Often times, terms arise because they accurately describe a process at the time of their origination, but when the process, or some part of the process, later becomes obsolete, the term sometimes endures — even if it no longer accurately describes the new process. Consider the act of “hanging up” the phone after a call. Historically, telephones were large boxes that literally hung on the wall. A person would pick up the receiver to initiate a conversation and then physically hang it up again after the call. Rotary phones were literally “dialed” — a process that described placing one’s finger into a hole that corresponded to a number, then spinning and releasing it. Today, no one literally dials or hangs-up a smartphone, but people understand that dialing a number is the act of placing a call, and that hanging-up is the act of ending a call. With this in mind, let’s review some video terms that fall into this hold-over category.
We still refer to segments of video as footage even though there is no physical film to measure, and we still talk about making a cut in the editing process, even though there is no actual blade.
Once upon a time, if someone was described as being a filmmaker, it implied detailed knowledge of a specific process and skill set. The biggest implication is that the process actually involved physical film. Capturing moving images on film was complicated, so very few people had the means or knowledge to do so. Filmmaking required photographing, developing and both cutting and splicing physical lengths of plastic onto which images were developed through a photochemical process. These lengths of film were measured by feet, and referred to as footage. Cuts were made by using a razor to physically cut off portions of the footage that were not wanted, and edits were made using tape to actually splice together two pieces of film. Editors assembled sequences and entire movies by attaching clip after clip of film. Many people still refer to the act of “filming” a video, even though there is no actual film involved. We still refer to segments of video as footage even though there is no physical film to measure, and we still talk about making a cut in the editing process, even though there is no actual blade.
Similar terms originated with the rise of desktop video production. Back then videotaping meant recording to actual video tape. Editing was still linear. Source footage was played from one VTR (video tape recorder) and run through an SEG (special effects generator) and into another VTR where the edit was assembled. When two separate sources were fed into the SEG, one was called the A-roll and the second was called the B-roll. The SEG allowed the editor to manually switch the source from the A-VTR to the B-VTR while triggering transition effects like dissolves and wipes on the fly. The terms “videotaping” and “B-roll” are two more examples of terms that have surpassed their original meanings. Today many people refer to any act of recording video as “taping” and B-roll is used to describe any footage that is not the primary shot.
By its nature as a technology-based activity, making media continues to be a rapidly-changing and constantly evolving field of interest. Today’s terms like collab, end slates, GoPro shots, vlogs, and the concept of viral videos are fresh ways of describing current media-making trends. Perhaps some of these will one day exceed their original meanings and find a permanent home in the video production lexicon.
Matthew York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.