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The A-Z of short film making

Getting started in the short film industry is challenging. Just like learning and remembering all of the jargon that filmmakers, film crews and cast use regularly. There are some potentially confusing terms and phrases!

Whether you’re just starting out, or are more experienced but wondering about a few specific terms, we’ve got you covered. In this handy guide we have collated a list of some of the most important filmmaking terminology with definitions. We hope it helps!

 

A B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

A – E

Term Definition

Antagonist

In opposition to the protagonist, the antagonist is typically a person, group of characters, institution or concept who actively opposes or is hostile to someone or something; an adversary.
Auteur (or Auteur theory) The theory ascribed overall responsibility for the creation of a film and its personal vision, identifiable style, thematic aspects and techniques to its film-maker or director, rather than to the collaborative efforts of all involved (actors, producer, production designer, special effects supervisor, etc); the theory posited that directors should be considered the ‘true’ authors of film (rather than the screenwriters) because they exercise a great deal of control over all facets of film making and impart a distinctive, personal style to their films; simply stated, an auteur can refer to a director with a recognizable or signature style.

Backlighting

This phenomenon occurs when the lighting for the shot is directed at the camera from behind the subject(s), causing the figure(s) in the foreground to appear in semi-darkness or as silhouettes, or highlighted; with back-lighting, the subject is separated from the background.
Beat The beat refers to an actor’s term for how long to wait before doing an action. A beat is generally considered to be about one second long. Beats are often interchangeable with ellipses “…”
Blocking Blocking a shot or a scene is the process of figuring out where the camera goes, how the lights should be arranged, where the props and dressings will be placed and what the actor’s positions and movements – moment by moment – will be. Often, the specific staging of a film’s movements are worked out by the director, often with stand-ins and the lighting crew before actual shooting.
Bracketing Shooting a scene several times with different F-stops in order to try and get a particular and desired effect.

Camera Cues

 Zoom, pan, tilt, dolly, in/out, boom up/down, angle on etc should be avoided if at all possible in your first few scripts. Nothing screams amateur more than Camera Cues. Until you are established enough to be telling the director how to do his or her job, you should stick to your own… telling the story!
 Cast Against Type  When an actor is cast, and plays a role that is distinctively different from any roles previously played.
 Characters  The people in the story. Sometimes these might be objects, machines or animals too. What they look like, how they speak and feel, are important. What they do in response to those things is what drives the story forward.
 Close Up (CU)  Close up shots are often used to reveal detail about an object or a character’s emotional state. The subject is typically as large or larger than the frame.
 Composition  Exactly what gets into a shot, what is left out, and how characters, props and dressings are arranged in the shot. To make things look natural, put lines, edges or faces about a third of the way across, up or down the picture ‘frame’. To make them look formal, put them in the middle; and to make things seem uncomfortable, make the shot unbalanced or put it at on a slant.
 Continuity  The films continuity is what allows the audience to get immersed into the world of the film you are creating. In order to achieve cinematic continuity there are particular rules that must be followed in order to ensure that your shot naturally flow on from one to the other. These rules include framing, camera position, shot size and editing.
 Coverage  Refers to all the shots, including closeups and reverse angles, that a director takes in addition to the master shot, to make up the final product; to have proper coverage means having all the proper scenes, angles, lightings, close-ups, and directions.
 Cutaway  This is used when you need to draw attention to a specific object in a scene that is away from the main action or dialogue. Note: It is as close to a Camera Cue as you can get away with! See below for explanation.

Denouement

 The point immediately following the climax when everything comes into place or is resolved; often the final scene.
 Deus Ex Machina  The resolution of the plot through a literal act of god arriving on stage and solving all of the characters’ problems. It usually refers to an unlikely, contrived, suddenly-appearing plot device that alleviates a difficult situation or brings about a denouement.

Electronic Press Kit (EPK)

EPK’s are the digital equivalent of press kits or traditional promo packages. EPKs can handle more information in a user-friendly format than physical press kits. They are also easier on the budget as production costs are kept at bay with no print production and no postage required to send them – perfect for short filmmakers emerging into the industry.  Your EPK should include:

  • A synopsis of your film that is told in an engaging way
  • Bios of the key cast and crew members including previous film roles (if any), stage work and awards they have won
  • Include 10 FAQ’s
  • High-quality media photos
  • Videos, teasers and trailer
  • Include any and all reviews and third party endorsements
  • Interviews with the key actors, director, producer and other principal crew where appropriate
Establishing Shot  Also called a ‘Wide Shot’ – The establishing shot is often the first shot of the film and a new scene in order to establish a change in location.


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F – J

Term Definition

Final Cut

The last edited version of a film as it will be released.
Foley Artist A person who creates foley sound effects in synchronization with the visual component of the film. Foley artists sometimes use bizarre objects and methods to achieve sound effects which are often exaggerated for added effect.
Framing  Framing refers to the way a shot is composed, and the manner in which subjects and objects are surrounded (‘framed’) by the boundaries or perimeter of the film image, or by the use of a rectangle or enclosing shape.

Intercut

This is often used when showing two or more characters interacting from two separate locations… A telephone call is the most obvious use, but it is also quite handy for parallel action such as the opening of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.

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K – O

Term Definition

Montage

This is used for a series of related or contrasting images that are often set to music. A montage is usually not accompanied with dialogue; dissolves, cuts, fades, superimpositions, and wipes are often used to link the images in a montage sequence.
Movement Movement can involve both the movements of the actors or props within the diegesis, however, it also refers to the camera’s movement – following the action by moving through a space. E.g. pan, track, or tilt shots.

Off Camera / Off Screen (O.C / O.S)

Dialogue or sounds that are heard in the scene/location, but not actually seen. The abbreviations are sometimes seen next to character’s names before certain bits of dialogue, meaning that the writer specifically wants the voice to come from somewhere unseen.

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P – T

Term Definition

Plot

The series of events that happens in the film. Filmmakers carefully select the information, and the order in which the audience will see the story. This order shapes our response/attitude to the characters and therefore the theme of the story.
Point of View (POV) This is a way of showing a scene as seen from a specific character’s perspective.
Premise The premise is the idea of your film
Production Techniques These include lighting, props, costume, sound effects, music, special effects, make-up, the use of colour and camera angles. Filmmakers carefully arrange all of these things to create and atmosphere or mood and emphasise certain ideas. Films take months or years to create, so much time and attention goes into getting all of these things right.
Props Every prop that will appear in your film must be pulled from the script and added to the props category in your breakdown sheets. A prop is defined as anything your characters interact with, such as guns, cell phones, brooms, and so on. On a low-budget film, try to borrow your props — especially if they’re contemporary items. For hard-to-find props, you can usually rent them from a prop house or rental house listed in the Yellow Pages or the 411 directory in New York and Los Angeles.In North Hollywood, California, 20th Century Props has over 100,000 square feet of storage that houses thousands of props.

Often, props are confused with set dressing, but the difference is that actors don’t interact with set dressing. Set dressing includes a picture frame on a mantle or flowers in a vase on a table. The baseball bat in Mel Gibson’s film Signs would have been categorized as set dressing, but because the actors actually interact with the bat (which is displayed on a wall), it is categorized as a prop. You address set dressing in your breakdown sheets only if it’s crucial to the story.

Red Herring

An instance of foreshadowing that is deliberately planted to make viewers suspect an outcome. This device can be used to deceive the audience about the events to follow.
Revisionistic Films that present an apparent genre or stereotype and then subvert, revise, or challenge it.
Rough Cut The rough cut is the first assemblage of the clips prior to the editing process.

Setting

A film in a particular time and place is an important part of the story. Whether the story takes place on a sunny day in Wellington city in the 1950s or the Japanese countryside in a post-apocalyptic future makes a big difference to what can happen to the characters. Different settings communicate specific ideas, which have an impact on the atmosphere and therefore the events of the story.
Shot Size Shot size basically means how big things are in the picture, and whether it mainly shows the setting, people in the setting, or details of faces and things. It’s important to use different shot sizes in your short film . It’s a way of spelling things out, to make sure that people see exactly the things you want them to see.
Silver Bullet Refers to a solution that completely solves the complicated dramatic problem within a film.
Slug Line The text at the beginning of a scene that briefly describes the location and/or the time of day.
Stand-Ins A stand-in is a person who has the same or similar physical properties of a particular actor, and takes their place during the lengthy setup of a scene. This advantage of stand-ins, even for just the lead actors is that it allows the actors to prepare for the filming itself – and potentially allowing the actors to be better prepared and refreshed while the camera is rolling.
Stinger A surprising, last-minute bit of dialogue that appears at the end of after the closing credits.
Storyboarding Creating images of the shots you plan to shoot in your film. Storyboarding often involves a series of illustrations, stills, rough sketches of events, as seen through the camera lens, that outline the various shots.
Striking Striking refers to removing an object from the set or scene, as in striking equipment from the set at the end of a day or striking a lamp from a particular scene.
Superimpose This is for written information (time, date, location, etc…) given to the audience that appears on screen. i.e. “One month Later” or “The Pentagon, D.C. – 08:00 hours”.

Tagline

A clever phrase or short sentence to memorably characterize a film, and tease and attract potential viewers.  A short, catchy tagline helps to sell a short film.
 Theme A theme is the unifying subject or idea of the story. It is often connected to something a character learns and therefore what we learn. Most films have a number of thematic ideas they explore.
 Time Code A sequence of numeric codes generated at regular intervals by a timing synchronization system. Used extensively for synchronization, and for logging and identifying material.
Title The title of a film is often linked to the theme. It can sometimes be a pun or another type of word play but usually has an extra meaning.
Transitions Used to indicate a change from one scene to the next. In a spec script, they should be used sparingly. Typical transitions are: fade in, fade out, cut to, match cut, montage, insert, intercut, series of shots, dissolve to, wipe, and back to scene.
 Treatment An outline of your short film idea; it’s usually not more than a page long, and may be only a few paragraphs. It gives an outline of the story, and provides some of the details about character, setting and tone.

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U – Z

Term Definition

Voice Over (VO)

This is narration that does not originate in the scene itself. It can be a Narrator or Inner thoughts of a character on screen, or it can simply be a disembodied voice coming over a radio, telephone or speaker that the filmmakers can later add in post production.

Wardrobe

A character’s jeans and T-shirt don’t need to be entered in the wardrobe box, but a gangster’s suit does. Because scenes aren’t usually filmed in chronological order, each outfit is given a script day number to ensure that the actor wears the correct wardrobe in each shot. Script days (the timeline of your story) will be part of the breakdown sheets, and if the story takes place over five days, you’ll sit down with the wardrobe person and decide what clothing your actors will wear each day if it’s not addressed in the script.
Wipe To A transition in which one scene “wipes away” for the next. Imagine Scene A is water and Scene B is the substance underneath. These usually suggest a passage of time from one scene to the next.

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. Use zoom only when necessary.

 

Any terms you think we’ve missed? Something you’re still unsure about?

Send us an email at info@showmeshorts.co.nz and let us know so we can update our reference list!

 

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