Filmmaking comes with a lot of terminology, and sometimes we at Earflaps forget that not everybody will understand what we’re talking about. To help with that, at the beginning of each podcast we have a filmmaker-ese section, to learn more about the history of the terms and why we use them. We’ll also put as much of the filmmaker-ese on this page as well for future reference.

Crew Positions (that may be confusing)

Director – The director is easily the most recognizable person in a movie besides the actors. The director is in charge of the look and feel of the film and in charge of helping the actors know where they are in the film. They are in charge of the big creative picture.

AD – Stands for Assistant Director. The AD is in charge of running the logistics of the set, keeping everyone on schedule and coordinating between the departments. On larger sets there are usually several ADs. The 1st AD is in charge of the set, and organizes the flow. The 2nd AD stays at basecamp and gets the 1st AD the personnel they need, and creates the schedule for the next day. As the boss of the set, the AD position is generally regarded as one of the most demanding jobs.

PA – Stands for Production Assistant. PAs are the go-fers on set, fetching things, taking things away, finding people, getting coffee, running around, and standing around waiting to be told what to do. They are usually the lowest on the filmset food chain, and report to the AD department.

Producer – The producer gets the director the things they need to create a movie. They handle the big picture organization, hire the crew, and organize the budget. There are several different kind of producers, and the larger the production the more the producer job is split up into different jobs and the different kinds of producers.

UPM – Stands for Unit Production Manager. The UPM is a kind of producer. They handle the day to day needs of the production. The AD reports directly to the UPM.

DP – Stands for Director of Photography. The DP is in charge of the camera department and advises the director about what the camera sees and what the camera does.

AC – Stands for Assistant Camera. 1st Assistant Camera is the assistant to the DP. They stay with the camera, run the focus, and spot the DP for difficult handheld camera moves. The 2nd AC fetches for the DP, whether it be a new lense, swapping out a new battery or memory card. 2nd AC also run the slate (the clapper board).

Gaffer – The gaffer is in charge of the lighting department. They liaison with the director and the DP to light the shots and move the lights as needed when the camera angles changes.

Grip – The grip assists the Gaffer on all the electrical components of the set. They need to know a lot about electricity and building codes so they don’t blow circuits or break hugh expensive set lights.

Scripty – Stands for Script Supervisor. The Scripty is in charge of keeping track of all of the little details in the shot for continuity between takes and scenes. When did the actress take a sip of her water? Where did she put her glass down? The scripty knows and keeps track of all the minutia over the many takes and scenes shot out of order.

Boom Operator – The boom operator is the guy who holds the sound mic over everyone’s head. They are responsible for getting the best audio possible. Strong arms required.

Foley Artist – All the little noises that humans make need to be added into the film after the fact. Foley Artists create and record all the steps, crackles, crunches, squeeks, and creaks that help make the movie experience more natural for us to watch.

Colorist – The colorist smooths out the color and the lighting of all the footage once the film is finished. They can change the tonal quality of the film by grading the color of the film to set a different mood.

Crafty – Stands for Craft Services. Feeding the crew is an important part of keeping up the morale of the crew. While meals are usually catered, Crafty provides nearly constant snacks. Crafty can either refer to the person running Craft Services or the area where Craft Services is stationed at base camp.

Bogie – A pedestrian or unauthorized passerby that may interrupt the operations of the set if not stopped by a protective PA.

Story Terms

3 Act Structure – This is the most common story structure that there is. A term that has been around for ages (literally), it simply means that the story is divided into three section, or acts: The beginning, the middle, and the end (also: Set-up, Confrontation, Resolution.) The 3 Act Structure broadly covers story structure, but there are many other structures that go way more in depth.

Protagonist – The main character of the film.

Antagonist – The enemy of the Protagonist. Though most often the Bad Guy/Villain, there are exceptions, such as when the ‘Bad Guy’ is the Protagonist (in which case the ‘good guy’ is actually the antagonist). The Antagonist can also be something rather than someone (Nature, Institutions… ect.)

Setup – This is when something is set up in the beginning or middle of the film that will come into play later. It can be anything, a character, an object, a skill, or a place that is mentioned or shown or explained.

Payoff – This is the inverse of a Setup. A Payoff is when whatever was set-up before comes back into play. The biggest payoffs happen at the end of the film and are often the solution to the challenge that the protagonist faces.

Chekov’s Gun – A setup/payoff where something insignificant becomes important later in the plot.

Denouement (Pronounced: DAY-new-mah) – The word means to ‘untie’ or ‘unknot’. It’s the last segment of a story after the climax and resolution. For instance: after the end battle where we find out how all the character’s stories end.

Macguffin – An object (or person) that everyone is after. The Macguffin usually changes hands several times throughout the story, moving the plot forward and changing character dynamics.

Plot Coupons – Mini Macguffins that have to all be found, put together, or captured to fulfill the protagonist’s quest.

Hanging a Lantern – Specifically pointing out something that will have important effect later in the story. This is a type of setup that is less subtle and always has to do with the important payoff. It’s the filmmakers pointing to it and saying, “Look at this! See this? This will be important later, so pay attention.”

  • Sometimes used as a device to get the audience past an idea that is fantastical or illogical. A character will “hang a lantern” on the idea by pointing it out in the script. By having the characters see and address the illogical or fantastical idea, it puts the audience’s mind at ease and subconsciously makes them more free to suspend their will to disbelieve.

Narrative or Life Story – A story that follows someone throughout the course of their life. A Life Story doesn’t follow the 3 Act Structure very closely, almost always takes place over a large span of years, and 9 out of 10 times is based on a true story.

Exposition – Dialogue that is there to give the audience information. Most often found at the beginning of a film.

As You Know – A subset of Exposition where characters who already know the information go through the information again so the audience will know. It usually starts (or could easily start with) with the line, “As you know… ”

  • A particularly lazy form of this is “As We Both Know”. It usually starts (or could easily start with) with the line, “As we both know… “

Character Arc – How a character changes through the course of the story.

Main Cast – Characters that we follow the most during the course of the film. The main character(s) and the villian(s).

Supporting Cast – These are the characters that help the Main Cast as well as share a significant amount of screen time with them. The main character’s best friend or mother, or the bad guy’s #1 henchmen.

Side Characters – These are the characters who don’t have a lot of screen time, but who surround both the Main Cast and Supporting Cast. Friends, Co-workers, Teachers, Family, Minions, Henchmen.

Background – People who are mentioned in the script but (most often) don’t speak or effect the lives of the character’s in any way. (The random woman that the Hero saves from smashed by the Villain during the final battle)

Extras – People that fill in the world because there must be people in the world.

Topic vs. Theme – The topic is what the story is about, ie. “Doing good things”. The Theme is what the filmmaker is saying about that topic, ie. “Doing good things pays off in the end.” or “Doing good things only brings trouble.”

Motif  – A symbolic element that reoccurs throughout the story.

Magic Bean – A piece of technology or a “magic” object or element that has to exist for the sake of the story but is never satisfactorily explained or explained at all.

Deus Ex Machina – or “The Gods from Heaven”, when something new, whether it be a character, object, ability, or event comes into play near the end of the story that automagically fixes the problem and brings along the resolution.


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