A Guide to Film Set Lingo and Hand Signals

0Share

Working on a film set can be a loud experience, with a variety of terms or jargon bandied about that has developed over the past hundred and twenty years or so. I wanted to share with you a smattering of what is said, not said, and what it all means.

Hand signals

These can help to reduce the noise on a set, which is a good thing, since the last thing you as a crew member want is to be noticed for being too loud.

Counting  As an assistant camera person, you often need to share information, but you want to keep the noise to a minimum and not disturb the actors. Still, information such as lens focal length and T-Stop has to go out to your second, or to the continuity person. So it is necessary that you be able to share simple numeric information between takes without interrupting the workflow or the actors’ concentration. This brings us to the need for a one-handed signal. This is simple: fingers straight up—1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Fingers horizontal—6, 7, 8, 9. A closed fist indicates zero/ten.

CP-47  A spring-style wooden clothes pin, great for attaching gels and diffusion to barndoors.

Cover Me  As in, “I have to step off set for a minute and don’t want to disturb the boss, so just pay attention and fill in for me for the next few minutes.” Wave your hand palm down over your head. This is usually used by a key to their first, or a first to their second. It keeps the set moving harmoniously.

I’m going off set to use the bathroom  Two fists held next to each other and then a twisting motion is applied to each hand as if tearing a phone book. It is commonly used in conjunction with the cover-me sign above.

Glossary of Spoken Terms

Abby Singer  Being the second-to-last shot of the day, it is named after an A.D. who, as one story goes, toward the end of the day would get the crew to move faster by promising them that the next shot would be the last for the day, only to have another shot to capture and be the new “last shot” of the day.

Apple box  A wooden box closed on all six sides, with finger grips cut into two opposing sides for carrying. It is ubiquitous on set and used for sitting, standing, temporary platforms, and more. It was most likely developed from using open-top crates used by apple pickers, and the name has stuck. Apple boxes come in a variety of standardized sizes, including full, half, quarter, and pancake. They are used for many different applications.  

Back-to-one  This refers to doing another take and having everyone (actors, camera, crew, etc.) go back to their starting positions for the shot. Usually called by the AD.

Banana  This is not the director calling for a snack or delivering the punchline to a joke. It is a direction given to an actor. It means that when moving toward or away from the lens, the actor needs to walk in an arc in order to accomplish a cinematic goal such as revealing something in frame at the proper moment, or for making the movement itself look natural on camera.

Check the gate  A term called by the A.D. before a change in camera position. At this time, the camera assistant will examine the aperture plate/gate of the film camera for any built-up debris that intrudes onto the image area. Although technically only applicable to shoots using film, check the gate can also signify the checking of the last few seconds of the last shot in digital to see that both the picture and sound have been recorded.

Choker/Choker C.U.  A shot that uses the bottom of the frame line to “choke” the actor by cutting him or her off just below the chin.

Cookie  Shorthand for Cucoloris, similar to a flag or cutter, but usually a solid material with an abstract pattern that passes light, creating patterns on backgrounds or subjects. It is used to break up light, giving it a more natural feel.

Crossing  This is said by someone crossing in front of the camera, before doing so, in order to warn the operator that the viewfinder is going to go black as they obliterate the frame momentarily. Crossing close to the camera is generally bad form, and it should be avoided as much as possible. However, when it is unavoidable, calling out “crossing” is a standard on-set courtesy.

Cutter  Also known as a flag, it is used to “cut” the light and define the area lit. You can use a cutter to create a hard or soft edge, depending how close to the light it is placed. Please note the terms “cutter” and “flag” are used interchangeably; however, strictly speaking, when you are controlling spill light from striking something out of the shot (such as the camera lens or a crew person), you are flagging that light. When you are setting a precise shape for the light that is in the shot (for example, a set light), you are using a cutter. Some grips will use special names depending on the size or shape of the flag, but there is no penalty for switching the terms “cutter” and “flag.”  

Floppy  It is a large rigid flag, usually four feet on each side, with an extra flap that is held in place with hook-and-loop fabric. When you want to block light, you set up the floppy and then release the extra fabric.

Flying in  It means that the necessary item or person is on its/their way to set.

F.A.S.T. - Focus Aperture Shutter Tachometer. These are the minimum four responsibilities of the 1st camera assistant. Yes, even in the digital era, these are still valid responsibilities.

Greek  To modify the name of a product so that the package looks the same but the brand name on it is not readable. This is important to do when you use a trademarked product, such as Coke™, in your shot but don’t have permission. The term probably developed as words were obscured by adding bits of tape to the letters. This resulted in a subtle change that often resembled Greek lettering. It is a very effective way of dealing with concerns over trademark use and can be used on product names and logos.

Hollywood  To “Hollywood” something is to handhold it and not set up a stand for it. Crew will often Hollywood reflectors, bounce cards, or small light fixtures such as china balls. This allows for fast adjustments and also to move with the actors.

Hot points  Grips will call out this term to indicate they are carrying something such as a light stand with the tips pointing forward. Look out if you hear this.

Mickey/Mighty  These terms refer to open-face light fixtures made by Mole-Richardson. Similar to the Redhead and Blonde, the Mickey is a 1,000-watt light, while the Mighty is a 2,000-watt light fixture.

Martini  This is the last shot of the day. Why? Go ask someone who drinks. Usually called by the A.D.

MOS  There are many myths and lore behind this term, which means that the camera is recording, but audio is not being recorded. It is often used when shooting insert shots. The reason a shot is slated “MOS” is so that the editorial department doesn’t waste time trying to find the audio for the shot or wonder why people are talking during the take. The most likely explanation for MOS is that it means “Motor Out of Sync,” and it was written on a slate so that the editor would de-couple the sound head on the Moviola upright editing machine for that shot so that only the picture was rolling and not the sound.

Negative Fill  This is when you use a flag or the black side of a show card to prevent light from reflecting on a subject. It is used much the same way you would use a bounce card to provide fill.

Obie light  A light mounted on top of the camera that puts a reflective glow into the eyes of the on-camera talent. It was reportedly created for Merle Oberon by her husband and cinematographer, Lucien Ballard.

OTS (Oh - Tee - Es)  This means “over-the-shoulder shot,” where two characters are having a dialog and the camera is positioned over the shoulder of one actor to capture the other actor. OTS shots can be either “clean” as in a clean single, where it is a close-up of your subject without anyone else intruding in the frame, or “dirty,” usually a close-up of an actor with a part of another actor in the frame. This is used when not having a small part of that other actor in the close-up would be jarring.

Pickup  Doing another take of a shot, but only part of it, starting part-way through the beginning. For example, the first half was good, so you are only going to retake the second half. Usually this refers to a shot which only has part of the dialog or action.

Roll sound/camera or Turnover  The A.D. calls for audio and camera to start. “Turnover” is most often used in the British film industry.

Room tone  Similar to wild sound, since there is no picture being recorded, but different because you are recording the sound of the environment with no dialog. This is done so you can use the recording to replace any audio that has unwanted noise without hearing the background noise of the room disappear. If your camera is also your audio-recording device, it is customary to shoot a slate that says “Room Tone” and to specify what scene it is for.

Redhead/Blonde  These refer to 1,000-watt and 2,000-watt (respectively) open-face tungsten halogen light units. The name derives from lightweight light fixtures made by Ianero back in the day. The 1,000-watt fixture was red/orange in color and the 2,000-watt fixture was yellow, hence the redhead and blonde references.

Single, double, triple, homerun  Nets and scrims/wires. Nets are similar to flags, but they are used to reduce the amount of light that is striking your subject or set, while scrims/wires go into your light—usually with barndoors. A single scrim/net has the effect of darkening the light transmission by half a stop, and a double darkens it by a full stop (roughly). When calling for scrims or nets, specify a single or a double. If you want more, you can specify the strength by saying triple (a single and a double) or homerun (usually two doubles).

Video village  The place where the video playback technician hosts the client and ad agency people, often as far away from the camera and set as possible

Wild Sound  Audio recorded without the corresponding picture (the complement to MOS), great for getting clean sound to match visual effects such as a coin dropping or the sound of wind through the trees

Close

Close

Close