Glossary of Screenwriting and Industry Terms

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A

 

A PAGE

A revised page that extends beyond the original page, going onto a second page. (i.e. Page 1, 1A, 2, 3, 3A)

A/B STORY

“A” story is the main story/theme while “B” story refers to the background story.

ABOVE THE LINE  

Part of a film’s budget reserved for major players in the production such as the director, producer, writer, main actors, etc. So called because these names used to appear above an actual line on old budget formats, separating them from the other filmmakers on the project.

ACT

One of three sections that make up a unit of drama (scene, sequence, episode).  Acts in features describe structure, not used in the script.  Used in sitcoms.

ACT BREAK

The end of an act. Generally, it’s a highpoint in the story in which something important occurs that thrusts the audience into the next chapter or stage. In television, an act will end just before a commercial break. In stage musicals, the act break is usually preceded by a big song to keep people humming through intermission.

ACT/SCENE HEADING

Centered, all CAPS heading at the start of an act or scene.  Act numbers are written in Roman numerals, scene numbers in ordinals.

ACTING EDITION

A published play script, typically for use in productions in the amateur market or as reading copies. Often has a list of prop list or set design sketches.

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.

ACTION BLOCK

A paragraph of descriptive script text.  Action paragraphs describe the setting, physical actions, characters, or other important information.

ACTOR

A gifted individual who has studied the craft of acting in order to portray roles in performances of dramatic literature.

ADAPTATION

Rewriting of fact or fiction for film usually in the form of a screenplay, or a proposal treatment.

AD LIB

Instructs actors to improvise dialogue or even action bits in spontaneous reaction to the given situation of a scene.

ADVERTISING

Advertising is a technique the writer uses to tell the viewer where the film is going or is the indication of some upcoming experience a character might have.

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.

AFTERMATH SCENE

A moment of calm during which the characters are able to digest a scene of intense conflict.

AGAINST

A term describing the ultimate potential payday for a writer in a film deal. $400,000 against $800,000 means that the writer is paid $400,000 when the script is finished (through rewrite and polish); when and if the movie goes into production, the writer gets an additional $400,000.

AGENT SUBMISSION

A method of play submission, in which a theater requires that a script be submitted by a recognized literary agent.

ALAN SMITHE

A fictional name taken by a writer or director who doesn't want their real name credited on a film.

ALL IN

A scene that includes all or most of the main components of drama.

ALLEGORICAL CHARACTERS

Most characters, even anthropomorphic ones, are flawed but have the possibility of change (a moral transformation or increase in wisdom), but allegorical characters are symbolic, set, and stoney.

ALLEGORY

An allegory is a story that sets out to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral lesson. Most films are not pure allegories, where the objective is to preach; however, fables, storybook films, and fantasies often take on the allegorical model.

ALLUSION

Used to add greater depth to particular events and situation in the film.  References are made to external phenomena such as persons, places, things, and occurrences.  Indirect references are also used through screen images or scenes even to another film.  Associations are meant to indicate contrast, emotions, and ironic twists.

ALTER-EGO

A substitute “self” for a writer, usually a protagonist in the writer’s story.

AMBIENCE

The overall quality of mood, tone, or atmosphere in a film.

AMBIGUITY

A lack of clarity or an apparent contradiction in a story-line.  This is done intentionally in some films or unintentionally due to poor writing.  Character development is occasionally but purposefully hindered by the use of ambiguity.  Ambiguity is an artistic ploy to capture the imagination, perhaps through confusion, of the audience.

ANAMORPHIC LENS

A lens used to shoot a wide-screen film; also, to project it onto the screen.

ANCILLARIES

A film business term that refers to all financial revenues not stemming from theatrical box office.  These include home video, television, and merchandising.

ANCILLARY RIGHTS 

The agreement that dictates what percentage of merchandise profits is allocated to individuals. This may include books, action figures, posters, etc.

ANGLE

Directs the camera to a particular person or object.  The character’s name itself could be written as a heading in CAPS and serve the same purpose.  Angles (or SHOTS) can be wide, low, tight, close, high, bird’s eye, etc.

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 in a different direction.

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

ANNOTATION

Comment specifying the source of each script element that is not wholly fictional, including all characters, events, settings, and segments of dialogue.

ANTAGONIST

Character with a single objective in conflict with the Protagonist.  Not necessarily a villain.

ANTHROPOMORPHISM

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object.

ANTICLIMAX

When the audience is expecting a peak in the action and it doesn’t occur.  It is often used to convey the ordinary events in life of a character and can also effectively be used to distract the audience from the actual climax.  Also, anything that happens in the final few moments of a film that dulls down the story crescendo and leaves the audience feeling let down and unsatisfied.

ANTIHERO

Protagonist who has pronounced personality or character defects or eccentricities which are not usually associated with the hero archetype.

APERTURE 

A measure of the width of the opening allowing light to enter a camera.

APPROVED WRITER

A writer whom a television network trusts to deliver a good script once hired.

ARBITRATION

Binding adjudication by members of a Writers Guild of America committee regarding proper onscreen writer credit of a movie; arbitration is available only to WGA members or potential WGA members.

ARC SHOT 

Filming the subject through a moving, encircling camera.

ARCHETYPE

A universal character modeled upon those that have been appearing in stories since the time of our ancient ancestors.

ARCHETYPAL CHARACTERS

Similar to allegorical characters, with their motifs usually rooted in folklore, archetypal characters represent an ideal or symbolic image such as love, malice, forgiveness, wisdom, etc.

ARISTOTELIAN STRUCTURE

The modern, ‘energetic’ method of organizing a plot, such that the story generates increasing dramatic tension as it develops, culminating in a potent climax which relieves the tension.

ARISTOTLE’S GREAT MAGNITUDES

Arousing pity and fear in an audience must be based or undeserved misfortunes of great magnitude—on serious life changing events:  1. Death; 2. Bodily Assault or Ill Treatment; 3. Old Age; Illness;  4. Lack of Food or Substance 5. Lack of Friends; 6. Ugliness; 7. Weakness; 8. Being Crippled; 9.  Having Your Good Expectations disappointed; 10.   having good things come too late; 11. Having no good things happen to you; 12. Having good things happen but being unable to enjoy them.

ARISTOTLE’S FIVE PRINCIPLES OF LIFE

1.    Nutritive Life;  2.  Desiring Life;  3.  Sensitive Life;  4.  Locomotion;  5.  Capacity for Rational Thought.

ART DIRECTOR 

The person responsible for the look and feel of the film’s set; responsible for set construction, design and props (number, type and placement).

ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

A theater company's chief artistic officer and usually the last stop before a play is selected for production.

ART-HOUSE FILM 

Non-mainstream films that are still thought to hold artistic value. These films are often low-budget, foreign, and/or independent. Since these films do not have mass-appeal, they usually do not play in mainstream theatres. However, they can be found playing in niche art-house theatres.

ASIDE 

When a film character breaks the imaginary “fourth wall” and speaks directly to the film viewers.

ASPECT RATIO 

A measure of the relative sizes of the horizontal and vertical components of an image.

ASSEMBLY 

Arranging all the shots in accordance with the order of the script. This is the first step of editing.

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR

A film crew member whose job it is to manage the set protocols and keep the film shoot on schedule.

ASSOCIATE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

An artistic officer of a theater company, frequently a director and often second to the Artistic Director, integrally involved with its artistic decisions.

AT RISE DESCRIPTION

A stage direction at the beginning of an act or a scene that describes what is on stage literally "at rise" of the curtain, or more commonly in contemporary theater, as the lights come up.

ATMOSPHERE

Tone or dimension added to the action by concrete or nebulous qualities or elements such as rain, wind, heat, cold, danger, spookiness, tranquility. 

AUDIENCE AWARENESS

Awareness of your audience is an essential element in screenwriting. So much of how a writer writes the script is determined by how he or she wants the audience to be involved. Should the audience know before the character, after, at the same time? How much advertising should be given? How do scenes of preparation and aftermath involve the audience? What about mystery and suspense? When should the something be delayed or revealed?

AUDIENCE BOND

The audience’s emotional involvement is held by the glue of empathy. 

AUDIENCE EMPATHY

Audience empathy for the protagonist must be created as early in the story as possible.  This is necessary so that the audience will care about the hero, his or her dreams, and his or her primary objective throughout the story.

AUDIENCE EXPECTATION

Particular elements of a film genre which the audience consciously or unconsciously expects to see.

AUDIO/VISUAL SCRIPT

A dual column screenplay with video description on the left and audio and dialogue on the right, used in advertising, corporate videos, documentaries and training films.

ATTACHED 

Agreement by name actors and/or a director to be a part of the making of a movie.

AURAL

A film element that can be heard (such as an off screen sound like a dog howling or gun firing).

AUTEUR THEORY

A broad and complex theory for the critical analysis of film. However, for the purposes of screenplay studies, it will suffice to say that Auteur Theory proposes that the director is the “author” of the film.

AUTHOR’S INTRUSION

A statement in descriptive that takes the reader out of the story in order to clarify or help tell the story.

AUTHORS LINKED BY “&” 

In formal WGA screen credit rules, authors linked by an ampersand are understood to be team writers or willing collaborators.

AUTHORS LINKED BY “and”

In formal WGA screen credit rules, authors linked by the word “and” are understood to be successive or independent co-writers or re-writers who did not collaborate together on a single draft.

AVAILABLE LIGHT

At an off-set location, this is the light that is naturally available. Shots are more realistic when natural light is used rather than artificial light.

AXIS OF ACTION 

Also called the “180° line “is an imaginary line that passes through the two main actors of a scene, defining the spatial relations of all the elements of the scene as being to the right or left.

B

B-MOVIE 

A low-budget, second-tier movie, often the second movie in a double-feature billing. B-films were cheaper for studios because they did not involve the most highly paid actors or costly sets.

BARRIER

A first act obstacle in the way of a protagonist’s objective.

BACK DOOR PILOT

A two-hour TV movie that is a setup for a TV series if ratings warrant further production.

BACK END

Payment on a movie project when profits are realized.

BACK TO SCENE

Secondary heading that indicates a return to a scene after a Montage or Series of Shots.

BACKGROUND (b.g.)

Used to describe anything occurring 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.

BACKGROUND ARTIST 

Also known as a matte artist; the person responsible for designing a visual backdrop to fill in the background of a film scene. Historically created using traditional paints, backdrops today are mostly created digitally.

BACKLIGHTING 

Lighting for a shot emitting from behind the subject, causing the subject to appear as a silhouette or in semi-darkness.

BACKLOT 

A large, undeveloped area on studio property used for constructing large open-air sets. 

b.g. (BACKGROUND)

Used to describe anything occurring 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.

BACKSTORY

Experiences of a main character which contribute to character motivations and reactions that either occurred in the past, or are separate from the main plot.

BALANCE

How elements such as light, sound, and movement work together within a film’s visual frame.

BANKABLE 

A person who can get a project financed solely by having their name is attached.

BARN DOORS

Metal folding doors on all four sides of a lighting fixture. These can be moved on their hinges in order direct light for the shot.

BARNEY 

A sound-minimizing blanket placed over a camera to reduce the noise emitting from its moving mechanisms.

BASE CAMP

During production, the area where most of the trailers are located. Sometimes base camp is several miles away from the set.

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 "..."

BEAT (in scene structure)

In terminology borrowed from music, emotional beats mark the dramatic rhythm of a scene. “A BEAT is an exchange of behavior in action/reaction. Beat by Beat these changing behaviors shape the turning of a scene,” writes McKee, while Judith Weston writes, “The ‘beat changes’ are simple changes of subject.”  Whatever strict definition is accepted, breaking a scene into smaller dramatic moments allows directors and actors to map the emotional arc of a scene for a more thoughtful performance. One can also refer to a visual beat, which is more or less synonymous with the shot. By breaking an action down into visual beats, a director can determine what shots he or she will need in order to build the scene through montage. 

BEAT (in script terminology)

You will sometimes see “(Beat)” as a parenthetical comment in a block of dialogue text. In this case, the screenwriter is instructing the actor to “take a beat” — i.e. pause — before continuing with his or her speech.

BEAT BREAKDOWN

The process by which a scene analyst (usually a director or performer) maps a particular scene for all its dramatic beats.

BEAT SHEET

An abbreviated description of the main events in a screenplay or story.

BEGINNING  

“A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be.”  As obvious as Aristotle’s definition may be, many overlook its implications for narrative self-containment.

BELOW-THE-LINE EXPENSES 

All physical production costs not included in the above-the-line expenses, including material costs, music rights, publicity, trailer, etc.

BEST BOY 

Also called the Assistant Chief Lighting usually of the gaffer or key grip. In charge of the people and equipment, scheduling the required quantities for each day’s work. The term originates from promoting the crew’s ‘best boy’ to supervising.

BIO-PIC

A film that tells the true story of a historical figure (e.g. A Beautiful Mind, Patton, Nixon).

BILL

The play or plays that together constitute what the audience is seeing at any one sitting. Short for "playbill."

BINDING

What literally holds the script together. As a writer submitting your manuscript, you might use either brads with cardstock covers or one of a number of other pre-made folders (all available from The Writers Store).

BLACK BOX

A flexible theater space named for its appearance.

BLACKOUT

A common stage direction at the end of a scene or an act.

BLIMP 

A housing for the camera intended to prevent sound equipment from picking up any extra sounds emitting from the camera.

BLOCK PAGE

A block page is a script page that is all action description. Visually, the page is dense - with very little white space - and at looks like a block of paragraphs. Screenwriters try to avoid these pages. They want the read to move quickly, and it is usually a mistake not to break up a lot of action description with a quick line of dialogue or new scene header location.

BLOCKING 

Deciding where actors will move and stand so that lighting and camera placement can be set.

BLUE SCREEN 

Also known as green screen. This is a blue or green backdrop that actors are filmed in front of. Later the blank screen can be filled with digitally generated images to complete the background.

BLUEPRINT STAGE

The stage of readership at which the screenplay serves its intended purpose, instructing a crew of artists and technicians in the shaping of a feature film. As Claudia Sternberg writes, “The blueprint is the classic metaphor used to characterize the function and the significance of the screenplay during the production process.”

BONE STRUCTURE

Lajos Egri’s terminology for the physiological, psychological, and sociological makeup of a character, what Robert McKee might call “Characterization.”

BOOK

The story and the non-musical portion (dialogue, stage directions) of a theatrical musical.

BOOK-ENDING

A framing device within which a main plot line is presented as being told or red to another, often embellished by the use of a voice-over narration throughout the film (as in Raising Arizona, The Princess Bride or Stand By Me.

BOOKENDS

Structural technique in which a script begins and ends with a “bookend” scene that encloses the whole.  Frowned upon by Readers as an overused storytelling gimmick.  Use this term in lower case initials or written in full.  Not recommended

BOOM MICROPHONE 

A long pole with a microphone on the end. Controlled by the “Boom Operator.”

BOUNCE BOARD 

A large white card made of foam or poster board used to reflect soft light.

BRACKETING

Shooting the same scene with several different F-stops.

BRADS

The brass pins used to bind a standard three-hole-punched screenplay.  Any other method of binding is verboten.

BUDDY FILM

A popular movie genre in which two protagonists (often confidantes) are in pursuit of the same objective (willingly or unwillingly) and sometimes trade off as catalysts to one another.

BUILDUP

Action increases, the pace and intensity of the film increases, the music crescendos, and culminates with a major scene.

BUMP

A troublesome element in a script that negatively deflects the reader’s attention away from the story

BUTTON

A TV writing term referring to a witty line that “tops off” a scene.

BUSINESS

A character’s action during a scene, which is generally not related to the content of the scene itself. “Can we give Rachel some business over by the copier while Joey and Chandler are talking?"

BUY

To understand and accept the logic of an assertion. “I buy that the hooker didn’t want to call the cops, but I don’t buy she would actually bury the body herself."

C

CABLE

A cable television network such as HBO, or cable television in general.

CALL SHEET 

A listing of which actors will be required for which scenes, and when they will be required.

CAMERA ANGLE

The angle form which a shot is to be taken (e.g., a close-up angle is a shot that should be made from a close proximity to the subject, either through tighter lens focusing or by the camera being placed physically closer to the action).

CAMERA MOVE

An action description in a screenplay that stipulates a specific move of the camera (such as “CAMERA PANS a crowded supermarket at rush hour.”)

CAMERA NARRATOR

The camera dramatizes the process of viewing the action and bringing it on screen, allowing our eyes to see only what and how the ‘camera narrator’ shows it to us.

CARD

A card is text printed on the screen - either over black or superimposed over an image - that is needed to indicate location, time, date, or era. CARD: is written in all CAPS followed by the colon and typed at the same left margin as for character names. Underneath CARD:, the location, era, and date is written at character dialogue margins set off by quotes.

CAST

The characters who are physically present in the play or film. These are the roles for which actors will be needed. When we talk about a role in a stageplay as being double-cast with another, it means that the same actor is expected to play both roles. This happens in film as well (e.g. Eddie Murphy), but only rarely 

CAST PAGE

A page that typically follows the Title Page of a play, listing the characters, with very brief descriptions of each.

CASUAL PREDICTION

An audience’s unconscious forecasting of what will happen in a standard plot based on certain known causes and effects (e.g., boy meet girl, boy loses girl, causal prediction=boy gets girl.

CATHARSIS

An oft misunderstood and misrepresented concept from Aristotle’s Poetics, Catharsis has possibly been given more consideration in the study of dramatic narrative than perhaps Aristotle intended. Variably translated as “purification” or “purgation,” Catharsis is probably best understood as the release of excess emotion that some viewers experience when observing a tragic performance. It is important to understand that Catharsis is not the catch-all purpose of drama for Aristotle that some would have you believe. It is rather one possible benefit for those people who suffer from excess emotion.

CATALYST ( CATALYTIC)

A character, event, or circumstances which force a protagonist into a quest or achieving of an objective.

CAUSE & EFFECT

A story follows a cause-and-effect trajectory from start to finish.

CEL 

A hand drawn sheet representing a single animation frame, usually made of a clear material like cellulose.

CENTER (STAGE)

The center of the performance space, used for placement of the actors and the set.

CENTRAL PRODUCER SYSTEM

A system of management in the Hollywood mode of production. In the Central Producer System, creative power shifted from directors to a central producer who used the continuity script to control production activity.

CGI

Computer Generated Image; a term denoting that computers will be used to generate the full imagery.

CHAIN OF TITLE

Establishes the sequential history of ownership transfers for a particular property, in this case a screenplay.

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.

CHARACTER ARC

Formulaic inferred curved line which traces the emotional progress (development, growth, and transformation) of a character during the story.

CHARACTER ATTITUDES

Attitudes convey opinions, a particular slant, belief, perspective, sentiment, or world view.

Character Change

Character change is essential to your main character’s arc. If after going through the main tension and reaching the resolution, the character does not change in some way - not always for the better - than the experience is futile for the audience.

CHARACTER CONTRADICTION

To be a great screenwriter is to embrace a process of compassionate sadism.  You have to create a protagonist you love and then set him or her on a journey for which he or she could not be less suited.  You are looking to give him or her a “want” that both his or her nature and his or her situation make nearly impossible to achieve. 

CHARACTER CORE

Most characters should never be predictable nor stereotypical. Instead, the character’s core personality helps to define who he/she/it is, which should be an interested and flawed being.

CHARACTER DECISIONS

The protagonist is the character who makes most of the major decisions, and who must respond to the decisions and actions of the antagonist.

CHARACTER DESCRIPTION

Screenplays give a few lines of powerful character details when a new character is introduced, so the description will grab the attention of the reader as well as potential actors.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

The process of creating characters in fiction.  One of the major elements of screenwriting.  Readers look for characters who are diverse (i.e., they don’t all look, sound, or act alike), interesting, sympathetic, and who seem to have a life independent from the main plot of the screenplay.

CHARACTER EMOTIONS

Characters are not made of stone. They feel, and often they don’t even understand why or how they feel what they do. Even allegorical or symbolic characters can display emotions, because it is in the emotions deepen a character’s humanity.

CHARACTER IDENTIFICATION

Character identification occurs when the audience is linked to the character on an emotional level. Sometimes this occurs when a character is going through an action that someone in the audience has gone through. For example, the dad character may be changing his baby’s diaper for the first time and his son pees on him. Any father in the audience who has gone through that exact experience will identify. A more common form of identification, however occurs when the audience - regardless of whether they have experienced a particular event or not - can feel sympathy or empathy for the character in any given situation.

CHARACTER IDIOSYNCRASIES

Characters also have personalities, which are specific idiosyncrasies and unique traits that make them memorable.  These idiosyncrasies usually reveal a character’s feelings about himself or herself and his or her primary relationships.  They also are often directly connected to his or her primary motivation by expressing some need he or she desires to fulfill. 

CHARACTER INTRODUCTION

When a new major or supporting character is introduced, screenplays give a few lines of distinct character details, with the attempt to hook both the reader as well as potential actors.

CHARACTER NAME

When any character speaks, his or her name appears on the line preceding the dialogue.

CHARACTER OBJECTIVES

The audience needs to know the dreams and goals of the major characters to take an interest in what happens to them.  Their dreams and the pursuit of the object that could satisfy these hopes determine each character’s primary objective.

CHARACTER PARADOX

Paradoxes are essential to creating fascinating characters who constantly surprise us, changing our preconceived notions about them. Unique and memorable characters are complicated, illogical at times, and often unpredictable.

CHARACTER PSYCHOLOGY

To be consistent with human behavior, the writer must understand the psychology of a character: what motivates him, why does he behave a certain way, what are his subconscious intentions?

CHARACTER RELATIONSHIPS

The most difficult choices that the protagonist must make are the emotional ones, those that involve a choice between his or her primary objective and his or her primary relationships: lover, spouse, parents, siblings, and friends. 

CHARACTER TRANSFORMATION

A character goes through a transformation and changes when the obstacles he or she encounters while in pursuit of his or her objective force him or her to alter his or her values.  He or she changes his or her code of behavior, or he or she keeps his or her code and fails to obtain his or her primary objective. 

CHARACTERIZATION

Characterization is applied by describing of superficial traits and features in order to help depict character: language, manner of speaking, dress, gesture, physical condition, mannerisms, etc.

CHEAT A SCRIPT

Fudging the margins and spacing of a screenplay on a page (usually with a software program) in an attempt to fool the reader into thinking the script is shorter than it really is.

CHEATER CUT 

Introductory footage at the beginning of a series episode to overview what happened in the previous episode.

CINEMATIC LANGUAGE

A language of images (visual and aural) that tell story without the use of words.

CINEMATIC-VISUAL MATERIAL

Film is a visual medium.  It is not radio, an audio medium, nor is it literary, in which all information is expressed with the written words.  The visual image is essential to the cinematic form.

CINEMATOGRAPHER 

A person with expertise in the art of capturing images either electronically or on film stock through the application of visual recording devices and the selection and arrangement of lighting. The chief cinematographer for a movie is called the director of photography.

CIRCUS

The Canadian term for "base camp". (Example: "If you’re going back to the circus, would you get me some coffee?")

CLAPBOARD 

Also known as the clapper. A small board which holds information identifying a shot. It is filmed at the beginning of a take. Also called a slate or “sticks.”

CLAYMATION 

Filming of figures and models constructed out of moldable material such as clay. This is often done through use of stop-motion.

CLIFFHANGER

Moment of high drama, frequently used at the end of serials.  An unresolved plot point that comes at the end of an act or story.  A form of foreshadowing.

CLIMAX

Derived from the Greek “klimax” meaning ladder.  The plot point that resolves the second act, resolves the issues raised by the action and provides the dramatic answer.  The most intense plot point.  Usually occurs at the end of the work, but resolution and high drama do not always occur simultaneously.

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.

CODES OF BEHAVIOR 

Character is that which reveals moral purpose showing what kind of things a man or woman chooses or avoids.  The hero shows us what matters, what has value, what has meaning among the random and meaningless events of life.

COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS

Collective unconscious is a term of analytical psychology, coined by Carl Jung. It is a part of the unconscious mind, expressed in humanity and all life forms and describes how the structure of the psyche autonomously organizes experience.

COLOR PAGES

Revised pages of a shooting script are printed on colored sheets of paper during production in order to track changes.  Also known as PINKS.

COLORIZATION

Digitally altering a black and white film to include color.

COMEDIC RELIEF

Making the audience laugh relaxes them.  It makes them more comfortable.  It puts a positive spin on things.  Comedy requires clarity and good timing—a sense of humor.  Comedy makes good use of surprise and reversals, in revealing the truth about people, situation, and life.  Comedy generally takes an unusual point of view through use of exaggeration, deception, overstatement, understatement, contrast, parody, a ridiculous point of view, or obsession.

COMMEDIA DEL ARTE

Popular comedies performed in the streets of Italy during the 16th – 18th centuries, using stock characters or archetypes in universal story lines and structures.

COMMENTARY

A V.O. objective opinion or description of characters or events either occurring in the film or to fill in information without wasting a great deal of film time. 

COMMISSION

A play for which a theater company gives a playwright money to write, typically with the understanding that the theater will have the right of first refusal to premiere it.

COMPELLING MOVEMENT

Plot action imbued with the kind of forceful energy that pushes the plot forward, forcing the story line to move toward a climax and resolution.

COMPLICATION

The second act of a three-act dramatic structure, in which “the plot thickens,” peaking at its end.

Defined by Aristotle as “everything from the beginning up to and including the section which immediately precedes the change to good fortune or bad fortune,” complication is the steady build of dramatic tension to the point of climax and resolution. In many screenplays, it often takes the form of a series of solutions to problems that only beget larger problems until the final solution is found (e.g. In Jurassic Park, resetting the park’s electrical systems has the unintended consequence of setting the raptors free, which makes matters worse).

COMPOSITE

A character that is based upon more than one person or personality in a writer’s life or imagination.

COMPUTER GENERATED IMAGERY (CGI) 

A term denoting that computers will be used to generate the full imagery and the use of 3D graphics and technology to enhance special effects.

CONCEPT (PREMISE)

Central idea around which a screenplay is built.

CONFIDANTE

A character who shares secrets, personal information, or discussions of intimate or internal conflicts with another.

CONFLICT

The force which opposes a character and prevents them from achieving their goal.  The straight forward clash of desires and obstacles, dramatic conflict is the essential ingredient of narrative. Conflict can come in the form of an external desire blocked by an external obstacle (e.g. humanity’s need to overcome an alien enemy in Independence Day) or an internal desire blocked only by the neurosis of the self (e.g. Charlie Kaufman’s need to evolve beyond his own self-condemnation in Adaptation).

CONFRONTATION 

The second act in Syd Field’s Paradigm, its ideal length is approximately 60 pages, and it contains both the second Plot Point at or around page 85 and the screenplay’s Mid-Point at or around page 60, or half-way through the script.

CONSIDER 

The “maybe” grade in studio script coverage.

CONTENT 

“Film content,” writes Margaret Mehring, “is what the screenwriter wants to say and the structure within which it is said. It’s the story to be told, the characters to be met, the places to go, and the theme to be communicated.”  A nebulous concept usually discussed in dichotomy with form, content refers to the “what” that is transmitted by the “how.” In other words, a screenplay may be said to contain virtually identical content with the motion picture produced from that screenplay, but the script and the film transmit this information through drastically different forms: the script through language typed onto paper, the film through images exposed onto celluloid. Of course, this raises questions as to whether two such forms really share the same content at all, since both the screenplay and the movie will no doubt contain an excess of information exclusive to its particular form (for instance, language metaphors in the screenplay and human performances in the movie).

CONTEXT

Context is what influence character: culture, historical period, location, occupation, etc.

CONTINUED

Indicates continuing speech when interrupted by descriptive, no longer used.

CONTINUED DIALOGUE

Dialogue spoken by the same character that continues uninterrupted onto the next page.

CONTINUITY (in film production) 

In film production, the script supervisor is in charge of tracking continuity from shot to shot and take to take.  In this sense, continuity is the illusion that a motion picture presents a single cohesive reality rather than a series of differing performances cobbled together in the editing room.  The script supervisor will track gestures, facial expressions, prop placement, the condition of wardrobe and hair, and numerous other factors to ensure the illusion of continuity.

CONTINUITY SCRIPT 

A Precursor to the contemporary screenplay.  This early shootings script was invented by Thomas Harper Ince in the 1910’s as the first form of scripting capable of governing both visual continuity and budgetary fidelity.

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 can 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.

CONTINUOUS ACTION

Included in the scene heading when moving from one scene to the next, as the action continues.

CONTRAST 

Contrast is a great way to define character duos, especially in “buddy pictures”. Opposites do attract, and by contrasting two characters that seemingly have nothing in common, but with further investigation, it is clear they do share common ground, the strongest character dynamics can be achieved. For example, there may be clear polarity when examining each character’s external features (age, ethnicity, gender, economics, commitments, etc.), but their internal hopes and fears or their objective are the same.

CONTRAZOOM

The Hitchcock zoom, also known as the contra-zoom or the Vertigo effect is an unsettling in-camera special effect that appears to undermine normal visual perception in a way that is difficult to describe.  This effect was used by Alfred Hitchcock in his film Vertigo.  It rarely appears in a screenplay.

COPYRIGHT

Proof of ownership of an artistic property that comes with registering your script through the United States Register of Copyrights.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

Placing © Your Name on the Title Page of a script.

COSTUME

Costume refers to a set of clothes in a style typical of a particular location or historical period. In scripts that take place in present day, costume is not an important element to describe; however, if the world itself is quite different from the present day world we know, costume become an important part of a character’s introduction. Also, if a character changes his or her costume for a specific reason, it is important to illustrate that change. It is a mistake, however, to describe the character’s costume every single time we see him or her, especially if there is no significance to the costume change.

COURIER 12

The main font in use in the U.S. by both publishers and the Hollywood film industry.

COVERAGE

The notes prepared by script readers at a literary agency, film production company, or script competition.

CRANE SHOT

A moving shot from a camera on a lift.

CRAWL

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

CRESCENDO

Obstacles and degrees of conflict encountered by the protagonist grow increasingly intense.

CREW

The staff members of a film production.

CROSS-GENRE

Two genres combined to create a more rich and complex movie (e.g., Witness is a cross genre of an “action thriller” and a “tragic love story”).

CROSSCUT (INTERCUT)

Interweaving pieces of two or more scenes, usually in order to show simultaneous actions or illuminate themes, as with telephone conversations.  Can be written standard scene breaks.  It’s more to prepare the reader for the upcoming slug line bonanza.

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)

CULMINATION

Conversion of a screenplay to an actual film.

CUT

The transitional movement on screen from one scene or shot to the next.

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.

CUTAWAY

A quick transition to another secondary shot (often of some lesser or ironic element of the setting) and back to the main shot.  (e.g. a brief shot of a dog listening to a human conversation that is the subject of the scene).

CUTTY

Using many quick edits between shots in a scene , often making the audience feel dizzy. Michael Bay movies tend to be cutty, even in non-action scenes.

CYCLORAMA 

A seamless, floor-to-ceiling curved backdrop used on studio sets to create a background for a scene. Often used to represent the sky on such sets.

D

DAILIES

Unedited rough cuts of the day (or from the previous day) which the director reviews to decide if a re-shoot needs to take place.

DASH

Indicates a sudden break or for emphasis ( -- ).

DAY PLAYER

A non-star actor who is paid a flat daily rate, generally speaking only a few lines in a film. Characters who appear in only one scene are generally played by day players. This is sometimes a "bump" for an extra who is asked to read a line on-set.

DEEPFOCUS SHOT 

A shot with exceptional depth of field.

DELAY

Delay is a narrative and dramatic device used to strengthen the established tension. The viewer anticipates that certain events will happen, and the tension - hope and fear - grows from that anticipation and creates audience impatience, which in turn fuels the tension. By delaying the arrival of an expected character or event, the solution of a mystery or an answer to an unanswered question, a more powerful impact is achieved on the audience.

DENOUNCEMENT

Concluding scenes where the story elements are finished and the characters’ status after the climax is shown.

DEPTH OF FIELD 

The distance between the elements in the foreground and background of a shot that appear in sharp focus.

DESCENDING ACTIO

At the end of the second act, and after the protagonist has done everything in his/her power to overcome his/her supreme ordeal, and the main culmination is reached and the battle is done - either a victory or a defeat - the descending action starts the third act with a new tension.

DESCRIPTION

One of Claudia Sternberg’s five modes of presentation in the scene text of the screenplay, description “is comprised of detailed sections about production design in addition to economical slug-line reductions.”  It may also be understood as the filmable imagery contained within the scene text.

DESIGNER

Theater professional whose job it is to envision any of the following elements in a play: costumes, sets, lights, sound or properties. 

DETAILS

The details are the individual features, props, or items in a scene. These details enrich the location and environment of the scene; however, describing too many details is a mistake. It is wise to describe a location in a general and succinct way, while pointing out a few important details that will be used to help tell the story in some way: advertising, planting & payoff, preparation & aftermath, etc.

DEUS EX MACHINA

An external solution to a problem that arrives without preparation to make things easier for the protagonist.  An easy solution.

DEVELOPMENT

The process of preparing a script for production.  The first stage of industrial movie-making, development precedes pre-production. During this stage, a script may go through multiple re-writes and screenwriter re-assignments before a studio feel comfortable committing to the project.

DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR

A studio executive who is in charge of sheepherding the writer through the "development process," giving them notes and feedback on the script.

DEVELOPMENT HELL

The dreaded creative death malaise that occurs when the development process lasts too long.

DIABOLUS EX MACHINA

Arbitrary, unjustified obstacle for the protagonist.

DIALOGUE

Speech between characters in a film.  Very simply, this is what people are supposed to say according to the script.

DIALOGUE PARADIGM

The dialogue paradigm is a structural guide to “SHOW don’t TELL” giving the story and characters direction, a line of development.  It’s like a road map, a skeleton that holds everything together.

DIFFUSION 

Placing materials (such as filters, glass, mesh, etc.) in front of the light in order to reduce the light’s harshness. 

DIMENSIONALITY

Richness of atmosphere or texture added to a film by means of smaller elements such as supporting characters, background actions or dialogue, or small details of design.

DIRECT SOLICITATION

When a theater contacts a playwright or his agent about submitting a script. Theaters that use this method typically do not want the playwright to initiate the contact.

DIRECT SOUND 

When sound and image are recorded at the same time.

DIRECTING ON THE PAGE

Directing on the page occurs (and is something the screenwriter wants to avoid) when the writer provides too many camera positions such as ZOOM IN, PAN LEFT, ANGLE ON, CRANE SHOT, CLOSE UP, PUSH IN, TRACKING SHOT, etc. When the writer is guilty of this, there is the potential to alienate potential directors by not allowing the director to imagine how he or she would shoot the scene(s). If it is important for the screenwriter make the audience aware of a particular prop or object, then the writer needs to find a way to highlight that object without using camera shots.

DIRECTING THE EYE 

The use of lighting to emphasize what is important in the shot..

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.

DIRECTOR’S CUT 

The first fully-edited version of a film prior to any intervention from outside parties such as studios.

DISCOURSE TIME

The duration of the telling of a story. In the case of a feature film, its running time. In the case of a screenplay, the time it takes a person to read it. 

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.

DISTRIBUTOR

The entity or company who distributes a completed film to exhibitors.

DOCU-DRAMA

A film that tells the true story of a historical event (e.g. Schindler’s List, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Gettysburg).

DOLLY IN / DOLLY OUT

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.

DOWNSTAGE

The part of the stage closet to the audience, so named because when stages were raked (slanted), an actor walking toward the audience was literally walking down.  Called “Down” for short.

DRAFT

A version of a play. Each draft of rewrites/revisions should be numbered differently.

DRAMA

Drama is not about accidental events that happen to individuals.  It is about how characters react to these events, and about characters making decisions under conflict and performing actions while in pursuit of an objective that represents fundamental human values.

DRAMATIC ACTION

The subtextual undercurrents and reciprocal actions that occur beneath the dialogue and physical actions of a screenplay.

DRAMATIC ANSWER

To the question posed in a drama, can be positive or negative, rarely unresolved.

DRAMATIC IRONY

Gives an audience information at least one character is unaware of.  The audience knows that the character may not be acting in the character’s own best interest when taking a particular position because of the information disclosed to the viewer.

DRAMATIC NEED

Unresolved issue facing the protagonist.

DRAMATIC STRUCTURE

Three characteristics needed for a drama, according to Aristotle, are a beginning, middle, and end.  These elements include an exposition, or revelation to the audience of what will be going on, a development, in which the plot unfolds, a climax, where all events come to a peak, and the denouncement, when everything in the plot is unraveled and resolved.  Most story-lines follow this format.

DRAMATIC QUESTION

Will the protagonist achieve his objective?

DRAMATURGY 

Dramaturgy is the theory and practice of dramatic composition.

DRAMATISTS GUILD OF AMERICA

The professional organization of playwrights, composers and lyricists, based in New York.

DUAL DIALOGUE

When two characters speak simultaneously.

DUNNING 

Combining studio-filmed shots with background footage that has been filmed in a different place.

DUTCH TILT 

A shot composed with the horizon not parallel with the bottom of the frame.

DYNAMIC FRAME 

The narrowing and widening of a frame to fit an appropriate ratio for the scene.

E

EARNED

The sense that a story moment has come about organically and logically, particularly in terms of character motivation. (“I don’t think you really earned Megan’s decision to give up the baby on page 21").

EDGY

A term used to describe a story or writing style that is unusually unsettling, exciting, or dark. Everyone claims to want edgy material, but then they end up making generic comedies.

EDITOR

The technician who “cuts” and assembles a movie from raw footage shot during principal photography, cutting it into a completed film with an eye to pacing, rhythm, suspense and cinematic image storytelling.

EIGHTH

A unit of a written page, used for production. Script pages are broken down into “eighths of a page," approximately one vertical inch of text. A scene might be listed as 1 1/8th long, which means one page plus one-eighth of the next.

ELEMENTS

The smaller parts of a movie that must be written and noted during the breakdown and budgeting process (e.g. cast, set pieces, vehicles, music, etc.)

ELEMENTS (in production breakdown)

In a production breakdown, a script is thoroughly read and labeled for such elements as cast members, props, set designs, costumes, animals, etc. An element, then, is any unique factor that might affect the budget of a feature film.

ELEMENTS (in script evaluation)

In studio script coverage, a reader will often track specific characteristics that might make the film more marketable. These are sometimes referred to as elements.

ELEVATOR PITCH

A 30-second story pitch.

ELLIPSIS

Used when dialogue trails off, and when it continues again. (…)

EMOTION 

Simply put:  “First feel.  Think second.  That’s the magic of story“.

EMOTIONAL DISPLAY

The term Claudia Sternberg uses to identify a “spontaneous physical expression for momentary psychological moods,” or non-verbal behavioral cues that exhibit only temporary emotional states.

EMOTIONAL PARADIGM

The emotional paradigm is a structural guide to render the precise experience necessary to cause an emotion, then take the audience through that experience while still giving the story direction, a line of development.  It’s like a road map, a skeleton that holds everything together.

EMPIRICIST METHOD

Janet Staiger defines this method of genre classification as follows: “determine from empirical observation the necessary and sufficient characteristics to include a film in the category.”

EMPHASIZED DIALOGUE

Dialogue that the playwright wants stressed, usually identified with italics.

EMPATHY

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. If the audience does not empathize with the main protagonist, the audience will not hope or fear for that character, and therefore, will not care about the character’s objective.

END

“An end . . . is that which itself naturally follows some other thing, either by necessity, or as a rule, but has nothing following it.”

ENEMIES

Enemies are created when two character both desire an objective which is unique and can be possessed by only one of them.  If they are unwilling to share and compromise, conflict is generated as they fight for sole possession of the object.

ENERGETIC

From Aristotelian theory.  An Energetic protagonist actively influences or “drives” the plot forward, creating their own destiny, as it were.

ENTRANCE

A character’s entry into a scene. “The scene is real wonky up until Chandler’s entrance."

ENVIROMENT

The environment is the surroundings or conditions in which a character lives or operates in. The environment can often be a source of conflict in of itself, and sometimes the environment is the antagonist of the story.