Film Language

Here is a glossary of film terms :



A form of filmmaking characterised by photographing inanimate objects or individual drawings frame by frame, with each frame differeing minutely from the previous frame. When these images are projected at the standard speed of twenty-four frames per second, the images appear to move.

Here is a nice example of a short animation film.




French for “author”. Used by critics writing for Cahiers du cinema and other journals to indicate the figure, usually the director, who stamped a film with his/her own “personality”. The concept allowed critics to evaluate highly works of American genre cinema that were otherwise dismissed in favor of the developing European art cinema. Auteur theory emphasises  the director as the major creator of film art.

Here is part of a documentary on auteur theory.





The clothes that characters wear. Costume in narrative cinema is used to signify character, or advertise particular fashions, or to make clear distinctions between characters.

Here is short video clip which examines the work of a costume designer.





A biographical film normally about the life of a famous person.

Here is the trailer to Ray about the life of the singer ray Charles.



Captions/ titles

Written labels on the screen. A title designer is responsible for the captions. One of the most famous title designers was Saul Bass who worked on many of Hitchcock’s films. Here are the titles for Vertigo.




Here is a short film which celebrates  Saul Bass’ title design.


The Title Design of Saul Bass from Ian Albinson on Vimeo.


This short film gives a brief history of title design.

A Brief History of Title Design from Ian Albinson on Vimeo.


Cinematographer, director of photography

The artist responsible for the lighting of a shot and the quality of the photography in a film.

Here is  a master class in cinematography by Christopher Doyle, the renowned  cinematographer of film such as In The Mood for Love and The Quiet American.





The narrative elements that are shown or inferred from the content of a film. The diegesis includes objects, events, spaces and the characters that inhabit them, including things, actions, and attitudes not explicitly presented in the film but inferred by the audience.  The audience constructs a diegetic world from the material presented in a narrative film.


Dolly shot, tracking shot, trucking shot

A shot taken from a moving vehicle. In the past tracks were laid on the set to permit a smoother movement of the camera.

In Hitchcock’s North by Northwest we can see this example of a dolly shot.




In the opening scene of Trainspotting there are several dollying shots to follow the characters as they run.




The joining together of clips of film into a single filmstrip. The cut is a simple edit but there are many other possible ways to transition from one shot to another.

Here is part of a documentary which explains the work of a film editor.




film/movie buff

A film enthusiast.

Here is a short film which explains how to become a film buff.




Flashback / Flashforward

A jump backwards or forwards in diegetic  time. With the use of flashback / flashforward the order of events in the plot no longer matches the order of events in the story. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) is a famous film composed almost entirely of flashbacks and flashforwards. The film timeline spans over 60 years, as it traces the life of Charles Foster Kane from his childhood to his deathbed — and on into the repercussions of his actions on the people around him. Some characters appear at several time periods in the film, usually being interviewed in the present and appearing in the past as they tell the reporter of their memories of Kane.

Here is part of documenary discussing the importance of Citizen Kane.





Focus refers to the degree to which light rays coming from any particular part of an object pass through the lens and reconverge at the same point on a frame of the film negative, creating sharp outlines and distinct textures that match the original object. “Out of focus” means the images are blurred and lack acceptable linear definition.

In Deconstructing Harry by Woody Allen the main character is deliberately shot out of focus.




Freeze frame

A device which allows you to pause the film and freeze the image. One of the most famous uses of freeze frame is the final shot in Truffuat’s 400 Blows.





Types of film recognized by audiences and/or producers. These types are distinguished by narrative or stylistic conventions.

Here is short clip of the American Film Institute’s Top 10 films by genre.





All the things that are “put in the scene”: the setting, the decor, the lighting, the costumes, the performance etc.

In this short clip there is an explanation and examples of mise-en-scene.





A scene is a segment of a narrative film that usually takes place in a single time and place, often with the same characters.

Here is one of the most famous scenes from Hitchcock’s Rear Window.




Script, Screenplay, Scenario

A written description  of a film’s dialogue and action, sometimes with basic camera directions.

In this film a  screenwriter explains how to write a screenplay.




In this short clip a  scriptwriter explains how to write a filmscript.





A single stream of images, uninterrupted by editing; a unit of film in which the camera does not stop filming.




Aerial shot:

A shot taken from a crane, plane, or helicopter, restricted to exterior locations.

The trailer for Psycho starts with an aerial shot of Hitchcock outside The Bates Motel.



Birds’s eye view

A shot in which the camera photographs the scene from directly overhead.


Crane shot

A shot taken from a mechanical device called a crane which can carry the camera in any direction.


High angle shot

A shot taken from above the subject.


Low angle shot

A shot taken from below the subject.



Extreme long shot

A framing in which the scale of the object shown is very small; a building, landscape, or crowd of people will fill the screen.


Establishing shot


Long or full shot

A type of long shot that includes the human body in full, with the head near the top of the frame and the feet near the bottom.It makes for a relatively stable shot that can accomodate movement without reframing .


Medium long shot

Framing such than an object four or five feet high would fill most of the screen vertically. Also called plain américain, given its recurrence in the Western genre, where it was important to keep a cowboy’s weapon in the image.


Medium close-up

A relatively close shot, revealing the human figure from the waist up.



A detailed view of a person or object. A framing in which the scale of the object shown is relatively large. In a close-up a person’s head, or some other similarly sized object, would fill the frame.


Extreme close-up

A shot in which the scale of the object shown is very large, a minutely detailed view of an object or person. Faces are the most recurrent images in extreme close-ups. An extreme close-up of an actor usually includes only his or her eyes or mouth.


Point of view shot

A shot taken with the camera placed approximately where the character’s eyes would be, showing what the character would see; usually cut in before or after a shot of the character looking. Horror films and thrillers often use POV shots to suggest a menacing and unseen presence in the scene. In Force of Evil we see  Frank-s face in a point of view shot from the killer above: Then  we cut to the killer-s face from Frank-s point of view below.



Reaction shot

A shot to show an emotional response to the immediately preceding action or words of another character in the scene, or to an event in the immediately preceding scene which may or may not involve another actor (e.g., an explosion, monster, empty room, etc.)


Two shot

A medium featuring two actors in the same frame.


Three shot

A medium featuring three actors in the same frame.


Dutch Tilt

A shot in which  the camera angle is deliberately slanted to one side. This can be used for dramatic effect and helps portray unease, disorientation, frantic or desperate action, intoxication or madness.



Still pictures taken from from a film.

This short clip looks at the work of a film stills photographer.





A short description of the main parts of a story.

In this clip we have an explanation of how to write a film synopsis.





An opening sequence designed to catch the interest of the audience.

The opening sequence of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs certainly graps the audience’s attention.




A film with a lot of action and suspense



A short filmed advertisement for a film using highlights from the film with graphics and voice-over commentary to publicise the film.

The trailer of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather is a beautiful example.





A dangerous trick, usually done by a stunt man or woamn substiting the actor.



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