A-Z of Film Terms to Fake it as a Film Buff

Fake it ’til you make it. That’s a fairly well known phrase, bandied about to hopefuls preparing for job interviews and those who know they are well out of their depth. I, for many years, faked it pretty damn well as a film buff which is why I am the perfect person to show you how to fake being a film buff.

We all have those really annoying friends (on Facebook, I mean) that think they are all critics when it comes to the latest superhero effort, listing directors from heart and bullshitting about character arcs and authenticity to the comics.

Urgh, bor-ring.

Wouldn’t you love to put them in their place by chucking in some of these words and responding to people like, “Yes, it was interesting that the cinematography was largely composed of long takes panning around the action rather than adopting the traditional shot/reverse shot technique that is so typical of Hollywood film. It made the mis-en-scene quite cluttered but worked in this particular genre.”

Okay, so you would sound like a massive dick, but… It’d be fun, right?

A-Z of Film Terms to Fake it as a Film Buff

© 1994 Miramax
© 1994 Miramax

A for Auteur

Definition: A film director (or potentially another member of the production team) who influences their films so much that striking similarities occur in narrative, characters, themes and style across their filmography.

Example: Quentin Tarantino is a notable auteur for his use of soundtrack, extreme violence and dialogue-heavy scripts as well as using the same actors in many of his films.

Use it in a sentence: Wes Anderson’s colour palette and whimsicality in The Royal Tennenbaums can be seen throughout his filmography, especially in The Grand Budapest Hotel, he’s soooo an auteur.

B for Bridging Shot

Definition: A shot inserted in a film to indicate the passage of time between two scenes.

Example: Literally any time there’s a training montage, calendar pages falling, newspaper headlines, there’s loads of different types. I would even say in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when the frame lingers on the Christmas decorations to say ‘hey everybody, it’s Christmas now!’ before tracking down to the action is a bridging shot.

Use it in a sentence: I wish films would stop using calendar pages falling as a bridging shot, literally no one has one of those anymore.

C for Crossing the Line

Definition: Also referred to as the 180 degree rule, this is a cinematography guideline that states that two characters in a scene should maintain the same left/right relationship to one another. When the camera passes over the invisible axis connecting the two subjects, it is called crossing the line and the shot becomes a reverse angle.

Example: This scene from The Shining is known for crossing the line.

Use it in a sentence: I understand when some films cross the line it is because they want to disorientate the viewer and shock them, which works for some narrative and genres, but in some films it just looks like sloppy film making.

D for Depth of field/focus

Definition: The distance between the nearest and the furthest objects giving a focused image. Deep focus would mean objects near and far are in focus whilst shallow focus means just the nearest object is in focus.

Example: Here’s an excellent example of deep focus in Citizen Kane, and an excellent example of shallow focus in The Social Network. 

© 2011 Getty Images
© 2011 Getty Images
© 2010 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc.
© 2010 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc.

Use it in a sentence: Everyone thinks Orson Welles invented deep focus but they were doing it in German Expressionism before it was cool.

E for Establishing shot

Definition: Usually the first shot of a new scene, designed to show the audience where the action is taking place. It is usually a wide shot or extreme wide shot.

Example: Pretty much any James Bond film or Avengers film where there’s a lot of location and country hopping. Some even have titles which say where they are.

Use it in a sentence: Oh I wish films set in London would stop using the bloody Houses of Parliament as an establishing shot, there are a significant number of other well known landmarks!

F for Film Noir

Definition: A style of film named as such for it’s dark crime and detective themes with dubious and two-faced characters, often adapted from Pulp Fiction. The term specifically applies to films made in the period 1944–54 and any film made after that time period which makes homage to the style is called a Neo Noir.

Example: Billy Wilder’s film Double Indemnity (1944) is perhaps one of the best Film Noirs ever (it is) and includes many of the usual tropes: chance meeting between two people with fatal and murderous intent, a femme fatale, narration, etc.

Use it in a sentence: You’re quite incorrect, Sin City is not a Film Noir as it was produced in 2005 but rather it is a Neo Noir as it brings the Film Noir style and heightens some of the more risqué themes to be more in touch with the 21st Century.

G for Genre Movie

Definition: Okay, so this is an easier one because I know you know what ‘genre’ means and, I’ll be honest, I couldn’t think of anything else for ‘G’ soooo… However, you might call a movie a ‘Genre Movie’ if it’s undoutedly, resolutely within a particular genre and has all the usual tropes. Usually you would use this to describe a run-of-the-mill action movie.

Example: The Equaliser springs to mind, The Expendables, that sort of bag.

Use it in a sentence: Arnold Schwarzenegger should just stick to genre movies, he doesn’t pass off as the sensitive, brooding type.

H for High Key Lighting

Definition: Style of lighting that essentially means ‘a lot of light.’ It was traditionally used in silent and early cinema as the technology couldn’t deal with contrast (light and shadows) so they usually stuck with one or the other. Nowadays, high key lighting connotes an upbeat or comedic mood. Three guesses what low key lighting means.

Example: Have a look at this shot from Casablanca. Everything’s very white, isn’t it?

© Getty Images
© Getty Images

Use it in a sentence: High key lighting was a classic Film Noir technique as to focus on character’s expressions and greater contrast the more lighthearted scenes to the darker ones, don’t you know.

I for Iris Shot

Definition. Again, finding anything for ‘I’ was difficult. An Iris shot is what a lot of silent films used before THE END was slapped across the screen where the frame is turned into a circle with the rest of the screen as black.

Example: You remember Looney Tunes cartoons, right? Yep, that’s what it is.

Use it in a sentence: I have literally never understood why an Iris Shot was ever used, was it ever a creative decision or just convention?

J for Jump Cut

Definition: An abrupt, jarring transition between one shot to another. Something maybe that doesn’t flow or shocks the viewer and it normally used to describe a jump in time between the two jarring shots.

Example: There’s this handy YouTube video full of jump cuts:

Use it in a sentence: The severe amount of jump cuts used in Guy Ritchie films is particularly pleasing to me as it means that the film is shorter and I don’t have to watch a Guy Ritchie film for as long.

K for Kinetic editing

Definition: Fast paced, high energy editing with lots of cuts to denote nots of action.

Example: Used almost exclusively in action and fights, but a really interesting example is it’s use in Shaun of the Dead and it’s sequels to connote energy in the mundane (e.g. when Shaun’s flatmate makes a cup of tea and toast near the start of the film).

Use it in a sentence: I bet Captain America: Civil War would have been such a yawner without the use of kinetic editing.

L for Leitmotif

Definition: This is more of a music term but very much applies to film. A leitmotif is a recurring musical theme which is associated with a particular idea, character or place.

Example: You know the Indiana Jones music that comes on every time Indiana does something heroic or saves the day? Or Darth Vader’s theme tune every time he does something evil? Or the glistening score that you hear every time the hobbits go to Rivendell? Leitmotif!

Use it in a sentence: Oh, I do so enjoy the delicate leitmotif in Harry Potter every time his parents enter the conversation, it makes me so weepy.

M for MacGuffin

Definition: An object or device in a film or a book which serves merely as a trigger for the plot, but really that definition is disputed my many film makers, so the most broad term I can use is a ‘thing’ that in some way is relevant to the plot. So yeah, hope that makes sense.

Example: Alfred Hitchcock liked to use this term quite a lot. The MacGuffin in some of his films would be literally information in The 39 Steps and a broken leg in Rear Window, but again that’s just my interpretation.

Use it in a sentence: For this, I am going to use Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s own descriptive way of explaining what a McGuffin is. Doesn’t make sense? Blame Hitch!

It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men on a train. One man says, “What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?” And the other answers, “Oh, that’s a MacGuffin”. The first one asks, “What’s a MacGuffin?” “Well,” the other man says, “it’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.” The first man says, “But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,” and the other one answers, “Well then, that’s no MacGuffin!” So you see that a MacGuffin is actually nothing at all.

N for Non-Diagetic (and Diagetic)

Definition: Diagetic sound is sound that is heard within the world of the film. Dialogue, sound effects, song on the radio etc. Non-diagetic is sound that we, the audience, can hear but is not within the world of the film.

Example: The characters cannot heat ‘My Heart Will Go On’ whenever it plays in Titanic as a Leitmotif (aaaaahh see what I did there?).

Definition: I do so enjoy when you think a song is non-diagetic in a film but then the character starts singing along to it on the radio and you realise it’s diabetic, gets me every time!

O for Oblique angle

Definition: Also called a Dutch tilt, canted angle or German angle a canted angle is a type of shot where the camera is set at an angle so that the horizon line of the shot is not exactly parallel.

Example: The best way to show this is with a picture, so here’s a good shot from The Dark Knight.

© DC Comics 2008 & Warner Bros Entertainment
© DC Comics 2008 & Warner Bros Entertainment

Use it in a sentence: There was an unnecessary amount of oblique angles used by the cinematographer, I felt like I was on a boat, this isn’t Jaws.

P for Pan

Definition: A type of shot where the camera stays in the same position but turns left or right to follow the action, exactly like you might stand in one place and turn your head.

Example: Quite literally, most films.

Use it in a sentence: It is abhorrent when people confuse pan with tilt, when tilt is so obviously a shot where the camera looks up or down instead of left or right.

Q for Q rating

Definition: Yes, for the third time on this list, I am grabbing at straws. Apparently, according to some film glossary list I found on Google, a Q rating is a measurement of the familiarity and appeal of a brand, celebrity, company, or entertainment product (e.g., television show) used in the United States.

Example: Erm… Well this is awkward, isn’t it?

Use it in a sentence: Oh, you don’t know what Q rating means? Well, you probably have quite a low score.

R for Reverse Shot

Definition: Shot/Reverse Shot is the classic Hollywood/TV technique where a character or notable object/setting is in the frame, then the film cuts to a person looking at that character/object/setting.

Example: Quite literally every film, bar maybe, one or two weird ones.

Use it in a sentence: Look here, a reverse shot, wow, I’ve never seen one of those before. Is there nobody being innovative anymore?

S for Sequence

Definition: A Sequence is comprised of scenes that all laid out together form a coherent narrative. You also might refer to a line of shots in a scene as a sequence.

Example: This is basically just a, you know, a thing to understand and I can’t really give you an example without showing you ALL THE FILMS EVER and constantly pointing my finger saying “there’s a sequence, there’s a sequence, that’s another one…”

Use it in a sentence: One thing I did admire about 27 Dresses was the stellar use of linear editing, the sequences of shots was absolutely spot on.

T for Tracking Shot

Definition: A tracking shot is any shot that is recorded while a camera moves parallel (or behind, or in front) to its subject while filming. The camera is often mounted on a dolly that is on something that looks like a railroad track.

Example: When the brothers are running to get on their moving train in The Darjeeling Limited, a tracking shot was used to keep up with the action.

Use it in a sentence: Sooo… how do they film backwards tracking shots when the action is coming towards the camera and the ground is in the frame and you can surely see the track? Post Production? Magic?

Alfred Hitchcock's Cameo in The Birds © MPTV Images
Alfred Hitchcock’s Cameo in The Birds © MPTV Images

U for Uncredited role

Definition: A role in the film that does not appear in the closing credits.

Example: Usually really unknown actors don’t get credited, or sometimes when directors do a really small cameo like Alfred Hitchcock used to then they won’t be credited.

Use it in a sentence: I’m not being funny, but Stan Lee’s uncredited role in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe for the uninitiated) films aren’t exactly subtle anymore, are they?

V for Verisimilitude

Definition: The appearance of being true, real or more authentic.

Example: Gritty films might want to heighten their authenticity by shooting with unknown actors, actors using their real names as their characters names, shooting in the city the film is set in, etc.

Use it in a sentence: Ah yes, I too enjoyed Gran Torino, the verisimilitude was excellent.

W for Wipe

Definition: A type of transition between one scene to another where the first scene seems to be wiped away by another scene and can be done horizontally or vertically.

Example: Like, every other scene transition in every Star Wars film.

Use it in a sentence: Oh look, there haven’t been any wipes in The Force Awakens so far, maybe they aren’t- oh no, there it is.

X for …Nothing…

I failed you, I have literally nothing for X. Oh well, I’m sure you’ll get over it.

Y for Yawner

Definition: Yeah, I don’t know who says yawner either. Yawner is, apparently, what people call a boring film.

Example: Um, most Jennifer Anniston movies are yawners, right?

Use it in a sentence: I’m not even going to bother looking at reviews for Mother’s Day, it’s bound to be a yawner.

Z for Zoom

Definition: The smooth change of framing from a long shot to a close up, or vice versa.

Example: I don’t think there are many examples of Zoom in films that are too obvious, because films like to replicate the human eye so we find it easier to relate to the world of the film. However, it can be used very cleverly. Can you work out what’s going on in Goodfellas?

Use it in a sentence: The dolly zoom in Goodfellas is quite a clever little trick of the eye and takes great concentration: you see the camera is tracking backwards whilst the cinematographer zooms in so the characters at the same size in the frame but looks completely bonkers at the same time.

Do you feel ready to convince the world of your sudden expert knowledge? Do you have any better words for the I, Q and of course X? If so, send them my way!

Want MORE?

My Favourite Road Movies (so far!)

My Childhood Films that Made Me Love Cinema

Almost Ginger’s Guide to Cinema Etiquette

My First Time Going to the Cinema Alone and How It Made me a Better Person

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I'm the human and hair behind Almost Ginger. I'm a cinephile travel obsessive vegetarian currently residing in Manchester.

6 thoughts on “A-Z of Film Terms to Fake it as a Film Buff

  • 11/06/2016 at 9:22 am

    Ohh us bloggers do love to throw around our lingo and great that you stepped up to explain what it all actually means. Love the “Use it in a sentence” part that was a great touch

    • 11/06/2016 at 12:35 pm

      Thanks! 🙂 it’s good to not take yourself seriously sometimes

  • 12/06/2016 at 5:32 pm

    I’m writing this comment before I even finished reading this post because what I’ve read so far is brilliant. I love it. Great job! Now, let me finish reading it.

    • 12/06/2016 at 5:36 pm

      Aw thanks Wendell! It is a bit of a long one haha but I did enjoy writing it!

  • 28/06/2016 at 10:20 pm

    Really like this piece, been really interested in these kinds of, for lack of a better term, dictionaries about general filmmaking techniques and how you can apply them to reviews. Reminds me of this one I found last year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InfcMwcSG3g

    • 29/06/2016 at 11:55 am

      Aw thanks Tony! It’s a bit of a long one but I enjoyed writing it. There are always new words to mean something or a few that mean the same… it’s a minefield but makes you instantly sound like you know what you’re talking about 😉

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