Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

Glossary of terms

Anime

Japanese term for animated films (film equivalent of ‘manga’ comic books).

Aspect Ratio

Relationship between the width and height of a picture as it is displayed on a screen. It is expressed as a ratio of width: height. See Aspect Ratio page for further details.

Auteur

French term meaning ‘author’; a filmmaker who has a distinctive, recognisable vision. An Australian example would be Paul Cox.

Camera angle

Position from which the camera frames what is filmed.

Cellulose nitrate film

The first type of film base used in motion picutres, and the most common until 1951. Cellulose nitrate film is highly unstable and presents a very serious fire risk.

Censorship rating

Rating (G, PG, M etc) given to a motion picture by a film classification body (in Australia, Classification Board), according to certain classification guidelines. Also known as Classification Rating.

Cinematographer

Person who designs or directs the positioning of the camera and lighting for each shot; the director of photography. The cinematographer can also be the camera operator, but this is not always the case.

Cinema verite

Style of documentary from the French term ‘cinema of truth’. Similar to 'direct cinema’, it describes a style of filmmaking that follows the subject in an observational style with minimal or no use of filmmaking techniques such as voice over or lighting.

Close-up

Camera shot showing a close-up view of the subject that fills most of the screen.

Composition

Arrangements of elements in a shot in relation to each other and to the viewer; the way they are framed.

Cut

Abrupt transition from one shot to another; a splice between two frames of a film.

Deep focus

Shot where the foreground and background are equally in focus.

Depth of field *

Area in perfect focus in front of and behind the subject. Anything within this 'depth of field’ will appear sharp.

Director

Person who has primary control over a film’s creative aspects, as well as over the direction of the principle cast and crew.

Director of Photography

See Cinematographer.

Dissolve

Gradual transition between two shots where the images from one shot are replaced by images from another.

Documentary Film

Program type that seeks to represent reality or remain factual; a non-fiction film.

Dolly Shot

See Tracking Shot.

Editing

Selection and assembling of the pieces of film (shots) which will comprise a finished movie; the process of fine-tuning a script.

Fade

Gradual appearance (fade in) or disappearance (fade out) of an image or sound from or to a black screen.

Feature Film

Full length fiction film running over 60 minutes in duration. Called feature because of its place as the main feature in a cinema program in the days when cinemas ran shorts and newsreels.

Film

A motion picture or movie.

Film language

Way in which films tell stories and affect the viewer; the elements of filmmaking employed to tell the story in a particular way.

Frame

Rectangle formed by the outside of a movie screen; to arrange a shot’s composition; also each separate image in a motion picture film.

Gauge

Refers to the format of the film stock. For example super 8 mm, 16 mm, 35 mm.

Genre

Style of film dictated by particular thematic conventions.

High-angle shot

A downwards shot where the camera is in a higher vertical position than the subject.

Intertitle

Piece of descriptive text which appears in between scenes or shots of a film. Commonly used in silent films to clarify action or dialogue.

Long shot

Camera shot which makes the subject look small and far away; often used to show an object in relation to its surroundings.

Low-angle shot

An upwards shot where the camera is in a lower vertical position than the subject.

Medium shot

Camera shot midway between a close-up and a wide shot.

Mise-en-scene

From the French term for ‘putting on stage’; the arrangement of cinematic elements; what appears in the frame. The mise-en-scene determines the visual style of the film.

Montage

French term for editing.

Motion Picture

Series of images on a strip of film, usually projected at the rate of 24 frames per second, which make up a conceptually complete work. Also referred to as a film.

Newsreel

Short film compilation featuring news stories about current events. These were commonly screened before a feature in the days before television.

Pan

Camera movement created when the camera swivels horizontally on a stationary tripod (from the word ‘panorama’).

Print

The projectable version of a film.

Reconstruction

Process of rebuilding a film from its various sound and visual elements. It may be done in a case where parts of a film have been newly recovered or rediscovered. An example is The Sentimental Bloke (1919).

Restoration

Process of returning an artefact to as close to its original condition as possible. An example of a film which has been restored is Jedda (1955).

Scene *

Section of film unified by time or place; a segment of film that depicts a single situation or incident made up of a number of frames. Film scripts are divided into scenes.

Score

Music written specifically for a film. Separate from the film soundtrack.

Screenplay

Film script.

Shoot

To film something.

Shot

Any set-up of the camera so that something can be filmed; also used as a verb, with the same meaning as ‘filmed.’

Soundtrack

Commonly refers to music not specifically written for a film but which is used in the film, such as popular songs.

Stop-motion

Animation technique whereby the impression of movement is created by filming a sequence of one or two still frames at a time. An example is Harvie Krumpet (2003).

Storyboard

Pictorial representation of a film sequence often depicted as a series of comic book style drawings. Part of a director’s preparation for a film shoot.

Subtitle

Written text which commonly appears in the lower part of the screen to translate dialogue for foreign audiences.

Tilt

Vertical movement of the camera on its tripod.

Tracking shot

Shot where the camera (mounted on a mobile platform) steadily travels along a horizontal plane to the object being filmed. Also known as a dolly shot.

Voice-over

Recorded dialogue, usually narration, that comes from an unseen, off-screen voice.

Widescreen

Any aspect ratio wider than 4:3 or the standard Academy Frame. See Aspect Ratio.

Wide shot

Shot which covers the action of the scene in a wide or panoramic view.

Zoom shot

Shot which moves closer to, or away from, the subject using the lens rather than moving the whole camera in or out.

* Definitions taken from the National Film and Sound Archive’s Glossary of Audiovisual terms

Another useful film glossary link: The British Film Institute’s screenonline glossary