Screenwriters Glossary -

Screenwriters Glossary

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  • Abby Singer Shot

    An Abby Singer shot is the name for the penultimate shot of the day. This received its name after a famous assistant film director and production manager called Abby Singer.

  • A/B Story

    The A story will be the focus of your story. This mean it will usually be about the protagonist and have the most scenes/ screen-time. The B story is a storyline that runs alongside the “A story” and features more secondary characters.

  • Above-the-line

    This is the list of people who guide and influence the creative vision of a film and related expenditures. These roles can include the screenwriter, producer, director, actors, and other individuals.

  • Act

    One of three segments that make up a unit of dramatization (scene, arrangement, scene). Acts in highlights portray structure, not utilized in the content. Utilized in sitcoms.

  • Act break

    The finish of an act. An act often will build up and finish before an intermission/ act break.

  • Act heading

    A centered, all CAPS heading at the start of an act or scene.  Act numbers are written in Roman numerals, scene numbers in ordinals.

  • Action

    Sounds and character movements in a scene featured in a screenplay.

  • Action block

    This is used to describe the character actions, setting and other information in the script text. Generally, doesn’t include dialogue and is used to set the scene. 

  • Actor

    A performing artist whose profession is acting in films, tv series or on the stage.

  • Adaptation

    This is rewriting and adapting a screenplay from another source. This source can range from a type of novel, article, memoir, TC series and even other films.

  • Ad-lib

    This is used in film/theatre when an actor speaks through their character spontaneously and not using a script.

  • Aerial shot

    An aerial shot is a camera shot filmed from an elevated point of view. This usually is filmed from a plane or helicopter and an example of when an aerial shot may be used is if a scene takes place on a tall building.

  • Aftermath scene

    A moment of calm during which the characters are able to digest a scene of intense conflict.

  • Agent submission

    A method of script submission, that requires that a script will only be accepted if it’s submitted by a recognised literary agent.

  • Allegorical Characters

    An allegorical figure is a dual-purpose character, as they are an important character with their own traits etc, but they also represent abstract ideas and other meanings.

  • Allegory

    Allegory is a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted differently to show a hidden meaning, and this is typically a moral or political one.

  • Alter-ego

    A second or different version of yourself (or your character).

    Example – Clark Kent and his alter-ego superman. 

  • Ambience

    The character, mood and atmosphere of a film.

  • Anamorphic lens

    This is a camera lens that is used for shooting a wide-screen film and to also project it onto the screen.

  • Angle

    This directs the camera to specific subject/object. Angles can be wide, high, low, tight, close, bird’s eye, etc.

  • Angle on

    This is a type of camera shot. This is usually where wide shot scenes are taking place in one large location and then the following camera shot is cut to a specific object/subject. 

    For example, if we are filming a wide shot of a clothing shop but then want to cut to a specific person who is about stealing some clothes, then you can write ANGLE ON. 

    Please note that this is often implied by simple scene description. Use ANGLE ON with good purpose and when necessary.

  • Annotation

    A note by way of explanation specifying the source of each script element that is not fictional, including characters, events, settings, and parts of dialogue.

  • Antagonist

    The character who actively opposes the Protagonist.  This is not necessarily a villain, but is most commonly known to be the villain.

    A script can have more than one antagonist, it can be a force or group of characters.

  • Anti-climax

    This is a disappointing finish to an exciting or impressive series of events.

  • Antihero

    A character in a story, film, or TV show who lacks the usual heroic attributes.

  • Aperture

    The opening of a camera lens that light enters through.

  • Approved writer

    A network trusted writer.

  • Arc shot

    The camera moving to film a character or object in a full circle or semi-circle.


    The most commonly used and most popular theory of story structure. Aristotle’s 3-Act structure follows a beginning, middle and end whilst rising in climax to the culmination of dramatic events. 


    Aristotle’s theory of generating fear and empathy from your audience towards your characters follows several extreme misfortunes, including:

    1. Death

    2. Bodily assault or ill treatment

    3. Old age illness.

    4. Lack of food or substance

    5. Lack of friends or companionship

    6. Ugliness

    7. Weakness

    8. Being crippled

    9. Having your characters great expectations fail

    10. Having good things come too late

    11. Having no good things happen to your character

    12. Having good things happen but being unable to enjoy them


    1. Nutritive Life

    2. Desiring Life

    3. Sensitive Life

    4. Locomotion

    5. Capacity for rational thought

  • Art director

    This person is in charge of the general aesthetic and feel of the film set, including the props and placements.

  • Aside

    When a movie character speaks directly to the audience, thus breaking the concept of the “fourth wall”.

  • Aspect ratio

    A measure of the ratio of the width to height of components in an image.

  • Assembly

    Organising all the camera shorts to take on the form of the script during first stages of editing.

  • Aural

    An off-screen sound that can be heard but isn’t filmed.

  • Available light

    The amount of natural light that is available during filming for a more realistic view.

  • Axis of action

    This is also known as the 180° line/rule. This is an imaginary line that passes through the two actors playing the main protagonists, this defines the spatial relations of elements of the scene.

    If these rules aren’t adhered to in production then in there will be no congruency in the edit.

  • Backdrop

    A backdrop is a background to an object or scene. This can vary from a photographic painting or a landscape view, such as hills. Backdrops were normally used before film studios used green screens or shot on set, an example of this being image projection in car driving scenes.

  • Background (b.g.)

    An action/object in a scene that isn’t the main focus point. This can be abbreviated to (b.g.)

  • Background artist

    A background artist (also known as a matte artist) is the name for the person in charge of designing the visual background of a film.

  • Background music

    This is the music heard in the background of a scene. This music helps to set an ambience of the scene.

  • Beat

    This is an instruction on a script for the actor take a brief pause.

  • B-Movie

    B-movie is a term used to refer to a low-budget film. B-movies typically come from independent producers.

  • Character

    A character is simply a role to be fulfilled by an actor or actress in a play, film, or novel.


    CLOSE ON is a shot description that signals a close-up on some object, action, or person (an expressive body part such as the face, or a fist).

    It seems to be the lesser-used term in a screenplay and is a little more informal than CLOSE UP (C.U).

    May also be seen as CLOSE UP / C.U. or CLOSE SHOT.

  • CLOSE UP (C.U)

    CLOSE UP (C.U) is a shot description that signals a close-up on some object, action, or person (an expressive body part such as the face, or a fist).

    This term may also be seen as CLOSE UP / C.U. or CLOSE SHOT, CLOSE ON.


    When a camera shot moved in for a new angle nearer to the subject/object. This is more of an editing term but can be mentioned in the screenplay when necessary.


    Contrazoom, also known as crash-dolly, or the Vertigo effect was first used by Alfred Hitchock to create a dizzying feeling via the camera.

    Most famously used in the scene Vertigo and Jaws, the camera dollies in and zooms out creating a sickening motion with the foreground still, and the background expanding.

  • Crawl

    A Crawl is text that is superimposed onto the screen that moves in any direction. For example, the prologue in Star Wars films.


    As a scene fades out there is a moment of black or blank before the next scene fades in. Do not confuse with DISSOLVE as CROSSFADE involves a black or blank screen.

  • CUT TO

    This is commonly used in screenwriting and is a simple transition. This is just the movement between two scenes in one frame.

    This is commonly misused by writers starting out and should only be used when creating special emphasis on the cut and story. For example, if you wish to cut from if your character is saying “I’m never going touch a drink again”, to a montage of him getting drunk straight after then this would warrant a CUT TO.

    It’s used to create special emphasis across scenes and especially for comedic effect.

    It’s not a hugely important term in a screenplay and it’s not really needed for spec scripts.

  • Dialogue

    A conversation between two or more people, a feature of a screenplay, novel or book.

  • Director

    A person with artistic control who is responsible for implementing the creative vision of a TV show, film, play or any other production.


    A camera transition as one scene fades out the next scene gradually fades in.


    This is a camera movement (on camera tracks) towards or away from a subject/object, involving the physical movement of the camera. This term is always typed in capital letters in a script.

  • DOLLY Zoom

    Dolly Zoom, also known as contrazoom, crash-dolly, or the Vertigo effect was first used by Alfred Hitchock to create a dizzying feeling via the camera.

    Most famously used in the scene Vertigo and Jaws, the camera dollies in and zooms out creating a sickening motion with the foreground still, and the background expanding.

  • Epilogue

    This is the final short scene that concludes a film. The epilogue can frequently involve the protagonist reflecting on the events that unfolded during the film, an example of this is Saving Private Ryan.

  • Establishing shot

    This is a camera shot that establishes the location of the scene, this is commonly used at the beginning of a film and this is usually shot from a distance. 

    For example, if the story is set in London, they may use a camera shot of the Thames. 

  • EXT.

    This is short for exterior.  This is used when a scene takes place outdoors.

    The only alternative for EXT. in a screenplay is INT. (interior).

  • Executive Producer

    The job role of the Executive Producer is to oversee and assist the producer. They are typically in charge of reviewing a film’s financing, therefore they must be excellent negotiators. An Executive Producer will also ensure the movie is completed on time and is produced within budget.

  • Exposition

    Exposition is the practice of revealing information about the story through means such as dialogue.

    It certainly can be a great tool to help give the audience more information, but if done too obviously exposition can ruin a scene and potentially a story.

    An example of this would be dialogue such as “I have issues with loving people because my mum died when I was younger” – this dialogue is too on-the-nose and the exposition poorly tries to inspire empathy in the audience, but in fact, it does the opposite effect. It comes across as naff and lazy!

  • Expressionism

    This is a filmmaking technique that involves the warping of reality using costumes, editing techniques and lighting. This is designed to represent the inner emotion of either filmmaker or the characters. This was initially popular in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s typically involving dark visual images.

  • Extra

    This is an actor who plays a part in a film that is usually a non-speaking background role. For example, they will be part of a crowd or a customer in a shop. Extras usually do not receive screen credit.

  • Extreme close-up (XCU)

    This is an extremely close-up camera shot that shows the subject/object closely. An example of how this may be used is to show an actor’s eyes, mouth or particular body part.


    When the camera position is a long distance away from the scene (subject or action) Only use this when necessary.

  • Eyeline match

    This is a filmmaking technique where a cut is made between two camera shots to give an illusion that the character, shown in the first shot is looking at an object/subject presented in the second camera shot. 

    If this isn’t done correctly in production then when the two shots are cut together the actor/actress will seem as though they are not looking in the direction of the other actor/actress.


    This is a popular technique in TV/film that involves an image gradually coming into view or a sound slowly becoming noticeable as part of a scene.



    This is when a certain subject or action becomes the main focus of the shot.

  • Feature-Length Film

    A feature-length is a film with a runtime longer than 40 minutes. It’s generally intended to be the main show in a cinema programme.


    This is a film editing technique that involves multiple consecutive shots of a very short duration usually to imply energy or chaos.


    A screenwriting/filmmaking technique where the narrative is interrupted in order to show events of the past, this technique is mainly used to provide backstory to the events.


    The picture stops moving, becoming a still photograph, and holds for a period of time.

    A classic example of this is at the end of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and The 400 Blows.


    A filming technique that focuses on a small/minor detail in a larger shot with the intention of drawing the audience’s attention to it.

  • INT.

    INT. is also known as interior. It is a prompt for producers to identify that a scene takes place indoors and to plan accordingly.

    The only alternative for INT. in a screenplay is EXT. (exterior).

  • INTERCUT / Intercutting

    Intercutting is a filming technique that involves a series of camera shots showing multiple events occurring at the same time. This is often shown alternately to build suspense.


    This term is used when an object/subject comes into the scene whilst the camera stays put. 

    For example: Jessica sits at the table in the restaurant. OLD MAN walks into frame.

    An alternative to this can be INTO VIEW.


    Use this term to suggest an object/subject that comes into the scene while the camera pulls back to show more of the scene.

    An alternative to this can be INTO FRAME.


    This is an editing technique that breaks up a continuous camera shot. Once the shot returns a period of time has elapsed between two scenes. 

    An example, in the introduction of Mickey in the film Snatch.

  • Juxtaposition

    Juxtaposition as a filmmaking term is the continuous positions of two scenes, objects, subjects, or images in a sequence to contrast and compare them. This can also demonstrate a relationship between two differing ideas.

    For example, the love scene juxtaposes the fight scene.

  • Lap dissolve

    This is a scene transition where one scene fades out whilst the second scene grows clearer.

  • Lavalier

    This is a small wireless microphone used to record dialogue that is usually clipped to an actor. This is so small that it will not be seen in the camera shot and is usually hidden by clothes.

  • L-Cut

    This is an editing technique where the film and audio do not begin simultaneously, for example, the audio may begin before or after the scene is cut. This can also be referred to as a spilt edit, J Cut or delayed edit.

  • Leitmotif

    This is an intentionally recurring theme or element in a film. The motif could consist of a sound, action, person, subject or idea.

  • Lens

    A camera lens is an optical glass lens or an assembly of lenses that allow light to pass through. There are lots of different types of lenses available and they include normal, wide-angle, and telephoto.

  • Match cut to

    This is an editing technique that involves the cutting of two camera shots that would generally be unrelated. A transition is made between the two in order to display a metaphorical similarity to the audience.  

    A well-known example of match cutting comes from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. A metaphor is used between the bone that the ape throws and the nuclear warheads on the spaceship. They are similar in shape and colour and convey the development of new technology through time.  

  • Match dissolve to

    This is similar to MATCH CUT. The match dissolve technique involves two objects that are similar in characteristic transition from one scene to the net.


  • Montage

    A French term meaning “putting together”, this is a filming technique made up of a selection of short camera shots that create a larger picture. 

    A very famous example is in Rocky where we are shown his training regime in the build-up to the final fight.

  • Narration

    This is an offscreen voice providing additional information to the audience. The narrator can be a character’s inner thoughts of an external voice in the film.

  • Neo-Realism

    In film terms neorealism is a period/style of cinema that started in Italy post-World War II. Due to the economic struggles filmmakers captured the poor and working class environments in a narrative with no paid or trained actors.

    This raw style of filmmaking was coined neorealism and broke the boundaries of the usual costly studio films that had become so dominant in the industry.

  • New Wave

    The New Wave also known as the French New Wave was a style of cinema that broke the usual format of storytelling and technical execution.

    It first started in France by the likes of Alain ResnaisEric Rohmer, and Jean-Luc Godard. Typically a New Wave film had innovative and creative ideas of filmmaking and editing. The wave started as a movement to give the directors full creative control over their films.

  • Nitrate film base

    This is a film base that is notoriously highly flammable. This was commonly used in the late 1940s and it features a part in the movie Inglorious Basterds. This has been replaced now with an acetate base.

  • O.C.

    This is an abbreviation of Off-Camera. This would be seen on a script next to a character’s name before the section of dialogue. This would inform that the character is in the scene but not on camera when speaking these lines. 

    O.C. is most typically used in television scripts whereas .O.S., a similar alternative is used in films.

  • O.S.

    This is an abbreviation of Off-Screen. This would be seen on a script next to a character’s name before the section of dialogue. This would inform that the character is in the scene but not on the screen when speaking these lines. 

    O.S. is most typically used in film scripts whereas .O.C., a similar alternative is used in television.

  • Pan

    This is an abbreviation for panorama. It refers to the rotation scan or horizontal movement of the camera shot.

  • Parenthetical

    This is a phrase used in screenplay directions. It is used to express how dialogue should be expressed by the actor. The way in which the dialogue should be delivered will be displayed in parentheses. 

    For example (calmly) or (furiously). In a script this will sit under the characters name and before the dialogue.

  • POV

    POV stands for point of view. This is a very popular filming technique, that is used to show the scene from the perspective of a character or an object that is an important part of the scene. 

    An example of this would be if the shot was displayed through the eyes of the protagonist.

  • Pull back

    This is where the camera physically moves away from the subject in order to provide more context to the scene.

  • Pull focus

    This is a camera technique that forces the audience to change focus from one subject/object to another.

  • Push in:

    This is the opposite of a pull back where a camera physically moves closer towards the subject/object in order to provide closer detail.

  • Racking focus

    This is an in-camera technique that moves back and forth between focal planes in a sequence. This will mean that the focus can change from a subject/object in the background to one in the foreground or likewise foreground to the background.

  • Real-time

    This is where the running time of the film equals the time span of a plot. The contrasts the filmic time where time is able to be slowed down or sped up according to the needs to the story/plot.

  • Reverse angle

    This is a camera shot that is filmed from the reverse side of the subject/object that is used to display to a different perspective and this is commonly used in a dialogue intense scene. This can be used if you don’t want to reveal something straight away and it can also be used to increase the comedic effect.

  • Rough cut

    This is an editing term used for the early stages of the film editing, where the main pieces have been put together in sequential order, but this usually doesn’t include the details such as finished CGI effects. The rough cuts are often used for focus group screenings.

  • Rush

    This is a print of one day worth of camera footage. This is usually shown without any adjustments or editing, and this will be viewed by the director prior to starting shooting for the next day.

  • Scene

    This is an event that takes place in one time or location. Every change of location/time is a new scene. The scenes can range and are distinguished by slug lines. 

    For example, if we go from inside to outside then it’s a new scene.

  • Shooting script

    This is the final draft of a script used for the purpose of making the movie from the screenplay, this is used by the actors, directors and other production crew on set.

  • Shot

    This one image ranging in time from seconds to several minutes as soon as there is a cut then there is a change in shot. This is usually decided by the director; however, the screenwriter can use capital letters to suggest where the camera position should be.

  • Slug line

    This is a line of abbreviated text written in all CAPS located at the beginning of each scene in a screenplay describing the location and time of day. 

    For example:


    Please note: Frequently slug lines are abbreviated to something simple like “MORNING” or “KITCHEN” to maintain the pace and flow of a sequence.

  • Smash cut to

    An abrupt transition which is especially sharp and unexpected, cutting from one scene to another and this is usually used to end a scene in mysterious circumstances. 

    Please note: This is often a director’s choice but if you choose to write this into your screenplay then use sparingly.

  • Spec script / Screenplay

    Also known as a speculative screenplay and this is a screenplay that has not been commissioned by a producer. It is usually written by a screenwriter who will attempt to sell the script to a producer.

  • Split screen shot

    A camera shot in which there is a visible divide between two or more simultaneous images. This can also be used to show flashbacks and other events unfold. 

     For example, two people are chatting on the phone. They are both in different locations, but the writer wishes to show the reactions of both simultaneously.

  • Steadicam

    This is a lightweight mount for a camera that used in filming to keep the shot steady when stationary or moving. This will be smoother than a regular handheld shot. 

  • Stock shot

    Film or video footage that has been filmed historically. This can be used in lieu of filming new material and this is generally large events in history that are edited into the film.

  • Super

    This is an abbreviation for superimpose. An editing technique that involves placing one image over another for effect whilst both images are still visible to the audience. Sometimes the titles are superimposed over particular scenes.

  • Swish pan

    A filming technique in which the camera moves so quickly that is causes motion blur. This is commonly used a form of transition between camera shots or scenes to indicate the passing of time, this can also be used to shock or disorientate the audience.

  • Tight on

    This is a filming technique which involves a very close-up shot of a subject/object used for dramatic effect. Filmed in a way that ensures focus on the subject/object and nothing else. This is not a commonly used phrase in screenplays, it’s usually a slang term for ‘close up’ used on set between crew members.

  • Time cut

    This is when there is a cut to a later moment in a scene, you are able to write TIME CUT as the transition.

    This can be used to skip out a non-eventful moment, for example, if two people go on a date to a restaurant and they have an important conversation, then there may be a TIME CUT between the starter and dessert. 

  • Tracking shot (Track, Tracking, Travelling)

    A filming technique that involves the camera following the subject/object of the shot and this is generally completed using a camera mount. 

    An example of this is, in The Shining the eerie shot showing the young boy peddling his tricycle through the hotel. As the shot continues the suspense is heightened more and more with every corner the boy turns.

  • Trailer

    The advertisements for upcoming productions in a cinema.

  • Transition

    An editing technique by which the camera shots or the scenes are combined, this is commonly through a CUT TO the next shot, but a transition can include DISSOLVE TO, FADE TO, JUMP CUT TO and WIPE TO. When these are used appropriately, they can be used to help convey shifts in character development and emotion.

  • V.O.

    This is an abbreviation of voice over. This usually appears beside a character’s name before their dialogue begins. This is the use of audible dialogue without being able to see the character who is speaking. Unlike O.C. and O.S., V.O. is used when the character in not physically in the scene; it can be used for narration or telephone conversations.

    It is generally used for narration purposes or voicing characters inner thoughts to the audience. 

  • Undercranking

    This is a camera technique which involves the process of slowing down a frame and this can be achieved by shooting at a more slow speed than normal, this is usually 24 frames per second. The captured images will then appear in fast motion.

  • Underexposure

    This is where an image is photographed or filmed with less light than what would be considered full exposure, this is the opposite of an overexposed shot. This will present itself as dimly lit image that doesn’t have contrast.

    Wipe to:

    A technique used in editing to transition between scenes by using a wiping motion. Usually showing the passing of time from one scene to the next. 

     The most common demonstration of wipes is in the Star Wars franchise.

  • Zoom

    A filming technique that involves a smooth transition between a long shot and a close-up image or vice versa. The image seems to close in on a subject or object making the subject or object appear either larger or smaller on screen.

  • Zoom shot

    This is a camera shot taken with a variable focal length lens, this transitions from a wide-angle shot to a telephoto shot in one motion. This enables there to be an alteration to the visual distance between the camera the subject/object without physically moving the camera.

  • Zoptic special effects

    This is an innovative 3D process invented by the revolutionary Zoran Perisic. This 3D process incorporated the camera system with a projector with synchronised thus creating the illusion of depth in movement.

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