Glossary of Film Terms

180° Rule — One of the most basic rules of filmmaking. This rule states that when two elements are shown together in a scene, usually characters having a conversation, the camera must always stay on the same side of the subjects maintaining the original left/right relationship established at the beginning of the scene. Imagine two characters in the same room facing each other. Now imagine an axis running straight through them both on the path created by their sight lines. If a camera is placed perpendicular to this axis to shoot the scene it then has a 180° range of motion before it crosses that axis. If the axis is crossed it is called crossing the line and can be extremely confusing for an audience. This rule also applies to actions like a moving car or a person walking.

Auteur Theory — A philosophy stating that a film represents the artistic vision of its director. Auteur is the French word for author, and so the Auteur Theory holds that the director is the author of a film. This theory was developed in the 1950s by a group of directors and critics who wrote for the influential French film journal, Cahiers du Cinéma. Among its developers and champions were legendary director François Truffaut and critic Alexandre Astruc.

Best Boy — The gaffer’s assistant.

Cinematographer — See Director of Photography

Crossing the Line — When the 180° rule is broken. Crossing the line is generally considered a cardinal sin in filmmaking, though some directors cross the line on purpose to disorient the audience or create a feeling of tension or confusion.

Deep Focus — A technique that increases the depth of field substantially to bring all planes of the shot into focus — that is, the foreground, middle-ground and background are all simultaneously in focus.

Depth of Field — The zone in a shot, from near to far, that appears to be in full focus. A large depth of field will mean more of the image will appear acceptably sharp, and vice versa.

Director — The head honcho on a movie set. The director is ultimately responsible for every creative aspect of a film. In most cases he/she selects and directs the cast and crew and makes all major decisions affecting a film’s style, mood, tone, pacing, message, etc. On many studio films the producer is the ultimate boss and may override a director’s decision to ensure a production recoups its investments, but even then the director, in theory, is the primary creative force behind the film.

Director of Photography — The Director of Photography, DP, or cinematographer is usually the head of the camera and lighting teams and is responsible for the overall style, mood and look of the film’s images. The Director of Photography is second in command after the director and has an intense and demanding job. He/she is responsible for lining up and framing shots, measuring light, the aperture, depth of field, selecting filters and lenses and is tasked with achieving the overall look and feel of the director’s vision.

Dolly — A rolling camera move similar to the truck where the camera physically moves either closer to or farther away from its subject.

Eyeline Matching — Eyeline matching is a canonized theory in mainstream cinema that states that when an actor looks at an object off-screen (not visible to the audience) the camera will then cut to the object to maintain a logical continuity. The theory is especially rigidly applied during dialogue scenes between two characters in combination with the 180° rule. For example: if character A is facing right and speaking to character B, who is off-screen, the camera will then cut to character B to respond who will be facing to the left. This left/right relationship creates a sense of space and makes it easy for the audience to make sense of the scene.

Frame Rate — The speed at which the camera creates unique individual images (frames) that when played back create the illusion of motion.  Most modern commercial films shoot at 24 fps (frames per second).

Gaffer — The head electrician. The gaffer is in charge of the lighting on a production. Usually he answers to the Director of Photography and executes the DP’s lighting plan, though sometimes the gaffer is in charge of designing the lighting plan himself. Gaffer is sometimes credited as Chief Lighting Technician.

Key Grip — The head rigging technician. The key grip is essentially in charge of any piece of equipment that moves on a movie set, e.g., dollies, cranes, scenery, cameras, scaffolding, etc. Those working in this department under the key grip are simply called grips.

Lens Flare — An effect created when non-image forming light passes through the lens and strikes either the film or digital sensor causing the appearance of either a row of polygonal shapes corresponding to the shape of the lens or the entire image to be fogged. Although lens flare is generally an unwanted artifact that can be eliminated by using an appropriate lens hood or through simple compositional adjustments, sometimes it is used on purpose as an artistic element.

Pan — A move made by pivoting the camera horizontally from a stationary position, from left to right or right to left.

Tilt — A vertical pan. The camera pivots vertically from a stationary position either up or down.

Truck — A rolling camera move similar to the dolly where the camera physically moves from left to right or right to left.

Zoom Lens — A lens or assemblage of mechanical parts making variable focal length possible. Also called a parfocal lens, a true zoom lens will maintain focus even as the focal length changes, not to be confused with a varifocal lens which loses focus during the operation. In addition to rings controlling focus and iris, a zoom lens will usually, though not always, have a third ring that will allow you to change the focal length within a range of wide to long.

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