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    Writer's Resources - Glossary of Terms - This is a list of terms seen in screenplays, films, and on this web page. If you see a term you didn't recognize or understand, it's hopefully in this list. If you notice a term you don't see on this list, please email me with your suggestion.

A

Action
The scene description, character movement, and sounds as described in a screenplay.
For example:
The sounds of TYPING rise above all the rest as MAX sits at his computer writing his essay. He stops to sigh. Looks at what he's written. Reaches over to the mouse. Highlights it all. And erases it.

AERIAL SHOT

Use only when necessary. This suggests a shot be taken from a plane or helicopter (not a crane). For example, if a scene takes place on a tall building, you may want to have an aerial shot of the floor the action takes place on.

ANGLE ON

A type of shot. This usually occurs in scenes taking place in large settings.
For example: if you're at a playground and little Billy is playing in the grass while his sister Jenny is playing on the structure. To get from a detail shot of Billy playing to Jenny playing you'd use "ANGLE ON STRUCTURE" to suggest a new shot featuring Jenny. You're still in the same location, but the director knows to point the camera a different direction.

Note: this is often implied by simple scene description. Use ANGLE ON with good purpose.

B

Beat
Many scripts will use the parenthetical "(beat)" to interrupt a line of dialog. A "beat" suggests the actor should pause a moment, in silence, before continuing the scene. "Beats" are often interchangeable with ellipses "..."

b.g. (background)

Used to describe anything occuring in a rear plane of action (the background as opposed to the main action or attention is focused in the foreground). Always use this term in lower case initials or written in full ("background"). For example: two people talk as Bill and Ted fight in the b.g.

C

Character
In a screenplay, the name appears in all caps the first time a character is introduced in the "Action." The character's name can then be written normally, in the action, the rest of the script.
For Example:
The limo pulls up to the curb. DAISY, an elderly woman sits in the car as MORGAN, the driver, steps out and opens the door for her. Daisy is dressed in evening-wear, ready for an Opera.

Character's names always appear in all CAPS when speaking. For proper margins, see the Format page.
For Example:

DAISY
You've been a darling, Morgan. Here's twenty dollars.

CLOSE ON

See also INSERT and Shot.

CLOSE ON is a shot description that strongly suggests a close-up on some object, action, or person (an expressive body part such as the face, or a fist).

May also be seen as CLOSEUP or CLOSE SHOT

CLOSER ANGLE

We move in for a new angle nearer to the subject. This is more of an editing term, but can be mentioned in the screenplay when necessary.

CONTINUOUS

Sometimes, instead of DAY or NIGHT at the end of a SLUGLINE/Location Description, you'll see CONTINUOUS. Basically, continuous refers to action that moves from one location to another without any interruptions in time. For example, in an action movie, the hero may run from the airport terminal into a parking garage. The sequence may include cuts, but the audience would perceive the action as a continuous sequence of events from the terminal to the lobby to the street to the garage to the second floor to a car etc. CONTINUOUS is generally optional in writing and cn be dropped altogether. For Example...
INT. AIRPORT LOBBY - DAY
	 
JANET looks over her shoulder.  The MEN IN BLACK are still after her,
toppling innocent passersby and sending luggage flying across the 
linoleum floor.  Janet faces forward again and nearly runs smack into
a nun.  She apologizes wordlessly, glances back one last time before
pushing through the glass doors.

EXT. STREET - CONTINUOUS

Janet stumbles to the curb, stopping short of the honking traffic
-- Los Angeles drivers.  As a bus flies by, blasting her with wind, she
steps out into traffic. A car SWERVES to avoid her!  She GASPS, looks
back.  The men in black are there.

FLASH

Janet gets shot in the back by the men in black.

BACK TO SCENE

She shakes off the thought and hops up onto the curb opposite the 
airport.  She enters the parking garage.

INT. PARKING GARAGE - CONTINUOUS

BANG!  A shot RICOCHETS into the garage.  Janet SHRIEKS, her steps 
faltering momentarily, but she recovers.

EXT. STREET

The men in black pocket their guns and enter the parking structure.

INT. PARKING GARAGE

They glance around.  No one else is in sight.  The men nod to each other
and draw their guns.  FOOTSTEPS in the distance.  One of the men points
at the stairs.

SECOND STORY

Janet, breathing heavily, makes her way to her car...

As you can see, I used CONTINUOUS for some of the sluglines (EXT. STREET - CONTINUOUS) and dropped it for others (INT. PARKING GARAGE). And it all represents no time passing between changes in location.

CRAWL

This is a term used for superimposed titles or text intended to move across on screen.

CROSSFADE:

This is like a "Fade to black then Fade to next scene." In other words, as one scene fades out, a moment of black interrupts before the next scene fades in. It is not to be confused with DISSOLVE, since CROSSFADE always involves a black or blank screen. (Note: I'm not sure if this term is still in common use)

CUT TO:

The most simple and common transition. Since this transition is implied by a change of scene, it may be used sparingly to help intensify character changes and emotional shifts. The transition describes a change of scene over the course of one frame.

D

Dialog
Very simply, this is what people are supposed to say according to the script. For formatting instructions, see the Format page.

Director

The person who visualizes the movie based on the script, creates shots, suggests how the actors should portray their characters, and helps to edit the final cut. Basically, the person in charge of putting converting a script into a movie.

DISSOLVE TO:

A common transition. As one scene fades out, the next scene fades into place. This type of transition is generally used to convey some passage of time and is very commonly used in montages such as seen in Bugsy.

Dolly

A mechanism on which a camera can be moved around a scene or location. Simple dollies involve a tripod on wheels. Dolly shots are moving shots.

E

ESTABLISHING SHOT:
A shot, usually from a distance, that shows us where we are. A shot that suggests location. Often used at the beginning of a film to suggest where the story takes place. For example, if our story takes place in New York, we might use a shot of the Manhattan skyline as an establishing shot.

EXT.

Exterior. This scene takes place out of doors. This is mostly for producers to figure out the probable cost of a film project.

EXTREMELY LONG SHOT (XLS):

Basically self-defined. Means the camera is placed an undefined, very long distance from the subject or action. Generally, this term would be left out of a screenplay and left to the director to decide. Use only when necessary.

F

FADE TO:
See also DISSOLVE TO:

This is commonly used as a DISSOLVE to a COLOR. Commonly, you'll see this as:

FADE TO:

BLACK

FADE IN:

NEXT SCENE

This usually suggests it's not the end of the movie, but it is the end of a major movement in the film. The "Next Scene" is often days, months, or years after the previous scenes. Sometimes titles will appear in the blackness to declare a passage of time. But this transition is often a sign of a major shift in time or emotional status for the main characters. It may also be used to suggest a character has been knocked out or killed.

FAVOR ON

A particular character or action is highlighted or "favored" in a shot. The focus is basically centered on someone or something in particular. Use only when necessary.

Feature Film

In the olden days of cinema, people watched a series of short films. Then, as films became longer, they would watch some short films and one long film. The long film became the main attraction, hence the term feature film. Today, feature films are generally defined as any film at least one hour long that people pay to see.

Final Draft (1)

As in all writing, this refers to the writers last rewrite of a script. Often the script will be changed or rearranged again by the director.

Final Draft (2)

Very rarely, a script will appear as a Final Draft document. This means only people with a screenplay formatting word processor known as Final Draft or the appropriate Final Draft viewer can view the document appropriately. The Final Draft Viewer is available as a free download. For those of you interested in screenwriting, Final Draft is one of many excellent professional screenwriting tools and can be obtained in many software stores or from Amazon.com.

FREEZE FRAME:

The picture stops moving, becoming a still photograph, and holds for a period of time.

I

INSERT
When a writer pictures a certain close-up at a certain moment in the film, he or she may use an insert shot. This describes a shot of some important detail in a scene that must be given the camera's full attention for a moment. Inserts are mainly used in reference to objects, a clock, or actions, putting a key in a car's ignition.
For example: if there's a clock in the room. I, as the writer, might have reason for the audience to get a good glimpse of the clock. I would use an insert shot to suggest the director get a closer shot of the clock at a particular point in the scene.

Note: often; writing important objects in CAPS will convey their importance in the scene and give the director more freedom and a greater feeling of importance. Use inserts only when truly important.

INT.

Interior. This scene takes place indoors. This is mostly for producers to figure out the probable cost of a film project.

Intercutting

Some scripts may use the term INTERCUT BETWEEN. At this point, two scenes will be shown a few moments each, back and forth. For example, if Laura is stuck in her flaming house and the fire department in on the way, a screenplay may call for intercutting between the flames closing in on Laura and the fire fighters riding across town to save her.

Note: this is a style that can be written around with standard scene breaks. It's more to prepare the reader for the upcoming slug line bonanza.

INTO FRAME:

see also: INTO VIEW:

The audience can only see so much through the window of a movie screen. Use this term to suggest something or someone comes into the picture while the camera stays put. It's like a character or object coming from off stage in the theater. For example: Forrest Gump sits on the bench.

OLD WOMAN INTO FRAME. She sits next to him.

INTO VIEW:

see also: INTO FRAME:

The audience can only see so much through the window of a movie screen. Use this term to suggest something or someone comes into the picture while the camera pulls back (pans, etc) to reveal more of the scene.

Iris Out

see also wipe.

Also written as: IRIS FADE OUT or IRIS FADE IN. Used at the end of Star Wars scripts, this term refers to a wipe from the center of the frame out in all directions. It's as if the iris of a human eye were opening for dimly lit situations to take us into the next scene or the ending credits as is the case with Star Wars.

J

JUMP CUT TO:
A transition. Imagine setting a camera down to film a person. You record him for five minutes. But as it turns out, you have only a one minute time limit on your project. You have no special editing tools, just a couple of VCR's. But you realize that most of the important stuff is said in a few short moments. If you cut out the unimportant parts and edit together the parts you want based on a single camera angle, you will have what are called jump cuts. Transitions from one moment to the next within a scene that appear jarring because they break the direct flow of filmic time and space. This transition is usually used to show a very brief ellipsis of time. A good example of Jump Cuts can be seen in the movie Elizabeth when the queen practices her speech. The jump cuts make us disoriented and nervous along with the queen, giving us the tension and humor of the situation as if it were an out-take reel. Bad examples of Jump Cuts would be in B-movies like Mothra where they don't have the money to get scenes from various angles, so they cut from one important moment to the next from the same angle.

L

LAP DISSOLVE:
See also DISSOLVE: A transition between scenes that is achieved by fading out one shot while the next one grows clearer.

M

MATCH CUT TO:
A transition often used to compare two completely unrelated objects. It's film's version of metaphor. This involves cutting from one object of certain color, shape, and/or movement, to another object of similar color, shape, and/or movement. For example, a circular saw to a child's merry-go-round. A commonly studied example of match cutting comes from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The classic cut comes towards the beginning of the film. After the apes have used a bone as a weapon for gathering food, an ape throws the bone into the air. As it falls, we match cut to a space ship carrying nuclear warheads. Both the bone and the ship are of similar shape and color, and both happen to be moving towards the bottom of the screen. The cut relates all of technology to the development of weaponry as it cuts out all of human history.

MATCH DISSOLVE TO:

See also MATCH CUT TO:, DISSOLVE TO:

This contains similar qualities to the MATCH CUT. A match dissolve involves two objects of similar color, shape, and/or movement in transition from one scene to the next.
For example: if Scene A is following (tracking) an arrow whizzing through the forest, I might match dissolve to a tracking shot, in Scene B of a bullet whizzing through the inner city.

Microsoft Word Document

A computer term referring to the digital format a script may be stored in. These files are in a word processor files and often require Microsoft Word 6.0 or higher to read. Microsoft Word comes with many PC's or can be obtained with Microsoft Office 97, 98, and 2000.

Montage

In film, a series of images showing a theme, a contradiction, or the passage of time. This film style became common in Russia in the early years of cinema. Russians were the first to truly use editing to tell a story. Some early examples of montage include City Symphony's and Man With a Movie Camera. Modern day examples of montages can be seen in Kramer vs. Kramer and Bugsy.

MOS

Mit Out Sound (Original German) Moment of Silence (Made up English memory device). I've never seen this anywhere before, but maybe it has been used before, so, now you'll know should you ever run into it.

O

O.S. or O.C.
Off-screen or Off-camera. This is the abbreviation sometimes seen next to the CHARACTER'S name before certain bits of dialog. Basically, it means the writer specifically wants the voice to come from somewhere unseen.

P

Pan
Camera movement involving the camera turning on a stationary axis. Imagine standing in one spot on a cliff in Hawaii. You want to absorb the view so you, without moving your body or feet, turn your head from the left to the right. This is the same effect as a pan.

See Also: Swish Pan

Parenthetical

If an actor should deliver his or her lines in a particular way, a screenplay will contain a description in parentheses to illustrate the point. Parentheticals should be used only in cases where a line of dialog should be read in some way contrary to logic. If used too often, actor's and director's egos get hurt, and things get messy.
For Example:
JULIE
(calmly)
I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.

PDF

This is a computer term referring to Adobe's cross-platform portable document format. This file is created with Adobe Acrobat and can only be read by the Adobe Acrobat Reader. To download the Reader for free, click here.

POV

Point of View. The camera replaces the eyes (sometimes the ears) of a character, monster, machine, surveillance camera, etc. As a result, we get to see the world through the sensory devices of some creature. This can be used to bring out the personal aspects of a scene, or it can be used to build horror and suspense. An example of horror and suspense in POV can be scene in the opening shot of Halloween.

PUSH IN:

The camera physically moves towards a subject.

R

REVERSE ANGLE
Often used to reveal things for comic or dramatic effect. Could be described as a counter POV shot. Basically, the script suggests the camera come around 180 degrees to get a shot from the "other side" of a scene. For example, in the Something About Maryscript, Tucker is playing a joke on Mary in her office in one scene that the writers didn't want to reveal right away. They use a REVERSE ANGLE to show that he's got two tongue depressors in his upper lip to represent teeth. This reverse angle is used for comic effect.

ROLL

This is a term used for superimposed titles or text intended to move vertically on screen. For example, the text at the beginning of Star Wars movies.

S

Scene
An event that takes place entirely in one location or time. If we go outside from inside, it's a new scene. If we cut to five minutes later, it's a new scene. If both, it's a new scene. Scenes can range from one shot to infinity and are distinguished by slug lines.

Shooting Script

This is the truly final draft used on set by the production people, actors, and director to make the movie from the screenplay.

Shot

One image. If there's a cut, you've changed shots. Shots can range from split seconds, like in Terminator 2, to several minutes, such as in Secrets and Lies or the opening sequence of Halloween. Shots are generally chosen by the director although the writer can use capital letters to suggest where the camera should be. When a writer absolutely must have a certain shot at a certain moment in a film, he has a few options each described in detail elsewhere in this list: INSERT, ANGLE ON, and CLOSE ON.

For notes regarding how to format shot types, check the Format page.

Slug Line

The text in all CAPS at the beginning of a scene that briefly describes the location and time of day.
For example:
INT. DAVE'S BEDROOM - NIGHT

Note: sometimes sluglines are abbreviated to something as simple as "LATER" or "BEDROOM."

SMASH CUT TO:

An especially sharp transition. This style of cut is usually used to convey destruction or quick emotional changes.
For example: If I were writing a horror movie but wanted to lighten the gore at the beginning, I might have the first
victim trip and fall. The killer enters the forest clearing, taking a moment to savor this death. The victim shakes her head, as if begging for the killer to change his mind. But no, he closes in, a black cloaked arm raising the knife into the air. The knife catches the moonlight for just a moment before it races downwards.

SMASH CUT TO:

EXT. WOODLAND HIGH SCHOOL COURTYARD - DAY

It's a bright and beautiful morning and kids wander the courtyard on their way to class or to meet friends. And the students discuss the end of this example.

The sudden shift from a dark forest to a bright schoolyard on the first stab would convey the distress of the murder without showing it. For another example of a smash cut, see the transition to L.A. in Barton Fink.

Note: this transition is often a director's choice. As a writer, use this sparingly if at all. Many script readers find this term unprofessional.

Spec Script/Screenplay

You won't see this term anywhere else on this site. If a writer finishes his own screenplay outside the studio system (it isn't an assignment) then sends it to the studios for consideration, it is a spec script.

SPLIT SCREEN SHOT:

The space of the frame is split into two, three, or more frames each with their own subject. Usually the events shown in each section of the split screen are simultaneous. But Split screen can also be used to show flashbacks or other events. For example, two people are talking on the phone. They're in different locations, but you wish to show the reactions of both simultaneously. Or, watch Run, Lola, Run to see another use of split screen.

Steadicam

A camera built to remain stable while being moved, usually by human hands. Occasionally, seen in scripts to suggest a handheld shot be used in a scene.

STOCK SHOT:

Footage of events in history, from other films, etc. Basically, anything that's already filmed and you intend to be edited into the movie. For example, the Austin Powers movies use stock footage for comic effect. Some old B films use stock footage to keep their budgets low.

SUPER:

Abbreviation for superimpose. The superimposition of one thing over another in the same shot. Sometimes TITLES are superimposed over scenes. Or a face can be superimposed over a stream-of-consciousness montage shot. It's up to you!

Swish Pan

A quick snap of the camera from one object to another. This high speed movement causes the image to go completely blurry. Imagine yourself in the center of a merry-go-round that's moving really really fast. Aside from making you totally dizzy, the world becomes a blur, swished out in the movement, like a giant and constant swish pan. Cuts are often hidden in swish pans. Or they can be used to disorient or shock the audience. For a good example of Swish Pan, watch certain old episodes of The Twilight Zone.

T

TIGHT ON
A close-up of a person or thing. Basically, like the space has been squeezed out of the area between camera and subject. Not in common use. Use only when necessary.

TIME CUT

When you want to cut to later in a scene, you have the option of writing TIME CUT as the transition. For example, if two people walk into a restaurant and their conversation is important at first then veers off into topics not important to your story, then you might want to time cut from the drinks to the main course and then again to paying the check.

Tracking Shot (Track, Tracking)

A tracking shot involves a camera following a person or an object. As long as the camera isn't locked down in place by a tripod, for example, and is following (tracking) a subject, then it's a tracking shot. For good examples of tracking shots, watch the one take episode of The X-Files or most any episode of ER. Star Wars Episode One has tracking shots galore during the pod race. And I'm sure most films have some form of tracking shot or another.

Trailer

A theatrical advertisement for an upcoming film attraction. In the past, the advertisements for upcoming attractions were usually played after the end of the movie. Hence, the term 'trailers'. However, as credits reels grew in lenth over the years, audiences would often leave before watching the advertisements for the next attractions, so the "trailers" were showen before the atrraction and became "previews". NOw, the term 'trailer' has come to mean a preview of an upcoming attraction and is still in common use.

Transition

Descriptive term for how one scene 'transitions' to another scene. Used appropriately, these can be used to convey shifts in character development and emotion. In other words, a CUT TO: is not required at every scene change. Some major transitions include CUT TO:, DISSOLVE TO:, MATCH CUT TO:, JUMP CUT TO:, SMASH CUT TO:, WIPE TO:, and FADE TO:. Each term has it's own entry in this list of terms. Occasionally a writer will make up his own transition. In these cases, the transition is usually self-defined (such as BRIGHT WHITE FLASH TO: suggests whiteness will fill the screen for a brief moment as we pass into the next scene). For formatting info on transitions, see the Format page.

V

V.O.
Voice Over. This is the abbreviation sometimes seen next to the CHARACTER'S name before certain bits of dialog. This means the character voices that dialog but his or her moving lips are not present in the scene. Voice over is generally used for narration, such as in the beginning of The Mummy. Or, as Austin Powers would say, a character's inner monolog. The inner thought processes of the character said out loud such that only the audience will hear it. An general example of Voice Over can be seen (heard, actually) in Election or in the Sixth Season Finale of The X-Files.

W

WIPE TO:
A transition in which one scene "wipes away" for the next. Imagine Scene A is water and Scene B is the substance underneath. A wipe would look like a squeegee pulling Scene A off of Scene B. These usually suggest a passage of time from one scene to the next. The most common and obvious example of wipes is in the Star Wars franchise. You can also watch The Mummy for more examples.

Z

ZOOM:
The image seems to close in on a person or object making the person or object appear larger (or smaller) on screen. Technically, the lens mechanically changes from wide angle to telephoto or vice versa. Notice and recognize the difference between a zoom and a push in (camera moves closer to subject). Use zoom only when necessary. For an example of zoom, see Boogie Nights.


Please note that this glossary originally appeared on The Daily Script under the webmaster Dana Franklin. Dana no longer maintains the site. This glossary appears here on this site without his permission.

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