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Cinema: History and Technique:
Introductory Notes
y. g-m. lulat

Cinematic Devices of the Filmmaker



Every year, the more than 23 thousand film screening galleries in cinema theatres across the U.S. sell over a billion tickets to shows of some 450 new films (local and foreign) released annually in the U.S.

(b) Although distinctions can be made between the terms films (the process of filming), cinema (the internal aesthetics of films) and movies (commercial screening of films) these terms are used interchangeably in this chapter.Additionally, video rental places rent out over 2 billion video-cassettes of thousands of films every year.

FOOTNOTE: Source: Universal Almanac 1990, pp. 281-282.
FOOTNOTE: (a) Throughout this chapter, unless indicated otherwise, all reference is to feature films (popular narrative films) released in public film theatres for mass audience viewing.

Clearly, films are among the most popular of art forms in the U.S.

Yet, ironically, the film is also the most complex of all art forms ever invented by human beings that draws upon a number of other different art forms for its creation, including: theatre, literature, photography and music. To suggest that films are a complex art form (therefore by implication accessible--in terms of appreciation--only to the educated and/or the intelligent) in the face of their overwhelming popularity with the general public, on the surface, does not make sense. How does one account for this apparent contradiction?

The truth in reality is that the vast majority of the film-viewing public constitute a gallery; that is, they do not fully comprehend this art form. The problem is not so much the basic story line in a film (for most that is not difficult to comprehend), but rather the method and technique that the film-maker employs to communicate to his/her audience the story in a manner that (a) successfully forces the audience to suspend reality and resign itself (visually and emotionally) to the imaginary world that the film-maker creates on the screen; and (b) in the case of a good film, force the audience to think about what they have seen in the film even long after they have viewed it. It is the purpose of this chapter to look at this important dimension of films so as to, first, encourage a fuller appreciation of this marvelous invention and thereby, hopefully, enhance the enjoyment of the film-viewing experience, and second, to encourage respect for film-makers as artists. Films are not just a form of entertainment, they are also a means of communication by which the artist communicates his/her art.

The Illusion of Movement

Unlike in the case of video, the illusion of movement in film is dependent upon a rapid projection of a series of still photographic frames that are, both, during exposure (when the film id being shot) and during projection (when the film is being viewed) kept motionless for a fraction of a second. The question that arises is how does the illusion of movement emerge in the first place?

It used to be thought that were it not for the phenomenon of 'vision persistence' first examined in the 10th century by the Arab scholar Al Hazan, films would not exist. Vision persistence, it was said, was the human brain's inability to wipe out an image immediately upon its disappearance from view. The theory was that the brain retained the image for a short time even after it had gone from sight. For films to come into being, therefore, what was required was an invention of a mechanism that could project still images on a screen in succession at a speed sufficient to fool the brain into thinking that it was viewing images in motion. This mechanism, sometimes referred to as the pull-down mechanism (PDM) or the intermittent motion mechanism was invented independently roughly around the mid-1890s, by Thomas Armat in the U.S. and the Lumiere brothers--Auguste and Louis--in France. The invention of this mechanism (which during photography permits the filmstock to be moved through the camera a frame at a time, to permit exposure of each frame, at a given constant speed) made possible the photography and projection of still images at the optimum speed of about 40-48 frames per second.

FOOTNOTE: In practice films are shot at the speed of twenty four frames per second; that is, the film is held still in the camera for one twenty-fourth of a second to permit exposure of a negative frame, before the shutter closes to allow the exposed frame to be pulled down so that the unexposed frame above it can be placed in position for the next exposure. However, by means of a variable, twin-bladed projection shutter mechanism, the film is shown at the illusory rate of 48 frames per second by starting and stopping the projection of each frame as it goes through the projector (in other words, each frame is projected twice). 

However, while it is true that without the invention of the PDM films would not be possible, the theory behind its relationship to human vision (embodied in the theory of 'vision persistence') has been shown to be false. (See Anderson and Fisher, 1978; and Anderson and Anderson, 1993.) The truth is that science has not yet definitively proven exactly how the human eye creates the illusion of motion out of the projection of a succession of still images. However, going by Anderson and Anderson (1993), one can say this much: that there is some evidence that suggests that the human brain processes visual information of motion gathered by the eye differently from non-motion (still) visual information, and it is in this difference that the explanation for the cinematic illusion of motion is most likely to be found.

FOOTNOTE: One such evidence, they observe, is clinical evidence; specifically: the existence of two relevant, but diametrically divergent, peculiar nuerological disorders of vision: one called \qf akinetopsia and the other is a type of 'form impe rception.' A person suffering from the former is unable to see objects when they are in motion, whereas a person suffering from the latter disorder can see objects only when they are in motion--immaterial of whether the motion is real or apparent (a s in the case of films). To elaborate: they suggest that research indicates the existence of, first, what may be called short-range and long-range apparent motion perception and, second, the inability of the human brain to distinguish short-range apparen t motion perception from real motion perception. The perception of apparent motion termed 'short-range' is one induced by closely spaced flashes of images on a screen, while the reverse is true for apparent motion labelled 'long-range.'

FOOTNOTE: The perception of apparent motion resulting from closely spaced flashes of images is sometimes referred to as the 'fine-grain illusion.' This is because the effect is analogous to the perception by the human eye of the illusion of a continuous to ne in photographic images (half-tones) found in the world of printed matter--books, magazines, newspapers, etc.--that the printer produces by means of tiny, closely-spaced dots. (Photographs produced by cameras are themselves made up of microscop ic, but separate, chemical 'grains.') This close spacing of image diplays (as in the case of the projection of film in a movie theater) is critical for the generation of the illusion of motion that is at once smooth and continuous. Therefore, it is not the theory of 'vision-persistenc e' that explains how we are able to see motion in films, but rather it is the theory of 'short-range apparent motion.' Between roughly 1896 and 1912, film evolved from a technological curiosity (fit only for expositions and fairs) to a proper, economically viable, communication/entertainment medium. It was not until around 1927, however, that the technology of adding sound to film was perfected. Therefore the period prior to 1927 is usually referred to as the silent period. These then are the basic markers in the periodization of film history. Any others, such as the following, are simply arbitrary: up to around 1950 films hold their own as the only form of 'screen' entertainment, thereafter television comes on to the scene. From 1980 onwards screen entertainment is no longer restricted to television and films; the video revolution during the 1980s creates another avenue of competition.


Films by their very nature are an exercise in deception. It is through the element of reality-illusion at all the three levels of form, context and content that the film-maker entertains and communicates. At the level of form the illusion of reality is generated by a finely balanced projection of a series of photographic images coordinated with sound (and today, color) that give the illusion of movement and 'real world' feeling to the viewer. The degree to which the viewer is unaware of this illusion in his/her engrossment with the film story-line constitutes the measure of the success of this form level reality-illusion. At the level of context, the reality-illusion is achieved by construction of appropriate props and sets and/or shooting at appropriate locations with appropriate casts, stunt people, etc. Here again the degree to which the film viewer is unaware of the mechanisms used to create the reality constitutes the measure of success of this context level reality-illusion. At the level of content (comprising the actual story-line of the film) the reality-illusion is, of course, dependent upon how well the actors perform in the process of executing the story-line.

Now in all three cases (form, context and content) the reality-illusion is highly dependent on two factors for its success: technology and technique (both of which, incidentally, cost considerable money). In other words, the reality-illusion quality of the film is dependent upon the presence of skilled and experienced actors, cinematographers, lighting experts, film editors, and other film technicians and on the quality of the camera equipment, film stock and film processing laboratories. However, this is not all: there is a third very important dimension; specifically the creativity of the film-maker. This creativity manifests itself at various levels in correspondence with the various facets of the film technology and film narrative, especially: screen size, film frame, filmstock, lighting, camera, lenses, sound, editing, cinematic time, and special effects.

Screen size

When U.S. viewers go to see film today in commercial theatres they will usually encounter one of two basic projected image sizes on the screen: one with an aspect ratio (the ratio between the width and height of the image) of 1.85 or one with the ratio of 2.35. (These ratios are referred to as widescreen ratios--compare them to the 1.33 aspect ratio (arrived at arbitrarily) of television screens.) The first ratio is achieved by masking the top and bottom of the negative film frame, which invariably leads to a loss of 36% of the film frame area from vision. The second ratio is achieved by the use of a special type of lens called an anamorphic lens (first perfected in the 1920s by Henri Chretien of the Paris Optical Institute) which squeezes together the horizontal image during photography and during film projection unsqueezes it. This process, which was first used in 1953 with the release of the film The Robe by 20th Century-Fox, used to be called CinemaScope, but today is referred to as Panavision, permits the use of the entire negative frame.

For the film-maker, the aesthetic significance of Panavision (which permits a projected image size of every two units of length for every .35 unit of width) is that it permits making films in which a panoramic view of film scenes is essential--as in films with frequent scenes of extensive landscapes (e.g. Dances with Wolves [1991]). The 1.85 ratio on the other hand is useful when much of the action in the film takes place inside buildings involving a lot of dialogue between characters (e.g. many of the films made by Woody Allen) because, unlike Panavision, it creates less space between and around the characters--thereby permitting greater viewer focus on the characters themselves.

One legitimate question that may be asked here is why are panoramic views essential in films? it helps to satisfy the basic desire in film-viewers to simply see things that they haven't seen before, or simply love watching. For example the wedding scenes in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972) and Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter (1978); or the trooping of the colors in David Lean's A Passage to India (1984), or the buffalo hunting scene in Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves (1990), or the funeral march in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, or the palace scenes in Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (1987) are all scenes that evoke in the viewer the desire to be present at these events as a spectator--either out of sheer curiosity or simple fascination (most everybody loves weddings). The ability of the filmmaker to evoke such a feeling rests on producing scenes that are really spectacularly grand that usually involves casts of hundreds and sometimes even thousands. These scenes, which often are not crucial to the story line, and cost thousands of dollars per minute of screen time, lend credibility and authenticity to the story in the film. From the filmmaker's point of view these scenes are box-office hooks which will draw in the audience into the film theatres. Consequently, only a widescreen can do justice to such grand film scenes where often, says Boorstin (1990:15), the scenes capture the entire emotional experience of the film.

FOOTNOTE: Mention ought to be made of a new type of film that is shown in specially constructed film theatres called the 'Imax' film. The Imax uses screen sizes that are ten times larger than those commonly used for 35mm films. Consequently, the panorama becomes almost an end in itself in Imax films where the immensity of the image is such as to exceed that which even peripheral vision can capture. Combined with a sophisticated sound system the Imax film takes normal film verisimilitude to the ultimate: the viewer is almost enveloped by the image creating a sensation of being actually present within the 'action' on the screen. Unfortunately, the sheer size of the screen carries with it its own liability: the film frame is optically absent (technically, of course, it is still there) given the inability of the viewer to take in the screen at a single view. The problems that ensue for the filmmaker from this absence of the film frame become clear when considering the issues covered in the section on the film frame.

CinemaScope, however, also attempts to fulfill another desire in audiences: physical realism. While the stories in films may or may not reproduce reality, the scenes in them are expected to reproduce the physical reality of the natural world. Audiences would like to feel that they are actually physically present within the scenes they are watching on the screen. And one way of doing this is to give the image on the screen, via optical illusion, the third missing dimension that can really help in recreating this physical reality: depth. And CinemaScope in its full implementation in a properly equipped movie theater achieves this by means of stereophonic sound. The function of this sound system is to assist with the creation of an illusion of depth. Today, modern theaters that can afford it have gone a step further than stereophonic sound: they use surround sound systems. In the natural world sounds of different things in their totality do not come from a single direction, but depending upon their location, they come from multiple directions. From one direction there may be voices, from another the chirping of birds, from another the rustle of leaves, from another the sound of traffic, and so on. Surround sound attempts to recreate this envelope of multidirectional sound.

Film Frame

Leaving aside the matter of the projected image size, the image frame itself is also an important vehicle for the film-maker's aesthetics. For example the film-maker can choose between an 'open' frame and a 'closed' frame depending upon his/her intentions. A closed frame would be one where the subject is constantly visible in the frame, even as he/she moves around. (This would be achieved by photographically 'locking' the camera on to the subject--that is the camera would follow all the movements of the subject.) If, however, the subject is permitted to leave and re-enter the frame by not constantly following him/her with the camera, then the frame is an open one. In this latter case the film-maker subliminally suggests to the viewer the continuation of space outside the film frame.

The frame is also, of course, the plane on which the film-maker composes his/her image. Composition (the aesthetic patterning of shapes and space) in cinematography follows principles similar to those that apply to still photography, such as the rule of thirds, perspective and texture and framing to name only four. The rule of thirds (an ancient rule of composition) suggests that it is not spatial symmetry (e.g. placing the subject at the center of the image frame), but asymmetry that creates an appealing image. That is the central point of interest (CPI) can be best emphasized by means of spatial contrast in which there is tension and 'movement.' To apply this rule the cinematographer divides the image frame with imaginary lines into vertical and horizontal thirds and places the CPI near one of the four intersections. Even in a close up image of a face, the CPI (in this case the eyes) is best placed near one of the intersections.

Of course, it goes without saying that the 'rule of thirds' is not so much a rule but a guideline. Consequently, it is quite possible that drama may be created in an image by going against the rule. Creative cinematographers are not always bound by conventional rules or standards of composition.

Perspective is the convergence of lines toward the central vanishing point in a scene. The use of perspective permits the cinematographer to convey a sense of depth and volume. For example a viewpoint (position of the camera as it 'views' a scene) that permits strongly diverging lines that produce diagonals and angled lines will create a dynamic image (e.g. when a building is photographed from a low-angle and obliquely). In cases where the scene has minimal lines as in a landscape without human-made objects (e.g. roads, fences, powerlines, etc.) that can provide linear perspective, aerial perspective can be achieved by the use of a telephoto lens which will seemingly squeeze together the middle ground by bringing the foreground and background closer together. This effect helps to create a greater tonal range in the scene and thereby suggest depth because objects in the distance are always lighter in tone then those close by--this results from the fact that light from the furthest points in the landscape have to travel through larger volumes of haze than does light from closer objects.

While on the subject of perspective: it should be noted that it is an important tool that film-makers often use to convey very specific concepts to the viewer. For example when a subject is consistently photographed from a low-angle (making him/her appear to loom much larger than really are) then the film-maker is suggesting to the viewer that the subject is important and powerful. Conversely high-angle shots will suggest the opposite. In other words: manipulation of perspective by using either low-angle or high-angle shots is in itself a powerful vehicle for communicating to the viewer issues of magnitude (be they in terms of power, importance, etc.).

Texture is the photographic conveyance of the tactile feel of a surface (smooth, shiny, rough, sandy, etc.) if one was able to actually touch it. Texture, therefore, is a very significant element in providing a sense of three-dimensionality in an image because it shows the depth and form of a subject. The principle means by which texture is conveyed is via directional lighting where light is placed obliquely to the surface being photographed.

Framing in composition, which must be distinguished from the film frame, refers to the placement of a 'frame' around the subject in the foreground. An obvious framing device is the window or the door frame. The subject placed in the center of the door frame will be 'framed' by it. Framing not only helps to focus the viewer's eye on the subject, but it can also help to create a sense of depth when the frame is dominant in the image.


The most obvious difference in filmstocks visible to the film viewer is of course the presence or absence of color. A color film is not only visually different (of course) from a black and white film, but it evokes a different emotional response in terms of aesthetic appeal. Prior to the 1940s almost all films were shot in black and white, for an obvious reason (see above). Today the film-maker has a choice. So, leaving aside economics (for example, color is more expensive than black and white), what determines the choice between black and white and color filmstock? From an esthetic point of view, it will most clearly be the subject matter of the film.


Notice that in still photography, however, it is not so much subject matter as the kind of photography desired that determines choice. That is if the photography is for commercial purposes (e.g. editorial photography) it will most likely be in color, but if it is for fine art purposes then it will, most likely, be in black and white. The reason why fine art photography tends not to be in color has to do partly with tradition (black and white photography has been around for a much longer period than color), and partly to do with how we view color. Color is perceived subjectively by people (for example the amount of red in the flesh tone of a photo portrait considered pleasingly acceptable will depend upon who is viewing the image), whereas black and white is perceived objectively (black and white is just black and white).

Subjectivity also works at another level when comparing color and black and white images. The black and white image is inherently 'objective' in the sense that there is very little to distract the viewer from the subject within the image. In color images, however, color can be a distraction by virtue of the fact that color also influences moods. For example (in Western cultures): reds have a tendency to create a mood of danger and excitement; Oranges and yellow induce brightness, warmth and happiness; Greens and blues generate moods of relaxation, peace and quietude; and pastels (colors with low saturation or intensity) are associated with romance and mystery; and bold colors produce moods of liveliness and vitality. Another liability presented by color to the artistically inclined photographer is of course the fact that the world is captured in a more literal way than that permitted by black and white (the world is seen in color not black and white by the human eye); consequently color photographs leave less for the viewers imagination than do black and white images. It is for these reasons that, in general (but not always), good black and white photographs compared to good color photographs of the same subjects tend to be superior in that they appear to be visually more dramatic. (It should also be noted that from an archival point of view black and white photographs last longer than color photographs.)

Incidentally, although black and white photography is much cheaper than color photography cost-wise, it is more difficult to execute than color photography. The reason is that color makes it much more easier to create a sense of depth on a flat plane than does black and white because depth is dependent in part on separation of individual elements in an image from each other along the axis of perspective (called 'layering') and obviously color, compared to shades of gray, are more easily amenable to this separation or layering. For example: visually, red and orange are easily separable, yet these same colors in black and white would be almost indistinguishable shades of gray.

Subject matters that evoke unpleasant moods (such as melancholy or horror) are most amenable to black and white cinematography. For example, a film like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) works best in black and white, rather than color. On the other hand, for a film such as Walkabout (1971 [an Australian film]), color is essential, given the beautifully wondrous scenes of the Australian landscape. Black and white filmstock may also be chosen when the film-maker wishes to impart a documentary-type feel to his/her film because of the traditional association of black and white images with news gathering. (For example even today newspapers usually print black and white photographs rather than color--albeit for economic reasons.)

Color is only one of several elements concerning filmstock choice. Another important element is film speed which is the degree of sensitivity to light of a given filmstock (usually indicated by a number rating--e.g. 1600, 800, 400, 200, etc.). A fast film will need much less light than a slow film. For many years film speed remained far behind the human eye in terms of sensitivity to light requiring expensive lighting equipment on film sets. Today revolutionary changes in film technology has made filmstock so fast that they can record images with almost the same amount of light needed by the human eye. What this has meant is that film-makers now have a much wider choice in terms of the kind of lighting they want for a given scene in their films.

The trend, increasingly, has been toward the use of natural or available light rather than artificial light to provide a greater degree of verisimilitude. In the past the necessary use of artificial lighting led to the development of a special Hollywood lighting style in which the lighting in a given scene was finely balanced by means of 'key' (main) and 'fill' (subsidiary) lights. While such a style was generally pleasing it was highly unnatural because we rarely see the world in such balanced lighting.



Good cinematography does not rest merely on proper exposures and satisfying composition, it also depends on proper lighting. By proper lighting here, one means lighting that works to create a sense of depth on a two-dimensional plane. That is the feeling of three-dimensional space in a film is also dependent on the illusion of depth and volume, and one of the most important tools in creating this illusion used by the cinematographer is lighting. Through different lighting techniques the cinematographer 'layers' (see note above) and 'sculpts' elements in an image to produce a sense of three-dimensionality.

There are, of course, many different ways in which a scene may be lighted (regardless of whether the light source is natural or artificial or a combination of both). Take the following examples: Backlighting: The principle light source comes from behind the subject, but the correct exposure is read off only the subject (and not averaged for the entire scene). Among the uses of this technique includes isolating the subject from the background by creating a wider tonal contrast; highlighting details of the subject (such as hair and the eyes); and when using a low-angle light source (e.g. the setting sun) impart a warm but soft feel to the (now low contrast) image by making partial use of lens-flare (ambient light being permitted to flare inside the lens). A variation on backlighting is silhouette lighting where the exposure is read off the background rather than the subject. The purpose, as the term suggests, is to throw the subject into silhouette in order to emphasize shape rather than detail. This technique permits the simplification of a detailed scene into one of two-dimensional outlines in which spatial relationships become the dominant motif. Diffused lighting: The light source is diffused either artificially with filters/reflectors or in the case of natural light as a result of clouds or fog or mist. Among the uses of this technique includes producing soft, shadowless, monochromatic images that help to create moods best described by adjectives such as gentle, delicate, romantic, calm, peaceful and so on. Sidelighting: Here the principal light source is directional, but from the side and can be either strong or diffused. The main use of this technique is 'modeling,' that is imparting a three dimensional feel (depth and volume) to the subject by creating distinct tonal gradations (chiaroscuro) in the image. Where the light source is very strong, modeling will be achieved with the use of strong highlights and shadows; a technique much suited for bringing out angles of geometric shapes (e.g. buildings). Balanced lighting: Here the principle light source comes from behind the camera as it faces the subject, accompanied usually (but not always) by fill lighting provided by reflectors and/or ancillary light sources. The purpose is to provide almost even illumination generating mid-level tonal contrast. Images shot in this way appear flawlessly lighted but unnatural. Where the light source is unaccompanied by fill-lighting then it becomes front lighting. Here the light source is used almost like a spotlight to 'pick out' the subject from his/her (or its) surroundings. (Incidentally, fill lighting may also be used in situations where a natural light source (e.g. a window) is deemed to provide inadequate illumination for the scene.) Background lighting: This is lighting that is added to the scene to create highlights and shadows in the background in order to create a sense of time and place. For example: to give added meaning to a scene of a prisoner in a cell, a pattern of bars may be created on one of the walls by placing a cut-out with such a pattern in front of a spotlight. (The cut-out is called a cookie.)

The Camera

An important difference concerning the camera between still photography and cinematography is that in cinematography the camera can also move. There are five basic camera movements that film-makers work with: three of the five movements can only be executed with the camera on a moving platform (such as a boom), while the remaining two can be executed from either a moving mount or a firmly anchored static mount (tripod). The first three movements are called dollying (forward and retreat movements of the camera), trucking (horizontal movement) and craning (vertical movement). The second two are called the pan (horizontal pivotal movement), and the tilt (vertical pivotal movement). The basic purpose behind these movements is to dramatically enlarge the space in the film frame. For example: a panning camera permits the linkage of subjects separated by a wide space in a continuous, and more importantly, dramatic way. The drama is derived from the fact that until the pan is completed and its objective unveiled, the attention of the viewer does not abate. Note, however, that in situations where the subject itself is also in movement the moving camera will seek to link the subject to the changing space around it. This effect is most obvious, for example, in a pan involving a speeding car in a closed frame where the camera visually 'locks' on to the car.

Incidentally, the moving camera (and this also applies to the 'zooming' lens [see below]) does pose one ethical problem for the film-maker as an artist: should he/she accept the fact that almost always the moving camera draws attention away from the subject to the cinematographer. This is because the moving camera creates a continually changing perspective (an unnatural phenomenon), it forces the viewer to be conscious of its use. Generally, the film-maker prefers that the viewer not be thrown out of the picture by his/her distraction from the storyline to the fancy movements of the camera (or zoom lens) because at the psychological level verisimilitude is dependent upon the degree of viewer 'participation' (or identification) with the action on the screen. The moving camera, in other words, calls into question the nature of the relationships between and among the artist (film-maker), subject (actor) and viewer.

The moving camera is also frequently used for the purposes of indicating the point of view of the subject in the film frame; that is, the camera becomes the subjective camera depicting the subjective view. (The objective view in the film frame is the view of the outsider [the viewer].) A common example of such use of the camera in motion is when, for example, the subject enters an unfamiliar room and begins to look around in the room. Another common example concerns an inebriated subject. When the film-maker wishes the viewer to see the world in the same way that the film-maker's inebriated subject is viewing the world, the subjective camera will be used. That is, the viewer is to assume in such a context that the camera, as it weaves about, is acting as the eyes of the inebriated subject.


The movement of the camera can also be simulated by the use of a type of lens known as the zoom lens which has the ability to enlarge or reduce objects in size and thereby simulate movement in the process of doing it. For example: with a zoom lens a film-maker can begin by showing the viewer a subject clinging to the balcony of a 10 story apartment where the frame is filled with almost the entire building and the subject appears the size of a fly; and then, without moving the camera, 'bring the subject closer' by enlarging the image until the frame is filled with a close-up view of the subject's terrified face.

This characteristic of the zoom lens, needless to say, makes a very powerful addition to the film-maker's repertoire of visual tools: the ability to accomplish with speed, but more importantly within a single film frame, such different types of shots as the long shot, the medium shot and the close-up shot. With a single movement it is possible for the film-maker to add a dimension of realism to an unfolding drama that would be difficult to achieve with any other type of lens. For instance: take the example just given; by being able to move through the three different shots in one continuous movement, the film-maker leaves no chance for the viewer to resort to disbelief regarding the drama at hand. This is because all the crucial elements are made visible within the single film frame: the height of the balcony relative to the ground, the clinging subject and the terror on his/her face. In other words: in a scene like that it is the single frame that works best because if more frames are used than there is the danger that the viewer may be inclined to think that some trickery is at work (e.g. that the subject is not really clinging to the tenth-floor balcony when the close-up shot of his/her face is taken).

How can the zoom lens do what it does? It has a variable focal length which permits it to continuously move through different focal lengths. In other words it can behave like a number of different lenses. A zoom lens, for example, can act as any one of these fixed-focal length interchangeable lenses: a normal lens, a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens. For cameras that use 35mm film (instead of 75mm or 16mm or 8mm) a normal lens has the focal length (which, for practical purposes, is the distance between the surface of the lens and the surface of the film [film plane]) that falls anywhere within the 35mm to 50mm range. This lens is said to mimic the human eye in that it allows minimal distortion of the image, compared to the other lenses. The focal length of the lens determines how much of a view can be seen through it; that is, it determines the angle of view of the lens. The angle of view of a normal 50mm lens is 46 degrees. Most people are familiar with the 'normal' lens because that is the standard lens that comes with most still cameras.

The wide-angle lens has a focal length that usually falls anywhere between 18mm to 35mm. The angle of view of a 28mm wide-angle lens is 74 degrees. A special type of wide-angle lens with an extremely short focal length (7.5mm) called the fish-eye lens has an angle of view of 180 degrees! Needless to say, such lenses tend to distort the image considerably --especially in linear terms. A common example of a fish-eye lens is the lens used for security peep holes in doors of residential housing. Besides the fact that far more of a view can be seen by a wide-angle lens than by any of the other lenses, it also possesses one other important quality: it has a much larger depth of field. Depth of field is the closest and furthest parts of a subject, say a landscape, that are acceptably sharp (i.e. appear to be in focus) at a given distance of focus. For example if one focuses on a tree, then the zone covered by the parts of the landscape that form the foreground and background of the tree that also appear to be in focus is called the depth of field. A wide-angle lens, in addition, distorts perspective by making objects appear further away from each other than they really are. Note: to some degree depth of field is also affected by the amount of light that is allowed to enter the lens via the variable lens opening called the aperture (the actual mechanism that controls the aperture is called the iris diaphragm). The smaller the aperture the greater the depth of field.

A telephoto lens works in the same way as a telescope; that is it appears to bring objects closer by enlarging them. Any lens above 70mm focal length may be considered a telephoto lens. Unlike a wide-angle lens, a telephoto lens has a narrow angle of view (for example a 135mm telephoto lens will have an 18 degrees angle of view). At the same time it has a very shallow depth of field. This lens also has the effect of making objects appear closer together than they really are by squeezing the middle-ground together. A good example of this effect can be seen when a longitudinal shot of a street full of cars appears to show the cars all squeezed together, bumper to bumper. By using a small aperture (to increase the depth of field) a cinematographer with a telephoto lens can achieve dramatic visual effects that are not possible to see naturally with the human eye involving the inversion of normal perspective (In normal perspective objects in the distance appear smaller than those that are closer.)

It is clear, then, that because of these different types of lenses, a film-maker can achieve many different photographic effects by either using a zoom lens or some other lens. When the film-maker makes an effort to keep everything in a scene in sharp focus the term used to describe this realist style is deep focus cinematography. Those film-makers who prefer a style of photography that welcomes the narrow depth of field (where, except for the subject, almost everything else is out of focus--an unnatural phenomenon because the human eye does not see the world that way) may be called expressionist film-makers, and their style can be termed shallow focus cinematography. Many film-makers tend to use both styles, depending upon what they are trying to communicate. For example: deep focus (involving either a normal lens set at a narrow aperture or a wide-angle lens) would be the appropriate approach to take in a scene, say a room full of guests, in which the film-maker does not wish the viewer to concentrate on any particular guest \v\ all being considered, in narrative terms, of equal importance. However, shallow focus would be appropriate when the film-maker would like to draw the attention of the viewer to a private conversation between two or more individuals in the room.


Today, unlike during the silent era, films communicate along three more dimensions besides the two visual dimensions of image and print and/or graphics. These three dimensions are speech, music and sound effects (or noise). Because sound tends to be always present and omnidirectional (unlike visual images which are always unidirectional) viewers tend to take the three sound dimensions of film, compared to the visual images, for granted; this is especially the case with the dimension of music because it is usually used intermittently in a film.

FOOTNOTE: Visual images are unidirectional because our eyes can see only a direction at a time, and therefore forcing us to pay attention to whatever we are seeing. On the other hand our ears can hear sound from all directions and therefore we do not have to pay specific attention to the source of the sound. It is for this reason, among others, that television failed to dislodge the radio as a source of entertainment when it (television) first became available on a mass scale some 40 years ago. We can continue listening to the radio while doing other things; the same is not usually possible with television. 
Music in films serves many functions including the following: (a) It helps to situate the film in a given locale. (b) It helps to situate the film in a given time period. (c) It can be used to suggest the passage of time. (d) It can be used to evoke emotions in consonance with the story on the screen. (e) It can be used to accentuate specific action(s) taking place on the screen. (f) It can be used as simply a filler for sound (like program music in television or in documentaries).

Sound effects is the production and recording of noise for two basic purposes: (a) to enhance the reality-illusion of the film by adding relevant environmental sound (the ticking clock, the noise of a thunderstorm, the whistle of a train, foot steps, and so on and so on) to the images and (b) to accentuate specific actions taking place on the screen.

FOOTNOTE: Incidentally, sound effects are almost always added to the film after the film has been shot by the sound editors in the editing room. These sound effects may or may not have come from the location where the film was shot. 

While the use of speech in films requires almost no comment (it constitutes an important dimension of reality-illusion) mention must be made of its one other use: it permits the film to enter more easily the world of the abstract (the subject's inner thoughts, ideas and feelings) where no real images exist to be photographed.



Films are rarely, if ever, shot (photographed) in one continuous sequence. Instead they are shot in bits and pieces (sometimes over many days and in many different places) and then they are put together via a procedure called editing. Furthermore, a finished film can comprise hundreds of pieces of filmstock cut from the original film print and then rearranged to create a story. It is the editing more than anything else that can make or break the film. The film editor works with a number of basic film elements (building blocks) and techniques to put together a film; they include the shot, the scene, the sequence and the cut.

The shot is the primary building block that a film editor works with. At the visual level (as seen on the screen by the viewer) it is a cinematographic view that can last for the entire duration of the film or it may last for as short a time as a few seconds. At the physical level the shot is a strip of film print that the film editor works with. The print is derived from the film-maker's exposed filmstock which in turn was derived by running the camera without interruption during a single shooting session (an unbroken time period) regardless of movement by either camera or subject. In the film, shots are separated from each other by an image transition called a cut. The cut at the visual level is a splice of separate pieces of space and time as the narrative unfolds. From the perspective of the film editor, however, it is (usually) an actual physical cut in the film print where two pieces of the film print are spliced together.

When the film editor takes the shot and incorporates it into the finished film it is called a scene. The scene is then added to other scenes to create a sequence (which usually is a phase of a narrative). It is the sequence that contains the visual ingredients that the viewer puts together in his/her mind to create a complete thought, and thereby give meaning to the sequence. A simple film may have only one sequence, while a more complex film may have many sequences depending upon the complexity of the narrative.

While on the subject of sequences: attention should be drawn to a form of film editing called dynamic editing (or montage). In this type of editing the objective is to produce sequences that equal to more than the sum of their parts (scenes). The 'more' is the interrelationships among the scenes that the viewer is expected to conjure up in his/her mind. For example: take these two scenes: (a) a scene of a police car speeding with flashing lights on a city street and (b) a scene of a subject being led handcuffed into a holding cell inside a police station. When these two scenes are put next to each other in sequence (a), (b), the sequence would signify in the minds of most viewers that the personnel in the police car were responsible for the arrest of the subject who, presumably, has committed some offense. Yet, in strict objective terms, there is nothing visual in the sequence to suggest such an interrelationship because a number of intervening scenes are missing.

These scenes would include, among others, those that show: (1) the subject committing an offense; (2) the police making an arrest of the subject; and (3) the police leading the subject into the police station and booking him /her. Clearly the addition of (a) and (b) has produced an entirely new meaning--a complete thought--not contained in the two original scenes. This point becomes clearer if, instead, one imagines scene (b) being placed immediately before scene (a)--here the two scenes loose all connections with each other and become separate visual entities, each with its own separate ideational significance.

An aside: note something else about this 'police/subject' example: the viewer has to make the assumption that the setting for the film is a democratic society. A person living in a fascist society can very legitimately assume that the subject had been unjustly arrested (because in such societies arrests of innocent persons is routine). The significance of noting this point is that it underlines an important quality of films in general: despite the fact that we are dealing with visual images (which are, at least on the surface, readily apprehensible), films, unlike written language for example, are not an unambiguous means of communication. The viewer constitutes a very important element in the communication process of films. The film-maker must always contend with a high degree of uncertainty as to whether his/her intentions will be successfully communicated to the viewer given that the meaning the viewer derives from a sequence will also depend to a considerable degree not on what he/she is seeing on the screen but his/her past experiences, as well as, of course, his/her imagination. Clearly, when considering images on the film screen, apprehension does not automatically translate into comprehension.

Given that the shot is produced on the film set (be it in a studio, or on location, etc.), while the scene and the sequence is usually produced in the film editing room, it is in the different types of shots that the film-maker invests most of his/her creativity.

Some would dispute this statement, arguing that it is in the process of dynamic editing (or montage) that the film-maker truly invests his/her creativity. The counterpoising argument here would be that not all film-makers feel that dynamic editing is the best method of producing a film. Some film-makers prefer the deep focus approach to film-making. (Comedies, especially, the slapstick type are particularly amenable to the deep focus approach.)

Note: Among the types of shots that film-makers work with include the following: the establishing shot, the two-shot, the reverse-angle shot, the close-up shot, the point of view shot, the reaction shot, the follow shot, the bridging shot and the long shot.

The establishing shot is usually a long shot, but with this specific purpose: it aims to situate the narrative of the film in terms of place and time-period. In other words, from the perspective of the viewer, it is a shot that allows continuity of space and time (by serving as a visual context for other shots). Via the establishing shot a master film-maker can provide us with such varied information as where the story is set (place), who the principle character(s) is/are, why the character(s) is/are in that particular place, how the character(s) came to be there, and so on. Establishing shots, however, do not always occur at the very beginning of the film. The film-maker may begin his/her film with close-ups and then introduce the establishing shot (often by zooming out to a long shot).

The two-shot is a shot of two people talking to each other, taken usually from chest upwards. This type of shot is a favorite among Hollywood-style film-makers. When the camera begins to take only one-shots of each of the two characters as they speak and listen in turn then these other shots may come into play: over-the-shoulder shot (the view from the speaker's perspective), the reverse-angle shot (the view of the speaker from the listener's perspective), and the close-up shot (a close-up view of the face of the speaker).

The point of view shot is simply the view from the perspective of the subject. The reaction shot is a close-up view of the subject reacting (usually without words) to events in the narrative. The follow shot is when the camera follows the subject (usually in a closed frame) as he/she moves about. The bridging shot is often a reaction shot that serves to bridge two shots separated by time and space. (For example a shot of an inebriated man, accompanied by his wife, drinking in a bar and another shot of him in a car accident may be 'bridged' by a shot of the reaction of his wife to his decision to drive when they are outside.)

The long shot (which is often a deep-focus shot) is the view of the entire scene. In general it can be said that in films where long shots are dominant, the film is more concerned with context rather than the drama between the characters. Where the reverse is true then two-shots and close-up shots will predominate.

Cinematic Time

As just mentioned, shots are usually put together via the cut. The cut, however, should not be viewed as simply an aspect of splicing. In films the cut also has an expressive dimension: it can be used creatively to alter not only our perception of space, but also time. A good example is the type of cut called cross-cutting (or parallel editing) where two or more sequences of entirely different, but related, parts of the narrative are alternately shown on the screen. (Soaps on television rely heavily on this technique.) Now, besides the fact that cross-cutting can be a very useful device for building suspense and drama, its most common use is for purposes of time alteration.

It is a paradox of films that even though their success (as films) ultimately depend on the quality of reality-illusion they evoke in the viewer, the reality-illusion is bereft of verisimilitude in precisely those areas that are essential to reality-illusion: space and time. Films alter our perception of space; this is quite evident from the discussion on lenses, screen size, etc. above. But in what way do they alter our perception of time? At the very simplest level notice that on average the real time in which a film is shown is usually between 100 to 120 minutes, yet the narrative itself may traverse a time period spanning several centuries. This compression of time in films is a result of the demands of the narrative.

More commonly, however, time compression (and expansion) in films is determined by the expressive needs of the film-maker. For example: a rapid succession of cuts (without bridging shots) can serve to compress time in the present. (As for instance in the dynamic editing example above.) If bridging shots are placed between an action and its consequence (e.g. when a number of different shots of people dying, running, etc. bridge a shot of an exploding bomb in a busy street and a shot of the street reduced to rubble), then present time can be expanded. The entire action in real time would have lasted only a few seconds but on the screen it is made to last several or more minutes. The slow-motion film sequence (made by filming at a faster speed than usual, e.g. 250 frames per second instead of the usual 24 frames per second) commonly used to heighten drama is another example of time expansion.

Another common example of time alteration is the inter-mingling of past time and present time (and sometimes even future time) with cuts of flashbacks. As the term suggests, flashbacks are film sequences of aspects of the narrative that took place in the past. Some films will consist almost entirely of flash-backs (e.g. The Bounty [1984], Missing [1982] and The Mission [1986]).

Special Effects

There are some types of films, such as science fiction and horror films, that require creating a fictional world on screen that ordinarily does not exist on this planet. In such a situation the film-maker turns to mechanical and/or optical devices to produce 'special effects' on film that will help create this non-existing (but seemingly real) fantasy world. A good example of films that depended for their success (in terms of reality illusion) on such special effects are 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Alien (1979) and the Star Trek and Star Wars films. Special effects are not restricted, of course, to these types of films. Today almost all major films will use some type of special effects. Even films such as Dancing with Wolves (1991) and Out of Africa (1985) resorted to some special effects.

The most common types of special effects are derived from: (1) the use of scaled-down models (as in the case of the opening sequence of the train in Out of Africa), (2) the use of mattes (as in the case of Dancing with Wolves), (3) the use of front/rear projection (as in the case of 2001: A Space Odyssey), (4) the use of mechanical devices to create weather (rain, snow, wind, etc.), and (5) the use of the optical printer to create such effects as fades, dissolves, wipes, freezes, ghosts, multiple images, superimpositions and so on necessary for alerting the viewer to the impending drastic change in time and space in the narrative. (See the glossary for definitions of these terms.)

There are another type of special effects, though they are not referred to as such, but which work similarly to the effects just described. They result from the use of stand-ins and stunt persons (who are, in a sense, stand-ins too). A stand-in is a person who stands in the place of the main actor in some scenes of the film; but, of course, the viewer is unaware of this 'duplicity.' The purposes of this cinematic device include shortening the time that a high-demand main actor must spend on the set; permit the main actor to appear to be performing professionally (e.g. in scenes requiring singing or dancing); permit the main actors to appear to be more attractive than they really are (this is especially the case in scenes involving nudity); and allow the main actor to skip acting (for ethical or other reasons) in some scenes. A stunt person is of course the person who does the dangerous scenes (e.g. car crashes) in the film in place of the main actor.

The world of special effects, whether derived mechanically, optically or via other humans, needless to say, help to expand the frontiers of cinematic creativity, producing a reality-illusion that is twice removed. (That is, special effects are a reality-illusion within a reality-illusion). However, their use are not without an ethical dilemma (in cinematic terms) for the film-maker--unless the film in question is of the type traditionally associated with special effects (e.g. science fiction films). To give two examples illustrating this point: some of the awe-inspiring panoramic views of the landscape in Dancing with Wolves were a result of the use of mattes; and some of the body parts of the main actors in Pretty Woman (1990) belonged to stand-ins. Film viewers who become consciously aware of this cinematic 'duplicity' in both of these films are likely to feel cheated.

Cinema and Popular Culture

(a) In an ideal world, skin color would not be among the demarcating criterion for the study of cinema--for, from a biological perspective, there is only one race of people in this world: the human race. Sadly, however, the truth is that we do not live in an ideal world. Whether one likes it or not, popular culture, like all other aspects of society (economics, politics, etc.), has not been immune from the factor of skin color as a significant determinant. But acknowledging this fact does not preclude one from advocating and striving toward the ideal: a popular culture untainted by such morally and abhorrently corrupt norms and values as those that undergird racial prejudice (as well as, of course, such other forms of prejudice as those based on gender, religion, nationality, age, disability, etc.).

(b) The term 'popular culture' has traditionally carried with it an implicit acknowledgment of a hierarchical polarity in society: the masses versus the elite or the ruling classes--with the latter considered as custodians of 'elite' or 'high' culture. Consequently, an often unstated assumption among those concerned with popular culture is that it is inferior to elite culture. Whether judged from the perspective of cognitive demands or decent and civilized human values this is probably true--much of popular culture is soporific, banal, mediocre and quite often abhorrent to say the least: witness, for example, commercial prime time television, or consider the film menu on the marquee at the local multiscreen movie theater.

However, are the masses to blame entirely for this situation? Of course not. They must bear some blame as non-discriminating consumers of popular culture to be sure, but a larger share of the blame must be laid at the doors of the very people who consider themselves as persons of high culture: the wealthy who own the transnational multimedia conglomerates that today have monopoly ownership and control of all the principal outlets for popular culture (movies, books, magazines, radio, television, etc.)

To put the matter differently: the people who help fund the so called 'public' television (PBS)--which in relative terms may be considered 'high culture' television--are also the same people who produce and market trashy films for the masses that glorify the basest of human instincts, ranging from greed to dishonesty and from violence to sexual perversion. The constituent elements of popular culture are like other mass consumer commodities, they are only popular in the sense of consumption, not in the sense of production.

In other words: the capitalist marketplace offers merely an illusion of democracy by suggesting that it is the consumer who decides the 'menu' of popular culture; for in reality it is determined by those who own and control, via the transnational multimedia conglomerates (TMMCs), the means of production and distribution (film studios, publishing houses, cinema theaters, etc.), namely the wealthy (the capitalist class). Therefore, so long as what appears on the 'menu' is not within the control of the masses, the notion of consumer 'choice' that is celebrated with such religious zeal by advocates and defenders of the capitalist marketplace is nothing more than a big lie.

(c) The link between popular culture and the TMMCs does not rest merely on the matter of production, there is another form of linkage too: the dominant ideology, which in North America is the capitalist democratic ideology (and the function of which is to either prevent the development of, or erase, political consciousness (this term is defined in the next chapter). But to what end? In order to assist with the maintenance of the status quo by facilitating the repression, or rechanneling or even refusal to acknowledge the disintegrating tendencies inherent in capitalist systems arising from such iniquitous power-dependent polarities as the rich versus the poor, males versus females, the able-bodied versus the disabled, the young versus the old, whites versus blacks, etc., etc.). Popular culture serves as a vehicle for the socialization of the dominant ideology, with the aim of rendering it so pervasive within the psyche of the masses that it achieves the inviolable status of so called 'common sense.'

Therefore, the ultimate task of the TMMCs is to harness the artistic creativity of the human mind in the service of this ideology; even if on the surface it may appear that the goal of such creativity is simply art and/or entertainment. This process remains usually transparent to all artists involved with mass or elite cultures because of their participation in the capitalist marketplace as either direct, or indirect, employees of the TMMCs.

Note two further points: One, the foregoing should not imply that there is a conspiracy at work among the TMMCs; conspiracy there is, but it is one that is systemic in which the chief conspirator is 'profit.' Two, it is necessary to stress emphatically that in ascribing the function of ideological socialization to popular culture the suggestion is not that the masses imbibe the the ideology by passively exposing themselves to the different dimensions of popular culture. Rather, the suggestion here is that the masses are actively available for socialization by virtue of prior mental 'conditioning' that renders them willing to expose themselves to popular culture and which in turn creates receptivity to the ideological messages being transmitted by popular culture.

The 'conditioning' itself is a product of the experience of living and working in a particular type of society--in this case a capitalist democratic society--and the often unsuccessful attempts to deal with its many contradictions. Examples of these contradictions include: poverty amidst plenty, massive unemployment in the context of rising corporate profits, the right to vote in the context of deepening powerlessness in the face of the ever expanding pervasive corporate domination of society at all levels, the primacy of corporate needs over the needs of people, the abuse and destruction of environmental systems critical to all life forms in the name of economic progress, large budgetary deficits (with their attendant negative consequences for the quality of life) in a context of continuous massive funding for the military machine, etc., etc.

In other words, to give a specific example of this dialectical relationship between popular culture and the nature of the material relations of production of capitalist democratic societies, the willingness of the working class to purchase newspapers (such as the many TMMC owned and controlled mass tabloids found in large cities of Europe and North America) that are so anti-working class in ideological orientation as to blatantly slant and even distort news in the service of this ideology, is a function of the failure by the working class to come to grips with the contradictions of its daily existence--thereby rendering it vulnerable to ideological manipulation. And this ideological manipulation, in turn, blinds it to the true source of the contradictions of its existence.

One observation that can be made in parenthesis here is that what the foregoing also suggests is that those who seek a better society, free of the type of contradictions just mentioned, can not place all their hopes in the transformation of popular culture. Things are simply much more complex than that. There is, therefore, no denying this fact: that given the dialectical relations between the material relations of production (as manifest in the workplace) on one hand, and popular culture on the other, alluded to above, the struggle for a better society rests on the necessity of taking the struggle into both realms; anything else is to engage in wishful thinking.

(d) Those artists who do not wish to be recruited in the service of the dominant ideology must pay a price for their independence: the marginalization of their work--coupled usually with personal poverty. Therefore, even in a democracy, the artist is never really free to remain true to his/her art as long as he/she must have his/her art placed for evaluation before a capitalist marketplace--especially one that is controlled by the representatives of the wealthy, the TMMCs. Any artist who dares to produce serious art, one that questions the status quo in the name of a better society, must grapple with the real problems of putting bread on the table and overcoming physical barriers that prevent his/her work from reaching his/her potential audience among the masses placed by those who have monopoly ownership and/or control of the film studios, radio stations, galleries, publishing houses and so on.

Based on the foregoing it may appear that the suggestion here is that those who wish to influence popular culture through their artistic creativity in the direction of entertainment (via books, films, music, radio, etc.) that does not create, sustain and glorify ways of thinking and behaving that are banal, idiotic, soporific, and even morally and intellectually corrupt are doomed to permanent failure. This, however, is not true. Not all within the populace are unwitting puppets of the TMMCs. Moreover, the very concepts of freedom that the owners of the TMMCs are want to laud at every opportunity to legitimate their monopoly of wealth and power, are also available to the populace to legitimate development of their own independent forms of popular culture untainted by the dominant ideology. Plus, under certain conditions, it is possible for such forms to achieve a sufficient level of popularity as to permanently alter the status quo in a positive direction: toward the creation of a truly civilized society. However, what the foregoing does suggest is that given the political and economic power of the owners of the TMMCs, the necessary political and economic space that can permit development of such alternate forms of popular culture is extremely narrow.


Films and the Viewer

This chapter so far has been concerned with looking at the various methods and techniques that the film-maker employs to communicate his/her art. It is necessary now to examine another important facet of film viewing: how films affect you as the viewer. Films affect viewers at two levels: at the personal individual level (the micro level affect) and at the level of society as a whole (the macro level affect).

Films and the Individual.

The micro-level affects include the following: (a) To begin with there is the emotional impact on the viewer arising out of, first, the story-line and, second, the manner in which the story is told. This may be referred to, following Boorstin (1990) as the vicarious experience of film-viewing where the viewer participates in the emotional experience of the film subject and comes away not only touched but profoundly shaken emotionally. Assuming, in other words, that the film is well made and the story is understandable to the viewer (which is not always the case, especially in relation to serious films), then it will precipitate within the viewer any number of emotions depending upon the story: empathy, sympathy, anger, joy, sorrow, fear, and so on.

What emotions are generated will, to some degree, depend upon the personality make-up of the viewer and his/her life experiences. From the film-maker's point of view, however, the task is to reduce to a minimum the impact of this personal baggage that the viewer brings to the film, and instead allow the film-maker to evoke the logical emotions associated with the storyline. Take, for example, the film A Dry White Season (1989); film-maker Euzhan Palcy would consider her film exceptionally successful if even a dyed in the wool racist (like a member of the Ku Klux Klan) came away from the film empathizing with the victims of apartheid in South Africa. But she cannot rely on the story-line alone (no matter how powerfully dramatic and poignant it happens to be) to do the job; she must also use the full panoply of methods and techniques at her disposal to achieve this objective. (In the film, for instance, she uses a cross-cutting editing approach, which not only has the usual effect of heightening tension and drama, but also reveals in a very stark and forceful way the vast distance, wrought by apartheid, that separate residents of a city, in terms of lifestyle, etc., even though they share the same spatial and time boundaries. To take another example of a vicarious film experience: the scenes in Alan Pakula's Sophie's Choice (1982) where a Polish woman, Sophie (brilliantly played by Meryl Streep), is forced to make a choice between her daughter and her son work to produce powerful emotions in the viewer to a great extent because of the film-makers method in producing the scenes. The event in itself is of course heart-wrenching; and one does not need to be a parent to feel the emotions: Sophie is forced by the Nazi officer to decide which one of her children, the boy or the girl, must be sent to the gas chambers. Yet the full emotional impact of the terrible terrible choice that no parent should ever have to make (where the question of death is no longer limited to one or the other of the children but perforce embraces the very soul of the mother [how can she ever survive the recurring nightmare that will pursue her for the rest of her life], is evoked in the viewer by the film-maker's method: the camera pans over masses of wretched civilians herded into line by the Nazi guards next to a cattle car at a train station waiting to be transported to the gas chambers and then the purpose of the pan is realized as it stops on Sophie and her two children. A Nazi officer arrives and says a few words to Sophie and moves on. A brief exchange ensues between the two. Through tight close-up shots, rapid fire cross-cutting and a sound-track filled with the terrified screams of the little girl as she is dragged away the awful dilemma that the Nazis had thrown the mother into dawns on the viewer with a crescendo of powerful, gut-wrenching emotions of empathy; only a viewer with a cold heart of stone (a non-human) can survive the impact emotionally unscathed.

(b) Films can provoke the viewer to think; making the viewer ponder and reflect on issues raised by some parts of the film, or by the film as a whole. Western film-makers, generally assert that their films are not intended to convey any specific messages; they are merely engaged in practicing their craft: to make films to entertain. Yet, no serious film is without specific messages (whether the film-maker intends them or not). Even though film-maker Constantine Costa-Gavras is fond of asserting, for example, that his films are not political films in that he is not making any political statements in them the fact is that his films (e.g. State of Siege [1973], Missing [1982], Betrayed [1988]) are almost all very 'political.' Take his film Missing; to be sure the film can be viewed as the quest of a father (an upright U.S. citizen) for his son (a political activist) whom he never understood, but who is now missing in a Latin American country (and in the search process becomes re-united with him, but only in spiritual and emotional terms [the son is found murdered]). However, at a different level, the film is very political. In the course of cinematically recounting this true story, Gavras manages to make the intelligent viewer ponder on the character of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America and its horrifyingly brutal consequences for not only Latin Americans, but for U.S. citizens too.

It is not the story-line alone, however, that carries embedded in it specific political issues, the film becomes 'political' (independent of the storyline) by virtue of the film-maker's decision to tell the father's story. The very fact Costa-Gavras felt compelled to tell this particular story, and not some other story (say a boy meets girl type of story) in itself is a 'political' statement. In a similar fashion, even the viewer is making a political statement in deciding to go and see it (unless he/she was 'forced' to go and see it by a friend, spouse, etc. [which, incidentally, is not uncommon]). In both instances the political statement at the broadest level, as it applies to Missing, is sympathy with a political position that totally rejects the use of civilian terror and executions as instruments for effecting government policies.

Of course, the film also acquires its political intent from the essential aspects of the story that the film-maker chooses to place on the screen visually, and aspects that he/she chooses to leave at the non-visual (e.g. verbal) level. For example, film-maker Roland Joffe chose to visually show the effect of a U.S. bombing of a city in Cambodia (supposedly done in error) during the Vietnam War in his film The Killing Fields (1984). This particular incident, while relevant to the overall story, could have easily been left at the non-visual level without really weakening the story line. Yet via this approach in this cinematic rendition of a true story, Joffe manages to make the viewer ponder upon the terrible consequences for civilians in East Asia of the ideological war the U.S. was engaged in with the Soviet Union.

(c) Films can also inspire the viewer--either in terms of taking action or in terms of simply maintaining one's own values. Films such as Hugh Hudson's Chariots of Fire (1981), or Richard Attenborough's Gandhi (1982), (or even films such as Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken [1991] and The Razor's Edge [1984]) tend to make the viewer participate (emotionally and intellectually) in the celebration of the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity and tribulations. These films facilitate for the viewer the reinforcement and/or acquisition of values that support and emphasize the decent and the positive in human beings. Some films will inspire and move one to do even more: take specific action. For example, films such as The Mission ([1986] another film by Roland Joffe) and Cry Freedom ([1987] another film by Richard Attenborough) inspire one to become actively supportive (e.g. by sending donations to relevant organizations, by going to libraries to find out more information, etc.) of the causes being covered (via the storyline) in the films (in the case of The Mission it is the plight of the people who live in the South American rain forests, and in the case of Cry Freedom, it is apartheid).

(d) The vast majority of the films that are released in the U.S. and elsewhere are not, by any stretch of the imagination, serious films. Viewing these films for the most part is akin to reading trashy novels instead of reading, say a novel by Charles Dickens, or it is akin to reading a sensation-mongering tabloid, rather than a newspaper such as the New York Times.

FOOTNOTE: The difference between a serious film and non-serious film, at the simplest level, is that the serious film makes demands on the intelligence of the viewer. This difference emerges most clearly when one makes the distinction between art and entertainment. Art makes one look at the world differently, while entertainment throws back what one already knows, but in an oversimplified manner. Youngblood (1979:754) captures this distinction in relation to cinema succinctly: ''By perpetuating a destructive habit of unthinking response to formulas, by forcing us to rely ever more frequently on memory, the commercial entertainer encourages an unthinking response to daily life, inhibiting self-awareness.... He offers nothing we haven't already conceived, nothing we don't already expect. Art explains; entertainment exploits. Art is freedom from the conditions of memory; entertainment is conditional on a present that is conditioned by the past. Entertainment gives us what we want; art gives us what we don't know what we want. To confront a work of art is to confront oneself--but aspects of oneself previously unrecognized." Serious films, then, are also works of art. 
So what purpose do these films serve for the viewer at the micro level? Why are they so popular? The answer to this question can be found by considering the following fact: in both India (with average income among the lowest in the world) and in the U.S. (with average income among the highest in the world) popular films (that is non-serious films) constitute one of the most important staples of entertainment. In both these countries, the ignorantsia use films as a means of escape from the reality of their day to day existence. In one instance the reality is one of tyranny--the tyranny of poverty--and in the case of the other it is also tyranny--the tyranny of plenty (symptomatically manifest via alienation). Therefore, films such as Ghostbusters (1984), Pretty Woman (1991), Rambo (1985, and 1988) are all films that aim to assist U.S. viewers to deal with their alienated and meaningless lives by escaping, momentarily at least, into the simplified world of sex and violence or just plain idiotic pyrotechnics. Films, therefore, can also permit the viewer to escape from reality via, what Boorstin (1990) calls the visceral thrill. Through suspenseful action and sound effects (and minimal dialogue) the film-maker not only persuades the viewer to suspend disbelief, but also thinking itself! As Boorstin (1990:110) explains: "[v]isceral thrills are the filmmaking's dirty little secret. Though they can require considerable art to achieve, there is nothing artistic about the results--the passions aroused are not lofty, they're the gut reactions of the lizard brain--thrill of motion, joy of destruction, lust, blood lust, terror, disgust. Sensations, you might say, rather than emotions." Films, in other words, can serve as an important form of what may be called the visual narcotic. (Other visual narcotics include mass spectator sports and, of course, popular television.)

Films and Society.

The way films interact with the viewer via the mediation of society, turning now to the macro-level effects, is a complex and as yet little understood process. Much of what has been written on this topic remains at the conjectural level. The research problem is obvious: how can one disentangle all the various elements of society that impinge on an individual in terms of shaping his/her behavior. For example: the agencies of socialization range from the parent through to peers, from the school through to the church, and from the government through to the mass media. Still, one can legitimately conclude that films do have an impact on society as whole by virtue of the mere fact that films are an important component of the mass media. It is possible to suggest, therefore, that films both reflect the values and beliefs of a society and they also help to shape those beliefs and values. Films, for instance, have been credited with influencing fashion in clothing, hairstyles, language, general demeanor, etc. among the young. While such types of influences may, on the surface, be considered as generally innocuous, in reality this is not necessarily so. In support of this point consider the following two types of influences: those relating to mass consumerism and those relating to stereotypes.

Mass consumerism.

Mass consumerism may be defined as an ideology fostered among a large group of people that in effect states that the entire purpose of life is to 'consume' goods produced by the modern capitalist society.

FOOTNOTE: This section grew out of discussions with A. M. McGoldrick.
One of the mechanisms by which this ideology is put into effect is fashion where the trend setter manipulates the consumer to copy the trend (and thereby create fashion.) (Fashion is only possible when a large number of people copy that which is considered to be 'fashionable.') Through fashion, consumer tastes are then homogenized; making it possible for the capitalist to sell his/her goods to the widest market possible. Films help in setting fashion trends or in propagating fashion trends via the phenomenon of 'star status' of certain key film actors.

Filmmakers, or more precisely those who fund and market films, the film studios, long ago discovered that it was possible to sell to the public an artificial, glorified image of certain actors (usually with some appealing element already present--e.g. good looks) and thereby sell the film itself by the mere fact that the actor (the 'star') was in the film. Through this 'star system,' which ultimately involved the creation of a personality cult around the star, the film-viewing public then became conditioned to copying what the stars, their 'celluloid idols,' were doing, wearing, etc. on and off the screen. (Needless to say, the fact that an actor is imbued with star status by the publicity machine of the studio does not necessarily imply that the star is a good actor.) Moreover, the closer the identification of the film-viewing public to the stars, the more money the stars make (through popularity of their films) and the more money they make, the better their lifestyle becomes in terms of consumer goods. This in turn further fuels the consumerist taste of the film-viewing public as they begin to envy the life-style of their idols. But of what harm is mass consumerism? At the simplest level it is that it produces an unquestioning public that is ever ready to be manipulated in behaving in a manner that does not threaten the interests of those who own the major proportion of wealth (and the means of producing it) in society, the capitalist elite. Mass consumerism, in other words, is an important device for converting people into the ignorantsia. Through mass consumerism the public becomes, in essence, lulled into accepting the status quo even if it may be inimical to its interests. The potential conflict between the rich and the poor, the employers and the unemployed, the workers and the capitalists, etc. is thereby 'sublimated' so to speak. Through this sublimation all the major ills of society (e.g. large scale corruption in the finance sector, massive environmental pollution and destruction, widespread homelessness and unemployment, rampant poverty and despair, etc.) that can be traced to the extremely lopsided distribution of wealth where a tiny group of people control a huge chunk of wealth, are, therefore, accepted as a 'normal' or 'natural' accompaniment to economic progress and industrial advancement.

FOOTNOTE: Fashion, of course, is not the only way by which the sublimation of this potential conflict is achieved by the film industry acting as an important arm of the corporate mass media. It has been suggested (see Berger 1982) that the predominance of visceral type films (see above) and films that do not invite the viewer to examine and question the status quo is another mechanism by which the rich and the powerful convince the public in the 'naturalness' and hence immutability of the status quo. 

Mass consumerism is also inimical to the interests of the public in that it helps to hide an important byproduct of capitalism: the alienation of the individual. Alienation is an amorphous concept but here it should be understood as, first, a state of mind where the individual feels hopeless, powerless and apathetic in the face of what he/she perceives as uncontrollable and unmanageable powerful capitalist bureaucracies and institutions, and, second, a state of physical existence where the individual objectively is powerless in controlling the uses to which his/her labor is put within the capitalist system. Symptoms of this alienation include anomie; apathy, estrangement from relatives and friends; enslavement by fashion, selfishness; wanton destructiveness; suicide; loss of meaning in life; preference for mind-deadening activities (drugs, visual narcotics, etc.) and, paradoxically, an even greater push toward engagement in mass consumerism in a bid to sublimate the alienation (the very source of their alienation perversely appears as their salvation!). To elaborate on the last point: while mass consumerism is the engine of capitalist growth, it also generates within the ignorantsia the notion that their happiness and life-goals depend on the satisfaction of the false needs that mass consumerism generates. This in turn leads to further immersion in the mass consumerist ethic leading to even more alienation.


To begin with: what are stereotypes? A stereotype is an oversimplified mental image of groups of people, or categories of institutions (the church, etc.), or even whole countries, continents and regions. This mental-image is shared by a large number of people and it is usually derived from the extrapolation of the behavior of a single individual (or entity) to the rest of the community (or entities) from which the individual (or entity) comes. Stereotypes can be of both positive types and negative types. In both instances, however, the fact that this image does not conform to reality, implies that there is an inherent underlying negative element to it--even in the case of positive stereotypes. This negativity resides in the fact that it conditions behavior toward the target of the stereotype in a manner that is not warranted by the actual objective reality surrounding the target. When the target of the stereotype happen to be a group of people or a country then the injustice that underlies this phenomenon is readily obvious. In such circumstances the behavioral attitude toward the target is preconceived; it is not a product of actual interaction with the target. For example: it is not uncommon to see immigrants come into the U.S. with preconceived views of African-Americans, even though they may have never ever actually interacted with a single African-American.

FOOTNOTE: While it is humanly impossible to eliminate all stereotypes from one's mind because of the enormous complexity of the world one lives in; there are some stereotypes [especially those concerning groups of peoples or a country] that demand elimination. Examples of such stereotypes abound; here are a few: whites are racists; blacks are lazy; Jews own everything; Orientals work too hard; women are weak; women cannot be understood by men; Arabs are wealthy; Americans are rich; Americans are uncouth; etc.; etc. 

One of the dominant stereotypes that films in the U.S. have perpetuated concerns the racist image of people of color, especially Native-Americans and African-Americans. In the case of Native-Americans one only has to see the old 'Westerns' (the cowboy and 'Indian') films to quickly determine the stereotype. In these films Native-Americans are invariably portrayed as vermins and scoundrels who deserve to be annihilated (and many of whom were annihilated in real life), rather than as victims (which in real life they were) of a voracious and rapine land-hungry alien settler population that established its legitimacy to rob the land that belonged to the Native-Americans solely on the basis of their guns and their numbers.

As for African-Americans, the stereotypes have been at a more subtler level. In his excellent book, Bogle (1989) identifies the following types of stereotypes, among others, that African-Americans have been historically burdened with in Hollywood films: the uncle tom (the polite, patient, uncomplaining 'good negro' who did everything his/her white master desired even in the face severe oppression); the coon (the comic negro who via his/her buffoonery [either as a child, a a pickaninny, or as an adult the uncle remus] served as an object of amusement and entertainment); the tragic mulatto (the product of miscegenation who is forever the victim of her mixed parentage); the mammy (a big, fat and bossy woman, often the female version of the coon); the aunt jemima (the female version of the uncle tom); the buck (either as brutal and savage out to destroy the white man's world or as an over-sexed animal lusting after white women); the jester (the comic negro, ''[h]igh-stepping, and high-falutin' and crazy as all get-out"); the servants (respectable, uncomplaining, and entertaining domestics); the entertainers (the respectable, well dressed jester); the problem people (the victims of racism of bad whites eliciting sympathy from good whites, or angry victims of racism turned militant); and the black superstar (the race problem is over, even blacks can be superstars now). As is evident from this long list of stereotypes, the net effect has been to dehumanize African-Americans by portraying them in a manner that did not correspond with reality, not so much at the level of the individual (e.g. in reality there are some individuals who do act as uncle toms), but at the level of the group (e.g. not all African-Americans are uncle-toms). Needless to say, via this dehumanization the ideology of racism has continued to be propagated through the socialization aspect of film-viewing.

Before proceeding to the next section; a word or two about the concept of 'stereotype' itself. One would be remiss not to mention here a very thorough and for the most part (though not entirely) convincing demonstration by Barker (1989) that, in his words, "...the concept of a 'stereotype' is useless as a tool for investigation of media texts." Moreover, he continues, "it is dangerous on both epistemelogical and political grounds." (p. 210) While this characterization of the concept may be valid from the perspective of the uses made of it in different contexts, the position adopted here is that the concept, when properly defined, is not entirely valueless in some circumstances. What does one mean by 'properly defined?' That the concept should not be freighted with unnecessary baggage (value assumptions, political agendas, etc.) such as those that he identifies. Therefore, it is possible to use the term (as it is used in this chapter) in a neutral sense to simply signify the process of extrapolation of, for example, the personal characteristics of an individual to all members of the group that the individual belongs to. However, at the same time, it is important to caution that human behavior, where stereotypes are involved, is not entirely conditioned by the stereotypes--other factors will also come into play. For example in the case of racist stereotypes and racism, it would be a mistake to suggest that racist stereotypes leads to racism; for, in reality, the reverse is probably true. Therefore, in the context of racism, the function of racist stereotypes is that they are simply one more item in the arsenal of dehumanization. That is, they help to reinforce, not create, racism.


Film Credits

Before ending this chapter there is one more point that must be made: it concerns film credits. It is not uncommon to see audiences in film theatres immediately get up and leave upon the conclusion of the image part of the film, instead of staying a little longer in their seats and watch on the screen the film credits--that is the listing of the personnel who were responsible for making the film (as well as names of all the members of the film cast). Why is it so important to stay and watch the credits? Because not doing so is like reading a novel or a short story without being concerned about who the author is, or listening to a music album without being concerned about who made the music, or appreciating a painting without being bothered about find out who the painter is. There is, here, the following assertion being made: that the viewer/listener has an ethical responsibility, in terms of decency and the courtesy, to know the name of the artist behind the art (even if only for a brief moment) that he/she is enjoying.

Now, talking specifically about films, throughout the discussion so far the term 'film-maker' has been used to refer to the person who makes the film. From the perspective of the modern feature film this term is a misnomer; it must be now corrected. There is no single person who wears the hat of the 'film-maker,' but rather there are many persons who wear that hat. In other words: today, more than ever before, all feature films are truly the product of a joint effort involving scores of people (besides the actors); more than any other art medium the film is the physical incarnation of a massive collaborative effort. (Even independent films produced by independent film-makers are not entirely immune from this fact.) While space does not permit the listing of all the non-acting personnel whose joint efforts together underwrite the successful making of a film, key members, as a final task of this chapter, need to be identified in terms of what they do on a film-making project; they are (in no particular order):

Agent: represents writers, producers, directors, etc. in finding jobs and negotiating pay and work conditions;

Business affairs executive: the employer's counterpart to the agent (the employer can be a studio or a production company);

Entertainment attorney: takes care of the legal matters of his/her client (clients range from the agent to the employers);

Titles registrar: lawyer or para-legal who works for the studio/ production company and is responsible for registering the title of a film project with the Motion Picture Association of America;

Head of production: supervises all aspects of film-making (from screen-play ideas through film shooting to film marketing) for those financing the film;

Screenwriter: writes the screenplay which involves creation of characters, dialogue, dramatic situations, etc. in a film story;

Director: translates the screenplay into the actual film that he envisions through direction of the actors, the cameraperson, production designer and so on, and he is also the boss of the film crew;

Production manager: hires the crew, determines cost break-down of filming, and generally supervises all administrative, financial and technical aspects of film production; he/she makes all the initial arrangements concerning filming dates, locations and fees;

Auditor: works closely with the production manager on all financial aspects of film production, including budget determination and supervision;

Story editor: supervises readers of manuscripts submitted for a potential film and assists in the determination of the films agenda (what and how many films are made) of a studio or film production company;

Script supervisor: acts as the director's filming secretary by keeping meticulous notes on each shooting session (dates, time, length of the shot, scene, etc.), that will later be used for purposes of maintaining continuity on film shooting and editing;

Production designer: responsible for designing the final look of a film by working closely with the director; supervises the search for locations, designs the sets, and supervises construction of the sets as well as handles such other aspects related to the visual look of the film as decoration, costumes, hair, make-up, etc.;

Property master: handles all props and also assists in placing props in position for filming (props include items such as weapons, tools, toys, sporting equipment, food and drink, etc.);

Costume designer: works closely with the production designer to determine appropriate costumes for the actors, and supervises the wardrobe department;

Make-up artist: works closely with the director, actors, production designer, costume designer, and cinematographer to arrive at acceptable make-up at each stage of the evolution of the characters in a film as well as determine acceptable make-up for non-character evolutionary roles.;

Production illustrator: provides sketches, paintings and story boards to various personnel especially at pre-planning stage of shooting;

Matte painter: designs and paints backgrounds for matte shots which are visual masks used in combining two or more images to produce a single image, the matte painter is indispensable in films that demand backgrounds that are expensive to shoot or do not exist;

Casting director: seeks out and negotiates with actors to act in a film;

Dialect coach: trains actors to speak in a given accent;

Stunt coordinator: hires stuntpersons and determines and supervises the stunts required in a film;

Choreographer: works under the director to create dance sequences and also hires/ trains dance doubles for actors;

Teacher: provides instruction to school-age children who work as actors, also responsible for ensuring that labor laws pertaining to minors are upheld;

Animal trainer: handles and trains animals that will appear in the film and ensures that they are treated humanely;

Director of photography: works with the director to determine how the screenplay should be translated into his vision of the visual images, also known as the cinematographer. (Note that in the U.S. the cinematographer does not operate the camera, in Europe however he/she most likely will also operate the camera.)

Camera operator: works with the assistant cameraperson (also called 'focus puller') and is responsible to the director of photography, for everything to do with the actual photographing of images (composition, focus, movement of the camera, zooming, etc.)

Key Grip: works with the director of photography and the gaffer to determine camera placement, movement, etc.;

Gaffer: responsible for all electrical circuits and lighting set-ups;

Film editor: working with the director the film editor produces the final cut of the film by selecting and assembling individual pieces of film (the positive work print), also responsible for ensuring the synchronization of voice and sound tracks; Color timer: responsible for determining the density, contrast and color balance of the film (after the film has been shot) in the film lab, works closely with the director of photography;

Visual effects producer: supervises the visual effects that may be required to produce the illusion of reality through manipulation of photography;

Model and miniature builder: constructs copies of sets on a miniature level to obviate the need for location photography because it is impractical due to cost or other factors;

Production sound mixer: heads the sound crew, responsible for recording all sound on location or on the set that is to be used in the film;

Supervising sound editor: determines the final quality of the sound in the sound track (excluding music);

Composer: composes the music that is to accompany the film, works closely with the director;

Rerecording mixer: in charge of producing the final sound track out of various sound recordings (dialogue, sound effects, music, etc.)

Unit publicist: responsible for advertising the film in behalf of the studio or film production company;

Distribution executive: negotiates in behalf of the studio or film production company with the theatre owners for the exhibition of the film;

FOOTNOTE: For more information on these and other film personnel not mentioned see Brouwer and Right (1990)

Addendum: Glossary of Key Cinematic Terms

Academy Awards--Prizes of merit given in a number of categories (e.g. Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, Cinematography, Music, etc.) by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences--a professional association of people directly involved in the production of motion pictures. To qualify for the award, the film must have been released in Los Angeles during the preceding calendar year. The award itself takes the form of a statuette (of little monetary value) called an Oscar.

Actual sound--Sound recording made on location to add authenticity to the sound track. Usually the sound recordist will ask everybody to remain absolutely quiet for a short time while the recording is made.

Adaptation--The use of literary material (novels, short stories, etc) in the making of a film. The adaptation process involves obtaining the rights to the material from its owners, and hiring someone to write the screenplay.

Ambient Light--Existing or natural light that surrounds a subject.

Animation--The creation of life-like motion in inanimate objects (cartoon drawings, graphics, clay-models, etc.) via motion-picture photography.

Answer print--The first completed print with all the color values properly corrected received from the film lab. After it is approved by the producer, director and cinematographer it will serve as the basis for making release prints for distribution to movie theatres.

Art director--The person who is responsible for designing sets and costumes. On big budget films the art director will work under a production designer. On smaller budget films the art director will also be the production designer.

Artifact music--Appropriate music that accompanies a source seen or suggested in the film. (E.g. a radio in a scene may be accompanied on the sound-track by appropriate music to suggest that that is the music the subject in the scene is listening to.)

Aspect ratio--The width to height ratio of the image on film/ television screens.

Associative editing--The splicing together of shots of similar events. Also called relational editing. Example: scenes of people being killed inter-cut with scenes of animals being slaughtered.

Auteur--The principle film-maker (author) of a film; may also refer to a film director with a specific film style. This term also refers to a theory developed by French filmmakers concerning who should be properly defined as a film's author given the many personnel involved in the making of a film.

Backlighting--Lighting where the principle light source is at the back of the subject facing the camera.

Back projection--Also called rear screen projection. A transparent screen is placed in front of actors and a scene projected on to the screen. When the actors are photographed from the other side an illusion is created to suggest that the actors are actually part of the projected scene.

Best boy--The person who assists the gaffer.

Blaxploitation--Films intended for a black audience that exploit for profit their baser instincts. See also sexploitation.

Blimp--To sound-proof a camera; sound-proofing camera cover.

Boom--A moving mechanical arm with a microphone used to record sound on a set in such a way that the microphone does not appear in the film image.

B grade film--Films of a general poor quality made quickly and cheaply. In the past when double features were common at film theatres these films were used as fillers for the second half of the double bill.

Bridging Shot--A shot used to bridge a sudden transition in time, place, etc.

Casting Director--The person responsible for determining and finding appropriate actors needed for a film.

Character Actor--An actor who plays parts that call for stereotype characters--e.g. a gangster, or an army sergeant, etc. A character actor is usually not the main actor in a film.

Chiaroscuro--Italian for clear and dark. A technique of producing images that employ light and shade or light and dark elements.

Cineaste--A film-maker.

Cinematographer--Person responsible for the overall quality of the photographic image on the screen by being in charge of the camera and lighting. (Also known as the 'director of photography' or 'lighting cameraperson.') The cinematographer does not necessarily operate the camera; that is the job of the cameraperson.

Cinematography--Film photography.

Cinema Verite--A documentary technique of making films.

Clapper board--A chalkboard with relevant shot data on it photographed at the commencement of a shot. A clapstick attached to the board is snapped shut when the shooting begins so as to provide both sound and image that can be used later to synchronize picture and sound.

Closeup shot--A lens magnified shot of the face of a subject or some other object. The lens used for close-ups is called a macro lens.

Continuity--The creation of the illusion of filming in one unbroken sequence by ensuring consistency of such things as wardrobes, hairstyle, lighting, movement, etc., etc., as the film is shot in different places and at different times during the course of its production. Continuity is an important element in enhancing verisimilitude.

Costume House--A business company that specializes in costumes for films. The usually practice is that a filmmaker will rent, rather than buy, whatever costume is needed for the film from the large stock of costumes kept by the costume house.

Crane shot--An areal shot taken from a crane.

Cross-cutting--Also called parallel editing where shots are intermingled to suggest parallel action.

Dailies--Also called rushes; refers to prints of takes that are produced immediately at the end of a day's shooting so that they can be viewed before the next shooting session begins. A take is a version of a shot. Often a filmmaker will make several takes of a shot, but the final version of the film will have only one of the versions.

Deep focus--A filming technique preferred by realist film-makers where objects near and far are all in focus.

Detail shot--A closeup shot, but even more magnified. A closeup of the eyes alone, for example, would be a detail shot.

Dialogue Editor--The person responsible for ensuring, after film shooting is completed, that all speech in the films is fully audible and there are no unwanted noises on the sound track. If an actor's lines are found to be inaudible then he/she will be called to re-record the speech at a sound studio.

Direct cinema--The preferred style of making documentaries today in the U.S. where the film-maker avoids any participation in the ongoing action; even avoiding, if possible, narration.

Director of photography--See cinematographer. Discovery shot--Using a pan or a dolly shot to provide new information in a scene to the viewer.

Dissolve--The fading out of an image as a new one is faded in.

Docudrama--A film of a semi-fictionalized true story.

Documentary--A non-fiction or factual film/television program.

Dolby--Trademark of Dolby Laboratories. A sound recording system that permits the dampening of background noise inherent in tape recordings so as to produce 'cleaner' sound.

Dolly shot--A shot taken on a moving platform that permits forward and reverse movements.

Double--An actor who stands in or doubles for another actor--usually in scenes involving stunts.

Dramatization--An actual event reproduced fictionally in film or theatre (or in novels).

Dub--A rerecording of a dialogue in another language (usually to avoid the use of sub-titles). Also refers to the recording of dialogue in a studio after a film has been shot (usually done to ensure sound clarity not available on the set because of background noise).

Editor--The person who is in charge of putting the film together so that the narrative flows logically.

Environmental sound--Also called wild sound. Background sound associated with time and place. (E.g. a chirping cricket in a night scene.)

Episode--Refers to any single show of a serial (usually in television).

Establishing shot--A long shot, usually, that permits the viewer to know the place and context of the action to come.

Exposure--The measured amount of light that the filmstock is allowed to receive during photography.

Expressionism--Making films in a manner that is opposite to realism in which the film-maker will use as many technical and artistic devices as necessary to give the film his/her own unique perspective, style of communication, etc.

Extra--A person (who may or may not be an actor) who does not have any specific role in a film plot. For instance, extras provide the human background that may be needed for special scenes in a film--e.g. a scene of a football game may require hundreds of extras to serve as the spectators in the scene.

Fade in--A narrative transition device in which the screen starts out black with no image and then the image is slowly brought in until it reaches its optimum visual quality.

Fade out--Opposite of fade in.

Feature film--The principal film being screened when two or more films are to be shown. Today it also refers to narrative films of 75 minutes or more duration.

Fill lighting--Lighting used to to soften shadows and illuminate areas not accessed by the principal light source (key lighting) so as to even out the contrast in the image.

Film noir--A French term (now in common usage) for films that are set in urban environments with stories in which dark and violent passions dominate negatively. Many films made in the 1940s and 1950s in the U.S. were of this type.

Filmstock--Unexposed strip of photographic material used in a camera to shoot a film (equivalent to photographic 'film' for still cameras). This is usually a color or a black and white negative film. After it is shot and processed a positive film print is produced for distribution to movie theatres.

Film time--Length of time as portrayed by a events in a story rather than actual playing time of the film.

Film rating--Refers to the allocation of audience category to a film by means of alphanumeric symbols; specifically the following in the U.S.: G (for general audiences--all audiences can be admitted by a movie theatre); PG (parental guidance recommended--some scenes in the film may not be suitable for children, hence parents are advised to preview the film before determining suitability for their children); PG-13 (parental guidance for children under 13 strongly advised); R (restricted--not suitable for children under 17 unless accompanied by an adult); and NC-17 (no children under 17--children under 17 are not to be admitted by a movie theatre). The film rating system, it should be noted, is not a legally binding system but a voluntary one. Films are rated by the Film Rating Board comprising seven parents and a chairperson who see the films. The work of the Board is sponsored by the Motion Picture Association of America together with the National Association of Theatre Owners and a number of other independent film distributors.

Final cut--The film that is finally released for public viewing (from the filmmaker's point of view the final version that the producer cannot temper with). (See also First cut.)

First cut--The first edited version of a film (which may also be called a rough cut. (See also Final cut.)

Flashback--The past shown in the present in a narrative. A flashback can comprise a scene a sequence or even almost the entire film.

Flash-forward--Opposite of the flashback; the future shown in the present in a narrative.

Focus--The optimum sharpness of a photographic image of a subject.

Focus in--A narrative transition device in the film where the image is brought into focus gradually.

Focus out--Opposite of focus in.

Follow shot--A shot that may involve tracking (actually moving the camera) or a zoom (simulation of tracking via a zoom lens) that follows the movement of a subject.

Frame--A single photographic image on an exposed and processed filmstock. It also refers to the shape and size of the projected film image on the screen.

Freeze frame--The simulation of a still photograph on the screen produced by printing a single frame of an image many times in succession.

Front projection--Opposite of 'back projection' where the image is projected on a screen behind the actors, and the actors are photographed from the same side.

Full shot--A full length shot of a subject in which the subject dominates.

Gaffer--The person in charge of the electrical circuits, wiring, lights, etc. on a set. The gaffer is usually assisted by a person called the best boy.

Genre--A category of films that share similar styles, story types, character-types, etc. Examples of film genres include: action/ adventure, science fiction, horror, western, comedy, children, drama, mystery, documentary, romance, suspense, teen, etc.

Grip--The person responsible for props on a set.

Jump cut--A cut within a scene (to be differentiated from a cut between scenes). Commonly used to eliminate unnecessary time in an action. For example the middle portion of the time spent by a person traversing a room may be eliminated because the chief point of interest is the entry and the destination.

Key lighting--Principal or main lighting.

Lighting cameraman--Another name for a cinematographer.

Location shooting--Shooting a film in a place (location) away from a studio set.

Long shot--A shot in which objects and subjects appear in their entirety and usually involving a deep focus approach.

Macro lens--A special type of lens that permits extremely close focusing (involving distances as short as a tenth of a centimeter from the lens surface.)

Married print--A film print in which the image and sound are included (married) together.

Master shot--Similar to a long shot but of a longer duration. It serves as a basis for putting together other shots (e.g. detail shots, close-up shots, etc.)

Mise en scene--A French term signifying what actually happens--in terms of placement and direction of actors, cameras, lighting, etc.--on the set (as distinct from what happens in the editing room [montage]) in the making of a film. Realists place heavier emphasis on the mise en scene approach than expressionists who place greater emphasis on montage.

Montage--In simple terms it means editing. However, usually it refers to a special type of editing in which two scenes are juxtaposed against each other to produce a meaning that is not on film itself but an outcome of viewer interpretation.

Multiple exposure--Two or more images are printed on top of each other.

Narrative--A story.

Narrative film--Usually a feature film that tells a story (as distinct from say a poetic film).

No-Budget film--A low budget film produced at a cost of around one hundred thousand dollars. In probably all instances, a no-budget film will be made by an independent filmmaker strongly committed to making the film. A low-budget film, it may be noted, is a film made at a cost of around five million dollars.

Optical Printer--A machine that allows duplication of film prints. It is also used for producing optical effects, as well as correcting color values (called timing) and correcting contrast.

Out-takes--Shots filmed but eventually remain unused in the film because of editing decisions.

Over the shoulder shot--A shot taken usually when two persons are involved in a dialogue that permits the viewer to see the speaker over the shoulder of the listener. In such a shot parts of the head and shoulder of both the speaker and the listener will be visible in the film frame.

Overexposure--Allowing too much light into the camera during photography causing the image to become too light.

Pan--Camera movement from left to right or right to left.

Point of view shot--A shot of a view taken from the perspective of one of the characters in the film.

Postproduction--The phase of filmmaking that takes place between principal photography and the distribution of the film to movie theatres. In this phase such tasks as the following will be attended to: editing, addition of sound and visual effects, reshooting of scenes where necessary, music synchronization, making of answer prints, and so on. (See also preproduction.)

Preproduction--The phase of filmmaking that takes place between receiving financial approval to make a film and principal photography. In this phase such tasks as the following will be attended to: setting up a production office, hiring of film crew members, casting of parts in the film, designing of sets, planning of stunts, setting up a shooting schedule, and so on.

Principal photography--The actual shooting of a film where the main photography of the film is accomplished (also referred to as the production phase). This is the phase that brings together all the work of the preproduction phase.

Print--A positive copy of a film. Films are distributed for viewing in this form.

Pull back shot--A shot that is reversed via tracking or zooming in order to reveal the context of the subject. For example a shot that commences with a closeup and then gradually proceeds to reveal the entire person and finally the surroundings too.

Realism--A technique of making films in which the subject matter is more important than the film-makers personal viewpoint. It is opposite to expressionism.

Real time--Actual present time. A live broadcast of a performance, for example, occurs in real time (compare with a pre-recorded broadcast of a performance).

Rushes--Another term for dailies.

Scene--One or more shots that together produce a coherent segment in the narrative.

Screenplay--A film script with dialogue and usually (but not always) with indications of how each scene is to be photographed.

Set--The location where filming of a scene takes place.

Shot--A single piece of film made by continuously running the camera without cuts.

Studio--This term may refer to a physical place where films are shot or it may refer to the huge conglomerate motion picture companies such as Columbia, Walt Disney, MGM/UA, Orion, Warner Bros., Paramount, Twentieth Century-Fox and Universal.

Subjective camera--The point of view of the subject in a scene in contrast to the point of view of the filmmaker. In this situation the camera becomes the eyes of the subject (and the viewer is made to see what the subject is seeing in the scene).

Swish pan--A quick pan movement of the camera causing a blurring of details in a scene. Sometimes used as a transitional device where the viewer is 'transported' to a different time and place at the end of the pan.

Take--A version of shot. Usually several versions of a shot will be taken to permit greater choice in film editing.

Verisimilitude--A quality of making something appear to be real.

Workprint--Duplicate print of the original print that editors can cut to produce the final film.

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