Movie Making – Our A to Z of Must-Know Movie Making Terms

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Interested in movie making?

Here, we take you through our A-Z of must-know movie making terms in a movie making crash course. 

How many do you know? Where are you expert level and where can you boost your knowledge? 

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A is for Acting

Acting performances are vital to a brilliant movie production. Your actors will tell your story, feature in most of your shots and bring you the emotion and passion that your story needs. When you’re putting your film together think about the range of experiences your character will go through, and the emotional moments that you want the audience to connect with. When casting your film ensure you pick an actor that can convey these scenes sensitively and help you tell the story you want to tell, so that the audiences will react the way you want them to.

For some tips on acting take a look at our acting blog post.


B is for Background

The background of a shot is the stuff you can see on screen behind the person or object you are filming (known as the subject). When shooting your shots it’s so easy to forget to look at the backgrounds, particularly if you’re working on a project alone. Look through your camera and see what else your camera is looking at – and remember the story you are telling. If the item in the background doesn’t help tell that story, try and remove the item, or move the camera. Also think about the colours and light quality of the background – does it match the tone of the film you’re putting together? Another option is to consider changing the focus so that the background is blurry or out of focus. This helps the audience focus on the foreground.


C is for Camera

Your camera will be a vital piece of kit for your film – but, don’t worry about how fancy your camera is, or whether it has the latest features. The important thing is to know what to do with your camera, and how you’ll use it to tell a great story. You can make a great film on a mobile phone but you can also make a terrible film with a broadcast quality camera. As long as you can capture video in HD, this is a great place to start. Once you’ve sorted that, concentrate on your story, your storyboard and your shot list – thinking about how you’ll film your project, and how you want it to fit together.


D is for Director

Think like a director. A director’s job is to make sure their vision of the film is realised. A director will work with a crew to create a film. This includes talking to the camera team, the actors, the production design team, the editors – everyone – to ensure their version of the story gets created. When you have a small crew (or even just one person), then it’s likely the director is doing other jobs too, so it’s important to think like a director: to focus on telling the story and creating the emotional reactions you want to create. A good tip for being a great director is to watch a wide range of films – and try and watch films you might not ordinarily pick – aiming to have a wide experience of different types of film and styles.


E is for Editing

Editing is a vital part of the film process. The editor will select what the audience watches at any point. Editing lets you control the the storytelling. You can decide on the order an audience watches the film, and you can get really creative with the mood, tone, atmosphere, pace and emotional impact of your project.


F is for Framing

Framing refers to what is on the screen at any one point, and describes the way the different components of a shot are laid out. The framing of a shot might refer to how big objects in your shot are, how far they are from the camera, how far they are from each other, whether there is any symmetry in the shot, or whether the shot feels even distributed, or elements are all crammed into one part of the frame. You can frame a shot so that all of the elements naturally guide the audience’s eye to the main focus of the shot. Or, you can frame the shot so that the shot is full of distracting elements and the audience’s attention is drawn in lots of different places. 
When shooting your next shot, try and think of it as a composition – you’re going to compose the shot and bring elements into the frame – rather than you just filming what’s there. Start with a blank frame and then bring in each element/actor/prop one at a time so you can consider where you want them to be. This will help you concentrate on framing.


G is for Grading

Grading is the process of changing the colour and light levels of footage after they’ve been shot. Grading can be done for a range of reasons – it might be about ‘fixing’ a shot that has been shot in imperfect conditions, or it might be to help enhance an mood – for example you might make a dream sequence look a bit brighter and jollier to look at. An easy way to experiment in grading is to experiment with filters in an editing programme. But professional graders or colourists will work in a much more detailed way to colour individual frames and tweak colour levels such as hue, saturation, contrast and brightness.


H is for H.264

H.264 is a really popular video codec you can use when exporting your movies. It takes high quality HD video and compresses it so it takes much less bandwidth to process, without compromising much of the image quality.

If you’re making videos for YouTube or for streaming, H.264 compression is a great way to go. Just select it from the options once you’ve edited your video and you’re ready to export the finished movie file.  


I is for Interior/Exterior

This is the first part of a scene heading. On a film script at the start of a scene  you’ll always see something in the following format:

Int. Kitchen – Night

Interior (int.) or Exterior (ext.) is a simple indicator of the location of a scene, whether it’s inside or outside. After ‘Int./Ext.’ you’ll see a brief description of the location – and then Day or Night. 
These details let the crew know how to prepare the set and lighting for the shot. Think for a moment how different your kitchen looks at night to how it does at day- which lights are switched on? Which colours are different? What’s the view out of the window? All of this kind of detail helps the film crew tell a story convincingly. You can also use these details to help you plan your shoot – it will probably be quicker and easier to do all of your scenes set in the same set together, rather than shooting the film in the order you want to watch it in.


J is for Jump Cuts

A jump cut is when there is an abrupt edit between two shots of the same subject and location. Generally, the approach for video editing is to create a smooth and seamless edit that flows without the audience noticing how the edit is put together. A jump cut is a direct contrast to this approach – and draws attention to itself by having a harsh and obvious ‘jump’ between two parts of the same shot. Jump cuts can give your film a contemporary feeling, are are good way to condense action, so a lengthy scene can be shown more quickly – and can also be used to show weird, surreal or horror atmospheres. An easy way to create a jump cut can be achieved by using an editing programme to delete a section from the middle of a clip.


K is for Keying

Keying is a technique where post-production teams can remove elements of a shot. The most famous example of keying is chroma-keying – which is the technical name for creating green screen effects. In green screening, an editor can remove all instances of the colour green and remove them so they can be replaced with something else.


L is for Long Take

A long take is a shot that is on screen for a long time without cutting away to another shot. Long takes are a great way to mix things up (as they break up the general approach of putting lots of shots together into a scene). A long take can give a scene a sense of epic proportions – as a camera can scan a vast scene – or it can be used to establish a wide range of characters as the camera tracks across a range of scenes.



M is for Mise-en-Scène

Mise-en-Scène literally means ‘placing on stage’, and refers to costume, set, location, props, lighting, hair, make up and the composition of a scene or shot. It refers to everything we see through the camera. It’s important to remember that everything we show on camera helps us to tell our story.


N is for New Wave

The new wave movement started in France in the 1950s, and was a reaction to what a group of directors saw as a ‘lack of sincerity’ in the types of film being made by Hollywood studios. The New Wave movement introduced a lot of concepts that are commonplace in contemporary cinema (including several of the ones of this list!): long takes, handheld camera work, jump cuts and the use of locations rather than studio sets.


O is for Over the Shoulder

An over the shoulder shot is a shot where a camera films an actor’s face and is positioned behind another actor’s shoulder. This shot is great for conversation scenes, and gives the audience a sense of depth and position within the space.


P is for Point of View

This shot is also known as a first person shot – and is when the camera has the same vantage point as a character. So the camera can see what that character can see. It’s great for showing how a characters feels,
 and what it’s like to be them.


Q is for Quiet

You’ll hear many a first assistant director calling “Quiet on Set!”. It’s so important to be quiet while the camera is rolling, as microphones are very sensitive and even a whisper or rustling sleeve can ruin a take. It can also be very effective to experiment with using silence in your film score – experiment with deliberately not putting music onto a scene to see what the silence can do to the atmosphere of a film.


R is for Reaction Shots

Reaction shots show (often in closeup) how a character reacts to something. It is a really great way to show the emotional impact of something. But, it’s also a very helpful way to help you produce something that’s difficult to create. For example, if you are making a horror film and need a lifelike monster – it might be easier to show the reactions to the monster than creating a lifelike terrifying monster for every shot! It’s a handy tip to keep budgets down (and the reaction to the shot can often work out scarier and more atmospheric than recreating the real thing anyway!)


S is for show don’t tell

‘Show don’t tell’ is a golden rule of filmmaking. It’s a lot more compelling to tell your story visually than it is to depict lengthy speeches and conversations with your characters. For example if your character has had a bad morning – show us a shot of them sleeping in, missing the bus and running out of phone battery – this will be much more visually interesting than having a character moaning about it! Next time you write a lengthy speech – think: ‘Show Don’t Tell’!


T is for Transitions

A transition is how an editor changes between two shots. Common transitions include a cross dissolve – where the shots overlap and fade in and out of opacity, the fade to black where a shot gradually disappears to leave a black screen. The most common transition is a straight cut – where a shot simply ends and the next shot appears instantly. A useful rule is to think about transitions as a way to communicate time or place changes – if the scene is still in the same place and time, don’t use a fancy transition – a straight cut is probably suitable! If you put too many transitions into a scene it will slow the pace down. It. Would. Be. Like. Using. A. Fullstop. After. Every. Sentence.


U is for Unreliable Narrators

An unreliable narrator is a character that tells a story that we can’t trust. It might be that they are lying, that they are misguided or that they’re biased. For film examples take a look at Forrest Gump, Big Fish and Hero.


V is for Voiceover

A voiceover is when we hear an actor’s voice over a scene without seeing the character speaking. A voiceover can be used to give extra context about what we’re watching. It’s often used at the beginning and end of a film.


W is for Wide

A wide shot is a shot where the camera shows the setting, background and full length of the actors. It is a really useful shot to set a scene and to convey information about what is going on, where things are set and what characters are doing.


X is for XCU (Extreme Close Up) 

An extreme closeup (noted as XCU) shows the subject very close up in a very small amount of space. A common extreme closeup is an eye – or both eyes – and is great for showing intense emotions. You see a lot of extreme closeups in horror films as characters feel very scared!

An extreme wide is the opposite – in that the background takes up much more of the shot than the actor. It’s a great shot to establish a geographical location – or where the characters are in some way overwhelmed by their surroundings. For example a character lost in the desert – an extreme wide shot would show a tiny figure in the vast desert.


Y is for Yellow, Red, Orange, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet (or you know… colours)

Colour is a really important part of film. Colour can inform lots of elements of storytelling as colour is often linked to emotion – blues can feel calming, yellows can feel uplifting and reds can feel passionate or angry. Lots of directors are known for their interesting use of colour. Check out Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands to see the pastel shades of suburbia vs the black and white gothic stylings of Edward.



Z is for Zoom

Zoom is the technique where you change the focal length of the shot during a shot, and so a shot changes from one size frame to another, for example, from a closeup to a wide. Using zoom can give the film a deliberate feel of spying on someone, or watching through someone else’s camera – as it draws attention to the fact that we’re watching a filmed project. In our workshops we often discuss being wary of the zoom function – unless you have a very specific reason to use the zoom function it can feel a little like a home made movie, and that often it’s a better solution to cut a shot and then shoot a closer up shot, rather than link the two with a zoom.


That’s our movie making list complete! How does it compare to your A-Z, we’d love to know! 


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