Film language

Psycho
Psycho

Any film involves the combination of a huge number of techniques and traditions, used to convey a story or narrative in a manner that an audience hopefully finds compelling. However the terminology around the filmmaking process can often be confusing. To help, we've compiled a glossary of some of the most frequently used terms in Film Language, with examples and key-codes from classic films to help demonstrate their meaning. We hope they allow for greater understanding of the medium of film amongst young audiences, providing useful information for their own film reviews or even their own filmmaking projects!

Psycho

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration109 mins

Psycho (1960)

The most famous, and possibly the most tense, of the films of suspense master Hitchcock, in which a woman is stuck in a remote hotel in a storm.

PACE – Psycho is perhaps best remembered for its iconic shower scene, in which Hitchcock offloaded the star of the film in brutal fashion, much to audience’s shock. The power of the scene lies in the speed of its editing: a dizzying combination of fast cuts which add to the disorienting effect on the audience and the film’s unique terror (00:44:30-00:46:35).

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Seven Samurai

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration170 mins

Seven Samurai(1954)

This Japanese epic following the adventures of a band of samurai is one of cinema's most influential films.

TRANSITION EDITING refers to the process in which two scenes or shots are joined together. There are a variety of techniques, but one of the most distinctive is the wipe: where one shot pushes the other out of frame. George Lucas uses this throughout Star Wars, influenced by Kurosawa’s extraordinary samurai epic, Seven Samurai (00:07:00-00:07:20).

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Batman Begins

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration140 mins

Batman Begins(2005)

Dark, hard-edged action-adventure that sees the very foundations of the Batman saga start in thrilling style.

ELLIPTICAL EDITING refers to film’s ability to compress or stretch out time, controlling the pace of a sequence for a desired effect (e.g. to convey a long period of time in the space of a few seconds. An example of this is in Batman Begins, where Bruce Wayne’s journey into the Himalayan mountains is edited down to around 90 seconds screen time (00:05:36-00:07:20).

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Up

CertU

Age group5–11

Duration98 mins

Up(2009)

Up marries animation that's breathtaking even by Pixar's standards with storytelling so adept, you'll be crying and laughing in the first 5 minutes.

Another example of elliptical editing is MONTAGE: where a series of short scenes are edited into a sequence to condense time, space, and information. A very famous example is the training montage in Rocky, but our favourite is the unforgettable opening sequence of Up, which told the story of an entire marriage in the space of a heart-breaking few minutes (00:02:39-00:11:10).

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Say Anything

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration96 mins

Say Anything(1989)

John Cusack stars in this sweet comedy about a geeky high schooler who wins girl of his dreams... but that's when his problems really start.

DIEGETIC SOUND refers to sound that originates from a source within the film (on or off screen), such as music playing on a radio, or simply the voices of the characters themselves. One of the most famous examples is in Say Anything, where a teenage John Cusack stands outside a girl’s house holding a boombox blasting out a Peter Gabriel song above his hea

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North By Northwest

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration130 mins

North By Northwest(1959)

Regarded as one of the finest films by suspense master Alfred Hitchcock, this classic chase movie sees a suave executive mistaken for a spy.

Conversely, NON-DIEGETIC SOUND is a sound whose source is not visible on screen or implied to be present in the action , such as narration; interior monologues and some exaggerated sound effects. An obvious example is a film soundtrack, such as Bernard Hermann’s legendary score for NORTH BY NORTHWEST, demonstrated in its famous conclusion on top of Mount Rushmore (2.05.10

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Gravity

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration89 mins

Gravity(2013)

A spectacular, thrilling story of survival set in the depths of space, with breathtaking, groundbreaking visuals.

SOUND FX – Sound other than speech or music made artificially for use in a film to enhance the narrative or make a dramatic statement. One of the most memorable elements of Gravity is its astonishing sound design, embracing the silence of space to amplify the drama through more human means, rather than loud explosions and pyrotechnics.

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Dracula

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration73 mins

Dracula(1931)

Bram Stoker's immortal vampire creation creeps onto the screen in what is perhaps his most famous incarnation.

FOLEY – Sounds recorded for use in post-production to enhance audio quality, due to the restrictions and complications involved in any filming. Foley artists have always been a key part of the filmmaking process and use everyday objects and surfaces to create the illusion of something much more dramatic, like a storm (17.25-18.55).

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Madagascar

CertU

Age group5–11

Duration82 mins

Madagascar(2005)

Fun animation about a bored zebra who tries to escape from a New York zoo aided by some cunning penguins who ends up being sent to Africa.

CONTRAPUNTAL sound strongly contrasts with the mood or tone of the sequence, such as the use of ‘What A Wonderful World’ in MADAGASCAR as Alex is running away realising he might eat his friends!

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Rear Window

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration109 mins

Rear Window(1954)

This Alfred Hitchcock thriller sees a reporter stuck in his apartment with a broken leg, and seeing suspicious activity out his window.

MISE-EN-SCÉNE means all of the elements that are “put into the scene”: setting, lighting, performance etc. This practice is at the heart of Film Studies. A brilliant place to start is Rear Window whose construction is often likened to the experience of watching a film itself. Its opening sequence particularly lends itself to understanding mise-en-scéne. (00:00:20-00:03:5

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The Truman Show

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration99 mins

The Truman Show(1998)

Jim Carrey stars in this fascinating, existential satire about a man who discovers his whole life is a reality TV show.

LOCATION is the geographical area where the film’s narrative takes place, be it a constructed film set, a historical building or an artificial world constructed with green screen. The Truman Show blurs a couple of these: Truman believes the world he inhabits is real, but everybody else – including the audience know - that it is one giant set.

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The Red Balloon (Le Ballon Rouge)

CertU

Age group5–14

Duration34 mins

The Red Balloon (Le Ballon Rouge)(1956)

One of the greatest children's films of all time, this much-loved (mostly dialogue-free) French movie is about a young boy and his toy balloon.

PROPS – Objects placed within a film sequence. Individual props can be used to tell specific parts of a story, create a certain mood, and contribute to our knowledge of characters. Sometimes, they are the central focus of the entire film, such as the iconic THE RED BALLOON. (00:09:20-00:11:40)

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The Elephant Man

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration118 mins

The Elephant Man(1980)

Beautiful account of John Merrick, a man with a severe physical deformity rescued from a cruel circus sideshow in Victorian London.

The extraordinary, transformative prosthetic make-up seen in The Elephant Man created such an enormous impact that it led to the creation of an Oscar category to acknowledge excellence in the field. Its complexity required 7-8 hours every day to be assembled but made an enormous contribution to John Hurt’s unforgettable performance. (00:33:55-00:35:25)

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The Wizard of Oz

CertU

Age group7+

Duration98 mins

The Wizard of Oz(1939)

This timeless family musical, one of cinema's much loved productions, sees young Dorothy escape Kansas for the Technicolor land of Oz.

The clothes worn by characters are known as COSTUMES. Like any wardrobe, they tell us about the character and setting. They often inform key parts of the wider story or even go some way to defining their era. Some of the most iconic costumes ever seen in film appear in The Wizard of Oz, not least Dorothy’s legendary ruby red slippers.

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Groundhog Day

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration97 mins

Groundhog Day(1993)

How many of us wish we had the chance to re-live a day all over again? In this classic comedy, that's exactly what TV weatherman Phil Connors gets.

CHARACTER ARC – The manner in which a character ‘grows’ or changes within the story. In Groundhog Day, grumpy curmudgeon Phil Connors gradually learns to find love, joy and happiness in life through being forced to live the same day over and over again, until he gets it right.

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Victoria

Cert15

Age group16+

Duration138 mins

Victoria(2015)

New-to-town Victoria finds herself in over her head when she agrees to help a man that she’s befriended on a night out.

LINEAR NARRATIVE – Narrative events that are told in chronological order. The German thriller Victoria took this concept one step further by telling its entire story of the adventures of a young woman on a night out clubbing in Berlin over the course of one, astonishing and intoxicating take.

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Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration103 mins

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind(2004)

Mind-bending and utterly original drama about a broken-hearted man who wipes a whole relationship from his memory.

NON-LINEAR NARRATIVE – Narrative events told in non-chronological order. In the time-bending Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, audiences and characters are often left bewildered as we witness the central character attempt to have the memory of a previous romance erased from his mind, but discovering that the past has a way of coming back into our lives.

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La La Land

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration128 mins

La La Land(2016)

A sentimental, dreamlike musical which sees two aspiring artists attempt to make it in Hollywood amidst a whirlwind romance.

GENRE involves grouping films by their defining mood and characteristics, such as science-fiction, horror and comedy. One of the most cinematic has historically been the musical. La La Land retains many of the tropes associated with these films but twists them into something fresh and new.

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Gladiator

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration149 mins

Gladiator(2000)

Ridley Scott's ancient Roman epic about a general-turned-gladiator out for revenge on the new Emperor.

COMPOSITING combines images from different sources into a single image, giving the impression that they are part of the same scene. An example is the use of green-screen in Gladiator where shots in the Coliseum comprise a part-built physical set and upper galleries (including spectators) digitally added later to create an imposing arena (01.18.40-01.25.30).

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Almost Famous

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration118 mins

Almost Famous(2000)

Funny yet poignant coming-of-age movie about a teenager touring with his favourite rock band.

PARALLEL SOUND matches the mood and tone of the sequence. An example is the wistful, nostalgic use of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer as the band bond on the road in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous (00:57:55-01:00:03).

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Casablanca

CertU

Age group11+

Duration98 mins

Casablanca(1942)

Against the backdrop of a Nazi-occupied North Africa an American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.

FLASHBACK – A scene or sequence in the film set earlier in the story. It is often used to reveal crucial backstory about character’s pasts, as in Casablanca, when Rick reminisces about his doomed romance with Ilsa in the care free days before World War Two. (00:35:45-00:46:00)

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Minority Report

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration145 mins

Minority Report(2002)

Intelligent, futuristic crime film set in an era when the police have the technology to arrest criminals before they commit crimes.

FLASH FORWARD – A scene or sequence in the film that temporarily takes the narrative forward in time. Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report took this concept and applied it to the entire narrative, through the vision of a near-future in which murders can be solved before they happen. (00:01:00 – 00:14:08)

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Blade Runner

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration117 mins

Blade Runner(1982)

In the future human clones are sent to work in the outer reaches of space, when six escape and head to earth a blade runner is sent to hunt them.

An ESTABLISHING SHOT introduces an audience to the world a film takes place in, usually the first shot of a scene. They are often extreme wide-shots, taking in vast amounts of space. A particularly memorable example is the opening of Blade Runner with it’s portrait of a dystopian future Los Angeles telling a significant part of the story all by itself (00:02:55-00:04:00)

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Being John Malkovich

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration108 mins

Being John Malkovich(1999)

Down on his luck Craig finds a portal to the mind of John Malkovich on the 7 1/2 floor of his office. Comic and surreal debut from Spike Jonze.

POINT OF VIEW SHOT – A technique often used in horror films to show a scene from the visual perceptive of an individual character, often not visible on screen at the time. In Being John Malkovich, a man finds himself living inside the head of the title character, experiencing the world as he sees it and seeing how it in turn responds to him (00:28:00-00:30:33)

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The Bourne Ultimatum

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration115 mins

The Bourne Ultimatum(2007)

The third installment of the Bourne series sees Jason Bourne hunting down those responsible for his plight.

HANDHELD CAMERA shots are images captured by a camera operator with the camera in their hands, rather than on a tripod or other base. This allows for a more kinetic, frantic experience, getting closer to the action and placing the audience more in the scene. Handheld shots are particularly used in action films, such as The Bourne Ultimatum (00:20:00 – 00:23:20)

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Lawrence Of Arabia

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration222 mins

Lawrence Of Arabia(1962)

Acclaimed epic about British war hero TE Lawrence's life during the World War I Middle East campaign and failure to re-adapt to life back in England.

A WIDE SHOT is often used to show an entire object within the frame, or much larger spaces. In Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean used a series of extreme wide shots to convey the enormous scale of the production and the desert the characters found themselves in, most memorably in the entrance of Omar Sharif’s Ali, one of the most famous shots in all cinema. (00:27:00-00:29:45).

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Far From Heaven

Cert12

Age group14+

Duration103 mins

Far From Heaven(2002)

Brightly-coloured Douglas Sirk tribute about a marriage that falls apart in the hyper-conformist American suburbs of the 1950s

When used creatively, COLOUR can expand upon and develop the stories and themes of a film in remarkable ways. Most films will try to use colour as naturally as possible, but others, such as Far From Heaven, adopt a more stylised palette, adding to its ravishing beauty and using particular shades to create important symbolic functions.

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Birdman

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration114 mins

Birdman(2014)

Black comedy about an ageing actor attempting to shake-off the demons associated with his most famous role.

CAMERA MOVEMENT guides the viewer's eye, controlling the angle through which we view a scene, encouraging us to dwell on particular objects or individuals within the frame, and helping to set the pace of a film. It's a highly technical process, particularly in Birdman with its illusion that the entire film comprised of one single take, creating an immersive, hypnotic experience

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Citizen Kane

CertU

Age group11+

Duration114 mins

Citizen Kane(1941)

When a publishing tycoon dies, news reporters are desperate to discover the meaning of his final utterance.

DEPTH OF FIELD refers to the amount of space between the closest and furthest objects in a scene. One of the most pioneering examples of this technique is in Citizen Kane. Nearly every scene is shown in deep focus, meaning the foreground, background and everything in between are in sharp focus - a technique that went on to influence countless filmmakers.

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In The Mood For Love

CertPG

Age group14+

Duration98 mins

In The Mood For Love(2000)

Exquisitely beautiful film set in 1960s Hong Kong about a man and woman who are married to other people but find themselves drawn to one another.

One of the most distinctive cinematic techniques is the use of CLOSE-UP. These can draw us into characters and their most complex, intimate moments, allowing the entire world around us (and them) to fade away. The technique captures the human face in unique detail, enabling the audience to share in moments of extreme emotion, as in the beautiful In The Mood For Love.

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All The President's Men

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration132 mins

All The President's Men(1976)

70s classic about the two journalists who uncovered the Watergate scandal which brought down a presidency.

FOCUS refers to the degree of sharpness or distinctness of an image. If an image is "out of focus" then it will be blurry and lack definition. All The President's Men uses deep focus to convey the ordered chaos of a newspaper room, using multiple focus points to tell several secondary stories as the front of the frame remains dominated by its protagonist (00:19:10-00:22:25)

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