Film Lingo Cheat Sheet
Have you ever heard your film nerd friends talking about movie stuff and felt like they were using code? Maybe you’ve been sitting through the credits at the end of a movie for the after-credit scene and find yourself wondering: the f*ck is a Best Boy?
Well, wonder no more! Here is our film lingo cheat sheet.
The Guff About Gaffers
Gaffers: Gaffers work with the cinematographer to bring a certain look to films. They basically set up and control the lighting to achieve the desired effects. Without them, every film would be a shot in the dark! (ba dum tss)
Gaff Tape: Duct tape’s overachieving cousin. Gaffer's tape is heavy cloth tape with extremely strong adhesive. It's basically the magical cure-all that you'll find on literally every single set ever and can solve just about any problem. It’s the filmmaker’s swiss army knife, and, frankly, deserves its own IMDB page. We were familiar with gaff tape well before we started our film adventures because it's also used heavily in theatrical productions!
Best Boy: Other than a perfect name to call your dog, the best boy is the gaffer's right hand. They cover day-to-day and managerial tasks such as hiring department members and maintaining equipment. Plus, if they do a great job, they might even get a treat!
Key Grip: The grip department head, the key grip works closely with the gaffer to manipulate light via silks, reflectors, etc. to achieve the look the director of photography wants.
The High Rollers
Above The Line: These are members of a film's crew who carry the most creative or financial responsibility, such as the director, producer, DP, and director of costuming.
Director: Most often thought of as the “big boss,” the director works with other department heads (production designer, DP, costume designer) to create the distinct look and feel of the film. These are your big names: Scorsese, Kubrick, Coppola, Anderson, etc.
Producer: While directors handle the look and feel of a film, the producer handles the logistics of production, such as finances, scheduling, and even marketing & distribution. The producer is also responsible for hiring. And they hire everyone, including the director! Although, generally, the producer and director work as a team. The producer tends to get less recognition from the general public, but next time you’re stuck wading through the credits to see that 5 second end credit at a Marvel movie, pay attention to the producers! You just might recognize some names.
Director of Photography: Also called the DP, the director of photography works closely with the director to create the distinctive look and feel the director is looking for, and they are the head of the camera crew. (I hear you asking, “Why aren’t they called the Director of Videography?” We have no clue. Your guess is as good as ours.)
Costume Director: This one is pretty self-explanatory: they design and create or purchase the costumes worn by characters in a movie. Although they don’t get as much public attention, costuming is essential to a film’s success, and can carve out a place for the film in cinematic history—think of Audrey Hepburn’s little black dress, recently unseated by Keira Knightley’s green dress from Atonement. See also: the unofficial competition between costume designers to put Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in the most outlandish costume possible.
The Rest of the Crew
Below The Line: Jobs that do not carry the same level of creative or financial responsibility as above the line positions.
Art Department: These folks create the visual artistry of a film. They work with everything from the set to props to decoration.
Production Assistant: Also called a PA, they’re film-industry's equivalent of an intern, and PA’s find themselves helping in any department wherever an extra pair of hands are needed. They’re the unsung heroes of the film industry, juggling an unbelievable amount of work while receiving the same amount of respect as your average office printer.
First Camera Assistant: Also called an AC, these folks manage the camera crew and their various gear while on set.
Craft Services: Also known as Crafty, they're responsible for keeping the crew fed and hydrated throughout the day.
Digital Imaging Technician: Also called a DIT, these folks are responsible for the mechanical know-how of shooting on video. They advise on contrast, brightness, and other technical matters that can be vital when moving on to editing. Although editors can work magic, not everything can be “fixed in post”... Which leads me to the next term…
Assistant Director: The assistant director is the director’s right hand, like the best boy to the gaffer. They help the director achieve their artistic vision, but also daily tasks like creating a call sheet and checking progress against the film production schedule. Think Roz from Monster’s Inc.
Odds and Ends
Subtitle for this section: Terms to use to impress (or confuse) your friends.
Fix it in Post: “I don’t have time for this sh*t, let the editors deal with it.”
Stinger (a.k.a. "pigeon" or "hot leg."): A stinger is an extension cord used on film sets, specifically one with a single, grounded outlet. Why not just call it an extension cord? Questions like this are why you’ll never be more than a PA. For other pretentiously renamed everyday items, see also “C47”.
C47: Because saying ‘Clothespin’ would’ve been too pedestrian for hollywood. And yes, this is literally just a clothespin used to hold gels, filters, or other items in place. The story goes that the name originated as a way to discreetly expense the ordinary household items – You know you've made it in Hollywood when even your laundry accessories get a stage name.
Video Village: The area for viewing monitors where the director and the production personnel will watch as the cameras roll.
ADR: Automated dialogue replacement – when audio from set is replaced with audio recorded in a sound booth to sound a little nicer. Fun fact: basically every time you see a movie with a scene outside where it's windy (like on a beach) or in a lot of cases it can be every scene in a movie, the dialog is recorded in a sound booth later on and the actors are lip syncing to themselves. This gives higher quality sound than can be captured when battling the elements.
Abby Singer Shot: Named after production manager Abby Singer, this term refers to the second-to-last shot of the day. It's often followed by the "martini shot."
Martini Shot: This is the nickname for the last shot of the day on a film set, as it's followed by a metaphorical (or literal) martini to celebrate the end of the shooting day.
Banana 🍌: When a director instructs an actor to "banana" their walk, it means to curve their path slightly so the camera can better capture their movement. This is similar to the idea of "cheating to the audience" in theatre.
That's all, folks! Congratulations, you can now speak the language of the film folk. And next time you're closing up a bag of chips, consider using a C47 for budgeting purposes.