A Short Glossary of Film and Video Terms for the Visual Anthropologist

Compiled by Peter Biella



The term film is often used to indicate both film and video

16mm film: the Film stock typically selected by documentary mediamakers who do not wish to work in video; 16mm film is available in rolls (sometimes called Cores) that can run for 11 minutes without interruption

8: a Video grade

Anthropological consultant - Film personnel

Artificial light - see Light

Aspect ratio: the relationship between the height and width of a film or video Frame; 16mm and television currently have a 3 x 4 aspect ratio; Hollywood films, shot on 35mm film, have a greater width in their aspect ratio than does 16mm; when such films are broadcast on television, they sometimes have a letterbox aspect ratio, in which strips of black appear above and below the film, allowing the original aspect ratio to be reproduced

Audio: the video-maker's term for sound

Audio track: a term used in video production, which means Sound track

Available light - Light

AVID: the industry standard, high-end editing program for film and video on computer

Beta:  a Video grade

Beta-SP: a Video grade

Bounce light - Light

Break up: a video term indicating that the picture has somehow been electronically damaged and is not properly reproducing the intended image

Bright sound - Sound

Broadcast quality: the (rather flexible) definition of the Resolution of a finished video which the television industry requires; video of any resolution is capable of being broadcast ; 16mm film surpasses broadcast quality

Camera movement: any of a number of possible changes of a camera's position while film or video is running; a pan is equivalent to the turning of the head left or right; a tilt is equivalent to raising or lowering the head; in a dolly or tracking shot, the camera is brought forward or backward, left or right; these camera moves may occur simultaneously or independently of one another [see Subject movement]

Camera operator - Film personnel

Camera run: the material shot by a film or video camera during one uninterrupted exposure; also the length of time elapsed during that uninterrupted exposure [see take under Editing terms]

Camera speed: the speed at which film runs through a camera; in North America, the normal camera speed is 24 frames per second (fps); if film runs through the camera faster than 24 frames per second and is then projected at 24, motion will appear slow; if projection occurs at a faster frame per second rate than the original camera speed, motion will appear fast

Cinéma vérité:  a style of documentary filmmaking, introduced by the French in the early 1960s and championed by Jean Rouch; the style is characterized by Long takes, Synchronous sound, and the unashamed presence of the filmmaker; cinéma vérité means "cinema truth" but also "cinema newspaper," since it is a translation from the Russian "kino pravda" and Pravda was the name of the Soviet Communist Party newspaper

Cinematic: pertaining to film (and video) picture quality and picture aesthetic

Classic Hollywood editing - Editing styles

Camera set up: any of several compositional choices available to filmmakers, always specifying the distance between the camera and its subject; a close up picture composition covers full head and shoulders only; close up also refers to any similarly close composition; a medium shot covers from the waist to the top of the head; a long shot covers from foot to head; and extreme long shot reveals entire landscapes or cityscapes

Continuity cut - Cuts

Contrast: a description of a film or video image specifying the number of distinct shades of gray it contains; high contrast images have bright whites and dark blacks, but few shades of gray; in low contrast images, only shades of gray represent bright or dark black objects; normal contrast images render a pleasing, normal-seeming reproduction of the brights, grays and darks in an image

Core: a roll of film, so called because the rolled-up film is attached to a plastic core at its center

Course grain - Grain

Crisp sound - Sound

Crushed sound - Sound

CU - close up [see Camera set up]

Cut point:  video editing terminology for the instant at which a Cut occurs

Cuts: the moment in a film or video when the footage from one Camera run ceases to be viewed and another begins; several types of cuts are common: a match or continuity cut occurs when a movement that is seen to begin in Shot 1 is completed flawlessly in Shot 2; a jump cut occurs when movement from Shot 1 to Shot 2 is not reproduced smoothly; jump cuts also occur when little "bites" of time are inexplicably removed from a single Take; or when the camera seems to jump about for not apparent purpose

Deep focus - Focus

Depth of field - Depth of focus

Depth of focus: a characterization of a film or video image specifying the extent to which both near and far objects are clear, sharply delineated and in Focus

Develop: the process by which exposed film Footage is subjected to chemical baths whose function is to make the Latent image become visible

Diagesis: the Diagetic aspects of a film

Diagetic: pertaining to the storyline and story-elements of a film; coined by film theorist Christian Metz

Digital video: a Video grade, different from other video grades in that the picture is encoded digitally

Direct light - Light

Directional - Microphones

Director - Film personnel

Dissolve - Transitional cuts

Distorted sound - Sound

Documentary film (or video): a story is depicted on screen that is not as thoroughly preplanned, scripted and enacted as are Fiction films

Dolly - Camera movement

Double exposure: the intentional or unintentional superimposition of two moving pictures at the same time

Dub: the electronic transfer of sound or video from a source to a copy [see Over dub]

Dull sound - Sound

DV - Digital video

Éclair: the first portable 16mm film camera that permitted sound to be recorded synchronously without the burden of enormous sound-recording paraphernalia [see Nagra]

Editing stages: the progression of edited versions through which a film or video is taken as it approaches completion; a rough cut is an assemblage of Sequences or Footage in approximately correct order with unwanted Takes removed; a medium cut makes an effort to shorten footage down to the approximately desired length and to begin arranging the Sound tracks; when a film reaches the fine cut editing stage, all decisions have been reached: the shots are in the proper order and the sound tracks are completely arranged

Editing styles: any of a variety of fashions in film and video cutting; editing styles frequently change with new technologies and with innovations; one decade's styles look obsolete and foolish to a later decade; the Classic Hollywood editing style is characterized by the scrupulous use of match cuts (see Cuts) and Takes of less than 7 seconds; films between the 1930s and '40s best exemplify this style; Hollywood rarely uses montage editing, in which many images are rapidly juxtaposed together; montage was championed by the early Russian innovators; experimental editing also often includes montage Cuts which, well, don't necessarily make much sense; MTV editing is often an experimental combination of the Hollywood style and montage

Editor - Film personnel

ELS - extreme long shot [see Camera set up]

Emulsion: film emulsion is the material in which film Grain is suspended; during the manufacture of Film stock, emulsion is painted on one side; when film emulsion is struck by light, the film is exposed [see Exposure, Develop, Latent image]; video emulsion is the material in which iron oxide particles are suspended; during the manufacture of Video stock, the emulsion is painted on one side; when video emulsion is charged electronically by a video camera, the video is exposed [see Exposure]

Executive producer - Film personnel

Experimental editing - Editing styles

Exposure: the process by which Film- or Video stock are permitted to be effected by light [see Under exposure, Over exposure]; in film, the process of exposure is photo-chemical; in video, electrical

Extreme long shot - Camera set up

F/stop: the pupil-like mechanism in a camera lens that controls the amount of light which reaches the film or video tape; this device controls the Exposure of the film or tape

Fade in - Transitional cuts

Fade out - Transitional cuts

Fast film - Light sensitivity

Fast motion: the reproduction of movement in such a way that its duration is lengthened; may be achieved by a decrease in the Camera speed

Fiction film (or video): a preplanned, scripted and enacted story is depicted on screen [see Documentary film]

Fill light - Light

Film emulsion - Emulsion

Film personnel: the people responsible for all aspects of the creation of a film or video; the anthropological consultant frequently is originally inspired to make a film about his or her fieldwork and provides the entrée,contacts, script basics and theoretical premises for the work; ethnographic films typically only have an executive producer when they are made with a high budget for television; ordinarily, such films only have a producer, the person responsible for acquiring and delivering necessary money; the film/video director is responsible for the visual and acoustic design of the work; directors guide the actors or documentary subjects as well as the work of the crew; in small budget films (less than $200,000), the director is frequently also the producer and editor; the camera operator is responsible for making sure that film or tape flows properly through the camera, that the Exposures are correct, that compositions are attractive; often, the camera operator guides the sound recordist (or operator) since the two work very closely together; the recordist is responsible for the proper selection and placement of Microphones and is accountable for the quality of the audio during recording; larger crews also have a mixer (or sound mixer) who is responsible for adjusting the Sound levels of microphones; film gaffers are responsible for lighting, but are rarely found in documentary productions; a grip moves equipment; a gofer goes fer anything - especially coffee and donuts; the film editor, often in close collaboration with the director and consultant, shapes, trims and designs the Footage and Sound tracks into a finished work

Film sensitivity - Light sensitivity

Film speed: a measurement of the Light sensitivity of Film stock; measured numerically

Film stock: any of many types of film media, whether for still photography or filmmaking; the word stock indicates that the film has not yet been exposed to light [see Exposure]

FinalCut Pro:  a medium-quality digital editing computer application;  increasingly used by professional filmmakers in place of the far more expensive AVID editing system

Fine cut - Editing stages

Fine grain - Grain

Flat sound - Sound

Focus: a characterization of a film or video image specifying the sharpness and clarity of the objects depicted; deep focus indicates that near and far objects are all sharp and clearly delineated [seeDepth of focus]; soft or shallow focus indicates an image in which only objects at a particular distance from the camera are sharply delineated and the others are fuzzy and unclear

Footage descriptions: raw footage is the exposed and Developed film as it comes from the camera, uncut, unadorned; a take is the film or video footage acquired during one uninterrupted Camera run; in fiction filmmaking, many takes are often shot until the desired effect has been acquired; documentary filmmaking often does not have the luxury of retakes; a shot, in fiction and documentary film, is that segment of a take that ends up in the finished film; a shot may be much shorter than the take from which is was selected; many shots which appear in different parts of a film may be selected from the same take; a sequence in a fiction and documentary film may be composed of several shots but is always somehow complete in itself; a gag, a bit of business or the resolution of some issue may all be sequences; a scene in fiction and documentary, is the collection of one or more sequences which all take place in the same location at approximately the same time

Footage:  film or video tape exposed by a camera during Production

Frame: the smallest visible unit of a film or video picture; in film, it is usually 1/24th of a second; a video frame is usually 1/30th of a second [see Aspect ratio]

Freeze frame: in a finished film or video, the multiple reproduction of a single frame; the impression is that motion has been frozen and a still photograph has been made from the moving footage

FX - Sound effects

Gaffer - Film personnel

Gofer - Film personnel

Grade - Video grade

Grain: the particles of silver suspended in film Emulsion; grain prevents a projector's light from passing through the film and shadows from the grain constitute the image projected on a screen; film with fine grain has a polished look: the shadow-casting particles are tiny and hardly visible; fine grain film stock has low Light sensitivity; in film stock with course grain, the image's constituent particles are easily visible; course-grain stock is more Light sensitive and therefore tends more often to be used in Documentaries in which lighting cannot be controlled

Grip - Film personnel

Harsh light - Light

Heads:  a filmmaking term indicating the beginning of a film roll, take or shot; when a take or shot, equivalent to the video term In-point

Hi-8: a Video grade

High contrast - Contrast

High resolution - Resolution

Hollywood editing - Editing styles

HyperCard: a relatively low-end multimedia application program that allows edited videos [QuickTime movies] to be linked (via electronic footnotes) with text on one computer screen

In point - Heads

Indirect light - Light

Jump cut - Cuts

Key light - Light

Large grain - Grain, course

Latent image: the result of the exposure of light to the surface of Film stock; Grains of silver bromide, suspended in the film Emulsion, are "tagged" by light - a mystical process by which they are made aware in their hearts that light has reached them; when the film is subsequently Developed, the tagged grains turn into opaque particles of silver while those grains that were not exposed to light wash away

Light sensitivity:  a measurement of film or video's capacity to "see in the dark" - to be capable of "properly" exposing a subject lit at different levels of light intensity; highly sensitive film is "fast" and has large grain; film that is relatively insensitive to light is "slow" and has fine grain [see Grain].

Light:  photon emissions from radiant sources that pass through camera lenses and expose Film or Video tape; filmmakers are enormously concerned with the quality of light and have named many types; soft or indirect light is that which reaches a film subject not directly from the light source (e.g. a lamp or the sun) but rather after it has been bounced onto the subject from a secondary object (e.g. a wall); indirect light disguises blemishes and surfaces imperfections because it minimizes shadows; direct light, in contrast, emphasizes surface variations because of the shadows it casts; available light is that which exists without intervention by filmmakers; it is thought to be desirable to use available light in many documentary situations because the process of putting up lights disturbs unprofessional film subjects and because shooting with available light proceeds much more quickly; artificial light is that which filmmakers bring to a filming situation; a key light is that which filmmakers shine directly onto their subjects, casting direct shadows; a fill light is that which filmmakers use to soften the shadows thus created; fills may be either direct or indirect

Lip sync:  the property of a film or video to render the words spoken by someone on camera to be heard Synchronously with lip movements

Long shot - Camera set up

Long take:   a shot of film or video that has a lengthy duration on screen; since the Hollywood average shot length is 6 seconds, the concept of the long take is subjective and relative; it may be 10 seconds or 11 minutes [see Short take and Footage descriptions].

Low contrast - Contrast

Low resolution - Resolution

LS - long shot [see Camera set up]

Match cut - Cuts

Medium cut - Editing stages

Medium shot - Camera set up

Microphones:  devices used in the recording of sound in film and video production; omni-directional microphones indiscriminately record sounds which reach them from all directions; shotgun (also called directional) microphones may be aimed precisely and exclude much sound which emanates from other directions; in documentary film and video recording, where sounds typically emanate from all directions at once, shotgun directional mikes are almost invariably preferred [see Signal to noise]

Mike - Microphone

Mixer - Film personnel

Montage - Editing styles

MOS:  picture that is recorded independently of any sound recording; the term is an homage to the German director Erik von Stroheim who when working in Hollywood would scream out on the set, "Shoot this Mit Out Sound!"

MS - medium shot [see Camera set up]

MTV editing - Editing styles

Muddy sound - Sound

Nagra: the first portable tape recorder that permitted sound and picture to be acquired synchronously without the burden of enormous sound-recording paraphernalia [see Éclair]

Noise - Signal to noise

Non-diagetic: pertaining to aspects of a film and the production of a film that are not parts of the storyline or story elements; coined by film theorist Christian Metz

Normal contrast - Contrast

Observational filmmaking:  a style of Documentary in which the filmmaker attempts to be relatively unobtrusive and not to influence the events which occur before the camera; most popular in the early 1970s

Omni-directional - Microphones

On camera:  anything, but usually a person, that appears in the film or video picture

Out of sync:  the property of a film or video's Picture and Sound tracks to be played back in such a way that sounds are not heard at the precise moment they are seen to have been produced; this effect is often used comically, or to indicate amateur filmmaking

Out point: see Tails

Over dub:  the electronic transfer of one sound so that is it heard simultaneously with another [see Dub, Sound track]

Over exposure:  a description of a film or video image in which such an excess of light has been allowed to reach the Film stock or Video tape that objects On camera have been "burned out" - rendered white; usually, over exposure is accidental; sometimes it is intentional to create a sense of authenticity, humor or amateurishness; sometimes, too, part of an image is over exposed while another part properly exposed [see Exposure]

Over-modulated sound - Sound

Pan - Camera movement

Picture track - Picture

Picture:  a filmmaking term referring to the film image as distinct from the Sound track

Post-production - Production

Premiere:  a relatively low-end application program that allows video and sound to be edited on a computer

Pre-production - Production

Producer - Film personnel

Production:  a general term for film and video-making; also, that specific stage of the filmmaking process in which picture and sound are collected; the pre-production stage includes scripting, location scouting and fund-raising; post-production is the editing stage

QuickTime:  the industry standard application with which videos are translated into computer-useable, digital movies

Raw footage - Footage

Real time: the actual time elapsed during an event; when a film or video is shot in real time, every moment is faithfully reproduced on screen; real time may be reproduced by allowing the camera to record in a single Camera run, or it may be reconstructed through the edited combination of the material shot by several cameras

Resolution: a measurement of the extent to which film or video continues to render clarity and sharp focus as it is magnified ; when resolution is high, film and video tend to be less sensitive to light than when resolution is low [see Light sensitivity]

Rough cut - Editing stages

Saturation:  a description of a film or video image specifying the intensity of its reproduction of color; like Contrast, saturation may be low, normal or high

Scene - Footage descriptions

Sensitivity - Light sensitivity

Sequence - Footage descriptions

Sequence shot:  a shot [see Footage descriptions] in which a single action or event is reproduced with a single run of the camera; championed in writings by Tim Asch and John Marshall

Shallow focus - Focus

Short take: a shot of film or video that has a brief duration on screen; usually less than 3 seconds; see Long take and Footage descriptions

Shot - Footage descriptions

Shot length: the length of time that a single shot [seeFootage descriptions] is visible in a film or video

Shotgun - Microphones

Signal to noise:  the ratio between wanted (signal) and unwanted (noise) data; the signal may be picture or sound in film and video-making; since "wanted" data is subjectively defined, any sound or picture may be signal; a high signal to noise ratio indicates data with very little unwanted material; the purpose of shotgun Microphones is to eliminate unwanted noise from a sound recording by focussing solely on the signal

Skin tone:  a characterization of a film or video image specifying the brightness or darkness of a face reproduced on camera; the quality of a proper film Exposure is often judged by the accuracy of skin tone reproduction

Slow film - Light sensitivity

Slow motion: the reproduction of movement in such a way that its duration is lengthened;  may be achieved either by Step printing or the increase of the Camera speed

Soft focus - Focus

Soft light - Light

Sound: the variation of waves, usually airwaves, that effects the inner ear and can thus be perceived; in film and video-making, sounds of many qualities are defined; when a recording machine allows more sound to be recorded than the machine is capable of rendering with analog accuracy, the result is distorted or over-modulated: the reproduction is poor, words cannot be distinguished; when a sound recording is bright or crisp, the higher frequencies have been reproduced clearly and lower frequencies may not be; a tinny reproduction of sound has excluded low frequencies to such an extent that the effect is very unnatural; when sound is dull or muddy, lower frequencies are recorded to the exclusion of high ones; when sound is flat or crushed, neither high nor low frequencies have been reproduced

Sound effects: sound recordings that are used to accompany the picture in a finished film, but are not recorded at the same time that the picture was recorded; usually sound effects are so cleverly produced and edited that it is impossible to know that they are "faked;" sometimes, however, for humor or contrast, sound effects may be laid over a picture in such a way that their foreignness is obvious

Sound level:  the volume at which a sound is recorded or Dubbed

Sound mix:  the process, conducted near the end of film and video editing, in which separate Sound tracks are combined together into a single track

Sound mixer - Film personnel

Sound operator - Film personnel

Sound recordist - Film personnel

Sound track:  in film and video, the sound that is heard accompanying the picture; also, in the process of producing a film or video, any of several separately-edited strips of sound, to be mixed down [see Sound mix] or kept separate for stereo

SoundEdit 16: the industry standard, high-end editing program for digital audio on computer

Speed - Film speed, Camera speed

Step printing: a technique which allows motion to appear slowed down by the reproduction of the individual frames of a film or video shot several times each

Stock - Film stock, Video stock

Stop frame - Freeze frame

Straight cut - Transitional cuts

Subject movement: as distinct from Camera movement, subject movement occurs when people or things visible On camera are depicted as moving

Super / superimposition - Transitional cuts

S-VHS: a Video grade

Sync - Synchronous

Synchronous:  the property of a film or video's Picture and Sound tracks to be played back together in such a way that sounds are heard at the precise moment they are seen to have been produced [seeLip sync, Out of sync]; virtually all video is shot with sound recorded synchronously;  film is frequently recorded by itself, without sound; the illusion of synchronous sound can be created by the careful manufacture and editing of Sound effects

Tails: a filmmaking term indicating the end of a film roll, take or shot; in the case of takes or shots, equivalent to the video term Out point

Take - Footage descriptions

Tilt - Camera movement

Tinny sound - Sound

Track - Sound track

Tracking shot - Camera movement

Transitional cuts:  as distinct from match and continuityCuts,transitional cuts often indicate to the viewer that a new scene [Footage descriptions] is to begin; a wipe is a cut in which the rapid movement of something fully across the screen is immediately followed by a new shot; in a dissolve (also called a superimposition or super)transition, one image slowly disappears as another simultaneously becomes visible; in a fade out to black or white, the image simply disappears and a new shot and scene follows; a fade in begins a new scene from a black or white screen

Under exposure: a description of a film or video image in which insufficient light is reproduced to allow the viewer to see objects On camera; usually, under exposure is accidental; sometimes it is intentional to create mystery or a sense of authenticity, humor or amateurishness; sometimes, too, part of an image is under exposed while another part properly exposed [see Exposure]

VHS:  a Video grade, that which is used by the video rental industry

Video or Video track: terms used in video production referring to the image as distinct from the Audio track

Video emulsion - Emulsion

Video grades: any of many sizes, costs and qualities of video media; 8 and VHS video grades have low Resolution and are usually not used by professionals; the Hi-8, DV [Digital video] and S-VHS grades have superior Resolution and are sometimes used in low-budget professional work; Beta and Beta-SP are grades currently among the highest Resolution; they are usually the choice of professionals

Video stock - Video tape

Video tape: any of many grades of the video media [seeVideo grades]; the word stock indicates that the video has not yet been exposed to light [see Exposure]

Voice over: in a finished film or video, the use of a voice that is heard over (i.e. heard simultaneously with) a picture in which the speaker is not On camera

Wild sound: sound that has been recorded independently of the picture, typically to be used as a Sound effect

Wipe - Transitional cuts