Here’s a list of terms commonly used in media, media studies, filmmaking and communication.


4:3. Commonly referred to as standard definition, this was traditionally the aspect ratio used by most televisions and consumer video cameras.

16:9. Commonly referred to as widescreen, this is the ratio used by most modern video cameras.

30 degree rule. The thirty degree rule is an important filmmaking guideline which states that you cannot edit two shots together unless they are at least thirty degrees apart or filmed at different shot sizes. Many first time filmmakers assume that if you have two shots that are almost the same, they can be edited together. These two shots, however, will not look continuous and create a jarring effect called a ‘jump cut’.

180 degree rule. An imaginary line between two characters who are speaking, crossing this line when filming a conversation means that the actors won’t be looking in the right direction.


AAC. A type of audio compression developed by Apple. Commonly used on OS X and iPhones. Like MP3s, a sound is usually compressed to about a tenth of its original size.

ADR. Automated Dialogue Replacement. The process of recoding dialogue for a film in post-production.

AIFF. An audio format co-developed by Apple Computer. If you record sounds as an AIFF file, they are usually uncompressed and suited to use in video editing software.

AVI. A multimedia container format developed by Microsoft which can contain both audio and video.

Acting. The performance of a character in a dramatic production—such as a film, computer game or radio production.

Active audience. A way of conceptualising audience that sees people as active consumers of media texts

Actuality. Sounds and dialogue recorded on location usually for a radio news report.

Ad lib. Improvised dialogue or banter.

Advertising Standards Bureau. The Advertising Standards Board is a free, industry service to handle consumer complaints about advertising

Agenda Setting Function Theory. The Agenda Setting Function Theory was developed by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw as a result of their 1968 study of North Carolina voters during a presidential election campaign. It states that the media can’t tell you what to think but it can tell you what to think about.

Alley. The gap between two columns.

Alternative values. Values that provide an alternative to the beliefs and attitudes held by the majority without challenging or opposing them directly.

Aspect Ratio. Aspect ratio refers to the width of an image relative to its height. Two common aspect ratios that you’ll come across when you’re making films are 16:9 and 4:3.

Audience. The groups or individuals who consume a media text. People creating media products often think about the experience and knowledge of their intended audience.

Australian Communication and Media Authority. The ACMA is a government body responsible for regulating broadcasting and online content in Australia.


Back light. A light source positioned behind the subject, often obscuring and creating a sense of menace.

Back announce. Reading the name of songs that have just played on the radio.


Call sheet. An organisational document for film production which lists the call times for cast and crew.

Cause and effect. In VCE Media, cause and effect is a story element that describes how narratives are organised in a causal chain.

Censorship. Editing or banning media texts for political, social or moral reasons.

Character. The representation of a person in a dramatic work, such as a film, computer game or radio play.

Circulation. The number of copies that a newspaper or magazine sells.

Classification. The process of classifying media texts according to their content. Australia, for example, has a system of classification which labels films, literature and computer games on a continuum from G through to R18+

Close Up. A shot that shows detail, usually a character’s face.

Closure of the narrative. In VCE Media, ‘closure of the narrative’ refers to the resolution of a narrative.

Code. A system of signs used to convey meaning.

Column. A vertical block of text in a newspaper or magazine.

Communication model. A visual representation of the communication process or media influence.

Communication theory. A way of explaining the process of communication or media influence.

Construction. A communication studies term used to describe the process of making a text. All media texts are constructed using a complex series of codes and conventions.

Convention. A well-established way of constructing a media text. The conventions of a newspaper front page, for example, include a masthead, headline, byline and article arranged in columns.

Copy. The script for a radio segment.

Crane shot. The camera is mounted on a crane, helping filmmakers to achieve dynamic overhead shots.

Cross cutting. Cutting back and forth between two events occurring simultaneously.

Cross dissolve. In editing, a fade from one image to another.

Cross fade. A fade from one sound to another.

Cue. A signal to begin a segment or piece of music, usually in a radio drama.

Cut. A basic edit when shot is replaced by another with no transition between the two.

Cut away. In an edited sequence, ‘cut away’ refers to a shot edited in that is unrelated to the action.

Cut in. In an edited sequence, ‘cut in’ refers to a shot that shows part of the action in detail.


Dead air. The unintentional absence of sound during a radio broadcast.

Depth of field. In photograph and filmmaking, the distance between the nearest and farthest objects that are in focus.

Diegetic. Sound that is part of the ‘world’ of a film.

Dolly. A dolly is any sort of moving platform that a camera is mounted on. Professional camera crews often lay down tracks which the camera can be moved along. Sometimes, the camera is mounted in the back of a car. Skateboards, office chairs and supermarket trolleys are the dollies of choice for low budget camera crews. Dollies are often used in very subtle ways. Throughout the course of a conversation, for example, you may notice that the camera very slowly moves closer to the characters.

Dominant values. Those values held by the majority of people in a society.

Drop Cap. The first letter of an article that sits within the edges of the column and is substantially larger than the rest of the text.


Editing. The process of editing shots or sounds together.

Emerging values. Beliefs or attitudes held by a growing number of people in a society. When studying historical texts, these values may eventually become dominant.

Establishing shot. Establishing shots are often used at the beginning of scenes to establish the setting. At the beginning of a film, for example, you might see an extreme long shot of a city. Then, we might cut to a closer shot of a street, then a building and finally the character inside.

Extreme close up. Extreme close ups are usually an attempt to draw the viewer’s attention to a particular, small detail. For example, the director may choose to cut from a mid shot of a character to an extreme close-up of a gun in his hand.

Extreme long shot. Establishing shots are often used at the beginning of scenes to establish the setting. At the beginning of a film, for example, you might see an extreme long shot of a city. Then, we might cut to a closer shot of a street, then a building and finally the character inside.

Eye level shot. This is the most commonly used camera angle in film and television. The characters appear at eye level.

Eye line match. In filmmaking and eye line match is when two people, who are framed separately, appear to be looking at each other.


Fade. Gradually increase or decrease a sound.

Fade in. The screen is black, a shot gradually appears. Often used at the beginning of a sequence.

Fade out. An image gradually fades to black. This is often used at the end of a sequence.

Fill light. A light which makes areas in shadow more visible.

Focus. Refers to the ‘sharpness’ of an image.

Foley sound. Sound effects recorded in a studio during the post production of a film.

Full shot. A character filmed from head to toe.


Gain. The amplification of a sound.

Genre. Genre is a French word that means ‘type’. Films are classified into different genres. Notable genres include: action, adventure , comedy, crime, epic films, horror, musicals, science fiction, war films, westerns and film noir.

Gutter. The gutter is the space between two adjoining pages to allow for binding.


Handheld camera movement. The camera is handheld, often slightly shaky, creeating a sense of realism.

Headroom. The space above an actor’s head in a frame.

High angle shot. The camera is positioned above the subject, looking down at an angle. This angle makes the subject appear smaller, powerless and more vulnerable.

High key light. Few shadows and little contrast. Often used in television sitcoms. Uniform lighting allows scenes to be shot quickly without repositioning lights.

Hypodermic Needle Theory. The Hypodermic Needle Theory suggests that the media has a direct and powerful influence on audiences. It was developed in the 1920s and 1930s after researchers observed the effect of propaganda during World War I and incidents such as Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast. It became the dominant way of thinking about media influence during the subsequent decades. The Hypodermic Needle theory is a linear communication theory which suggests that a media message is injected directly into the brain of a passive, homogenous audience. This theory suggests that media texts are closed and audiences are influenced in the same way.


Jack. Typically a 3.5 or 6.3 mm audio connection.

Jingle. Short piece of music for a program or advertisement.

Jump cut. In filmmaking, when two shots that only vary slightly are edited together creating a sense of discontinuity. Often used to condense time.


Kerning. The space between letters which adjusts proportionally depending on the relationship between letters.

Key light. The main source of light in a shot.


Leading. The space between lines of text.

Lighting. In filmmaking and photography, lighting refers to the illumination of a subject or scene.

Long shot. A long shot usually shows the subject from a distance, showing characters in the distance with a large amount of scenery.

Low angle. The camera is positioned below eye level, looking up, to imply a sense of power and dominance.

Low key lighting. Creates a ‘chiaroscuro’ effect, a strong contrast between light and dark areas.

Lower third. In documentary film and news, the name of a person that appears in the lower third of the frame.


Match cut. A cut or dissolve between two visually similar images. One of the most famous examples of this is in 2001: A Space Odyssey, when Stanley Kubrick cuts between a shot of a bone flung into the air by an ape and a shot of a satellite orbiting earth.

Montage. In Hollywood films, a montage is a short sequence that shows the condensed progression of time.

Motif. In film, a motif is a recurring image that symbolises an idea or issue.

MOV. A video format used by Apple’s Quicktime.

MP3. A type of audio compression developed by the Moving Pictures Expert Group. MP3s reduce the amount of data in the file, taking out sounds that most people can’t hear, therefore making the file much smaller. A sound compressed as an MP3 will typically be about a tenth of its original size. As an uncompressed WAV file, for example, a three minute song will be around 30MB. Compressed as an MP3, this file will only occupy about 3MB of space.

MP4. A multimedia container format which can contain both audio and video.

Margin. The space between the edge of a page and its contents.

Master shot. In filmmaking, a shot that features all the action in a scene.

Media form. A major form of mass communication such as television, radio, the internet, newspapers, magazines or computer games.

Media text. An individual media product—such as a newspaper article, television program or computer game

Mise-en-scene. Mise en scene is a French term that refers to ‘putting into the scene’. Whereas visual composition usually refers to how specific elements are arranged, li en scene is a broader term that refers to the artistic look and feel of a shot. It encompasses a range of elements, including lighting, costume, make up, camera techniques and the positioning and movement of actors.

Mix down. The final mix of a program.

Monitor. The headphones or studio speaker used to monitor a broadcast.

Moral panic. Widespread anxiety or moral outrage about an issue said to threaten the fabric of society. Moral panics often occur around forms of media technology.

Multiple storylines. In VCE Media, multiple storylines is a story element that refers to how narratives might use different storylines or subplots


Narrative. A constructed story, usually in a novel, film, radio drama or television program.

Narrative possibilities. As audiences engage with narratives, they consider the direction the narrative might take. Narrative possibilities, therefore, refers to the audience’s understanding of what might happen in a film based on what they have viewed so far as well as their understanding of the genre or any other knowledge of the film.

Narrative progression. In VCE Media, ‘narrative progression’ is a story element that refers to the development of the narrative, including the opening sequence and closure of the narrative.

Noddies. A shot of a character or interviewer listening to someone out of frame.

Non diegetic sound. Sounds that exist outside the ‘world’ of the film, such as an orchestral score.


Opening sequence. In VCE Media, ‘opening sequence’ is a story element that refers to the opening scenes of a film. The opening sequence in a narrative performs a number of functions—such as establishing characters, the setting and starting the causal chain which is ultimately resolved at the end of the narrative.

Oppositional values. Values and beliefs which are in direct opposition to those held by the majority of people in a society.

Overshot. The camera is positioned directly above the subject. This is often used in establishing shots, where the camera flies over city streets.

Over the shoulder shot. Often used when shooting dialogue, the shoulder of the character someone is talking to is visible in the side of the frame.


Pan. The camera turns horizontally when mounted on a tripod.

Parallel editing. Cutting between two scenes that are occurring simultaneously.

Passive audience. A way of conceptualising audience that sees people as passively absorbing media texts.

Point of view. The point of view from which the narrative is presented. The character, or characters, that the audience is encouraged to identify with. Not to be confused with a point of view shot.

Point of view shot. A point of view shot shows what a character is looking at. To achieve a point of view shot, you need a shot of your character looking at something. This is usually a close up or mid shot. You then cut to a shot of what they’re looking at.

Post production. The final phase of film production which occurs after principal photography and usually involves the editing, scoring and sound design of a film.

Preproduction. The first phases of film production which usually involves developing an idea, writing a treatment, writing a screenplay, casting and location scouting.

Previsualisation. The act of visualising a film, usually using storyboards.

Principal photography. The second stage of film production which involves shooting the film.

Production context. In the study of media texts and values, production context refers to the place and time of production.

Production design plan. In VCE Media, the production design plan is the planning document for a media production. The production design plan of a film, for example, may include a treatment, screenplay and storyboards.

Production elements. In VCE Media, production elements refer to elements that you can see on screen in a narrative. Production elements include: camera/film/video techniques and qualities including shot selection, movement and focus; lighting, including naturalistic and expressive; visual composition and mise en scene; acting; sound, including dialogue, music and sound effects; editing/vision and sound design and mixing, including style, techniques, placement, pace and rhythm of editing.

Pull quote. An extract from an article, displayed prominently in larger text.

Pull focus. When the focus moves from one object to another.


Ratings. The number of people who watch a television program.

Reception context. The conditions in which a narrative is consumed. Reception context refers to the physical environment a film is watched in, the technology that it is watched on and any prior knowledge that an audience might have.

Reflector board. A board used to reflect light onto the face of an actor in filmmaking and photography.

Reinforcement theory. A theory of communication and media influence developed by Joseph Klapper in 1960. Klapper argued that the mass media does not have the ability to influence audiences and they are more likely to be influenced by their family, schools, communities and religious institutions.

Representation. A representation is a constructed media text. Representations can take many forms, including: radio segments, newspaper articles, photographs, films, television programs, television news segments. While some media texts – like television news and documentary films – may seem realistic, we have to remember that this is not the same as experiencing it ourselves. At best, the media can only represent reality. What we see on our television screens and on the front page of our daily newspapers is someone else’s interpretation of events, ideas and people. Someone has constructed these texts.

Reverb. A slight echo.

Rule of thirds. The Rule of Thirds is an aesthetically pleasing way to compose the frame. If you divide the frame into thirds, the points of interest should be positioned along these lines or at their intersections.

Rushes. The footage shot during a day of shooting.


SFX. Sound effects.

Sans-Serif. A font without serifs on the end of letterforms, such as Helvetica and Arial.

Score. The orchestral soundtrack for a film.

Segue. The link or transition between two segments or songs.

Selection. In media theory, selection refers to the way media texts are created through a process of selection, omission and construction. When creating a media text, you select images and or sounds to illustrate that idea. Selection also implies that things are left out, or omitted, from representations.

Serif. A typeface that has hooks on the end of letters, such as Times New Roman, Garamond and Trajan.

Setting. The setting for a narrative.

Shot list. A list of all of the shots in your film.

Shot reverse shot. Cutting between two characters who are looking offscreen in different directions, creating the impression that they’re talking to each other.

Sitcom. A situation comedy, or sitcom, is a half-hour television comedy that has a recurring situation—such as the family or work place—and a recurring cast of characters.

Social values. The values, beliefs or attitudes held by people in a society.

Sound bite. A short segment of an interview.

Spot. A commercial.

Steadicam. A device that allows camera operators to achieve smooth, fluid camera movement even when moving quickly across rough terrain.

Stereotype. A stereotype is a widely held, oversimplified image or idea of a particular person.

Stinger. Brief sound or piece of music often used as an introduction or transition between segments.

Storyboards. The visual planning document for a film. Every shot in the film is represented by an illustration or digital photograph.

Story elements. In VCE Media, story elements refer to the aspects of a narrative that relate to the storyline, including: the narrative possibilities, issues and/or ideas established in the opening sequence(s); establishment and development of the character(s) and relationships between characters; the setting and its function in the narrative; the ways in which multiple storylines may comment upon, contrast, interrelate or interconnect with other storylines in the plot; the structuring of time, including order, duration and frequency of events, contraction and expansion of time, linear and non-linear time frames; cause and effect, including character motivations; point(s) of view from which the narrative is presented, including character or other viewpoint(s); narrative progression, including the relationship between the opening sequence(s), developments within the narrative and the closure of the narrative.

Structuring of time. In VCE Media, the structuring of time refers to the way time can be expanded, contracted or structured using editing.


Tilt. The camera tilts up/down when mounted on a tripod.

Tracking. The space between letters.

Tracking shot. Any sort of shot where the camera follows a moving subject.

Tripod. A three legged stand for a camera.

Two shot. A shot containing two people.

Two step flow theory. In 1948, Paul F Lazarsfeld wrote ‘The People’s Choice’ which summarised his research into the November 1940 presidential election. In the course of his research, Lazarsfeld discovered that people were more likely to be influenced by their peers than the mass media. Lazarsfeld called these people ‘opinion leaders’. The Two Step Flow Theory suggests that opinion leaders pay close attention to the mass media and pass on their interpretation of media messages to others. The Two Step Flow Theory maintains that audiences are active participants in the communication process.


Undershot. The camera is positioned directly beneath the subject, looking up. Often coupled with point-of-view shots when the character is looking up at something.

Uses and gratification theory. Uses and Gratification Theory, which was proposed by Elihu Katz in 1959, concerns itself with what people do with the media. This theory proposes that audiences are active participants in the communication process. They choose media texts to gratify their own needs – such as the need for information, personal identity, integration, social interaction or entertainment. Uses and Gratification researchers maintain that the best way to find out about media use is by asking the audience because they are “sufficiently self-aware” to explain their reasons for using media texts. According to this theory, texts are open and audiences are active. In fact, the Uses and Gratification theory suggests that audiences actually have power over the mass media. For example, if they choose not to watch a particular program it won’t rate and will be taken off the air.


Visual composition. Visual composition refers to the way in which objects – such as props and actors – are arranged within the frame.

Voice over. Off screen narration in a narrative.


WAV. An uncompressed audio format developed by Microsoft and IBM. If you record sounds as a WAV file, they are usually uncompressed and suited to use in video editing software.

WMA. A type of audio compression developed by Microsoft. Commonly used in Microsoft Windows and Zunes. Like MP3s, a sound is usually compressed to about a tenth of its original size.

WMV. A type of video compression developed by Microsoft. It is used in applications like Windows Movie Maker and is a common format of video file when using a computer running Microsoft Windows.

Whip pan. A fast pan which makes the image blur.

Wipe. In editing, a transition that wipes from one image to another.


Zoom. The lens of a camera is used to magnify an image.