The 10 Most Important Film Terms You Need to Know

    For you film school students just getting your start, this is the definitive list of terms you need to know.

    • They’ll help you survive set.
    • They’ll make you look like a pro.
    • They’ll even help you get another job on some amazing set…

    OK, maybe not the last one, but they’ll definitely up your chances.

    “I’m going 10/1, I’ll meet you at the circus after the martini shot.”

    Can you decipher this sentence? If so, congrats, you know your film lingo!

    If not, keep reading…

    1. CALL TIME

    This is perhaps the most important term on this list. If you don’t know to look for it, you won’t show up to set on time and then you’ll lose your job. Call time is something you’ll find on the “Call Sheet” which is delivered to your inbox every evening during production. Call time is vital information telling you when to be at Base Camp. If your call time is at 6AM, show up at 5:45AM. It’s better to be early than on time. Time is money on set, so the more you can save, the better.

    2. 10/1

    Perhaps you already know 10/1 means you’re going to the toilet to pee, and maybe the idea of telling someone you’re going 10/1 is embarrassing. Trust me, it’s better to tell them before you go than to have them yell at you when they go looking for you and waste the all precious commodity “time” to do so. This aids communication on set. Simply telling someone can save a lot of potential heartache and embarrassment later.

    3. HOT POINTS

    This is something you need to say when you’re passing people with a piece of equipment that could cause damage to them if they turn around and walk into you. For example, if you’re carrying the tripod (or “sticks” as they’re called in film) and you’re about to walk through a door, it’s wise to use this term here. Simply say, “Hot points, coming through.” and everyone knows to be on the lookout for you. It aids safety on set, which is vital, because a safe set is a happy set.

    4. CROSSING

    When you have to cross in front of the camera during a lengthy setup, simply say, “Crossing”. The Camera Operator may be looking at the shot in the monitors and if the screen suddenly goes dark, they might think something has happened to their camera. But if they hear someone saying “Crossing”, then they know not to be worried when their shot goes dark. They’ll wait for you to pass and continue setting up.

    5. 10/2

    Can you guess what this one means? Wink, wink. It’s when you need to use the toilet to go poo. While it may seem silly to have to tell your department head you’re about to go poo, it’s vital they know. They need the specifics because one will take longer than the other, which means you’ll be missing from set for an extended amount of time. It aids good communication, but also helps save time on set. If your department head knows you’re going to be gone longer, then they know they need to replace you with an assistant.

    6. HOT SET

    A hot set is any set where filming is still being done. Meaning, you shouldn’t move or take anything from this location. This becomes vital if you have a lunch break or are shooting several weeks at the same location. Footage has been shot and even if a small prop is moved to another place, it could cause huge continuity errors later when the editor is trying to piece the scene together.

    7. APPLE BOX

    This is one of the most helpful tools on set and it’s literally just a wooden box. There’s normally a set of these ranging in sizes from Full Apple, to Pancake. It makes you hungry thinking about it, at least it does for me, but apple boxes aren’t for eating. They can be used for making an actor taller, making the ground around the tripod even, or you can sit on them. They’re incredibly versatile and I think secretly, every department wishes they had their own set of apple boxes.

    8. QUIET ON SET

    This is the moment when all activity needs to stop because you’re about to shoot a scene. When you hear this, move away from the area being filmed. If you find yourself stuck in the actor’s eyeline, simply bow your head so even in their peripheral of you, they can tell you’re not staring at them. A lot of novice filmmakers think they can get away with small movements during filming (ex. lifting a hand to scratch their nose, or tiptoeing out of the area). The sound department will hear you, so don’t move.

    9. MARTINI SHOT

    No it doesn’t mean you get to drink martini’s. When an AD says “This is the martini shot.” They’re communicating to every department on set. So what are they saying? They’re letting you know this is the last shot of the day. It lets people know they can start clearing up and packing down for the day.

    10. CIRCUS

    No, unfortunately film productions do not have their own circus of jugglers, elephants, etc. When someone tells you they’re going to the circus they’re referring to where the trucks, catering tent and other trailers are parked on a specific location.

    If we go back and look at the sample I gave you, can you decipher it now?

    This is a small fraction of the terms and lingo you’ll hear on set, but they’re also the most important ones. They’re used the most and knowing them will be helpful to keep you sane while you learn the full film language. Get out there and put your new lingo to the test. Go live the dream and become part of the film crew.

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    • Charis Joy Jackson

      Producer, Director, Writer, Actress

      Charis Joy Jackson is a writer, director, producer and teacher working with The Initiative Production Company. During the day she makes movies and in her spare time is writing a novel. She's a self-proclaimed nerd who wishes she could live in Hobbiton. You can follow her on Instagram @charisjoyjackson

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