Part III: Ready, and Action! Film Terms That Make “Reel” Sense

April 19, 2018

15 mins

Many of our clients come to us for film creation services. Each brand has a unique story to tell and we provide the creativity and expertise to bring your story to life through an emotionally compelling film experience.

If you are thinking about adding film to marketing strategy, but are not quite ready to pull the trigger just yet, be sure to check out our film field guide that unpacks the proof behind films that look great and produce results.

When you’re ready to roll film, we are ready to help you get going — but first let’s define the terms. Film-making has its own vocabulary it’s important to have some familiarity with the terminology to minimize confusion and maximize our process. Below you will find a high level glossary of commonly used terms that will definitely come up as we work together to create your story. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will give you the introductory exposure you need to track with us as we work together on your project.


Pre-production begins long before the cameras roll. There is much planning and preparation that go into the pre-production process. At a high level, pre-production includes finalizing storyboards, shooting scripts, b-roll and shot lists, scouting locations, pulling together the right crew and cast if you’re using actors, and anything else that needs to happen to ensure that production is seamless and efficient. To give you an idea of thing kinds of things you need to be thinking about during pre-production, check out the list of questions and considerations that we work through in our field guide.

The most important thing to know about pre-production is that, while it can take a lot of time before you feel like any work is being accomplished, it is a critical component that augments the entire project and keeps details within budget and scope.


And…action! Now comes the fun part as the actual filming begins. This really is an art unto itself and, thanks to Hollywood, is maybe a bit romanticized. Production requires very long hours of multiple takes and retakes to ensure that every visual element is perfectly in place and captured to film. Some scenes take hours and some take days to ensure that the myriad of elements are just right. Here are a few production terms to know that will help you better understand the action on set.


If you have ever seen a blooper reel, you’ve seen a slate.

The slate or clapperboard is one of the iconic images of film-making — but do you know the purpose of slating during the filming process? Editors know, as this is the marker they rely on to complete their work. Audio, video and everything relative to the shoot is marked with the slate. This video gives a great introduction on how to slate (and how not to slate).


In the old school days of film, A-roll was the reel that included the main action, the close ups of the person talking, and anything relevant to the primary subject matter. B-roll is footage beyond the talking heads, the images that bring the viewer into the picture. It’s the clips, angles, zooms and wide-shots of the setting that really fill in the color of the story. It gives you something to cut to that provides interesting detail rather than cutting to and away from similar visuals. While most b-roll is live action footage, it is can also include still photographs, animation or other graphical elements that help tell the story. The main thing to remember about b-roll is that you can never have too much of it. During the editing process, it is very helpful to have a wide variety of images to choose from that will enrich the scripted content and tell a more moving story.


Coverage is the process by which a scene or subject is filmed from different camera angles and perspectives in order to tell a compelling story. The initial shot is typically called a master shot and is wide enough to capture all the relevant action. But watching a film from this one simple perspective would be boring. Like b-roll, adequate coverage gives the editor more material to work with, thus enriching the editing process and constructing the final cut.  This blog has several notable pointers and tips to ensure strong coverage.

Two Shot

There are many types of shots in filmmaking, money shot, tilt, shot, top shot, long angle, high angle and more. One of the shots we use most often in brand videos is the two-shot, which you might imagine by the name, is any shot that includes two people. The two shot is a common shot but can be executed in a variety of ways. This is where the creativity of filmmaking kicks into gear as your cinematographer positions and rearranges subjects to fill the two shot in interesting ways.


Sequence is the overall collection of scenes and shots that tell a complete narrative, and has its own degree of tension. If you think of it in terms of a hierarchy, a films has acts, acts include sequences, that are divided into scenes that are divided even further into shots.

Depth of Field

This is simply another creative element to add interest to the visuals. In photography this technique is known as Bokeh, when the background images are blurred while the subject matter in the foreground remains in focus. This is one of those terms that is easier to show than tell, take a look at this video for an example:

Head room

Head room is the space between the top of the frame and the subject’s head. This is an important compositional element that frames the subject in an aesthetically pleasing way. Disproportionate head room (sometimes also referred to as lead space) can leave the viewer feeling awkward or disoriented. One of the more critical mistakes in film-making is having the head room off and ruining an entire segment of filming.

Ambient audio and Room Tone

Ambient audio is like sound b-roll. It captures the audio ambience, atmosphere, background noise and any other sounds emanating from the setting. At the beach, ambient audio would include crashing waves, seagulls, maybe a dog parking or a child laughing. In the center of New York City, ambient audio would include honking horns, sirens, people talking, a woman’s heels clicking on the pavement. In Fenway Park the ambient audio would include organ music, the crack of a bat meeting a ball, the creering crowd, and, of course, Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline.

Common uses of ambient audio in film-making include shot continuity, underscoring a mood, and avoiding the dreaded dead air of awkward silence.

The cousin to ambient audio is room tone. Also called presence, room tone is recorded silence at the setting when no words are spoken and is used in the editing process to smooth over any audio cuts that may need softening. This blog post unpacks the element of room tone in great detail.


That’s a wrap, folks! Is one of the most commonly used film terms in the history of filmmaking. When the director declares “wind, reel, and print,” the live action crew knows that their work is done and the film now moves into the hands of the post-production experts. The long days of shooting are over and the editors begin their magic.

Post-production includes a number of complex stages and elements. There are both video and sound editing decisions to consider and execute, including sound effects, CGI effects, graphic details, and any other cleaning up that may be needed to the original film. The audio and video editors work together toward the goal of a proposed final cut that will then be sent to the director for approval before presenting to the client.

Cuts & Picture Lock

A cut is the transition between scenes. This is when the film really starts to come together and show its polish. There are many types of cuts, but the primary are straight cut, dissolve and wipe. Variations of cuts include, L-cut, which involved bringing new audio into a picture to promote continuity; Jump cut, which is typically used for dramatic effect where continuity is broken; and cutting on action, which is when a scene is cut in the middle of some sort of action and picked up again in a new scene that has a similar composition. Here is a collection of the more common types of cuts with examples.

There is another kind of cut in editing and that is more representative of versions or drafts of the editing process. Once the editor’s work is complete, the director reviews the rough cut. Once the director is satisfied, the film is labeled director’s cut and then goes to the producer. Once the producer has approved the cut the film moves to picture lock which basically says that the cuts are complete. At that point the film may continue to undergo audio editing, and potentially some visual effects, but as far as time and shot selection go, picture lock signals that there will be no more cuts.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of film terms, but we do hope that it is enough to get your mind around as you begin your next film project. If you want to dive deeper into the film-making process, be sure to check out our field guide and please contact us if you have additional questions. We would love to help you incorporate film into your marketing strategy.

In case you missed the first 2 posts in the terminology series, we’ve listed them below:

  1. Part I: The Alphabet Soup of Marketing Terminology: Websites
  2. Part II: The ABC’s of Marketing Terminology
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