Some Terms From Various Sources For Theatre, Film, TV Studies

General and Theatre terms in red; Film/TV terms in blue; idiosyncratic usages in purple.


  1. A major division in drama (or opera), marked by an interruption of the action of the drama.
  2. An editorial device useful for citations but otherwise without much critical significance.

Aesthetic (or Esthetic) Distance: Viewers' ability to distinguish between an artistic "reality" and external reality--their realization that the events of an artistic representation are simulated. See below, Point of View.

Above: The acting area above an Elizabethan or Jacobean stage. (Sometimes called the "Heavens.")

Allusion: A reference to an event, person, fictional character, work of art, or portion of a work of art the audience will probably recognize.

Auteur: The maker of a film. In French film theory from the 1950s, a strong director who stamps his personality upon his films.

Aside: A brief speech in which a character expresses his thoughts in words audible to the audience but not (conventionally) audible to the other characters.

Block, Blocking Character: In the criticism of comedy, a character whose actions delay the happy ending.

Blocking: the planned movement of actors upon a stage (a kind of simple choreography for people who move but don't dance).

Chorus: In Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, one character who guides the audience through the action of the play. The Chorus is a character in the play, obviously, but not a participant in the play's action.

Close-up, Close Shot: A detailed view of a person or object, usually without much context; a close-up of an actor usually includes only the head.

Convention: The tacit acceptance of necessary or customary artificialities as "real" in a work of art. E.g., we hear background music and don't mind if no musicians are visible; or we hear people speaking in verse and don't ask why they're talking weird.

Cut: To remove a portion of a text; the text removed.

Cut: To shift from one shot to another; the shift from one shot to another.

Jump Cut: A straight cut so abrupt as to disorient viewers.

Straight Cut: Instantaneous movement from one shot to another, classically achieved by splicing together two film strips with no transitional processing (fade, dissolve, wipe, or whatever).

Deep Focus: Photography in which background and foreground are both in focus, with no loss of clarity or sharpness in objects that appear behind the plane of the screen.

Discover: To reveal.

Discovery Space: The area at the back of an Elizabethan or Jacobean stage in which an actor or tableau may be revealed. (The actor probably stepped forward to play.)

Dissolve (Lap Dissolve): The slow fading out of one shot and the gradual fading in of the successor shot, with a superimposition of images.

Dolly Shot, Tracking Shot (Trucking Shot): Denotatively, a shot taken from a small moving vehicle (the dolly); by extension, any shot in which a moving person or object is smoothly kept up with.


  1. The addition of sound to film or tape, after the visuals have been processed.
  2. The transfer of data from one medium to another, or from one tape, cassette, compact disk (or whatever) to another.

Editing: The establishment of a text for reading or acting, reproducing as accurately as possible the author's intentions.

Editing (Montage): The joining of one shot with another. In classic film editing, done by physically splicing one film strip to another; more recently, done electronically.

Elizabethan: Referring to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603)--but sometimes used loosely for longer periods (up to 1485-1642).

Establishing Shot: Usually an EXTREME LONG or LONG SHOT at the beginning of a scene or sequence providing the viewer with the context of the subsequent closer shots.

Extreme Close-Up: A minutely detailed view of an object or person; if of a person, an extreme close-up usually shows just mouth or eyes.

Extreme Long Shot: A panoramic view of an exterior location, photographed from a great distance (sometimes over 1/4 mile).

Fade: The slow fading from normal brightness to black is a FADE or FADE OUT (or FADE-OUT); from black to normal brightness is a FADE IN (or FADE-IN).

Frame: The "outer" tale of a "tale within a tale" or main play in which there is a "play within a play."


  1. The dividing line between the edges of a screen image and the enclosing darkness of the theater.
  2. A single photograph on a filmstrip.

Freeze Frame (Freeze Shot): A shot composed of a single frame reprinted a number of times, giving the illusion of a still photograph.

Full Shot: A long shot showing the human body in full, head to feet.

High Angle Shot: A shot in which the subject is photgraphed from above.

Jacobean: Refering to the reign of King James I (1603-25).

Long Shot: A shot including within the frame a space roughly equivalent to what an audience would see on a theater stage.

Long Take: A shot of lengthy duration.

Loose Framing: Shots photographed from distances sufficient to allow the characters a good deal of room in which to move, approaching the freedom of movement on a theater stage.

Low-Angle Shot: A shot of a subject from below, increasing the apparent size of the figure.

Medium Shot: A relatively close shot revealing a moderate amount of detail. If of a human body, a medium shot usually includes the body from the knees or waist up.

Mise en scene (or Mise-en-scene): Most generally, the arrangement of volumes and movements within a given space. In film, the space is defined by the frame; in theater, the space is the stage and any other acting spaces. In theatrical usage, mise en scene can be used for all aspects of the staging of the drama, including scenery, properties, and the positions and gestures of the actors; the term is sometimes used in a more limited sense of the playing area with its scenery and properties (if any).

Monolog[ue]: In the terminology of Bernard Spivack (Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil), direct address to the audience by a character, opposed to soliloquy.

Montage: A series of rapidly shifting images, usually used to suggest the lapse of time or or series of events. Montage often employs dissolves and multiple exposures. In European usage, "montage" just means "editing."

Motif: A repeated element; any unobtrusive technique, object, or thematic idea systematically repeated during a film (or in any other work).

Point of View: The view from which a story is narrated.

First-Person Point of View: A story told by an "I"; outside of works allowing telepathy, a first-person narrator can only tell us of her or his own thoughts and the actions of others. A First-Person Observer only reports to us; a First-Person Participant is also a character in the story.

Second-Person Point of View: A rare viewpoint in which the narrator addresses him/herself directly (and, in a sense, the reader).

Third-Person Point of View: A narrative about characters other than the narrator and audience. If omniscient, we get the thoughts of characters; if limited (or selective) omniscient, we get the thoughts of some characters but not other.

Dramatic Point of View / Objective Point of View: Very strict 3rd-person narration, in which we see only externals and get only spoken dialog. The characters are "objects" to be observed and reported on.

Pan (Panning Shot): From "panorama." A revolving horizontal movement of the camera from right to left or left to right, ordinarily through far fewer than 360 degrees but more than just a few degrees of revolution.

Proscenium Arch: The arch above a stage from the late 17th through the 19th centuries, providing the physical support for a front curtain, hiding theatrical machinery and (later) spotlights--and often an aid in giving the acting space the appearance of an enclosed room with its fourth wall missing (which Rich Erlich considers an unfortunate idea).

Reaction Shot: A cut to a shot of a character's reaction to the preceding shot.


  1. Location of an action.
  2. In Elizabethan and Jacobean dramaturgy, the action on stage between one very brief clearing of the stage and the next clearing of the stage. Roughly equivalent to a paragraph in writing.

Scene: A unit of film or TV composed of a number of interrelated shots, unifed usually be a central concern -- a location, incident, or minor dramatic climax. Roughly equivalent to a paragraph in writing.

Sequence: A unit of film or TV composed of a number of interrelated scenes and leading to a major climax. Roughly equivalent to a chapter in a book.

Shot: Those images which are recorded continuously from the time a movie camera starts to the time it stops; an unedited, uncut strip of film. In electronic media, the electronic equivalent of a film shot.

Soliloquy: A speech by an actor alone on a stage, in which we overhear a character's thoughts; in Bernard Spivack's terminology, opposed to a monolog. (E.g., in general, Hamlet [in Spivack's jargon] soliloquizes; Richard of Gloucester directly addresses the audience in monologs.)

Stichomythia: Dialog consisting of quick alternation of very short speeches, producing the "cut-and-thrust" effect of a verbal duel.

Subtext: The dramatic implications beneath the text of the script. Roughly, the things that directors and actors must know about the characters that the audience doesn't need to know explicitly (e.g., the previous lives of the characters, what the characters do while off-stage, the relationships among characters not spelled out in the script).

Symbol: A figurative device in which an object, event, or technique has a significance in context in addition to its literal meaning.

Tight Framing: Usually in close shots. The mise-en-scene is so carefully balanced and harmonized that the subject photographed has little or no freedom of movement.

Two Shot: A medium shot of two actors.

Wipe: An editing device, usually a line travelling across the screen removing one image and revealing another.

Zoom Shot: A shot taken with the aid of a zoom lens, suggesting a dolly or crane shot (in which the camera quickly "dollies in" or the crane quickly descends toward the subject).