Your Ultimate Video Production Guide for Film Lingo
Updated: Jan 10, 2022
By Declan Whaley-Sharp.
In my last two blog posts, I mentioned “film lingo” in passing. Problem is, I was very deliberately vague about what “film lingo” was, since it’s a very broad term that I sort of made up. So, now I’ve got to take the time to get specific, so you all can get on a set and know exactly what's going on!
For the sake of my sanity, we’re gonna make a few friendly categories, because if I just tried to share all the “film lingo”, we could literally fill a book.
If you're a PA especially, these ones are really helpful, being that you'll need to understand what everyone is saying on set, and what your production coordinator/ assistant director is saying as well.
Copy: You understand and acknowledge what someone has said, 10-4 means the same thing, but that’s mostly used by truckers and people who are super, super extra.
Go Again: The opposite of copy, meaning you want them to repeat their message.
10-1 and 10-2: Both mean you need to go to the bathroom, you can probably figure out which means what.
20: A synonym for location, because that extra syllable is just too much.
Person 1 for Person 2: What you (person 1) say over coms if you’re trying to speak to someone specifically (person 2). You should probably use actual names though.
Go for Person 2: What you say if you heard person 1.
(Person 1) Go To (#) channel: If you want to talk to someone privately over walkies, or get them in on a different group, you can simply tell them to go to a different channel.
Keying: “Stop holding your mic button down you fool. You’re keying. It sounds like a thousand screams of demons from hell.”
Lock It Up: Instructions usually given to a PA to not let anyone into a hot set (hot set means active set).
Stand By: What a person with power over you says if they’re too busy to respond to you, or if they have nothing for you to do in that moment.
Standing By: What a person with nothing to do says if they’re waiting for something to do.
Strike/86: A synonym for getting rid of something.
Kill: Similar to strike, but it usually means to turn something off rather than moving it, or a very blatant assassination order (which 99.9% of the time on a film set, you will not do)
Various equipment terms:
While you’re on set as a production assistant in Seattle, there's a high likelihood someone will ask you to grab something! A list of film equipment lingo would be never ending if I listed it all here, but here's a few that you’re bound to run into.
Sticks: Tripod legs.
C-stand: The most commonly used stand, they derive their name from their C-shaped legs. They’re used with everything from lights to mics, to things that don't rhyme.
A-clamps: The most common kind of clamp.
Cartilini: The second most common clamp, but these boys work on polls.
Pigeon Plate: A specialized mount for putting lights and cameras really close to the ground.
Stinger: A cooler name for extension cords.
C47s: Clothes pins!
Apple boxes: Wood boxes, crew use for a thousand different tasks. Maybe to add height to a light, or a chair, or for something to stand on, their uses are truly endless.
Nest/family apple box: It's an apple box that holds more apple boxes, it's wild.
Pancake box: The thinnest box in a family of apple boxes. Often requested specifically.
Gaff/gaffer tape: Tape that works on all sorts of surfaces. Similar to duck tape but works better on cloth and doesn't leave marks. Everyone should have gaff tape. Especially gaffers.
Tape T’s/Markers: Little T shapes made with colored tape on the floor to indicate where an actor stands.
Slate: The clapperboard that is used for syncing sound and video used before a scene begins.
Tail Slate: Technically this should be in the “terms section” but we’re putting it with the slate for organization. A tail slate is just a slate flipped upside down used at the end of the scene rather than the beginning. If you’re in charge of the slate, yell “tail slate” after the scene is played out but before cameras cut, cause everyone forgets.
Gel: The transparent colored filters people put over lights. Usually just blue/orange, for cold/warm light, but there's also “party gel” colors if you want to make a DP smile.
Flags: Opaque black fabric sheets with mounting posts that are put partially in the way of lights to block light from hitting specific points.
I did tell you film lingo could fill an entire book. Production terms are just general things you’ll hear people say on set, some of them may be more job-specific than others, but anyone on set should know them.
First Team: The actual talent who will be performing the scene. First team should arrive to set once everything is ready for them, often led by the production coordinator or the PA if the production coordinator is unavailable for some reason.
Second Team: The stand ins for the actors, they’ll arrive before everything is set up since they’re used for setting lights and camera movements.
Break Me Off: Releasing the tripod legs so a cam op can adjust height.
Striking: What a gaffer says when they’re turning on a light.
Going Dark: Apparently this isn't a very common term, but Gavin (one of our wonderful Media Producers) says it when he’s turning off a light and I think it’s helpful, so it’s making it on the list.
Back to One: What you say when you’re instructing the crew and cast to go back to where they were for the start of the scene.
Hold: “Hold for ___'' is used to indicate to the production that we are not filming yet, because we are waiting on ___.
Set: Not to be confused with “ the set” which you are filming on, set is an indication by the assistant cam operator to the cam operator that the subject is in focus and ready for filming.
Speed/Rolling: Your camera is recording.
Martini Shot: The final shot of the production, allegedly it received its name from golden age Hollywood folks drinking martinis to celebrate the end of the production, but there's no true origin for the term. They rarely give you an actual martini.
Room Tone: The (roughly) minute of silence a sound guy records after finishing production in a location, but before set wraps. Sometimes you'll get room tone at the beginning of the day, dependent on the DP/director.
Wrap: “That's a wrap on ____” means that a person or object will no longer be used for the remainder of a production or “That's a wrap!” indicating the end of a production for the day.
New York, Chicago, LA: The three different apple box placements. New York being tall ways up, Chicago being on its side, partially up, and LA being lying flat.
Lights, Camera, Action: Not a thing people actually say, contrary to popular belief. Action though, that indicates to the actors the scene is beginning, and is said on set a lot. The proper term is slate, followed by the callout/strike, and then the director calling "action!" though every set is different.
Cut: This technically has three different meanings. “Cut” is said on set to tell cameras to stop recording. Cut is also used in editing, to indicate you are going to remove parts of a clip, and also as a term for a version of the sequence you currently have.
Jobs on a Film Set:
None of these terms will be helpful if you don't know who is saying them, so here's an abridged version of every job on a film set (from the position that has the most authority to the least authority)
Executive Producer: Honestly, they could be below the DP or above the primary producer. They’ve had more of a direct role in securing funding and may be heavily involved in the production, but they have overall say in how a production is run. In Seattle video production, they usually do the same tasks as a producer.
Producer: Though the amount they interact with the production may vary, they’re technically in charge of everything. They’ve gotten funding for the production, and are in charge of all sorts of organizational tasks and making sure that things run smoothly on set.
Director: In charge of every creative decision that they want to be, directs actors, and creates the vision which an entire narrative production relies on.
Cinematographer/Director of Photography (DP): They compose the shot itself. Somites based off of director storyboards, sometimes their own storyboards, and sometimes just doing what they wanna do in the moment. They are required to know a bunch of equipment by hand, so the best way is just to try it yourself sometimes.
Camera Operator: Though the DP may take over from time to time, camera operators do exactly what it says on the tin, they operate the camera directed by the DP.
Assistant Camera Operator: They set up the camera, and are responsible for a plethora of image control responsibilities, most famously: pulling focus.
Gaffer: They are instructed by DP’s where to put lights, and make said lights work the way a DP wants them to be.
Key Grip: The leader of the grips, sometimes combined with gaffers, grips move none lighting equipment. A key grip will instruct grips how to make the DP’s vision come to life with grip equipment.
Hair and Makeup: This is actually an entire department, but they’re worth mentioning. They make the actors look the way they need to to appear on camera.
Production Assistants (PA): By far the most important role on a film set, they’re in charge of everything, and everyone loves and respects them… did I mention I’m the Lead Production Assistant at Element 7? (Editor's Note: We know, Declan.)
Alright, are you happy now Caroline (my editor)? (Editor's Note: You did good, buddy.)
I have reaped the film lingo seeds I’ve sowed and have now seen the full wait such a vague term carries. ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?! I’m honestly just seeing what she’ll let me write at this point. (Editor's Note: I'm scared.)
Thank you so much for reading, and I hope this long form, rambling post has helped you understand just how much goes into the language of a film set. It may feel overwhelming at first, but I assure you, once you’re on set enough, you’ll pick all of this up through a process I like to call linguistic osmosis.