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Film Language Glossary
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Film Language Glossary

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  • 1. The 5 Technical Areas for Action- Adventure Films
  • 2. Expectations….
      • Camera Shot, Angle, Movement and Position
      • Editing
      • Sound
      • Mise-en-scene
      • Special effects
      • You will watch a ‘sequence’ from an action/adventure film. You will be expected to analyse it by referring to the 5 technical areas and by using your semiotic skills.
      • The way a director and editor combines and uses the technical areas often develops into a ‘signature’ style that makes their films instantly recognisable to the audience.
  • 3. Camera Angle, shot, movement and position
    • Establishing shot – This ‘establishes’ the location/ set/ environment where the action will take place - to create context, establish the mood, rules, time and place.
    • Master shot – This is the shot the director/editor returns to break up the action – to provide a pause or change of direction.
    • Close-up – This shot focuses and increases the attention of the audience – intensity, intimacy, identification and voyeurism.
    • Mid-shot – This shot shows the general action of the movie– closeness without intimacy.
    • Wide-shot – This is a broader shot, showing perhaps parts of the set or externals – To emphasise size, scale, the dramatic or epic
  • 4. Camera Angle, shot, movement and position (2)
    • Two shot/ Reverse shot – This shows a conversation/ link or reaction between characters or hero/ villain / antagonist/ protagonist – a connection, relationship or conflict.
    • High angle – This shot looks down on the action from a superior position - The observer dominates, power, higher status.
    • Low angle – This shot looks up at the action from below, an inferior position – the observer is vulnerable, weak and lower in status.
    • Aerial shot – This is a shot from high or directly above the action – suggests surveillance and observation.
    • Point of view – This is a shot were we see what the actor sees through their own eyes –identification/ sympathy with the viewer or a sense of discomfort/ tension if the point of view is hostile.
  • 5. Camera Angle, shot, movement and position (3)
    • Pan – This is a shot that moves steadily (or quickly – whip pan) across the action – to survey or follow the action/ to refocus and stimulate new interest.
    • Tilt – This is when the camera looks up/down or is skewed – to follow or disorientate.
    • Crab – This is when the camera moves left/right with characters/action and suggests an intimacy and importance of those characters
    • Track/dolly/steadicam – These shots are from a fixed track camera/ wheels/ or harness – to follow smoothly predictable or unpredictable action.
    • Zoom/ reverse zoom– this is when the camera gets closer to / moves away from the action in a very quick movement – this suggests surveillance, voyeurism and intense observation.
  • 6. Camera Angle, shot, movement and position (4)
    • Mode of address/direct address – This is how the text “speaks” to the audience/ Most actors do not speak directly to the camera – to maintain realism and the sense of involvement/escapism the action provides.
    • The frame – This is the space in which the action takes place. In a film we do not see the director or camera-person. They are outside the frame – this suggests a special ‘world’ or hyper-reality (perhaps the diegesis or fictional world of the film)
    • Frame composition – This is how the film-makers ‘construct’ the elements within the frame – consider depth-of-field.
  • 7. Editing
    • Cut/edit – The most basic tool of the editor. Cutting and editing turns months of shooting into a two hour film - Editing trims the footage down but also helps to create/ maintain the logic of a start, middle and end (narrative).
    • Montage – A series of shots that are connected together to reinforce/create meaning – intensifies and controls the emotion through collection.
    • Fade- This is when the picture gradually disappears to be replaced with often a black or white screen – suggests the end or a new beginning
    • Wipe – This is when one image or a line literally ‘wipes’ across the screen to replace another – suggests the passage of time or a transformation.
    • Dissolve – This is when one frame disappears gradually to be replaced by another - suggests the passage or time or a transformation.
    • Superimpose – This is when one image is laid on top of another on the screen – suggests that both images are connected or related to each-other – consider split screen.
  • 8. Editing (2)
    • Slow-motion – The action literally slows down with the text – this connotes seriousness or a past event. Helps to prolong tension.
    • Long take – This is a shot that does not cut away but ‘lingers’ on one piece of the action. It is the equivalent of staring – connotes intensity.
    • Editing pace – This is the speed and tempo of the cuts – slow suggests emotion and sentimentalism/ fast suggests tension, action and uncontrollable events.
    • Continuity cuts– This is the way a sequence is cut together- to make it appear natural and seamless.
    • Cutaways – This is when the shot ‘cuts away’ to often a reaction shot of another character or piece of action - often reinforces a mood of togetherness or confrontation.
  • 9. Sound
    • Theme music – This is the music that introduces, develops throughout and ends the film. It often indicates the ‘personality’ and mode of address of the movie. Characters can have their own theme music – this is used to indicate their presence or ‘emotional journey’.
    • Sound effects – These are sounds that are diegetic or non-diegetic – Used to create a sense of realism or emotional involvement in the audience.
    • Ambient sound- This is background sound that comes from the action, such as wind blowing, cars horn, chatter – reinforces the mood/ the reality of the film.
  • 10. Sound (2)
    • Voiceover – This is the ‘voice’ of a character. This voice often guides or informs the external audience but can be used to push them in wrong narrative directions.
    • Synchronous sound – This is when a sound effect is matched with another technical event or action – this reinforces the effect.
    • Asynchronous sound – This is when a sound originates from outside of the diegetic reality of the film; musical soundtrack perhaps?
    • Diegetic/Non-Diegetic – These are sounds that come from inside/ outside the film. They are usually natural/ artificial.
      • C.f. Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks, 1974) and the Count Basie orchestra appearing in the desert and non-diegetic becomes diegetic!
  • 11. Mise-en-scene
    • Literally it means ‘placed in the picture or scene but includes the following:-
    • Set – This is the physical structure on which the ‘action’ is shot and played out – the position of the actors or objects in the set often indicate their level or importance or status. A ‘convincing’ set means that the audience is able to ‘suspend belief’ about the hype-real action that takes place
    • Set layout and design – This is how the set is put together to create a certain mood, location and atmosphere for the film.
    • Costume – This is what the actors wear to show their status or character. Costuming is a key indicator in the action movie. Action heroes will often wear a ‘costume’ to suggest their role, intentions and how they will react to the situations they find themselves in.
    • Lighting ( ambient/artificial/low or high key)
    • This is how light is used by the film to create a certain mood or atmosphere – low lighting is often considered unsettling and threatening. Action movies tend towards a more brash and visceral use of lighting and colour.
    • Props – These are the objects that are used to ‘dress’ the set create a sense of realism. Action props help to signify general themes of action.
      • Think of the iconography of a sequence or perhaps the binary oppositions (Levi-Strauss) caused by the props standing for some ideological conflict i.e. guns:- order/disorder; law/lawlessness
  • 12. Special Effects
    • Captions – These are pieces of written text that are used to give the external audience information or guidance. This information usually indicates a time or place and acts as a ‘visual’ shorthand. Puts the audience in the ‘privileged’ position of the ‘spectator’.
    • CGI – These are c omputer g enerated i mages that are often used to create an effect that cannot be shot due to expense or practicality – the foundation of most modern action movies. CGI and blue-screen work create the fantastical and make the impossible probable and believable.
    • Special Effects are produced during the shooting/production stage, and would include stunts and pyrotechnics, whilst
    • Visual Effects are produced during the editing or post-production phase.