I wanted to create this page to explain some of the industry terminology that you may encounter on my page. These are fairly common terms in the television and film industry, but may not be widely known to viewers.
A standing set, usually on a TV series, is a main set which is used in most, if not all, episodes. These sets are left standing as moving them after each filming would be too time consuming.
When I attended a taping of The Big Bang Theory, I was able to see the layout of the sets. In the middle of the soundstage were the standing sets. This included the two apartments with the stairway in the middle. Also, just to the left was the university cafeteria, which was also a standing set. All other sets were temporary and considered swing sets.
A swing set is a set that is constructed for a specific scene or episode, and is then taken down afterwards. It can be used one time, or be put in storage to use again later.
An example of a swing set would be the Comic Book shop on The Big Bang Theory. Even though the shop is seen many times over the course of the series, stage 24 at Warner Bros. isn’t big enough to leave it up. So once an episode is complete, the crew would take down the set, and put it in storage. Then it would be reconstructed next time the set is needed.
An establishing shot is when a photo or short video of a location is shown to establish where the scene will take place. An establishing shot generally does not feature any of the characters. Locations used are often residential homes or businesses.
On the show Friends, the producers used a real apartment building in New York City for establishing shots, to depict the outside of the building. The actors were never actually at that building to film scenes, otherwise it would have been considered a location shoot.
A Foley Artist is someone who creates a sound needed for a scene. Some sounds can be hard to capture authentically so a Foley Artist will use other tools to recreate and record a similar sound. As an example, it’s common to use a sheet of metal to replicate the sound of thunder. A sound editor will then insert the sound into the scene.
This technique dates back to the days of radio shows, when sound effects were needed to supplement the story. The term is named after Jack Foley, who worked at Universal and was one of the first people to create sound effects when sound was integrated into films.
Check out this video of a group of Canadian Foley Artists, which gives you an excellent idea of how they create their sounds and the work involved.
A soundstage is a large room, often in a warehouse or hangar type building used for filming. A soundstage is built to be sound proof, thus allowing filming even while there may be noise outside the building. Studio lots often have a number of soundstages that are available for a variety of productions.
Soundstages are generally customized based on the needs of the filming. For example, lighting rigs are often set up above the sets. Audience seating can be set up for filming sitcoms. Sometimes the ground can even be dug up to allow characters to appear to be coming out of a cellar or stairwell.
A soundstage can also be used for recording audio, due to the acoustics and the soundproofing. A famous example is the Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage at Sony Pictures Studios. The stage is configured for recording audio, including all the necessary equipment as well as technicians booths. An entire orchestra will fill the stage and record a score for a movie. Scenes from the movie can be projected on the wall to give context to the musicians and conductor.
A studio is a company that produced film or television content. The term studio can often refer to the studio lot, but generally would include the offices, which may or may not be located on a studio lot.
A studio lot is an area of land housing production facilities. Many studio lots are owned by larger film or entertainment companies, but there are also some privately owned studio lots which rent their facilities out to other companies.
Studio lots often includes soundstages, makeup and costume facilities, storage warehouses, and carpentry shops. Many larger studio lots offer plenty of other services, such as backlots, production offices, a food commissary, and even child care.
Studio lots are generally surrounded by high walls and patrolled by security, in order to keep both paparazzi and fans from coming in to the facility. Despite this, several studios now offer tours to the public, including Warner Bros., Paramount, and Sony Pictures Studios. Universal Studios also offers tram tours as an attraction of their theme park.
A backlot is an exterior space with permanent buildings meant to be used for movie and television filming. These backlots are on enclosed studio lots, giving the production company more control over their surroundings, compared to filming on location. Backlots can be modified for filming needs, such as changing building colours, adding temporary buildings, or even adding dirt to the streets.
Backlots were very commonly used in Western movies, as an entire town could be designed and constructed to fit the time period. Adjusting the backlot and using different angles would allow them to film over and over without audiences realizing it was the same location.
While some studios have reduced or eliminated their backlot facilities, it is still common on the major lots. The larger studios have backlot areas that resemble a variety of locations, including cities, parks, farms, small towns, and jungles. Many city-themed areas are modeled after New York City, as it is such a common setting for shows and movies.
A frontlot on a studio generally refers to the production offices located on the property. This can include where executives, producers, writers, and human resources works.
A commissary is a term used for cafeterias located on studio lots.
An audience coordinator is an individual or company that arranges for a studio audience to be part of a filming. While some studios or programs handle their own audience coordination, there are outside companies like Audiences Unlimited and 1iota who are often contracted by numerous productions.
Audience coordination involves distributing tickets, meeting the audience, and guiding them through the process, right until they leave the studio. As many studios have various security checks, an audience coordinator is responsible for preparing the audience beforehand so they know what is expected and allowed.
A warm-up comedian is the host of a live studio event. The name comes from the tradition of having a comedian who would tell jokes and stories to get the audiences excited and hyped for the filming. However they commonly act as host for the audience through the whole experience. They will welcome people, advise of policies, explain the technical processes, and answer questions. During slow parts of the filming, they may play games or tell jokes in order to keep the audience entertained.
If you’d like to know more about this process, please check out my interview with Bill Sindelar, who is a warm-up comedian in Hollywood.
A location scout is someone who looks for locations that can be used for filming. They often explore different locations that may be suitable for filming. They will take notes and photographs to provide the director so they can narrow down which location would best suit their needs.
For major productions, the director may visit the locations themselves, to have a closer look. The location scout would generally arrange for the visit ahead of time and accompany the director.
A location manager is the person who coordinates the logistics of using a specific location. This can include coordination with the owner of the location and making sure there is sufficient space for parking, trailers, and equipment. They also need to acquire any local permits needed, especially if the closing of streets and public areas is involved. Unlike the location scout, the manager will be on site throughout the shoot to ensure that all logistics and agreements are adhered to.
A location shoot is any filming that takes place off a studio lot. This can include filming in private areas such as residences or commercial buildings, and also public areas outdoors. While location shoots are often more complicated due to the logistics of bringing the cast and crew to a location, it can often add a realism compared to filming on a studio lot.
Craft services are food and refreshments available on set during filming. As opposed to catering who provide specific meals, craft services are generally available during the entire time of filming, for cast and crew to help themselves.
The tables generally provide a variety of snacks, baked goods, and drinks, including coffee. Craft services can sometimes provide other items like sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and first aid kits.
Star Waggons is a company that provides trailers for use in the film and television industry. These trailers include single person and multi-person dressing room trailers for cast, as well as trailers for make-up, wardrobe, production offices, fitness centers, classrooms, and viewing theatres. They also provide port-a-potty services.
Star Waggons are based in the Los Angeles area, and are often seen on location shoots. They are also often found on studio lots, to help bolster facilities provided on site.
A prop, or property, is any physical item used by an actor during filming. This differs from an item not handled by an actor, as this would be considered part of set decoration.
Props can vary greatly depending on the production. For example, one of the most famous props from Back To The Future is the Delorean car. In this case, the props team used experts in car design to redesign the car to look like a time machine. The team had to create several identical cars for various uses, such as high speed driving, closeups, and interior shots.
A lot of action movies require stunt props. This can include anything from falling debris to break-away windows for characters to be thrown through. These are specifically arranged and designed to be used in the safest way possible. Any use of fire or explosions generally requires the supervision of a fire department. Warner Bros. Hollywood even has their own fire department located right on their lot.
Another type of prop on set is food eating by characters on screen. Generally, a specific team of chefs would be brought in to arrange these food items. When touring the WB Studios in London, I was able to chat with a chef who creates food for screen use. She explained that her job is not to make food that tastes good, but food that looks good on-screen, while being edible.
A prop master is the person in charge of finding, coordinating, and overseeing the use of props. On bigger productions, the prop master often has an entire team that handles different aspects.
Continuity is the technique of making scenes flow into each other. It’s common for scenes in movies and television to be filmed multiple times, often from different angles. They can also be filmed out of chronological order as well. When editors and directors sit to splice everything together, it’s important that the scenes all flow, to appear as though it was all filmed in one go. Continuity experts will work on productions to make sure things like costumes, props, and sets all appear properly. For example, when I was a background actor in the movie Undercover Angel, I was at a table eating a bagel. They would film a scene and I would take a bite of the bagel. Once they cut, they would refilm the same scene from a different angle, so they would take away my half-eaten bagel and replace it with a new one.
Continuity can also involve the greater story of a series. Something that happened in a story may need to be taken into consideration in later episodes. For example, if a character mentions that their parents have passed away, it would be breaking continuity to later have their parents appear in the show. Producers do sometimes break continuity, hoping that audiences won’t remember or care. Also, sometimes details will be forgotten, especially if a writer doesn’t refer to the show bible.
Generally used on scripted television series, a bible is a compilation of all the details regarding the story or a character. Once something is established, it will be added to the show bible, so that future writers can refer to it to ensure continuity.
An example of this would be if a character refers to the place they grew up. This would be entered in the bible to ensure that future references also mention the same place the character grew up.
In the film and television industry, costumes refer to any piece of clothing or accessories worn by characters on screen. Usually, a costume designer will envision the appropriate look for costumes, usually with the guidance of the director. Then they will find or create the costumes needed.
The costuming team is also responsible for the maintenance and cleaning of costumes. Often, multiple identical costumes will be on hand, in case one gets dirty or damaged. An example of this is the multiple pairs of ruby slippers that were created for The Wizard Of Oz.
Set Design refers to any part of the set seen on screen. Sets can be created indoors or outdoors to appropriately set the story. When filming on location, set designers will often “dress” the set to fit the story. For example, if a scene in a street is set in the 1950s, the set designers will add things like posters, fire hydrants, and newspaper stands that all fit that era.
Aspect ratio refers to the dimensions of the screen you are watching. Traditionally, TV sets were always 4:3 (width by height). Movie screens were always considered widescreen, with various dimensions such as 1.33:1, 1.78:1, and 16:9. Cinemas would often use adjustable curtains to adjust the screen to fit the ratio of the film being shown.
In the early 2000s, with the advent of High Definition television, manufacturers started making TV sets with 16:9 ratio, as an HD widescreen option. This quickly became the standard, and television adopted the HD format, adjusting to this same ratio. This allowed viewers to watch movies in their original widescreen format at home.
Pan and Scan
Pan and Scan refers to the process of taking a widescreen film and adjusting it to be shown on televisions with a 4:3 ratio. This essentially meant an editor would crop the picture, cutting off part of the image so that it would fill the television screen. The average viewer rarely knew this process existed, but to cinephiles, the process was often derided as part of the original image was missing.
Occasionally you could find VHS tapes and laserdisc copies of movies that maintained their original aspect ratio, but this meant that there were black bars are the top and bottom of the screen, which tended to annoy those who weren’t familiar with the process.
When the advent of DVDs started in the late 90s, it was common for them to be issued in widescreen. Pretty soon, that format was the norm, and with widescreen TVs available, the need for the black bars at the top and bottom was eliminated.
Dead air is any time when a live broadcast, usually on television or radio, goes silent. This is usually the result of a technical or human error. On radio, this just creates a silence where no sound is being broadcast. On television, it can sometimes be a blank screen, or often a situation where you see a newscaster, but they aren’t aware they are on live television.
This situation is frowned upon by management, as it’s often seen as a time when listeners or viewers will switch the channel to a competitor.
Lead-in is a television show that leads off a block of time, often at the top of the hour. Lead-ins are generally considered to have stronger ratings, and thus viewers who tune in will stay with that channel for the following show.
This is also common with sporting events. When an event with large ratings happens, the timeslot sees a significant benefit. If a football game is the lead-in, the TV show aired right after generally sees a significant bump in it’s ratings.
The most well known example is the Superbowl. As the most watched sporting event in the US, the slot directly after is the most highly coveted spot of the year. Networks often use this to launch a new series or get more viewers on a show they are heavily invested in.
Hammocking is similar to the lead-in. This is when a new or struggling show is scheduled between two shows that are more successful. For example, if a network has successful shows at 8pm and 9pm, they will use the 8:30pm slot for a new show, hoping viewers stay for the entire evening.
A company that provides television content to a group of local television stations. These stations are often individually owned, but have agreements to be a Network’s exclusive broadcaster in a market.
A market is an area consisting of a group of viewers (or listeners in the case of radio). This is often considered to be a city or metropolitan area (ie: the New York market or the Houston market). There are situations where a market can be a larger area, especially in rural and lower populated areas.
Nielson media Research is a private company which specializes in calculating ratings for TV and radio broadcasts. While other companies also provide ratings info, Nielson is considered the most well known and accepted of the ratings specialists.
The ratings share is the percentage of viewers watching TV at a particular time who watch a specific show. For example, if 100 million people are watching TV on a particular evening, and a show gets 5 million viewers, it’s considered to have earned a 5% share.
Sweeps Month is a month in which particular attention is paid to the ratings, as they are often used to deliver ratings info to advertisers. November, February, and May are the main months. July is also a sweeps month but considered less important as it is during the off season. Generally when a series is going to do any sort of big episode, it is scheduled during one of these months to get the biggest ratings boost.
Some of the types of episodes scheduled during Sweeps months can be season premieres or finales, major storyline events, and special guest stars. This is also why season finales are traditionally scheduled in May.
Any person seen on screen during a scripted shoot, who does not speak any lines. Commonly referred to as “extras”.
A wheeled cart or device to which a camera is attached, allowing it to be moved to follow the action. They are often on tracks.Follow me: