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Glossary of Select Film Terms

Glossary of Select Film Terms

Posted by: San Francisco Film Society

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3D: Three-dimensional, or having appearance the appearance of three-dimensional depth

Analog: Information stored or transmitted as a continuously variable signal (as opposed to digital, in which the analog signal is represented as a series of discreet values). A classic example is vinyl records (analog) vs. CDs (digital).

Aperture: Literally means “opening.” This is the camera’s iris, the opening that lets light through the lens. By adjusting the size of the aperture, the amount of incoming light is controlled 

Aspect Ratio: The ratio of width to height of an image. This can be expressed as a number, or as a relationship between two numbers. For example, the standard TV screen ratio is 4:3 (4 units wide by 3 units high) or 1.33 (the width is 1.33 times the height). The new wide-screen TV ratio is 16:9 (1.78). Theatrical film aspect ratios vary, but the most common is 18.5:10 (1.85). 

Audio: Sound. Specifically, the range of frequencies that are perceptible by the human ear 

Backlight: A light that is positioned behind the subject. Its primary purpose is to make the subject stand out from the background by highlighting the subject’s outline 

Burn: The process of recording information to an optical disk (CD or DVD) 

Cinematography: The art and science of moving picture photography, including both shooting technique and film development 

Compression: A method of reducing the size of a digital file, while retaining acceptable quality. This may be desirable in order to save memory space or to speed up access time 

Crane: An apparatus that enables mounting and vertical movement of a camera 

Crossfade: A video or film transition in which one shot gradually disappears to reveal a new shot (a.k.a. dissolve) 

Cut (1): In editing, an instantaneous transition from one shot to the next 

Cut (2): A location director’s instruction, calling for the camera and audio operators to cease recording and all action to halt 

Dailies: Daily raw footage shot during the production of a motion picture (a.k.a. rushes) 

Depth of Field: The zone between the nearest and furthest points at which the camera can obtain a sharp focus

Digital: A signal that consists of a series of discreet values, as opposed to an analog signal, which is made up of a continuous information stream 

Dissolve: A video or film transition in which one shot gradually disappears to reveal a new shot 

Dolly: An apparatus upon which a camera can be mounted, which can be moved around smoothly on a track 

DV: Digital Video

DVD: (Digital Video Disc or Digital Versatile Disc) An optical disc format which provides sufficient storage space and access speeds to play back entire movies 

Editing: The process of assembling video clips, audio tracks, graphics and other source material into a presentable sequence. 

Exposure: The amount of light which is passed through the iris of a camera, and which the CCD or film is exposed to 

Fade: A transition to or from “nothing.” In audio, this is to or from silence; in video, it is to or from a black screen. 

Filter: A transparent or translucent optical element that alters the properties of light passing through a lens 

Focal Length: The distance from the center of the lens to the film plane or camera CCD 

Focus: The process of adjusting a lens in order to obtain a sharp, clear picture 

FPS: Frames per second; the number of video or film frames that are displayed (or recorded) each second 

Frame (1): (n.) The edges of a television/video/film image 

Frame (2): (v.) To compose a camera shot 

Frame (3): (n.) One complete video, television, or film picture 

Frame Rate: The number of video or film frames displayed each second (a.k.a fps). NTSC video (the standard US format) frame rate is 30 fps, film is 24 fps. 

F-stop: Measurement of aperture; the higher the f-stop number, the smaller the aperture. 

Gaffer: Chief electrician on a film set 

Green Screen: A film and video technique in which action is shot against a green screen, which is subsequently removed from the image and replaced digitally with a different background 

Grip: Person responsible for constructing and dismantling film sets as well as laying down dolly tracks

HDMI: High-Definition Multimedia Interface; a digital connection used in home entertainment systems

Iris: The circular opening (aperture), which controls the amount of light passing through to a camera’s sensing element or film 

Jump Cut: A video transition in which one shot appears to “jump” to another shot with very similar framing; usually considered undesirable but can be used for stylistic effect

Lens: A transparent structure made of glass or other material, with at least one curved surface, which causes the light rays passing through it to converge or diverge in a controlled fashion 

Letterbox Format: In video and television, the practice of placing black bars at the top and bottom of the frame in order to simulate a wide-screen format 

Linear Editing: Any method of motion-picture editing that requires all shots to be assembled in a linear fashion (e.g., manually editing film reels)

Medium Shot (MS): A camera-framing term, between a wide-shot and a close-up; a mid-shot of a person will show them from about the waist or chest up. 

Mixer: A device that accepts multiple signal inputs (video or audio), processes them, and provides one or more outputs; the outputs are “mixes” of the input sources. 

Non-Linear: Any method of motion-picture editing that doesn’t require all shots to be assembled in a linear fashion (e.g., using digital software) 

Pan: Horizontal camera rotation from a fixed position 

Pan and Scan: A method of converting widescreen film or video to 4:3 aspect ratio in order to be displayed on traditional television sets. The most important area of the frame is selected and the rest discarded. 

Resolution: The amount of detail in an image or signal. On a computer screen, the resolution is the number of pixels. In an analog video signal, the resolution is the number of horizontal lines. In digital audio, the resolution is the number of samples per second. 

Scene: In film, television or stage, all the action/shots which take place at a certain time and location and comprise a segment of the program

Shot: A continuous piece of video or film footage; everything you get between pressing “record” and “stop”

Storyboard: A series of drawings and summaries, usually based on a script and prepared by the director, which provides a shot-by-shot illustration of how a film or program will look

Take: A single instance of a shot recorded on a film or TV set; each shot may be tried repeatedly until a desired take is achieved. 

Three-point lighting: A conventional, simple lighting scheme (usually used for static setups, such as an interview) that involves three component lights: a primary (“key”) light on one side of the camera, a secondary (“fill”) light on the other, and a supplementary back light behind the subject. 

Tilt: Vertical camera rotation from a fixed position 

Timecode: An indexing system that assigns a time value to individual frames of a film or video, or sections of an audio file. 

Tone: An audio test signal. Used to set signal levels, test signal quality, identify signal pathways, etc. 

Transition: The way in which two video shots or audio clips are edited together (e.g., instant cut, crossfade, wipe, dissolve, etc.) 

Tripod: A three-legged stand for mounting camera equipment; generally, tripods are geographically stationary, but enable panning and tilting the frame. 

White balance: A camera function that gives a reference to “true white,” in order for the camera to interpret all colors correctly

Widescreen: Generally refers to any video aspect ratio greater than 4:3 

Wide Shot (WS): A framing term, meaning a camera shot which shows the whole of the subject

Wipe: A video or film transition in which parts of one shot are successively replaced by equivalent parts of the next shot

Wrap: The end of shooting; this could refer to a single day’s shoot or to the entire production phase

Zoom: Framing movement, in which the focal length of a variable (zoom) lens is altered to make the subject appear closer to or further away from the camera

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