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iPontificate10 Basic Film Production Terms & Definitions


- May 5th, 2005

There is a whole different style of language used on set to describe a myriad of things. Objects and tools have strange and unusual names that don't always seem to fit into any kind of naming logic.

This was recently brought home to me when a reader asked in the reader comments after my last article asking what a "slate" was in reference to film and video production. I thought this would be a great opportunity to write out some of the most common terms heard and used on a set for the novice filmmakers out there who might not be familiar with them.

10 Basic Production Terms and Definitions:

10. Slate (AKA Clapboard): This is probably the most easily identifiable tool to the public used in film production besides a camera or lights. The slate is the flat board used to write the scene number, take number, and other information that is held up in front of the camera while rolling before the Director calls action. It is used to "tag" the image being recorded so that it can be identified later on by the editor, and for archival purposes. When used with sync sound , the arm of the slate is dropped so that the sound of the "clap" and the image of the arm dropping can be synced together to ensure tat the dialog and the actors lips are matched. Sometimes when on set someone will ask the question "Slate?", I often reply, "No, I was here early".

9. C-Stand (AKA Century Stands): C-stands are one of the most important items used on set, namely for their versatility of uses. C-stands have low-slung legs at different heights that allow several stands to be positioned close together. On the stand are Gobo Heads and knuckles, which attach to arms that can be positioned a variety of ways. C-stands are use to hold up flags and silks, and are also used to balance Steadicam rigs, create shade for talent when outdoors, and for grips to lean on when on a Union mandated break.

8. Flags/Silks: Flags and silks are used to control the light that falls onto the subjects and talent being filmed. A flag is a black rectangular cloth card on a wire frame. When mounted on a C-stand, the flag can be positioned in front of a light to create shadow areas and cut off unwanted light spill. A Silk is essentially a flag, but instead of being opaque, it is a semi-transparent net material which allows diffused light to pass through creating a softer light source. Be careful when asking for a Black Flag however, you might end up with Henry Rollins screaming at you.

7. Gels (AKA Gelatine): Not to be confused with the gels found in the hair and makeup department, gels are used to color correct the light being produced from the film lighting. Depending on what the Director of Photography and camera needs, lighting moods can be changed in a wide palette of colors like red and orange. Gels are also used to also correct the color temperature of lighting like when it is necessary to correct daylight to tungsten-balanced light.

6. Barndoors: Barndoors are the metal flaps that can be attached to lights to control the area of spread coming from the light. Essentially barndoors are light flags used as the first measure of light control, and can be used to create dynamic light sources and patterns on walls or on talent. The term Barndoors can also be used in the sentence; "Hey, your barndoors are open" when telling to a Grip that his fly is down.

5. Dolly: Not to be confused with the little toys you probably played with as a child, a dolly is used to create dynamic camera motion by placing the camera and operator on a moveable platform, and actually pushing the camera around a set or location when following actors or moving past objects in front of the camera. Dollies can be fitted with skate board wheels that follow along heavy tracks laid out like a train for smooth movement. Dollies can also be fitted with soft wheels and a simple steering mechanism when the location prevents the use Dolly tracks, but still allows for movement within the scene.

4. Sandbags: Sandbags are literally heavy bags of sand that come in different weights and are used to secure and weigh down C-Stands and light stands. They are also used for tons of other things like when shooting with the camera at really low angles, the camera can be placed on the sand bag for improved camera control. Another use for sandbags is for grips to sit on when they are taking another Union mandated break.

3. Craft Service: This is the department dedicated to feeding the crew during production. Craft Service is a different term than Catering, which is the service for providing lunch/dinner to the crew. Craft Service usually consists of a fold out table covered with a red and white picnic styled table cloth. Depending on the budget of the production, the food found here can vary dramatically. Usually on the size of set I work on, Craft Service consists of bottles of water and bags of potato chips, maybe a cookie here or there. If I am lucky, beef jerky and Red Bull, which I personally have to have when shooting long hours.

2. PA (Production Assistant): A PA is as necessary to the production of a project as a C-Stand or lights, but generally they talk more than the latter. PAs are usually film students or young kids getting their feet wet in the field of video/film production. This is the lowest ranking crew member on set, and PAs are usually tasked with running menial errands, getting coffee, and setting up the aforementioned Craft Services before anyone shows up on set. They are the first to arrive and the last to leave on a day's shoot (if they know what's good for them). Most everyone in the film world started out as a PA in some degree. It is the starting point for anyone wanting to become a filmmaker. They get no respect because when everyone else was a PA, they didn't get respect either. As long as you always smile and do what you are told, you will be hired again. Don't bitch, because everyone on the set has had to do the same work as the PAs at some point in their career.

1. C-47: C-47 is the codeword for the high tech device also known as a clothes line clip. There are tons of stories about how the simple device came to be known as a C-47, such as that was the bin number in the old studio days where the clips were kept, to wild stories about how it was the parking assignment number of a grip who died while working on a film. It's just a cooler way to describe something that is very mundane, which is often done in the film production world.

With five years in the entertainment industry, and three years writing for The Mac Observer, works passionately on various genres of film, including documentaries, narrative features, and shorts. He has two feature films under his belt as Director of Photography and Camera Operator, and his current role at TMO is to cover digital media and the film industry.

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