filmmaker by heart's

Glossary of Terms

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel - On location, Blaine Rennicks (Cinematographer) & Bertie Brosnan (Actor) - Photo Credit: Craig Moore

Camera Movements


Any shot done from a drone or helicopter. It’s a bird's eye view of the world and a dramatic way of establishing the scene and / or action – drones are a lot more common now, helicopters being used less and less. 


The camera is mounted to a robotic crane, sometimes known as ‘Jib Shots’ (smaller cranes), and the cinematographer can perform all sorts of shots from up high. It’s usually used in big epic sweeping establishing shots, action scenes, and any dramatic scene. 

Dolly Zoom: 

The Dolly Zoom is a famous stylised shot where the crew dollies forwards or backwards along a track while simultaneously zooming the lens in the opposite direction. The effect is that the subject of the frame stays the same size while the foreground to the background becomes distorted. 


Here’s where the camera operator holds the camera without any gimbal or Steadicam. The camera would be rigged up so it can be rested on the operator's shoulder. The handheld is effective in creating a more real and sometimes frenzied feel to the narrative. The operator can be static or move through the scene slowly or at pace. 


A tracking shot is when the camera physically moves through the space usually following a subject providing the audience with an immersive experience. It can be forward, sideward, backward, any direction once the camera is physically moving through the scene. The shot usually lasts longer than a regular shot. ‘Tracking’ referred to the old dolly tracks which are still used on more traditional bigger budget sets but nowadays Steadicams, gimbals and even drones have taken the mantle is creating buttery smooth tracking shots. Dolly shots are still used and it’s really the foundation of the tracking shots.  


Panning is a movement along the horizontal axis left or right while its base remains fixed to its location. Usually, the pan is revealing more to the audience or taking away full-on view of something. A ‘whip pan’ (a very quick pan movement which creates a motion blur) can be used to a certain effect to transition between scenes or to simulate a passage of time.  


Here’s where the camera moves up and down vertically, it differs from the tilt shot as the camera moves up and down parallel to its base, usually following the subject of the scene. 

Rack Focus: 

This shot is simply a change of focus mid-scene to bring the subject out of focus and focus on another subject within the scene. The camera operator and focus puller are involved in this process, and takes a little practice and blocking to pull it off. 


Here the camera tilts vertically while the base remains fixed in its location. Usually performed to establish shots like tall buildings or trees or identify a dramatic character. All depends on the scene and the narrative.   


The camera zooms in or out on the subject or scenery, whatever the filmmaker decides is best for the narrative. It’s not hugely common for directors to use the zoom only stylistically.  

Sineater - On location, Sam Breen (Assistant Camera) - Photo Credit: Jerry Lane

Camera Shots



This shot brings us really close to the characters face revealing their emotions and inner life through the eyes. It’s a powerful shot and usually blurs out anything else other than the face. If we didn’t cut into the this shot, we wouldn’t see the details on the character’s face and for instance tears or laughter lines, etc. 

Extreme Close-Up:

Here the filmmaker will focus on one part of the face, for instance the mouth, the eyes, one eye, ear, whatever, for a specific storytelling purpose. So, we the audience can get a feeling of the narrative and what’s taking place tonally. 

Extreme Long Shot:

This shot brings more character to the piece. It provides a little tone, more descriptive setting and potentially a character in the somewhat expansive place. There’s an emotional impact within this shot as it relates to the character, and / or to the nature of the place in respects to what’s going on within the shot. 

Establishing Shot:

Is usually the opening shot of the film, it ‘establishes’ the scene and sets the stage. For instance, if the film takes place in Los Angeles, a lot of the time the opening shot will be an expansive shot of the city skyline, huge motorways, busy Los Angeles streets, etc. It’s telling us the setting, and where the film will take place, and it could set off a montage of shots depending on the story. There are no rules here, it’s a way of the filmmaker telling us, “Here we are, in Downtown Los Angeles, at night!” 

If it’s a rural setting, then we will show the rural landscape, and usually a lot of it in one go.  

Wide Shot: 

Here we get tighter on the character or characters, showing them from head to toe, now we will be sure of the time and place, and how the setting is affecting the characters. The main character also known as the protagonist will be a major presence in the frame. We will feel how the scenery dominates the characters showing their relationship more and more to what is around them. 

High Shot / Low Shot:

A high shot is any one above eye level looking down on the subject usually presenting the subject as weak. 

A low shot is any shot below the eye level usually giving the subject a more powerful and heroic appeal. 

Master Shot:

Here’s a shot that is recorded from a single angle uninterrupted which brings all the characters into view. It’s usually used as coverage for the scene in editing. But sometimes scenes play out in this one single shot which gives the audience a feeling of being a fly-on-the-wall. 

Medium Shot: 

Usually, a shot that brings the character into frame from waist to head and we reveal how the character is feeling somewhat. It’s not a close up but it’s much closer that we now start to learn about the character much more. The medium shot can be used in a variety of ways and angles like other shots to show us more about the character in relation to their personal space and other characters.  

Over The Shoulder Shot:

Here’s where the subject is viewed from behind the shoulder of another character usually somewhere between a medium and close-up shot. It will reveal the reactions of the subject in the frame. It’s often used when the characters are in dialogue with one another. 

Point of View Shot:

This shot is through the eyes of the character, what the character would be seeing in that particular moment. Or, we might get a feeling of what’s going on in the character’s head. For instance, looking through a sniper rifle, or within an action scene while fighting someone, there are endless variations. 

Tilted Shot:

Here’s where the camera is tilted on its axis breaking the horizontal plane of view giving the shot an unsettling feeling.  

Sineater - On location, Blaine Rennicks (Cinematographer) & Sam Breen (Assistant Camera) - Photo Credit: Jerry Lane


APERTURE (f stop): 

The aperture or the f-stop relates to the amount of light that enters the lens determining how light or dark the final image is.  Aperture, along with the ISO & SHUTTER SPEED (explained below) are the trinity of proper exposure for your image thus leading to pleasing images.  Also, manipulating these purposefully can add to the tone of the images which is something that is worked out between the cinematographer and director.  Aperture is measured in f-stop's which run from the largest opening f/1.4 to the smallest f/32 (can be confusing at first, as the largest opening has the smallest number, and vice versa!) 


The aspect ratio is simply the ratio between the width and the height of the image.  The screen where the image is contained doesn’t hold any bearing on the aspect ratio of the image.  So, for example a full HD image has a resolution of 1920 x 1080p which equals to 16:9 as an aspect ratio.  Aspect ratios are used by filmmakers in a creative way to help tell their story.  Aspect ratio is used by exhibitors of the film so they can screen the movie in a correct fashion. 


Composition is how the director and cinematography arrange the subjects, details, production design and other aspects within the scene into the frame. It is probably the most important part in creatively telling your story through images.  The ‘rule-of-thirds’ is probably the most common and vital way of composing a shot.  There are other ways of composing your shots such as Grid, Triangle, Golden Ratio, and Golden Spiral: consult with your cinematography and decide what’s best for your narrative. 


DoF relates to what’s in focus within the frame. To put it very simply, a shallow depth-of-field will show a specific subject, usually in the foreground, with sharp focus drawing the attention of the viewer and blurring out the background and other details.  And when you have a deep DoF – you can keep quite a lot in focus, details and minor subjects that are in the background and major subjects and details in the foreground at the same time. 


Relates to the amount of light reaching each frame of your film.  How exposed your images are is how light, or dark they are, in essence.  Achieving good exposure is a balance between shutter speed, aperture and iso levels, all explained below. 


Frame in film is what is captured by your camera, and framing is purposefully positioning your camera, using certain lens and focal lengths to achieve a composition which progresses your narrative and aesthetically achieves a tone for your film. 

FRAME RATE (i.e., 24 frames per second): 

Films are made up of single frames captured in camera moving at an incredible fast rate.  What we see are millions of still images moving incredibly fast to make the picture move.  The frame rate refers to how many frames are captured per second.  It’s an important technical matter as for the most part we want to capture everything in 24 frames per second to create a nice cinematic look.  But you can use higher frame rates at times to achieve slow motion in post-production, or to create other visual looks. 


The focal length is a measurement usually in mm, for example 24mm, which is located on the lens.  Different focal lengths mean different field-of-views.  So, depending on the focal length of the lens you may have a wider, or narrower view... the cinematographer chooses the lens based on the scene, what’s needed in shot, what’s in focus, etc. 


The ISO is a measurement to determine how much light your camera lets in to hit the image sensor (not to be confused with Aperture, as Aperture relates to the lens). To achieve the best quality image is always best to have the ISO as low as possible balancing it with proper exposure. But that can only occur in well-lit environments. The less light available the higher the ISO will be, but the image quality will suffer. It’s a fine balance, with the aperture and the shutter speed (explained below). 


Also known as standard lenses and usually come with the camera body when you purchase one. These lenses aren’t typically good for cinematic storytelling. They can work fine but for most of my cinematic films I’ve rented prime lenses.  They come in a range of focal lengths depending on the cost of the camera package. 


Pixels are bits of colour information, in a digital image, usually contained in a small square including red, green & blues (RGB), sometimes cyan, magenta, yellow, & black (CMYB).  These pixels are bunched together to form an overall picture in a frame.  So, a digital image is made of a large number of pixels, and you will know how many by checking the resolution (explained above).  The more pixels you have, the higher the resolution, and the better the image you will be viewing. 


These are more cinematic lenses with a fixed focal length and they are great when you’ve planned your shots, framing, and blocking because you can achieve crisp, clean images with prime lenses. These lenses cannot zoom in, or out, the field-of-view is fixed. 

RESOLUTION (i.e., 4k, 1080p): 

Put simply, Resolution relates to the number of pixels in a given image, it is measured horizontally & vertically. For instance, a full HD image has 1920 pixels horizontally and 1080 pixels vertically. The higher the resolution, the better the image quality.    


The shutter speed of the lens refers to the shutter at the front of it which opens when filming to let light into the lens thus creating the image.  The speed of shutter denotes the amount of light is let in... so, the slower the shutter speed, the more light enters the lens, the faster the shutter speed, the less light enters the lens achieving different results.  The slower the shutter speed, the more motion blur will be noticed.  The range of speed can go as fast as 1/8000th (1 opening in 8000th of a second) up to very slow speeds of 1 opening in 30 seconds 1/30 (this would cause a cool effect like a time lapse!). 


Lenses that can zoom, changing their focal length to focus in and out from subjects within the frame. Not used that often in cinematic storytelling but can be used from time to time to create certain cool effects.  

Sineater - On location, Blaine Rennicks (Cinematography), Bertie Brosnan (Director), Mark O' Connor (Boom), Roger Ryan (Gaffer), Brian O' Connor (Assistant Director) - Photo Credit: Jerry Lane

Common Film-Set Equipment

Boom Pole, Mics & Dead Cats: 

A sound recordist will deploy an arsenal of equipment to capture the perfect sound and in this set of tools they will most certainly have a boom pole, different types of microphones & dead cats (don’t worry they aren’t actually dead cats!) 

A boom pole is essential a long instrument used in recording actors from a far distance whilst keeping the microphone out of shot. It’s a pole and you screw on the microphone at the end, the sound assistant or boom operator will position themselves usually with their arms outstretched overhead and reach the pole over to the subjects. They need to have strong arms and a lot of stamina. It’s not easy! 

All types of microphones are used on a film set, boom mics, lavalier mics, shotgun mics and wireless mics – all with different functions and usages. The boom (directional) mic as discussed is attached to the boom pole to reach from long distances. The lavalier mics can be attached to the actors under their clothes. Shotgun mics are attached to the camera themselves but are more for vlogging. And wireless mics do not need any wiring, a lot more expensive but essential at times depending on your film.  

The dead cat is simply a cover for your microphone so you can minimise wind corrupting your sound files. It looks like a dead cat, hence the name! 

Camera Body: 

A camera body is foundational tool on every film set. They come in all shapes and sizes, from your iPhone to a Red Komodo. Whatever the budget and needs of production will determine which camera to use. Usually, your Cinematographer will have their own camera package which I suggest you utilise. We’ve shot our films on all sorts of cameras: Canon 5D mark iii, Canon C300, Panasonic GH4 and a few more. People get bogged down on camera choices, but really the camera is just one tool in the arsenal of every crew. All your footage is recorded through your camera onto your hard disk and transferred to your hard-drives for post-production. 

N.B., I didn’t know anything about cameras, now I know a little. The Cinematographer is in charge of this department.  

Camera Rigs & Cases

Camera Rigs and Cases are essentially accessories added to your camera body and lens to make them sturdier, more stable, easier to handle for longer shoots, and can help create cool looking shots & movements. These rigs for the typical independent filmmaker are handheld and there is a vast array of utensils at your disposal. It all depends on your budget, needs, experience, and what kind of shots one needs. The rig family reaches out to cranes and overhead mounts too (we’ve used on two occasions). Your cinematographer should have adequate equipment already in this area, but sometimes they will request to rent extra rigging and bulkier cases. It all depends on your shoot. 

Clapper Board:

A clapper board is a tool used on film sets to help the editor in post-production to synchronise sound and video. It’s also used to keep track of the scene, roll, and take numbers so the footage and sound can be organised accordingly. On big film sets the person designated with this role is called the Clapper Loader. On smaller, independent films, usually the Assistant Director, or 2nd AD would take up the position. 

Dolly Tracks:

Dolly Tracks are a type of camera grip used by the cinematographer to create smooth tracking shots to keep the subject in frame along a smooth surface. They are put together by your grip on set in conjunction with your cinematographer’s instructions. You can also have a cheaper version where a tripod can act as a dolly. 


These stabilisers are a modern-day cheaper version of the Steadicam acting as arms for your camera so you can produce very smooth camera movements. There is a vast array available on the market to suit every budget, from gimbals for your smartphone to your high-end cinema camera. It takes experience and training to operate gimbals, they are electronic and use in-built sensors to keep the camera balanced and steady. It’s important that your cinematographer and operators are qualified and experienced in operating these. 

Jib Crane:

Jib Cranes are lightweight cranes, which come in different sizes depending on the shoot and type of shot needed used to lift cameras up to a height safely. The camera set-up is attached and used to perform high-angled shots usually of large crowds, establishing shots, obscure and/or revealing from a height shot.  


Camera lenses are the eyes of the camera. Without the Lense the camera body is useless. Like camera bodies, lenses come in all shapes and sizes. Your cinematographer should have adequate lenses in their package but sometimes they may wish to rent extra more expensive lenses, depending on the production and budget. The types of lenses are lenses used on a typical shoot consist of Kit Lens, Standard Lens, Zoom Lens and Prime lens. Your cinematographer will choose the lens types based on the tone, style and vision for your film. 


Film Set Lighting comes in all shapes and sizes, different power, and with different functions. Lighting of course can be from a natural source, but really you want to be able to control your lighting on set. The objects in focus need to be exposed properly, and in a certain style, to suit the tone of the film - which is the job of the Cinematographer and Gaffer who work in conjunction with one another. 

Memory Cards & Hard drives:

Memory cards are slotted into your camera body to record footage onto, Sandisk are a popular brand, the amount of storage ranges from 32g – 256gb usually. Again, your cinematographer will come packing these, but good to be aware of them. I always make sure that we have enough and a few spares. You can never be too careful. Especially if shooting 4k resolution, which takes up a huge amount of space. 

Hard drives are your portable storage space for your footage, you can transfer through a laptop or computer from your memory cards to your hard drives for safe storage until you move into the post-production phase. It’s good practice for your dedicated DIT person to manage this process and to back-up everything, just in case of disaster. On my film sets, the cinematographer, along with the camera operator and assistant director managed these processes. Make sure you know who is doing these jobs and that you have adequate storage for all your footage. 


A brand of stabilisers that was first created in 1975. They are used by trained professionals as they are attached to the torso of the operator and used for smooth camera movement. These are being replaced by gimbals and other cheaper stabilisers that perform the same function as the Steadicam.  

I wouldn’t recommend using a Steadicam unless totally necessary. 


A three-legged support for your camera body and lens for static shots. You screw your camera onto the tripod and off you go. Your cinematographer should have a mid-range to high-range tripod at their disposal if there are worth their salt. 

Cast and Crew Photo - Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, (Full list of credits:


Assistant Director (AD):

The Assistant Director creates all the shooting schedules and shot lists for the actual filming of the production. They are the liaison between the director and the heads of the department. They manage the set and time by sticking to the schedules and ensuring that everybody works efficiently. On bigger productions, there are also 2nd ADs and 3rd ADs who work under the main AD and often are in liaison with the actors, extras and other departments. They all work in sync to maintain harmony on set and manage all the groups of people. 

Behind–the–scenes videographer:

The Behind-the-scenes Videographer is dedicated to creating a BTS video of the production as it happens; this is essential for the movie’s marketing and for the extras provided when people buy the film and extra revenue streams for the production.

Best boy grip:

The Best Boy is not a child; it is an adult who works as the right hand-person to the Key Grip to maintain smooth rigging for the camera set-ups. Their job is physically demanding and thus requires high energy.

Boom Operator:

They work together with the sound recordist by holding a boom pole or a handy utensil, usually used by positioning it over the actors’ heads — what’s important is that it’s just out of shot. It is a hard grab, as it means having arms elevated for long periods. 

Camera Operator:

The Camera Operator plays a vital role in bringing the images to life as they work side-by-side with the DoP. They physically work the camera and keep the subject in focus either themselves or by using an extra “Focus Puller.” The Camera Op has to have good stamina and strength to maintain smooth shots and work long hours. They have a close relationship with the Key Grip to build out the specific rigs to create the different shots envisioned by the DoP and Director. The Cam Op can have assistants, also known as 1st AC’s, 2nd ACs.


This is potentially one of the most critical roles on set. The caterer needs to provide tasty snacks, meals and drinks - hot and cold - at all times to maintain a harmonious set. 


The Colourist is in charge of balancing the footage’s colour tone following the director’s vision. These creative decisions are made in tandem with the director’s creative expression. They enhance the footage by grading it, which is essential in glossing over or producing the highest quality colour palette for the film. 

Continuity/Script Supervisor:

This role is very important. The Continuity/Script Supervisor is present in all areas of the production process to make sure that each scene has a seamless continuation and consistency, and that the sets, characters, costumes, hair/makeup and dialogue do not change drastically, causing errors or mistakes in the story’s evolution. It is a challenging role, as we all know how even the most significant movies have massive mistakes. Nonetheless, it is essential to put much effort into creating a seamless story. 

Costume Designer:

The Costume Designer either designs or buys all the costumes for the production, depending on the budget.


The Film Director guides the artistic vision of the film production, taking the screenplay and making all the final creative decisions regarding their vision of the film. They guide the film crew and actors towards the fulfilment of the production to the final film. The director is responsible for deciding who is cast for the most part, and directing said actors on set to create the story. All heads of the department report to the director in making the final decisions on every aspect of production.

Director of Photography (DoP) (Cinematographer):

The DoP works ever so closely with the film director; it is quite an intimate creative relationship. The DoP takes the director’s vision while collaborating with them, and chooses the right tools such as, camera, lenses and filters, to create the shots, mood, tone and story through images. This collaboration begins in development or pre-production, and lasts until the filming process. While filming, the DoP controls all cameras using exposure, shot composition and the lighting crew to create the perfect images for the overall vision. The DoP works very closely with the gaffer and lighting technicians, and that process begins in the test shoots. 

DIT (Digital Imaging Technician):

The DIT works during the production and post-production phases. They are in charge of the Digital Images stored on hard drives and disks. They can do some sorting, rough cutting, and online colour correction while on set, so the director and DoP can review the dailies. However, their primary responsibilities are to make sure the files are safe, and make their way to the post-house in good order. 


Transportation for the actors and crew is important, as someone needs to be available to pick up drop off members of the production staff at different times for different reasons.


The Video Editor takes all the footage files, sorts them, organises timelines and then cuts and edits the footage together to create the film’s story. They work closely with the director, and the DoP can get involved too. Here is where the magic happens, as the story can be retold in various ways. The editor’s job is to find ways to avoid the weaknesses in certain shots, takes and performances, create the most vital scenes, and build the story up. In the end, the editor renders out the footage to produce one video track where the mixer can mix the sound. 


The gaffer is the lead lighting technician and electrician on set. They are in charge of all the other lighting technicians on set. They work closely with the DoP to create the perfect lighting for the shots. Their role is significant, as the film’s mood is mostly dependent on the lighting. A gaffer has assistants too, and the main one would sometimes be classed as the “Best Boy Lighting.”

Graphic Designer:

It is best to have a Graphic Designer on board from the beginning, but in this instance, it is their job to take stills from the production and create artwork and posters for the final film and its distribution team. The film needs all sorts and sizes of artwork for distribution platforms and marketing purposes.

Hair & Makeup:

According to the name, they are in charge of creating the character’s look with makeup and hair. They also need to keep accurate accounts of how each character looks at specific times, so the shots progress without continuity errors. 

Key grip:

The Key Grip is the head of the ‘grip’ department; ‘grip’ in this context, being the equipment used in building rigs for the cameras. The key grip is to maintain the equipment, gather the extras needed for the particular shoot, and transport the equipment to each production. The key grip works closely with the gaffer (explained below), the DoP and operators.

Legal Department:

For the bigger productions, the film production needs legal representation who can set up the film company, make sure contracts are available and oversee all the legal documents, i.e., waivers, contracts and release forms.

Line Producer: 

Although quite similar to a production manager, usually, a line producer focuses on the budget and consistently updates the budget line by line (hence the name) as the production occurs. They are responsible for the logistics as well. 

Music Composer:

The music composer works closely with the director to compose music that would enhance the story by setting the tone and raising the dramatic action. Music is usually a massive component in the cinematic experience. Sometimes, already produced songs or music can be picked, and a licence paid for by the director/producer is separate. 

Onset Photographer:

This is a photographer dedicated to taking raw, beautifully composed stills of the cast in action to market the movie. Also, they can act as a behind-the-scenes photographer, which is essential for the extras, BTS footage and marketing for the film.


The Film Producer is the person who oversees the film production and manages all aspects of putting the project together. Producers make the production happen by coordinating efforts from every angle. They engage with the director, crews, actors, investors, legal team, accountant, and people outside of the production, who provide locations, and other essential cogs to make the process unfold and run smoothly. They are essentially the backbone of the creative process. 

Production Accountant:

It is important to have a dedicated accountant for the bigger productions; an accountant who has a reputable history of working on film productions. They manage the finances legally and protect the film production regarding managing the budget. 

Production Assistants: 

These are usually interns or students who want to get involved in the film industry and can work with the production to do odd jobs and errands that nobody else has time for on set. 

Production Designer:

The Production Designer works closely with the Director and DoP to create the overall look and feel of the film (the set). They head all the art departments and create and manage all the locations’ sets, props and dressing. 

Set Decorator:

They work under the Production Designer as the right-hand person. They dress the sets with props, materials and items, to make the location look like what the film portrays. 

Sound Editing/Mixing:

A Sound Mixer takes all the sound files in a post-house environment and creates one single track that is mastered and ready for the final film. The ambient location sound (which is recorded separately from the dialogue and action), the dialogue/action sound, sound effects (added by the mixer) and music is edited and mixed to create a seamless track that works together with the footage.  

Sound Recordist:

They are the lead sound engineer on set; their job is to record the highest quality sound to match what is recorded on camera. Once the filming is completed, they organise the sound files and hand them over to the post house/team. Also, they or their trusted assistant would mic up the actors with lapel mics and coordinate with the boom operator to make sure their sound is captured at the highest level.   

Unit Production Manager: 

The Unit Production Manager oversees the production management for clarity, including creating the budgets, hiring, scheduling and many other managerial tasks. In shoots like ours and mine to date, the producer and assistant director usually perform these tasks. 

Wardrobe Assistant:

They assist in creating looks with the appropriate costumes needed to unify the film’s vision. They work for the costume designer directly. They also keep photographic accounts of what each person is wearing for each scene for continuity purposes.

Bertie Brosnan at Cannes Film Festival, for the second year in a row representing Sineater at the Cannes Short Film Corner, Photo Credit: Brian O' Connor




They are expert companies in delivering the film to platforms like Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and Google. They are used in self-distribution, and powerful platforms also use them for their deliverables. Most of these platforms only deal with aggregators, and they always charge a flat fee. An aggregator can help you get your movie or series on such platforms like Google Movies, Amazon, iTunes, Hulu, etc. There, the customer can get your title for rent or buy. Aggregators help with the very specific requirements from those streaming platforms. They require a one-off fee and usually you keep 100% of the revenue from your business on those platforms. But sometimes, other split deals are done. Make sure you research the market first. Examples of aggregators are BitMax, FilmHub, Quiver and many more... Do your research! 

AVOD (Advertising Video on Demand):

In this instance, the video, on the given AVOD platform is monetised by inserting advertisements into it, so the user has to sit through the commercials much like traditional TV, and like the old TV model, it is almost always free to subscribe. The money is gained through the adverts. Examples are IMDb TV and YouTube.


A distributor or a distribution company will take care of all your marketing and distribution needs for whatever territory they have the rights for with your title. They manage the whole deal from posters, trailers, exhibiting your film, getting your film on platforms, release dates and pretty much everything to do with your film reaching the audience. They organise the contract deal for the given territory and period of time where you will either be paid a fee, and then a revenue split thereafter; but be warned, these contracts can be misleading. The marketing costs and fees that are included in the contracts are often inflated and will be taken first before you receive anything. There have been truly awful stories where filmmakers are often flat out conned and frauded out of their money. Look into this; it’s important. But obviously, there are many reputable, respectable companies, but the bad eggs do ruin things for everybody. 

Film Festivals: 

A film festival is an event organised to present a certain grouping of films to a film-festival-going audience. Usually, independent films make up the majority of films to try and highlight and encourage art in the region or city where the festival is held. A festival can take place almost anywhere usually in a certain locale; sometimes, in one or many venues, there are schedules, and other spin-off cultural activities taking place under the umbrella of the festival. Historically, film festivals were a great place to gain a film network of people who could help distribute your film, but lately, film festivals are more a cultural and tokenised event to help acknowledge the artists behind the film. Certain large festivals such as Cannes, Sundance, South by South West still hold merit and can launch a career, but even there, nothing is certain.

Film Markets: 

Film markets are where film buyers, sellers and marketers come to do the business of film. Famous markets are located in Cannes Film Festival, AFM in Los Angeles, where a massive amount of selling and buying takes place. At these markets, you will have countries trying to sell their film infrastructure and funding bodies to potential co-production companies, whereby they can take advantage of attractive tax incentives. Films and TV series’ rights are sold to different territories and countries, and buyers/sellers look to add to their portfolios. Producers look to network and create buzz around their new productions and investor parties are the norm around these events.

Film Territories / Buying Countries:

In the world of film and TV distribution, there are 54 territories in the world, with 174 buying countries. This is why you need professionals working with you, and/or top-end platforms so the rights of your film can be divided out, and you can professionally get your film seen in all sorts of countries with different languages.  

Producer Rep:

They are essentially advocates for the film in the marketing and distribution stage; they have contacts in the film industry and work in the film festival phase and distribution to the platform stage. They can have a bad name, but some good ones are out there. 

PVOD (Premium Video on Demand):

PVOD is a hybrid of TVOD and SVOD (will discuss below) where the consumer can purchase a rental of the movie a couple months or longer before it reaches those other platforms. It’s kind of like an online cinema, where the audience can watch the film before its general release to the public beyond the cinema release. During 2020, lots of films had their release this way, as the theatres were closed. It has proven to be a successful model for kids' films. An example is Disney +. 

Sales Agents:

Sales Agents travel to every film market in the world every year; they should have long-standing business relationships with distributors, and buyers from different territories around the world (more on territories below). Their function is to sell certain rights to individual territories and have good deals with distributors; sometimes, they are distribution companies themselves. They earn a commission that’s worked out with the filmmaker; a good deal is around 20% of the revenue. Again, it’s about doing very thorough research into every relationship you create before signing anything. 

SVOD (Streaming Video on Demand):

These are the Netflix, Amazon Prime Videos, Now TVs, HBOs of this world... it’s where the customer can buy a monthly subscription and watch as much as they want of the platform's library. There are no ads and no interruptions; everything is available all the time, depending on their current library. The fees were traditionally very cheap but those fees are creeping up bit by bit, and with competing platforms, it’s getting a little pricey for consumers. 

TVOD (Transactional Video on Demand):

Here’s where a user either rents or buys the video once, for a fee. It’s either they have access to the title for a period of time, if they’re renting, or they have full access to the title forever provided they use the platform where they purchased the title. It’s a one-time cost per title. Much like buying a physical copy of a DVD or renting one, you pay once and either own that copy of the title, or you return it after a few days. Unlike the physicality of that transaction, in this instance, your title is stored on the given platform, and you access the title there on that platform. Examples are Google Movies, Amazon, iTunes, etc. 

VOD (Video on Demand):

This is where a user can watch a video when and where they want to watch it through online video platforms. The video is available on demand when the user chooses to watch. Of course, there are restrictions on age, geography, device, etc., but what the term means for the most part is that the video is available on demand. 

On-location for Sineater, Bertie Brosnan (Director), Jeanne O' Connor & Sean McGillicuddy (Actors) - Photo Credit: Jerry Lane

General Film Production


The director rehearses with the actors and ‘blocks’ them, meaning they position and arrange the actors in the scene while they work out the performances as they rehearse for the scene to come.  It’s a creative process, and it’s helpful to have the cinematographer there to help, as they will shoot the scene. 


This is when a casting agent, and/or filmmaker puts out a call (advert) for actors to audition for roles on their project. It usually goes through actor’s agents, or sometimes, as an open call through certain platforms or in newspapers, etc.


CGI is all the visual effects that are created by computer in post-production that could not be created by the special effects team on set due to budget, expertise, or lack of time — or even a combination of all these. These computerised visual effects include blood, gunfire, explosions, creatures, landscapes, spaceships, anything you can imagine. All of this depends on budget, production size, the level of expertise involved, equipment and studios at your disposal. For the average film production, you do not use CGI, as it can look amateurish unless in very small doses. 


Coverage is when the director wants to provide the editor with plenty angles of the scene being filmed to give them plenty creative freedom in the editing phase.  For instance, you shoot a master shot, then mediums, then close-ups, cutaways, etc. There are many variations, and it all depends on the story you are telling.  The main idea is ‘to cover’ all angles.


‘CUT’ can be said on-set in relation to a scene ending. The assistant director, or sometimes, the director will say, ‘CUT!’ to indicate that filming has to stop, the actors are to end their scene for the crew to reset.  Also, Cut is a term used to identify a change between edits within a scene or into another scene. Two video files, or audio files are spliced and placed together to form the edit.  It comes from the time when you used to literally cut the film stock to end that particular scene, or moment in the scene. 


The film set is the arrangement of props and scenery for the creation of the scene and world for the actors to play out their characters. When you are “on set,” you are literally standing in the make-believe world of the characters. It’s where the filming commences.


Guerrilla Filmmaking is filmmaking done under the radar of the authorities because of low budgets and time constraints.  It’s shooting run-and-gun style, in real locations without permits and without proper insurance (usually).  Independent filmmakers make up the majority of guerrilla filmmakers out there, as they have skeleton crews, semi-professional actors and very little resources at their disposal, so they feel they have no choice but to shoot guerrilla style.  Famous directors have also used this style of filmmaking, and actually promote it in some talks and lectures. Werner Herzog is the most vocal about this style, although, I am not sure he uses the phrase ‘Guerrilla Filmmaking.’ 


When a director pays ‘Homage’ to another artist before them, it means that they admire the work of another, and they create a similar-styled scene, sequence or moment that emulates the honoured film scene, sequence or moment.  Quentin Tarantino has made a habit of paying homage to other directors. Some may say it’s ripping artists off or stealing, but I think that’s a cynical view, as true originality is almost non-existent.  When you study cinema, you can see how certain directors are inspired by others, and that’s how art progresses.


This is a turn of phrase which dates back to the times of film stock, and the film stock was contained within cans on the camera, and when stored.  So, when you were filming, the idea of ‘getting it in-the-can' was finishing your movie no matter what.  Back then, it was a much tougher and much more expensive process than today, and just getting the movie in-the-can was enough to sell it! Hard to believe, but it’s very true.


This relates to the main artwork that is used in the promotion of your film.  Sometimes, it can refer to one movie poster that’s iconic and used across all platforms in the promoting and selling of the end product.  Most films have several artworks that are used in the promotional realm, but the key art is the main underlying artwork that most people can see and relate back to your film. 


Mastering is the final step in the audio post-production process. It takes the sound mix (the tracks of dialogue, music, SFX, etc.) and enhances the finished audio file to the best quality possible, whereby this audio is finalised. It is then transferred with the finished picture for duplication. 


A montage is a series of cuts in editing to move the story along quickly while providing the viewer with important information along the way. The montage usually has meaning and purpose, which can happen at the turning or hook points of the story. An example can be a training montage like in all the Rocky films. 


In film, when we talk of a niche audience, we refer to a particular slice of a larger audience.  For instance, any genre, like Horror is broad, but if we narrow down the Slasher Horror Genre (Scream, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre), there would also be a narrowing down of the audience.  You can go further and choose a style of slasher that only a smaller set of people like; this is how you cater for fans, and how you ‘know your audience.’  It’s important for filmmakers to understand this concept because here’s how we can find a set of people who could potentially buy or rent our film.


It is an all-in-one facility where you can streamline your film’s post-production to where the film is ready for delivery, including video editing, sound editing/mixing, mastering, colouring, VFX and SFX and any other process in the post-production phase. Usually, it is not cheap, but there are post houses that tailor to independent films with small budgets.


Production Design is the world that surrounds the character in the film that is created by a production designer to establish a mood, tone and atmosphere for the story. The production designer works with the director, cinematographer and costume designer in pre-production to pick a colour palette, so that the key technical heads work together with one another. Everything you see in the world of the characters within the film is the production design, save for the actual on-location shooting, but even then, the production designer has influence over the tone, style and colour. 


Put simply, the Production Value of your film is how expensive the end product looks on screen in relation to the actual budget.  So, this includes the sets and design, costumes, the lighting, sound, music, the VFX, SFX, the level of acting and stars attached.  Anything that creates the look and sound of the piece adds to the production value.


Prop is short for “Property,” and they are the items that are used by any character in the film that isn’t the costume or set itself. So, for instance, they are items handled by the actors to enhance and authenticate the scene and drama such as swords, guns, cutlery, money, technology or other materials used by the actors. The person in charge of the props is called the “Prop master.” 


A script breakdown is essentially an exhaustive list of all the items within the scenes of the given screenplay: this includes every prop, production design element, costume, vehicles, animals, characters, extras or anything that will make it onto the screen contained within the scene.  These lists will help create the schedule, shot lists, budget and any other documentation for pre-production.


This is everything that is used to create the set, i.e., furniture, artwork, plants and everything else you can think of in respects to props. Set dressing enhances the world of the set, and fills the space for the characters to live and breathe.


As the name implies, it is a list of the shots that need to be shot scene-by-scene in order the tell the story.  This list is worked out between the Director and Cinematography, and then once created, can go ahead to the assistant director for scheduling.


This usually refers to practical sound effects heard on set, but more specifically, it can be used to describe when “sound effects” are added in through the post-production stage.  These effects mimic the “real-world” sounds of the environment in the film, but includes character sounds, creature, animal sounds or any sound that has to be created to enhance the world of the story.


Special Effects are effects that are produced by trained professionals on-set to enhance the visuals of the film. For instance, real explosions, stunt-people, gunfire, creatures, monsters, miniatures and many more. There is a wide range of special effects that can be created on set, and require significantly-sized budgets in order to do a great job. 


In filmmaking, the subject is the main focus in the shot; it can be a certain character or item, landscape or whatever the narrative is at that particular moment.  Oftentimes, you would use the focusing aspect of the camera to highlight who is, or what is, the subject.


Theme usually refers to the central idea of a film; for instance, in “The Shawshank Redemption,” the theme is ‘Hope versus Despair.’ It’s what the film is trying to argue through its narrative. In my film, “Sineater,” the central theme of ‘morality’ plays out in a very unique way. 


This is a film production base-camp of sorts. It’s usually where the food is cooked and served, where the make-up is done, and where the actors rest in between their scenes.  In the same area/building, is where you park your cars, trailers, keep your equipment safely and do your preparations and keep your production office for the duration of the shoot. It’s usually make-shift and only a temporary location. 



The action genre usually involves a hero taking on a villain who has some plan to destroy something, someone, or some place.  The hero or in story terms the ‘protagonist’ is thrust into a series of action-filled events where they have to overcome major obstacles in order to stop the villain and their sinister plan.  A lot of action films includes allies that help the hero in their tasks.  The story is told through the action including violence, explosions, dangerous feats and sometimes much blood and injury.  Usually there’s a climatic standoff between the hero and villain whereby the hero wins the day in the last moment through strength and cunning partly due to the villain’s arrogance or lust for control. 


Can be any genre of film but it is 100% animated through computer software by an animation studio.  Animations make up a large majority of Kids movies.   


Also known as ‘art film’ is an artistic film in nature not intended for a mass audience. It can be for a niche audience and usually independent. Sometimes the film is experimental, typically of high-quality and serious in tone and theme. 


Simply a genre where the story is based on a true character in a period of their life most likely during a significant time.  Biographies are usually kept for famous people for history, or current days who were larger than life characters or enacted some sort of change in society as we know it. 


Simply put, the comedy genre involves humorous storytelling intended to make audiences laugh and enjoy themselves. They are usually light-hearted but often have darker undertones too.  Like all genres there are a broad range of comedies but at the heart of comedy is to make people laugh, pure and simple.  It’s not easy to pull off, and many comedies miss the mark, or become dated quickly.  But rare comedies are timeless and they are truly works of art.    


Drama is a very broad term but it is a category of film narratives that are more serious.  The stories deal with deep social issues, darker characters, and tone.  Drama can be paired up with almost every other genre but there are a lot of straight-up drama films.  These narratives are more realistic than other genres and deal with regular characters in settings familiar to the audiences.  The characters undergo a process of development over the course of the film and learn a lot about the issue at hand and about themselves.  There is typically conflict between characters that reflects the theme and this is usually resolved by the end, at least in part with a moral lesson learned by some. 


Made specifically for children but can be watched by adults.  Produced for children in order to entertain them at their level.  There is a wide range of family films and can encompass all sorts of styles, and mix of genres but generally speaking it relates to children and their adventures. 


The horror genre is rooted in ancient folklore, religion, the supernatural and mythology of any given culture be it ancient or urban mythology.  Horror films typically involve some sort of good versus evil trope whereby the protagonist is dealing with some kind of internal battle reflected in the external battle of the plot.  Traditionally, Horror includes creatures, demons, ghosts, monsters, entities, vampires, werewolves, and all kinds of mythical beings that can cause psychological and spiritual harm.  It has been noted by many critics and bloggers, that horror reflects the fears of the society at the time of the release.  Using these methods, the filmmakers can elicit emotion in the audience due to what is going on in the world therefore creating a successful run of the story.  It is not uncommon either, that a horror may not do well on release but become a cult classic in later years such as ‘The Shining.’  


This genre is simple a fictional documentary, whereby everything is scripted or improvised according to the narrative and fictional characters. It is directed just like in a narrative fictional film by a director with a crew. 


The romance genre has at the heart of it the issue of love between people.  The protagonists often have to overcome challenges presented to find love, obtain their love, or deepen their love.  The genre presents all kinds of love stories and can encompass many of the other genres too.  There is no set tone for romance.  And love can be tragic as well as comedic.  Romantic-Comedies is a huge market especially when you have named actors involved.  Even if they being very good, they sell well. 


A thriller provides the audience with a sense of suspense, excitement, anxiety, and thrills as the story unfolds and the protagonist clammers their way to reach their goal.  The thriller genre is also a broad one, but typically it’s plot-driven whereby the protagonist has to find a way to reach their goal.  Usually, the hero is single-minded and is facing some sort of villain and trying to stop them somehow, thrillers can have quite a bit of action, but the action doesn’t drive the plot like in action films.  The action enhances the story and provides challenges for the hero with the hero figuring out some kind of secrets in order to stop a diabolical plan or uncover a deep-rooted toxic underbelly in society, etc.



Syd Field coined the phrase “3-Act Structure” – he didn’t invent it though.  It’s the basic model or paradigm behind nearly every story ever told.  It’s an ancient framework that was brought to light, and since then, been the foundation for every writer, screenwriter and student. The three acts are the BEGINNING (ACT 1), THE MIDDLE (ACT 2), and THE END (ACT 3).  Each act builds on the last with moments that progress the characters and story forward to its conclusion.  Syd Field’s book “Screenwriting: The Foundations of Screenwriting” is well worth a read if you are first starting out in screenwriting. It’s the first book I ever read, and it will build a strong narrative foundation in your mind. 


A ‘High-Concept’ idea for a film is an easy-to-pitch idea to studios, producers, audiences alike.  It’s an idea-driven story rather than a character-driven story (low-concept).  Think ‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘Bruce Almighty,’ or ‘Big’ — anything that is unique, usually hasn’t been done before, and has plenty of conflict.  These types of movies sell best as they appeal to a mass audience because they typically have the ‘escapism’ aspect to them.  It’s not the real world; it’s an imaginary version of the real world, but very much not reality, so audiences can relate and escape at the same time.  High Concept ideas can be explained easily; for instance, “Imagine they brought Dinosaurs back to life, and stored them in a theme-park styled island?”  There’s Jurassic Park for you!


Narrative means story essentially. It’s inclusive of style, arrangement, character and tone. Narratives can be told in a number of ways. When you watch movies, you will see how directors and writers use storytelling in a variety of ways.


Non-linear storytelling is a narrative told out of chronological order, or out of sequence. It is disjointed on purpose, or may have stories running parallel to each other, or any number of unorthodox methods.  The usual linear narrative tells a story in a sequence; this makes up the vast majority of movies. But for artistic purposes, a writer and director may want to tell a non-linear story.  Some critics say it may reflect the human mind more, where one thinks about the past and the future, and lives in the present but is lost in time.  It’s an interesting perspective and one to keep in mind.  It can work commercially, but this type of storytelling is usually reserved for the arthouse realm.


The protagonist is simply the main character, usually the hero of the piece.  We, the audience follow the protagonist through the story, on their journey, toward a conclusion.  The protagonist a lot of the time has allies, side-kicks and enemies.  It’s important to study screenwriting and storytelling if you want to become a good filmmaker. 


Plot is a sequence of events that transpire within the narrative that reveal causes and effects of relationships and situations leading towards an outcome or conclusion of a film.  Essentially, it’s what happens in a movie that moves the story forward.  It differs from narrative because it’s not the story itself.  It’s the skeleton of the narrative that holds the narrative in place.  If you’ve ever heard of ‘Plot-Holes,’ that relates to events or a sequence of events that are missing from the plot, which in turn lead to an unsatisfied audience.  It’s a fine balance, as the writer/filmmaker cannot add in every single detail or event from the imaginary world of the story, so, designing or planning the plot is a very important process. 


Story Beats are used to indicate a tonal shift in a narrative, whereby the story builds upon itself to create the overall plot.  Writers often use different styles of “Beat Sheets” to plot out their narrative in preparation of writing their screenplay.   


When keeping subtext in mind, the writer is laying out the meaning under the dialogue; in other words, it’s the underbelly of the words being spoken.  Oftentimes, people talk, but what they really feel is kept hidden – that is subtext. 


Theme can be hard to define because they are elusive ideas that hold the premise together, almost like a supernatural glue.  They are the spirit of your story.  Themes are universal messages that we as humans understand for the most part.  And when we create films, we use thematic structure to present ideas, arguments, questions, discussion and inspiration in a narrative presentation. 

On-location in Kilmainham Jail shooting a trailer, Bertie Brosnan (Director) - Photo Credit: Alan Markey


A little note:

I learned how to make films by watching them, studying them and researching the filmmakers who produced them. After that, I read their screenplays and analysed the movies again, and then I read analyses and critiques of the films. I went back and watched the movies again!

The next step was learning the craft by buying lots of books on screenwriting, film production (challenging to find good ones!), directing, cinematography, acting and more. I learned through the internet, Youtube videos, Wikipedia, and everything conceivable medium.

My point is that you need to study, analyse and watch, then watch again. Read some more, and listen, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. It never ends! Study this glossary and do your research!


Get the first section of 'Filmmaker by Heart' for free!

By signing up below