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Mini Cinema Dictionary: words and expressions used in the industry

Jorge Sette By Jorge Sette Published on March 23, 2016

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There are a great number of very interesting books on all aspects of moviemaking. Today, if you are interested in the subject, you can educate yourself reasonably well even without going to film school. Of course, only practice makes perfect, but in the meantime, why not read as much as you can on the various topics related to the industry. I’ve already written a post on suggested books for movie lovers: please click on the following link to access it: https://www.bookwitty.com/text/56841942acd0d02b12c4215c

For those who don't have time to read a whole book on cinema, or don't need to know much about it, I put together the following list of movie-related entries, which will hopefully help you understand the subject better even if you only wish to become a more informed moviegoer. Unlike more traditional dictionaries, the following one will not be done in alphabetical order. I believe if you understand certain concepts before others, things get easier:

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1. Screenplay: it may be funny, but many people don’t know that movies are born in written format. Script writers anticipate everything you are going to watch by putting it down on paper first. Normally a script has three parts or acts: the first act, which sets up the story and pushes the hero towards the action; the second, in which the hero finds his allies and enemies and passes through various tests and overcomes obstacles in order to accomplish his objectives. This is the longest act, usually; and the third act, which brings the climax and the resolution to the story. Each act has sequences (parts of a film which deal with tightly connected actions or ideas), composed of different scenes. The script specifies each scene with headings like the following: EXT. SOCCER FIELD – NIGHT (meaning the scene takes place outdoors, more precisely on a soccer field, and the time of  day is night. Or INT. JORGE’S LIVING ROOM – DAY. This would mean indoors, at Jorge’s living room, daytime.

2. Character and plot: the story has characters who take part in a plot or storyline. The storyline provides the structure to the movie. It’s the what, how, when, where and why things happen. The characters are the conductors of the story or, alternatively, the ones who stand passively at the receiving ends of the events. Characters fall into many categories: they can be heroes (the main character, who usually behaves more actively and moves the story forward; he has a goal to achieve); villains (or shadows: the main opponents of the characters); the hero's allies and love interests; the villain's allies. Sometimes heroes count on mentors as well: wiser and older people who help them along their journey. For more info about the mythical structure of storytelling and movies, please refer to my previous posts: https://www.bookwitty.com/text/565c736cacd0d02e64953c2a and https://www.bookwitty.com/text/565c7568acd0d02e64953c32 .

3. Mise-en-scène: that’s the look of the scene, the setup. What the film captures: environments, furniture, lighting, characters, costumes, etc. It’s the physical place in which the characters move, the props they use, where the action takes place.

4. Montage or editing: this refers to the cutting and splicing of the raw footage. After the movie is shot, directors and editors go through all the sequences and takes, choosing the right ones and putting them together in a certain order. Of course, the general guidelines to put the movie together are found in the script. But a scene may have had many shootings and takes to it, and, as a result, they need to be selected and organized for greater impact.

5. Blocking: the director needs to decide, generally with the help of the actors, where they are going to be in the scene, how they are going to move in the space. Also, he needs to decide on the position of the cameras, and how the set will be lit. All these are part of the blocking of a scene.

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6. On location or on a sound stage: movies can be shot either on location, in the real world, or on a sound stage in a studio, where reality is replicated. It’s easier to control the many aspects of a movie or a scene if it’s shot in a studio, but shooting on location adds spice and naturalness to a movie. So these are decisions the director and the producers have to make.

7. Directors and producers: the director is the maestro, the person who makes decisions about the more artistic aspects of a movie, the person who guides the actors, blocks the scene, thinks of camera angles and positions. Producers, on the other hand, are bean counters, the money guys. They control the budget, they look after the costs and expenses; deal with salaries and more administrative aspects of the movie. There is always a tug-of-war between directors and producers. The common myth is the more control a producer has over a movie the more commercial the end result will be. When directors have more control, they are called auters, and, as a consequence, the movie carries a more personal vision and becomes more like art. That is not always true, though.

8. Looping: actors are recorded while they are in action with microphones. Sometimes, however, the sound is not perfect. There is background noise or the actor’s delivery was not clear enough. In these cases, actors are called back after the movie has finished to re-record or dub some parts of it. They watch themselves on a screen and record their lines trying to match their mouth movements as close as possible. European actors allegedly do that better than Hollywood ones, as they are more used to the technique.

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9. Shoots and takes: shoot usually refers to the distance and angle between the camera and the actor and the use of different lenses. Take is each repetition of a scene, as the movie is being shot. Professional directors expect the actors to rehearse their scenes first – this process may last days or weeks– but even when they get to the sound stage and actually film the scene, actors are often asked to repeat it a number of times. In the editing room, the director will decide on the best takes to be used for each scene.

10. Rushes or dailies: at the end of a shooting day, the director and maybe the actors like to see what was actually recorded on film. They may be pleasantly surprised with the result of their hard work, but there’s always the possibility of realizing that what was captured on film is not exactly what they planned. Rushes are a moment of truth. Although some mistakes may be corrected later in the editing room or in post-production, pickier directors may decide to reshoot whole scenes or sequences the following day to get the desired effect.

Of course, this is a very traditional way of talking about films. Some of these concepts may not apply when we are discussing more innovative or independent movies, the indies. But I believe this is a good introduction. If you feel you would like to add entries to this mini-dictionary, please use the commentaries section below.

Jorge Sette.

    Jorge Sette is Bookwitty's Regional Ambassador for South America. He represents the company, writing relevant content for the region, recruiting contributors, contacting partners and ... Show More

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