Closer Readings Commentary

Glossary of Terms for Film Discussion and Analysis

Black and white photograph of Lois Weber (left) directing Anna Pavlova and Douglas Gerrard on the set of The Dumb Girl of Portici (1916).
Photo caption

Lois Weber (left) directing Anna Pavlova and Douglas Gerrard on the set of The Dumb Girl of Portici (1916).

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Whether you are teaching film literacy as part of a media arts course or using films to complement your social studies or English language arts curriculum, you will want to arm your students with the terminology to understand film criticism and share their own thoughts and analysis using a shared vocabulary.  

This selection of terms will be particularly useful with our lesson plan In Her Shoes: Lois Weber and the Female Filmmakers Who Shaped Early Hollywood.  

The following definitions are taken from Columbia University’s Film Glossary as well as other film terminology resources and online dictionaries. 



A character is a person or other being in a narrative such as a novel, play, television series, film, or video game.


Derived from the French word cinématographe coined by the Lumière brothers, cinematography literally means “writing in movement” and is generally understood as the art and process of capturing visual images with a camera for cinema. Closely related to photography, cinematography has as much to do with lighting as it does with film. Cinematography includes technical elements, such as camera, lens, film stock, and lighting, and more aesthetic concerns, such as camera angle, framing, duration of a shot, distance, and movement. The member of a film crew who is responsible for cinematography is known as the cinematographer or director of photography. 


A close-up is a shot in which a person’s face fills most of the screen, although the term can also refer to any shot in which an object appears relatively large and in detail.


A film director controls a film's artistic and dramatic aspects and visualizes the screenplay (or script) while guiding the technical crew and actors in the fulfillment of that vision. The director has a key role in choosing the cast members, production design, and all the creative aspects of filmmaking.

Editing (in film)

Editing is the process of putting a film together – the selection and arrangement of shots and scenes. Editing can condense space and time, emphasize separate elements and bring them together, and organize material in such a way that patterns of meaning become apparent. Editing can determine how a film is perceived: for instance, quick, rapid cuts can create a feeling of tension, while slow motion can create a dramatic effect. 

Film Review / Film Criticism

Film criticism is the analysis and evaluation of films and the film medium. The concept is often used interchangeably with that of film reviews. A film review implies a recommendation aimed at consumers, however not all film criticism takes the form of reviews. 

Film Studio

A film studio (also known as a “movie studio” or simply “studio”) is a major entertainment company or motion picture company that has its own privately owned studio facility or facilities that are used to make films, which is handled by the production company. 


A word or group of words (such as dialogue in a silent movie or information about a setting) that appear on-screen during a movie but are not part of a scene.


Juxtaposition is the act of placing two or more things side-by-side to compare or contrast. It is used throughout art and literature to create meaning from two or more things. In film editing, to juxtapose a shot before or after another is to create meaning that the shots would not have without each other. 


The lighting is responsible for the quality of a film’s images and often a film’s dramatic effect. Early photoplays were usually filmed outside, with natural light, or in studios with glass roofs. Eventually, better lighting techniques made it possible for studio productions to have a more natural look.


Literally translated as “staging in action,” mise-en-scène originated in the theater and is used in film to refer to everything that goes into the composition of a shot–framing, movement of the camera and characters, lighting, set design and the visual environment, and sound. 


The main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.


A film producer is a person who oversees film production. Either employed by a production company or working independently, producers plan and coordinate various aspects of film production, such as selecting the script; coordinating writing, directing, editing; and arranging the financing.

Production Company

A production company, production house, production studio, or a production team is a business that provides the physical basis for works in the fields of performing arts, new media art, film, television, radio, video games, websites, and more. Generally, the term refers to all individuals responsible for the technical aspects of creating a particular product.

Set Design

Set design is the creation of theatrical, as well as film or television scenery such as the interiors of homes.

Silent Film

A silent film is a film with no synchronized sound (in particular, no audible dialogue). The plot may be conveyed by the use of title cards or intertitles. Silent films were almost always accompanied by live sounds, such as a pianist or theater organist, or sometimes a small orchestra.


Superimposition is when two or more images are placed over each other in the frame.


In screenwriting, a movie synopsis is a brief summary of a completed screenplay's core concept, major plot points, and main character arcs.


A treatment is a document that presents the story idea of your film before writing the entire script. Treatments are often written in the present tense, in narrative-like prose, and highlight the most important information about your film, including title, logline, story summary, and character descriptions.