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Academy ratio  In the silent era, the film frame was customarily 1 1/3 times as wide as it was high (1.33:1). When a sound track was added, however, the image became nearly square. The 1.33:1 silent aspect ratio was standardized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1932. (In practice, the sound-film was closer to 1.37:1.)
actualities  An early term for documentary films.
anamorphic lens  A lens for making widescreen films using regular Academy ratio frame size. The camera lens takes in a wide field of view and squeezes it onto the frame, and a similar projector lens unsqueezes the image onto a wide theater screen. The most famous anamorphic widescreen processes are CinemaScope and Panavision.
animation  Any process whereby artificial movement is created by photographing a series of drawings (see cel animation), objects, or computer images one by one. Small changes in position, recorded frame by frame, create the illusion of movement.
art cinema  (1) A critical term used to describe films that, while made within commercial circumstances, take an approach to form and style influenced by modernist trends (see modernism) within "high art" and that offer an alternative to mainstream entertainment. (2) A term used in the U.S. film industry to describe imported films of interest principally to upper-middle-class, college-educated audiences.
artisanal production  The process in which a filmmaker, producer, and crew devote their energy to making a single film, often with no expectation of collaborating on another project in the future. This is in contrast to the mass production and division of labor of studio production.
aspect ratio  The relationship of the frame's width to its height. The standard international ratio was 1.33:1 until the early 1950s, when widescreen formats became more common.
auteur  The presumed or actual "author" of a film, usually identified as the director. The term is also sometimes used in an evaluative sense to distinguish good filmmakers (auteurs) from bad ones. Identifying the director as the film's "author" and evaluating the film as the work of an auteur has a long history but it became a prominent issue after the 1940s, particularly in French and English-language film criticism.
avance sur recettes  ("advance of receipts")A government policy of loaning money to a film project on the basis of anticipated ticket sales. The system came into use in France after World War II and provided a model for other countries' film-financing policies.
axis of action  In the continuity editing system, the imaginary line that passes from side to side through the main actors, defining the spatial relations of all the elements of the scene as being to the right or left. The camera is not supposed to cross the axis at a cut and thus reverse those spatial relations. The axis is also called the "180-degree line" (see 180-degree system).
backlighting  Illumination cast onto the figures in the scene from the side opposite the camera, usually creating a thin outline of light on the figures' edge.
block booking  An arrangement in which the distributor forces exhibitors to rent several films in order to get the most desirable ones. Common in the U.S. film industry after the 1910s, the practice was declared illegal in the "Paramount decision" of 1948.
camera angle  The position of the frame in relation to the subject it shows: above it, looking down (a high angle); horizontal, on the same level (a straight-on angle); looking up (a low angle).
camera movement  The onscreen impression that the framing is changing with respect to the scene being photographed. This is usually caused by the cameras being physically moved, but it may also be caused by a zoom lens or certain special effects. See also crane shot, pan, tilt, tracking shot.
canted framing  A view in which the frame is not level; either the right or the left side is lower, causing objects in the scene to appear tipped.
cel animation  Animation that uses a series of drawings in pieces of celluloid, called "cels" for short. Slight changes between the drawings combine to create an illusion of movement.
cinematography  A general term for all the manipulations of the film strip by the camera in the shooting phase and by the laboratory in the developing phase.
close-up  A framing in which the scale of the object shown is relatively large. Most commonly, a close-up shows a person's head from the neck up, or a medium-size object.
closure  The degree to which the ending of a narrative film reveals the effects of all the causal events and resolves (or "closes off") all lines of action.
collage  A film style that assembles footage from widely disparate sources, often juxtaposing staged fictional scenes with newsreel, animation, or other sorts of material. Explored by experimental filmmakers such as Joseph Cornell in the 1930s, it became a major resource for the avant-garde and political filmmaking of the 1960s.
compilation film  A genre of documentary cinema that draws together news footage from various sources in order to convey a large-scale process, such as a war or a social change. Widely used in government and public-affairs documentaries of the sound era, the compilation film was also subjected to experimental treatment by the French Lettrists and Bruce Conner.
continuity editing  A system of cutting to maintain continuous and clear narrative action. Continuity editing relies upon matching action screen direction, and figures' positions from shot to shot. For specific techniques of continuity editing, see axis of action, cut-in, establishing shot, eyeline match, intercutting, match on action, reestablishing shot, screen direction, shot/reverse shot.
crane shot  A shot in which a change of framing is accomplished by having the camera above the ground and moving up, down, or laterally through the air.
crosscutting.  See intercutting.
cut  (1) In filmmaking, the joining of two strips of film together with a splice. (2) In the finished film, an instantaneous change form one framing to another. See also jump cut.
cut-in  An instantaneous shift from a distant framing to a closer view of some portion of the same space.
cycle  A relatively short-lived fashion for certain subgenres within a genre: e.g., the "adult" Westerns in Hollywood during the 1950s or the films about heroic gangsters in the 1980s Hong Kong cinema.
dedramatization  In narrative filmmaking, the strategy of minimizing suspense, emotional high points, and physical action in favor of low-key character portrayal, temps morts, and an emphasis on surroundings. Commonly used in European art cinema of the post-World War II era, often to explore character psychology, evoke mood, or bring out environmental details.
deep focus  A use of the camera lens and lighting that keeps both the close and distant planes in sharp focus.
deep space  An arrangement of mise-en-scène elements so that there is a considerable distance between the plane closest to the camera and the one farthest away. Any or all of these planes may be in focus.
depth of field  The measurements of the closest and farthest planes in front of the camera lens between which everything will be in sharp focus. A depth of field from 5 to 16 feet, e.g., would mean everything closer than 5 feet and farther than 16 feet would be out of focus.
diegetic sound  Any voice, musical passage, or sound effect presented as originating from a source within the film's world.
diorama  A nineteenth-century entertainment in which the spectators sat in a circular room and viewed long transparent paintings that seemed to move as the lighting changed.
direct sound  Music, noise, and speech recorded from the event at the moment of filming; the opposite of postsynchronization. Early sound films and Direct Cinema documentaries emphasized direct sound.
dissolve  A transition between two shots during which the first image gradually disappears while the second image gradually appears. For a moment the two images blend briefly in superimposition.
distance of framing  The apparent distance of the frame from the mise-en-scène elements; also called "camera distance" and "shot scale." See also close-up, extreme close-up, medium shot.
distribution  One of the three branches of the film industry; the process of supplying films to the places where they will be shown. See also exhibition, production.
dolly  A camera support with wheels, used in making tracking shots.
dubbing  The process of replacing part or all of the voices on the sound track in order to correct mistakes or rerecord dialogue. See also postsynchronization.
editing  (1) In filmmaking, the task of selecting and joining camera takes. (2) In the finished film, the set of techniques that governs the relations among shots.
ellipsis  In narrative, the omission of certain scenes or portions of the action.
elliptical editing  Editing that omits portions of the action often with the purpose of startling the viewer or creating questions about what occurred in the missing stretches.
establishing shot  A shot, usually involving a distant framing, that shows the spatial relations among the important figures, objects and setting in a scene.
exhibition  One of the three branches of the film industry; the process of showing the finished film to audiences. See also distribution, production.
experimental cinema  Filmmaking that avoids the conventions of mass-entertainment film and seeks to explore unusual aspects of the medium and/or suppressed or taboo subject matter. When experimental films present plots, these are frequently predicted upon dreams or symbolic journeys, but often experimental films avoid narrative form altogether, exploring lyric, associational, descriptive, or other formal means.
extreme close-up  A framing that enlarges a small detail, such as an eye or a line of newsprint.
eyeline match  A cut obeying the axis of action principle, in which the first shot shows a person looking off in one direction and the second shows a nearby space containing what he or she sees. If the person looks to the left, the following shot should imply that the looker is offscreen right.
fade  (1) Fade-in: A dark screen that gradually brightens as a shot appears. (2) Fade-out: A shot that gradually darkens as the screen goes black. Occasionally fade-outs brighten to pure white or to a color.
fill light  Illumination from a source less bright than the key light, used to soften deep shadows in a scene. See also three-point lighting.
film noir  ("dark film")A term applied by French critics to a type of American film, usually in the detective and thriller genres, with low-key lighting and a somber mood. Film noir was most prevalent in the 1940s and 1950s, though it was revived occasionally later.
film stock  The strip of material upon which a series of film frames is registered. It consists of a clear base coated on one side with a light-sensitive emulsion.
filter  A piece of glass or gelatin placed in front of the camera or printer lens to alter the light striking the film in the aperture.
flashback  An alteration of story order in which events occurring in the present are interrupted by the showing of events that took place earlier.
flashforward  An alteration of story order in which the plot presentation moves forward to future events and then returns to the present.
focal length  The distance from the center of the lens to the point at which the light rays meet in sharp focus. The focal length determines the perspective relations of the space represented on the flat screen. See also normal lens, telephoto lens, wide-angle lens.
focus  The degree to which light rays coming from the same part of an object through different parts of the lens converge at the same point on the film frame, creating sharp outlines and distinct textures.
frame  A single image on the strip of film. When a series of frames is projected onto a screen in quick succession, the spectator sees an illusory movement.
framing  The use of the edges of the film frame to select and to compose what will be visible onscreen.
front projection  A composite process whereby footage meant to appear as the background of a shot is projected from the front onto a screen. Figures in the foreground are filmed in front of the screen as well. See also rear projection.
frontality  In staging, the positioning of figures so that they face the viewer.
gauge  The width of the film strip, measured in millimeters. The standard gauges in film history are 8mm, 16mm, 35mm, and 70mm.
genres  Various types of films that audiences and filmmakers recognize by their recurring conventions. Common genres are horror films, gangster films, and Westerns.
graphic match  Two successive shots joined so as to create a strong similarity of compositional elements, such as color or shape.
hand-held camera  The use of the camera operator's body as a camera support, either holding it by hand or using a harness. Seen in some silent films, such as Abel Gance's Napoléon, but more common in Direct Cinema documentaries and fiction films from the 1960s on.
hard lighting  Illumination that creates sharp-edge shadows.
height of framing  The distance of the camera above the ground, regardless of its angle to the horizontal.
high-key lighting  Illumination that creates comparatively little contrast between light and dark areas of the shot. Shadows are fairly transparent and brightened by fill light.
horizontal integration  A practice in which a company in one sector of the motion-picture industry acquires or gains control over other companies in that sector. For example, a production company may expand by purchasing other production firms. See also vertical integration.
intellectual montage  The juxtaposition of a series of images to create an abstract idea not suggested by any one image. Pioneered by Soviet Montage directors, particularly Sergei Eisenstein, it returned to widespread use in experimental cinema and left-wing cinema of the 1960s.
intercutting  Editing that alternates shots of two or more lines of action occurring in different places, usually simultaneously. Used synonymously with crosscutting.
iris  A round, moving mask that can (1) close down to end a scene (iris-out) or emphasize a detail or (2) open to begin a scene (iris-in) or reveal more space around a detail.
jump cut  An elliptical cut that appears to be an interruption of a single shot. Either the figures seem to change instantly against a constant background or the background changes instantly while the figures remain constant. See also elliptical editing.
key light  In the three-point lighting system, the brightest illumination coming onto the scene. See also backlighting, fill light.
linearity  In a narrative, the clear motivation of a series of causes and effects that progress without significant digressions, delays, or irrelevant interpolations.
long shot  A framing in which the scale of the object shown is small. A standing human figure would appear nearly the height of the screen.
long take  A shot that continues for an unusually lengthy time. Rare in silent cinema, the long take became more significant in the 1930s and 1940s, especially as used by Jean Renoir and Orson Welles. It soon became a common technique in films throughout the world. See also plan-séquence.
low-key lighting  Illumination that creates strong contrast between light and dark areas of the shot, with deep shadows and little fill light.
Majors  A term for the most powerful film companies in the U.S. industry. In the 1920s, the Majors were also knows as the "Big Three" and consisted of Paramount-Publix, Loew's (MGM), and First National. During the 1930s, the Majors (now the "Big Five") were MGM, Paramount, 20th Century-Fox, Warner Bros., and RKO. Before 1948, the Majors achieved their status because they had a high degree of vertical integration. Today the Majors consist of several production-distribution companies owned by media conglomerates, such as Universal Vivendi and AOL Time-Warner.
mask  An opaque screen placed in the camera or printer that blocks part of the frame and changes the shape of the image. As seen on the screen, most masks are black, although they can be white or colored See also iris.
masking  In exhibition, stretches of black fabric that frame the theater screen. Masking may be adjusted according to the aspect ratio of the film to be projected.
match on action  A continuity cut that joins two shots of the same gesture, making it appear to continue uninterrupted.
matte shot  A type of process shot in which different areas of the image (usually actors and setting) are photographed separately and combined in laboratory work.
medium shot  A framing in which the scale of the object shown is of moderate size. A human figure seen from the waist up would fill most of the screen.
Minors  From the 1920s to the 1950s, significant Hollywood production companies that did not own theaters. Also known as the "Little Three," the Minors consisted of Universal, Columbia, and United Artists. See also Majors.
mise-en-scène  All the elements placed in front of the camera to be photographed: the settings and props, lighting costumes and makeup, and figure behavior.
mixing  Combining two or more sound tracks by rerecording them onto a single track.
modernism  A broad trend in twentieth-century art and literature emphasizing aesthetic innovation and themes that comment upon contemporary life. Modernist art flaunts difficult, often aggressive or disruptive, forms and styles; it frequently challenges traditional "realistic" art and criticizes mass popular entertainment. Thematically, modernism displays a fascination with technology, city life, and problems of personal identity. It embraces both political critique and spiritual exploration. Expressionism, surrealism, and atonal music are some typical manifestations of modernism. Modernism's impact has been felt in experimental cinema, art cinema, and some mainstream commercial filmmaking.
montage  (1) A synonym for editing. (2) An approach to editing developed by the Soviet filmmakers of the 1920s. Soviet Montage emphasizes dynamic, often discontinuous, relationships between shots. It also emphasizes intellectual montage.
montage sequence  A segment of a film that summarizes a topic or compresses a passage of time into brief symbolic or typical images. Frequently dissolves, fades, superimpositions, and wipes are used to link the shots in a montage sequence.
motif  An element in a film that is repeated in a significant way.
movement  A group of filmmakers working in a common period and place who share some distinctive presumptions about how films should be made. Typically, the films of a movement share formal, stylistic, and thematic features. Some movements, such as French Surrealism of the 1920s, can be seen as fairly unified; others, such as the French New Wave of the late 1950s, are comparatively loose.
nickelodeon boom  Beginning in 1905, a period of rapid expansion in the number of small, inexpensive store-front theaters showing programs of short films. During the 1910s, nickelodeons disappeared as larger theaters were built.
nondiegetic sound  Sound, such as mood music or a narrator's commentary, represented as coming from a source outside the world of the narrative (the "diegesis").
normal lens  A lens that shows objects without severely exaggerating or reducing the depth of the scene's planes. In theatrical filmmaking, a normal lens is 35mm to 50mm. See also telephoto lens, wide-angle lens.
oligopoly  An economic situation in which a few companies control a market, often cooperating with each other to keep out new firms. In the U.S. film industry after the 1920s, the Majors and the Minors constituted an oligopoly.
180-Degree system  In the continuity approach to editing, the dictate that the camera should stay on one side of the action to ensure consistent spatial relations between objects to the right and left of the frame. The 180-degree line is the same as the axis of action. See also continuity editing, screen direction.
overlapping editing  Cuts that repeat part or all of an action, thus expanding the duration of the action on screen.
pan  A camera movement in which the camera body swivels to the right or left. The onscreen effect is of scanning the space horizontally.
pan-and-zoom technique  A way of substituting for cutting into and out of a scene; continuous pans and zooms concentrate attention on significant aspects of a scene. Rossellini pioneered this technique in the late 1950s, and it became widespread during the 1960s. Often the pan-and-zoom technique enables the director to create a long take. See also zoom lens.
pixillation  A form of animation in which three-dimensional objects, often people, are made to move in staccato bursts through the use of stop-action cinematography.
plan-séquence  ("sequence shot")A French term for a scene handled in a single shot, usually a long take.
point-of-view (POV) shot  A shot taken with the camera placed approximately where a character's eye would be, showing what the character would see. A POV shot is usually preceded or followed by a shot of the character looking.
postsynchronization  The process of adding sound to images after they have been shot and assembled. This can include dubbing voices, as well as inserting diegetic music or sound effects. Contemporary fiction films are often postsynchronized. The technique is the opposite of direct sound.
process shot  Any shot involving rephotography to combine two or more images into one or to create a special effect; also called "composite shot." See also front projection, matte shot, rear projection, special effects.
production  One of the three branches of the film industry; the process of creating a film. See also distribution, exhibition.
protectionism  A government policy that defends national filmmaking from competition by foreign imports. Typical protectionist policies are quotas on the number of films that may be imported or shown, requirements that theater time be set aside for the domestic product, and forms of financial aid to domestic production.
racking focus  Shifting the area of sharp focus from one plane to another during a shot. The effect on the screen is called "rack focus."
rear projection  A technique for combining a foreground action with a background action filmed earlier. The foreground is filmed in a studio, against a screen; the background imagery is projected from behind the screen. The technique is the opposite of front projection.
reestablishing shot  A return to a view of an entire space after a series of closer shots following the establishing shot.
reflexivity  A tendency, characteristic of cinematic modernism, to call attention to the fact that the film is an artifact or an illusion. Advocates of reflexivity often suggest that while mainstream cinema encourages the viewer to see the onscreen world as real, a more self-conscious cinema will expose the ways in which movie makers create this effect of reality.
reframing  Using short pan or tilt movements of the camera to keep figures onscreen or centered.
rotoscope  A machine that projects live-action motion-picture film frames one by one onto a drawing pad or cel so that an animator can trace the figures in each frame. The aim is to achieve more realistic movement in an animated cartoon.
run  A distinct period during which a film is exhibited following its release. In Hollywood's studio era, a film's "first run" in major urban theaters would be followed by subsequent runs in neighborhoods or small towns. Today, after a film's first theatrical run, later runs include in-flight screenings, screenings in budget theaters, 16mm nontheatrical screenings, cable television premieres, and videocassette release.
runaway production  The practice of Hollywood film companies shooting their films abroad after World War II. This was done partly so save money and partly to utilize the rental income ("frozen funds") that European governments had forbidden U.S. companies to withdraw from the country.
scenics  Early nonfiction short films that displayed picturesque or exotic locales.
screen direction  The right-left relationships in a scene, set up in an establishing shot and determined by the position of characters and objects in the frame, the directions of movement, and the characters' eyelines. Continuity editing attempts to keep screen direction consistent between shots. See also axis of action, eyeline match, 180-degree system.
sequence shot  See plan-sèquence.
shallow focus  A restricted depth of field, which keeps only those planes close to the camera in sharp focus; the opposite of deep focus.
shallow space  An arrangement in which the action is staged with relatively little depth; the opposite of deep space.
shot  (1) In shooting, one uninterrupted run of the camera to expose a series of frames. Also called a take. (2) In the finished film, one uninterrupted image with a single static or mobile framing.
shot/reverse shot  Two or more shots edited together that alternate characters, typically in a conversation situation. In continuity editing, characters in one framing usually look left, in the other framing, right. Over-the-shoulder framings are common in shot/reverse-shot editing.
side lighting  Lighting coming from one side of a person or object, usually in order to create a sense of volume, to bring out surface textures, or to fill in areas left shadowed by light from another source.
soft lighting  Illumination that avoids harsh bright and dark areas, creating a gradual transition from highlights to shadows.
sound-over  Any sound that is not represented as being directly audible within the space and time of the images on the screen. A spoken narration (called "voice-over") is a common example.
sound perspective  The sense of a sound's position in space, yielded by volume, timbre, pitch, and, in multichannel reproduction systems, binaural information.
special effects  A general term for various photographic manipulations that create illusory spatial relations in the shot, such as superimposition, a matte shot, and rear projection.
storyboard  A tool used in planning film production, consisting of comic-strip-like drawings of individual shots, with descriptions written below each drawing.
studio production  A manner of filmmaking in which an enterprise creates motion pictures on a mass scale. Usually labor is divided on the basis of extensive preparation, guided by the shooting script and other written plans. Typically, some personnel, such as directors and cinematographers, work on one film at a time, while other staff, such as screenwriters or specialized technicians, work on several films more or less simultaneously. The Hollywood companies between the 1920s and 1950s exemplify studio production.
style  The systematic and salient uses of film techniques characteristic of a film or a group of films (e.g., a filmmaker's work or a film movement).
superimposition  The exposure of more than one image on the same film strip.
synchronous sound  Sound that is matched temporally with the movements occurring in the images, as when dialogue corresponds to lip movements.
take  In filmmaking, the shot produced by one uninterrupted run of the camera. One shot in the final film may be chosen from among several takes of the same action.
technique  Any aspect of the film medium that can be manipulated in making a film.
telephoto lens  A lens of long focal length that affects a scene's perspective by enlarging distant planes and making them seem close to the foreground planes. In 35mm filming, a telephoto lens is 75mm or more in length. See also normal lens, wide-angle lens.
temps morts ("dead moments")  A French phrase used to describe a manner of staging and filming that stresses long intervals between actions or lines of dialogue in which no major narrative development takes place. A temps mort might be a lengthy pause in a dialogue scene or an extended sequence showing a character walking through a landscape. Usually temps mort are used to suggest realism, characterization, or mood. The device, seen occasionally in silent films and exploited by Italian Neorealism after World War II, has become widely used in the European art cinema since the 1950s.
three-point lighting  A common arrangement using three directions of light on a scene: from behind the subjects (backlighting), from one bright source (key light), and from a less bright source (fill light).
tilt  A camera movement in which the camera body swivels upward or downward on a stationary support. It produces a mobile framing that scans the space vertically.
top lighting  Lighting coming from above a person or object, usually in order to outline the upper areas of the figure or to separate it more clearly form the background.
topicals  Early short films sowing current events, such as parades, disasters, government ceremonies, and military maneuvers. Most topicals recorded the action as it was occurring, but many restaged the event.
tracking shot  A camera movement in which the camera body moves through space in a horizontal path. On the screen, it produces a mobile framing that travels through space forward, backward, or to one side.
typage  A performance technique of Soviet Montage cinema in which an actor is given features believed to characterize a social group, often an economic class.
underlighting  Illumination from a point below the figures in the scene.
vertical integration  A practice in which a single company engages in two or more of the activities of the film industry (production, distribution, and exhibition). In the U.S. film industry, the Majors were vertically integrated from the 1920s on, owning production facilities, distribution companies, and theaters. The industry's vertical integration was judged monopolistic by the Supreme Court in the Paramount decision of 1948. In the 1980s, the practice reemerged when production and distribution companies began acquiring interests in theater chains and cable television concerns.
whip pan  An extremely fast movement of the camera from side to side, which causes the image to blur briefly into a set of indistinct horizontal lines. Often an imperceptible cut will join two whip pans to create a transition between scenes.
wide-angle lens  A lens of short focal length that affects a scene's perspective by bulging straight lines near the edges of the frame and exaggerating the distance between foreground and background planes. In 35mm filming, a wide-angle lens is 30mm or less. See also normal lens, telephoto lens.
widescreen formats  Screen ratios wider than the Academy ratio, which is standardized at 1.37:1 in the United States. Important widescreen formats are the U.S. standard of 1.85:1, the CinemaScope and anamorphic Panavision ratio of 2.35:1, and the 70mm ratio of 2.2:1. See also anamorphic lens, aspect ratio.
wipe  A transition between shots in which a line passes across the screen, gradually eliminating the first shot and replacing it with the next one.
zoom lens  A lens with a focal length that can be changed during a shot. A shift toward the telephoto range (zoom-in) enlarges the central portions of the image and flattens its planes together. A shift toward the wide-angle range (zoom-out) deenlarges the central portions of the image and separates planes more. See also telephoto lens, wide-angle lens.

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