heavy reliance on stars and genres, like Hollywood. Indian cinema is the largest film industry in the world, producing 600-700 feature films a year.
BOOM A travelling arm for suspending a microphone above the actors and outside the frame. See also CRANE.
BRIDGE A passage linking two scenes either by continuing music across the transition or by beginning the sound (incl. dialogue or music) of the next scene over images of the previous scene (a.k.a. ‘sound advance’): a very common phenomenon in contemporary cinema. See also BRIDGING SHOT.
BRIDGING SHOT A shot used to cover a jump in time or place or other discontinual changes.
CAMEO (SHOT) Brief appearance or very small role in a film by a celebrity (e.g. Hitchcock in his own films, Robert De Niro in Brazil).
CAMERA ANGLE / ANGLE DE CAMÉRA. The angle at which the camera is pointed at the subject: low, high, or TILT. Examples of camera angle are: standard shot (camera at shoulder height of average human adult straight on to the subject), low angle (camera lower than standard, looking upwards), high angle (the opposite), extreme low, extreme high, etc. Another way of discussing camera angles is as POINT-OF-VIEW shots. Not to be confused with ANGLE OF VIEW.
CAMERA MOVEMENT Any motion of the camera during a shot, for example:  PANNING, TILTING, hand-held camera movement;  movement of the camera fixed on a moving vehicle such as a DOLLY, CRANE or car (as in TRACKING or DRIVE-BY shots);  lens movement such as ZOOM SHOTS or RACK FOCUS.
CHANGE-OVER CUE Small dot or other mark in the top right-hand corner of the frame, often in series, that signals the projectionist to switch from one projector to another.
CHROMA KEY An electronic television technique similar to BLUE SCREEN TRAVELLING MATI’E, which allows the melding of separate images.
CHIAROSCURO (kyaro-skooro). The technique of using light and shade in pictorial representation, or the arrangement of light and dark elements. The Italian words for ‘clear’/ ‘light’ and ‘dark’.
CINEMASCOPE Twentieth Century-Fox’s trade name for its ANAMORPHIC process; by extension, used to refer to anamorphic processes in general.
CINEMATHEQUE A film museum and library.
CINEMATOGRAPHY Motion picture photography.
CINÉMA VÉRITÉ A word now often used loosely to refer to any kind of documentary technique, it originally signified a cinema that utilised lightweight equipment, two-person crews (camera and sound), and interview techniques. Jean Rouch was an important figure.
CINERAMA A WIDESCREEN process invented by Fred Walker, using three camera synchronised electronically. The first Cinerama film was This Is Cinerama (1952). In 1962, after How the West Was Won , the three-camera/projector curved screen system was abandoned in favour of a wide film ANAMORPHIC process marketed under the same name.
CLAPPER BOARD A chalkboard, photographed at the beginning of a shot, upon which are written the pertinent data for the shot. A clapstick on top of the board is snapped shut and the resultant sound and image are used later to synchronise picture and sound.
CLOSEUP (CU) / GROS PLAN  Precisely, a shot of the subject’s face only.  Generally, any close shot.
CONTINUITY The illusion of a real or logical sequence of events across cuts or other edits between different shots. The script supervisor is in charge of the continuity of a film production, making sure that details in one shot will match details in another, even though the shots may be filmed weeks or months apart. The script supervisor also keeps detailed records of TAKES.
CONTINUITY EDITING Technique whereby shots are arranged in sequence to create the illusion of a credible chronological NARRATIVE. Often contrasted with MONTAGE editing.
CONTRAPUNTAL SOUND Sound used in counterpoint to the image.
CONTRAST Used to refer to both the quality of the lighting of a scene and a characteristic of the FILMSTOCK. High-contrast lighting shows a stark difference between blacks and whites; low-contrast (or soft-contrast) lighting mainly emphasises the mid range of greys.
CRANE / PLAN DE GRUE. A mechanical arm-like trolley used to move a camera through space above the ground or to position it at a place in the air. A CRANE SHOT allows the camera to vary distance, angle and height during the shot (a.k.a. BOOM shot).
CREDITS The list of technical personnel, cast, and crew of a film or program.
CROSS-CUTTING Intermingling the shots of two or more scenes to suggest PARALLEL ACTION.
CUT /UNE COUPE / COUPER  The most common method of connecting images — the physical act of splicing the end of one shot to the beginning of the next. A cut appears as an instantaneous transference from one shot to another.  In a completed film, a cut is the particular type of editing which, unlike, for example, a FADE or WIPE, involves a direct change from one image to another.  A cut is also a particular version of a film that is different to the commercially released version, e.g. the Director’s Cut of Blade Runner (1983).  To cut means to eliminate footage or scenes from the final film.  ‘Cut!’ is the director’s signal for stopping the camera during a take.
CUTAWAY A shot inserted in a scene to show action at another location, usually brief, and most often used to cover breaks in the main TAKE, as in television and documentary interviews. Also used to provide comment on the action, for example by cutting away from scenes of explicit sex or extreme violence.
DAY FOR NIGHT The practice of using filters to shoot night scenes during the day.
DÉCOUPAGE The design of the film, the arrangement of its shots. ‘Découpage classique’ is the French term for the old Hollywood style of seamless narration.
DEEP FOCUS A technique favoured by REALISTS, in which objects very near the camera as well as those far away are in focus at the same time.
DEPTH OF FIELD The range of distances from the camera at which the subject is acceptably sharp.
DETAIL SHOT / GROS PLAN (TRÈS) SERRÉ. Usually more magnified than a CLOSEUP. A shot of a hand, eye, mouth, or subject of similar detail.
DIEGESIS (adj. DIEGETIC) DIÉGÈSE/DIÉGÉTIQUE, from dieghsiV, Greeek for ‘narrative’: The denotative material of film narrative. It includes not only the narration itself, but also the fictional space and time dimensions implied by the narrative.
DIRECT SOUND The technique of recording sound simultaneously with image, direct sound has become much more feasible since the development of portable tape recorders and self-BLIMPED cameras.
DISSOLVE FONDU ENCHAINÉ/FONDU AU NOIR. Transition of images in which one shot seems to FADE out as the next shot fades in over the first, eventually replacing it altogether. Dissolves are often used to change setting involving a longer lapse of time than usually implied by a straight CUT. Often used to start and end FLASHBACKs.
DOCUDRAMA Semi-fictionalised versions of actual events, docudramas became popular staples of American television in the early seventies.
DOCUMENTARY A term with a wide latitude of meaning, basically used to refer to any film or program not wholly fictional in nature. The term was first popularised by John Grierson.
DOLBY A system of recording sound that greatly mutes the background noise inherent in film and tape reproduction.
DOLLY / DOLLY. A platform on wheels for moving the camera and camera operator around smoothly. Mounted on rails, the dolly is used for TRACKING SHOTs.
DOLLY SHOT / UN TRAVELLING A shot taken from a moving DOLLY. Almost synonymous in general usage with TRACKING SHOT.
DRIVE-BY SHOT / TRAVELLING EN VOITURE. View of person, object or place from a camera located in/on a moving vehicle as it passes by.
DUB  To rerecord dialogue in a language other than the original.  To record dialogue in a specially equipped studio after the film has been shot.
DUPE  To print a duplicate negative from a positive print. Also, to print a duplicate REVERSAL print.  A print made in this manner.
DUTCH ANGLE CAMERA ANGLE in which vertical and horizontal are tilted in relation to the main film frame, often to evoke a sense of disequilibrium, for example a character’s lack of mental balance.
EDITOR / MONTEUR The cutter. The person who determines the narrative structure of a film, in charge of the work of splicing the shots of a film together into final form.
EFFECTS TRACK The soundtrack on which the sound effects are recorded prior to MIXING.
ELECTROMAGNETIC SPECTRUM The entire range of radiation extending in frequency from 0 cycles per second (Hertz) to 1023 cycles per second (Hertz) and including cosmic rays, gamma rays, X rays, ultraviolet rays, visible light, infrared rays, microwaves, radio waves, heat, and electric currents.
EMULSION the thin coating of chemicals, mounted on the base of the FILMSTOCK, that reacts to light.
ESTABLISHING SHOT Generally a LONG SHOT that shows the audience the general location of the scene that follows, often providing essential information, and orienting the viewer.
EXPOSURE A measure of the amount of light striking the surface of the film. Film can be intentionally overexposed to give a very light, washed out, dreamy quality to the print image, or it can be underexposed to make the image darker, muddy, and foreboding.
EXTREME CLOSEUP See DETAIL SHOT.
EXTREME LONG SHOT A panoramic view of an exterior location photographed from a considerable distance, often as far as a quarter-mile away.
FADE, FADE-IN, FADE-OUT Punctuation devices. 1. Image The gradual disclosure or obscuring of an image as the screen becomes progressively illuminated (fade-in) or darkened (fade-out). Fade-ins are usually preceded by a moment of darkness, fade-outs followed by darkness. Fades, including cross-fades or DISSOLVEs, are often used to indicate the passage of time or change of location within a narrative, and as transition between scenes. They can also work as POV or subjective shots. See DISSOLVE, FOCUS OUT. 2. Sound/Music A gradual audible increase (fade-in) or decrease (fade-out) of volume.
FAST MOTION Also called accelerated motion . The film is shot at less than 24 frames per second so that when it is projected at the normal speed actions appear to move much faster. The camera is UNDERCRANKED. Often useful for comic effect.
FILLER LIGHT, FILL LIGHT An auxiliary light, usually from the side of the subject, that can soften shadows and illuminate areas not covered by the KEY LIGHT.
FILMIC SPACE A phrase not in wide use, which refers to the power of the film medium that makes possible the combination of shots of widely separated origins into a single framework of fictional space.
FILM NOIR Style of film depicting a dark world of urban crime. Term originally applied by the French to denote US detective or gangster movies such as The Big Sleep (1946) and The Asphalt Jungle (1949). Noir protaganists are almost always male, anxious, alone, alienated and misunderstood. The genre often also features an archetypal femme fatale. Many critics believe that film noir reflects a crisis in masculinity caused by loss of social power.
FILTER  A plat of gelatin, or plastic placed in front of the lens to alter the quality of the light.  An electronic device that alters the quality of sound (EQ) or image. Image filters can change contrast and colour (e.g. blue filter for dystopias), create SOFT FOCUS (diffusion filter)
FINAL CUT The film in its final state, as opposed to ROUGH CUT.
FISH-EYE LENS An extremely WIDE-ANGLE LENS that has an ANGLE OF VIEW approaching 180 degrees. It greatly distorts the image.
FLASHBACK / FLASHBACK / RETOUR EN ARRIÈRE. A SCENE or SEQUENCE (sometimes an entire film) that is inserted into a scene in ‘present’ time and that deals with the past. The flashback is the past tense of film.
FLASHFORWARD On the model of FLASHBACK, scenes or shots of future time; the future tense of film.
FLASH FRAME A shot of only a few frames duration, sometimes a single frame, which can just barely be perceived by the audience.
FOCAL LENGTH The length of the lens, a measurement (usually in millimetres) of tile distance from the centre of the outside surface of the lens to the film plane. Long lenses are TELEPHOTO lenses, short lenses are WIDE-ANGLE lenses.
FOCUS The sharpness of the image. A range of distances from the camera will be acceptably sharp.
FOCUS IN, OUT A punctuation device. The image gradually comes into focus or goes out of focus.
FOCUS PULL To PULL FOCUS during a shot in order to follow a subject as it moves away from or toward the camera.
FOLLOW FOCUS To PULL FOCUS during a shot in order to follow a subject as it moves away from or toward the camera.
FOLLOW SHOT A TRACKING SHOT or ZOOM, which follows the subject as it moves.
FRAME / IMAGE  Any single image on the film.  The size and shape of the image on the film, or on the screen when projected.  The compositional unit of film design.
FREEZE FRAME / GEL DE L’IMAGE. A freeze shot, which is achieved by printing a single frame many times in succession to give the illusion of a still photograph when projected.
FULL SHOT Same as LONG SHOT.
FX Normal abbreviation of ‘effects’. See SFX.
GAFFER Chief electrician, responsible to the director of photography, is responsible for all major electrical installations on the set, including lighting and power.
GENRE A type of film. Certain archetypal patterns, such as the Western, the Gangster, the Science Fiction film, and the Detective Story.
GLASS SHOT A type of SPECIAL EFFECT in which part of the scene is painted on a clear glass plate mounted in front of the camera.
GRAIN A quality of the EMULSION of a film. Grainy emulsions, which have poor powers of DEFINITION, are sometimes preferred for their ‘realistic’ connotations. The visibility of the grain varies inversely with the size of the FILM GAUGE and directly with the amount of OVERDEVELOPMENT.
GRIP On-set worker responsible for setting up equipment or scenery, laying DOLLY tracks, moving the dolly, etc.
HAND-HELD / CAMÉRA À L’ÉPAULE /CAMÉRA À LA MAIN. Since the development of lightweight portable cameras, hand-held shots have become much more common.
HIGH KEY A type of lighting arrangement in which the KEY LIGHT is very bright, often producing shadows.
HIGHLIGHTING Sometimes pencil-thin beams of light are used to illuminate certain parts of the subject (most often the actress’s eyes).
INTERCUTTING Same as PARALLEL EDITING, i.e. the cutting between different narrative strands of a film intended to be taken as happening simultaneously.
IRIS A transitional shot showing the gradual appearance through an expanding circular mask (iris-in) or the gradual disappearance of the image through a contracting mask (iris-out). Common in silent film, irises today usually evoke nostalgia for the period when they were in vogue. See FADE.
JUMP CUT A cut that occurs within a scene rather than between scenes, to condense the shot. It can effectively eliminate dead periods, such as that between the time a character enters a room and the time he reaches his destination on the other side of the room. When used according to certain rules, jump cuts are unobtrusive. But in Breathless , Jean-Luc Godard deliberately inserted jump cuts in shots where they would be quite obvious. Obvious, obtrusive jump cuts are still uncommon, however. Not to be confused with MATCH CUT.
KEY LIGHT The main light on a subject. Usually placed at a 45° angle to the camera-subject axis.
KEY-LIGHTING, HIGH OR LOW In high key lighting, the key light provides all or most of the light in the scene. In low key lighting, the key light provides much less of the total illumination.
LENS An optical lens bends light rays. in order to focus them; a magnetic lens bends electron beams so that they can be controlled for the purposes of SCANNING.
LONG SHOT (L.S.) A long shot includes at least the full figures of the subjects, usually more.
MACRO ZOOM LENS A lens developed by the Canon corporation that can focus from 1 mm to infinity and can zoom as well. It permits unusual effects.
MASK Shield placed in front of the camera lens to change the shape of the image. Often used as POV shots, e.g. looking through binoculars or a keyhole.
MASTER SHOT A long TAKE of an entire scene, generally a relatively LONG SHOT that facilitates the assembly of component closer shots and DETAILS. The EDITOR can always fall back on the master shot: consequently it is also called a cover shot.
MATCH CUT A cut in which the two shots joined are linked by visual, aural, or metaphorical parallelism. Famous example: at the end of North by Northwest , Cary Grant is pulling Eva Marie-Saint up the cliff of Mt. Rushmore; match cut to Grant pulling her up to a pullman bunk. Do not confuse with JUMP CUT.
MEDIUM CLOSEUP (down to tits, i.e. as sculpted bust) MCU
MEDIUM SHOT (MS) / PLAN MOYEN. Intermediate shot between CLOSEUP and LONG SHOT.
MELODRAMA / MÉLODRAME. Originally, simply a drama with music; more precisely, the type of nineteenth-century drama that centred on the simplistic conflict between heroes and villains. More recently, the word has come to signify any low-keyed drama, such as those dominating television.
MID SHOT (all above belt)
MISE EN SCÈNE The term usually used to denote that part of the cinematic process that takes place on the set, as opposed to MONTAGE, which takes place afterwards. Literally, this ‘putting on stage’ (mise en scène) includes decor, costume, direction and disposition of actors, colour, lighting, placement of cameras, choice of lenses, camera angle, camera distance, camera movement, etc.
MONTAGE  Simply, EDITING.  Eisenstein’s idea that adjacent shots should relate to each other in such a way that A and B combine to produce another meaning C, which is not actually recorded on the film.  ‘Dynamic Cutting’: a highly stylised form of editing, often with the purpose of providing a lot of information in a short period of time.
MONTAGE EDITING Technique of arranging shots in sequence to create connotations and associations (see MONTAGE ) rather than a standard chronologically unfolding narrative (see CONTINUITY EDITING).
NARRATION Spoken description or analysis of action.
NARRATIVE Story; the linear, chronological structure of a story.
NEGATIVE A film that produces an inverse record of the light and dark areas of the photographed scene.
OPTICAL SOUND Process by which a variable density track running alongside the image registers sound as a series of horizontal stripes which are converted into sound impulses by the light beam from the projector’s sound head as the film passes over it. Replaced sound on 78 rpm discs (Vitaphone). Although sound today is recorded and edited on magnetic tape — and some cinemas can play magnetic soundtracks — most release prints still have optical soundtracks.
OVERHEAD SHOT , a.k.a. BIRD’S-EYE SHOT Shot taken directly above the action, a camera position often used to imply fate or entrapment
PAN Movement of the camera from left to right or right to left around the imaginary vertical axis that runs through the camera. A panning shot is sometimes confused with a TRACKING SHOT, which is quite different.
PARALLEL ACTION A device of narrative in which two scenes are observed in parallel by CROSS-CUTING. Also called parallel montage .
PARALLEL EDITING Narrative construction CROSS-CUTTING between two or more lines of action supposed to be occurring simultaneously. Usually restricted to particular sequences in a film, CROSS-CUTTING can also occur between lines of action that are thematically related rather than simultaneous.
PARALLEL MONTAGE See PARALLEL ACTION.
PARALLEL SOUND Sound that matches its accompanying image.
POINT OF VIEW SHOT /POV/POINT DE VIEW. A shot which shows the scene from the point of view of a character. Often abbreviated ‘pov’ or ‘POV’.
POST-PRODUCTION / POSTPRODUCTION. The increasingly complex stage in the production of a film which takes place after shooting has been completed and involving editing, the addition of titles, the creation of special effetcs and the final soundtrack, including DUBBING and mixing.
POST-SYNCHRONIZATION / POSTSYNCHRONISATION/POST SYNC. Recording the sound after the picture has been shot.
POV See POINT OF VIEW SHOT.
PRE-PRODUCTION /(phase de) PRÉPARATION/La PRÉPA. Phase of film production following the securing of financial backing but preceding shooting. It includes work on the script, casting, hiring crews, finding locations, constructing sets, drawing up schedules, arranging catering, etc.
PRINT A POSITIVE copy of a film.
RACK FOCUS A change in depth of field during a shot from either foreground to background or vice versa.
REACTION SHOT A shot that cuts away from the main scene or speaker in order to show a character’s reaction to it.
REALISM In film, that attitude opposed to EXPRESSIONISM that emphasises the subject as opposed to the director’s view of the subject. Usually concerns topics of a socially conscious nature, and uses a minimal amount of technique.
RELEASE PRINT A print ready for DISTRIBUTION and SCREENING.
REVERSE ANGLE /CONTRE CHAMP/CHAMP CONTRE-CHAMP.  A SHOT from the opposite side of a subject.  In a dialogue scene, a SHOT of the second participant.
REVERSE MOTION or REVERSE ACTION Movement in reverse, opposite to the way it was shot. Often used for comic effect and in stunts (which can be better controlled by staging in reverse for playback in apparently forward motion).
ROAD MOVIE Genre characterised by a journey narrative involving one or more characters, often with an episodic structure including people and situations encountered en route, the physical journey across space reflecting the psychological journeys of the character(s).
ROUGH CUT / PREMIER MONTAGE. The first assembly of a film, prepared by the editor from the selected TAKES, which are joined in the order planned in the script. Finer points of timing and montage are left to a later stage.
RUSHES Prints of TAKES that are made immediately after a day’s shooting so that they can be examined before the next day’s shooting begins. Also called dailies.