Movie Set Terms: What do Cowboys and Martinis have in Common?

Are you a good cutter* at dubbing* after viewing the rushes*? Or are you more of an auteur* who is into the small details of Mise-En-Scene*? Videomaker makes sense of some movie terms with our  production glossaries.

For a few weeks we've talked about movie terms heard on a video production or movie set, and we broke out the meaning of a few. We learned that a cinematographer might use a McGuffin to motivate characters to take action, and a Red Herring might be a non-essential person, place or object in a movie to throw the audience off the scent. Today, let's look at a few other terms found on a movie set and have some fun in the process.
If you've ever assisted a plumber, auto mechanic or painter at task, you would be quite frustrated hearing: "hand me that doohickey right there, the silver and black one.. no the long one… no, not that long, the other one… oh, never mind, I'll get it myself." 
Here at Videomaker, we know that understanding movie terms is important to any video producer or cinematographer working with anyone on their movie, even if it's only one other person. But sometimes the jargon can be a bit overwhelming.
Specialized movie terms define the tools of the trade, the techniques of the craft or the direction you want your cast and crew to take. In other words: it's important to know the words, even if you rarely use them. It's also fun. We love to point out that a very important-sounding movie tool is a C-47, known to civilians (non-movie or video production folk!) as simply "clothespins."
Using the proper lingo on a movie set demonstrates your knowledge of the business and elicits faith in your abilities by those working with you. If you're working with volunteer "civilians" – friends, family, your church group, etc., it also demonstrates how totally cool you are and "in the know."
So – let's look at a few more unusual movie terms commonly used by a cinematographer on a movie set, and break them down a bit.
  • [image:blog_post:30721]Cowboy – One of my favorite terms is "The Cowboy Shot" – and just about anyone who has watched movies knows exactly what this shot looks like. From so-called Spaghetti westerns like The Good the Bad and The Ugly to 3:10 to Yuma and more modern-era films like Back to the Future a Cowboy shot is a classic shot seen in the movies. If the cinematographer asks to "Shoot it Cowboy" everyone knows it's a shot in which two protagonists face off – with one in the foreground, his back usually to the camera while the other is seen in the distance, often framed through the legs or elbow-crook of the arm of the foreground subject. Often a Cowboy shot shows a "bigger than life" perspective shooting up at the character in question. This classic shot isn't limited to just the Western genre; it is  seen even in animation and comedies. The animated movie, "Rango," starring an unlikely rain-forest lizard dumped into a town of desert-dwelling reptiles, has a Cowboy shot when he faces off with his protagonist.
  • Doppelganger – a German word meaning double-walker, referring to one's "other self" or one's double or shadow. This character can have the good-vs-evil personality as in Gollum in The Lord of the Rings or can be a second person "the evil twin" bent on undoing the hero's good efforts. 
  • Martini Shot – A fun term heard on a movie set for the "last shot of the day" because the next shot is going to be in a shot-glass, or a Martini glass, for more refined tastes. [CORRECTION] The terminology for this shot follows what is also known as The Abby Shot or Abby Singer,  said to be coined by production manager Abby Singer, who is said to have called the last shot of the day, but then the cinematographer might then call for one more shot – so the second to the last shot is the Abby Singer, the last shot is The Martini… shaken, not stirred!
  •  [image:blog_post:30722]Redheads and Blonds – these aren't characters, or a shot, but a tool: they are light fixtures used on a movie set. A Blonde is typically hotter than the Redhead,  Blonde's rate 1000 to 2000 watts, and a Redhead is a more common smaller wattage light, usually around 650 to 1000watts. You might see a Redhead used as a key flood light, but can be used as fill or backlights. Blondes are used for lighting very large areas on a scene.
Having Fun
So those are "official" fun terms, how about some a bit off the official terminology chart?  How about: Slurpasaur – (from An optically enlarged lizard or other animal to make them appear as giant dinosaurs.  
Movie critic Roger Ebert, has his own funny list of terms that cover the insidious and asinine (and often predictable) moments, scenes or characters in movies. Below are a few pulled from his site. (Check Ebert's full list here.)
  • CLIDVIC (Climb from Despair to Victory). Formula for Rocky and all the Rocky rip-offs. Breaks plot into three parts: (1) Defeat and despair; (2) Rigorous training, usually shown in the form of would-be MTV videos; (3) Victory, preferably ending in freeze-frame of triumphant hero.
  • Dirt Equals Virtue: In technology movies, a small, dingy, cluttered little lab and eccentric personnel equal high principles; large, well-lighted facilities mask sinister motives. (Examples: Doc Brown's lab in Back to the Future versus the sterile environment of Gen-sys in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.)
  • Engine Equalization Law: Movie phenomenon which allows a 100hp Escort to outrun a 300hp Corvette, or vice versa, and allows large, lumbering Cadillac stretch limousines filled with bad guys to keep up with heroes in exotic sports cars. 

Finally, for more fun and interesting topics, check out to find out terms for characters you didn't even know had terminology reference. 

Want More?
Jargon can be a bit overwhelming and Videomaker loves to help and encourage you in your video and movie production growth. From Safe Title Area (The recommended area that will produce legible titles on most TV screens. ) [Videomaker Editing Terms Glossary] to Rack Focus (Shifting focus between subjects in the background and those in the foreground, drawing a viewer's attention from subject to subject.) [Videomaker Shooting Terms Glossary] Every tool, technique and approach has a name for it. Videomaker has a host of Glossaries online, and you don't have to be a Videomaker Plus member to find them. The list is below. 

Your homework this week is to learn some new terms and use them next time you're on a shoot! Happy Shooting!

* Movie Terms from Penn State University's Integrative Arts 10 
  • Auteur: literally the director, who is regarded as the "author" of a film because he/she has primary control and responsibility for the final product. 
  • Cutter: The person responsible for assembling the various visual and audial components of a film into a coherent and effective whole.
  • Mise-En-Scene: The aura emanating from details of setting, scenery, and staging.
  • Rushes: Also called "Dailies." The lengths of footage taken during the course of filming and processed as the shooting of a film proceeds.

Cowboy image "The standoff_StarringPMOrbán-and-President Barosso" courtesy of:

Jennifer O'Rourke
Jennifer O'Rourke
Jennifer O’Rourke is an Emmy award-winning videographer & editor.

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