• Owen R. Horton

Understanding Film Terms

Below are some key terms and explanations (with examples) of key film concepts and terms.

Cinematic Language

  • Mise-en-scene: staging. Costuming. Props. Everything you see on screen.

  • Cinematography: the art of the image on film.

  • Frame: the imaginary border of the film. Think about it like a picture frame.

  • Shot: a single image of film. Can be any length, but must be unedited.

  • Editing: the joining together of discrete shots. Controls what we see.

  • Cut: a movement from a single shot to the next shot.

  • Scene: a series of shots which make up part of a narrative.


  • Acts: distinct narrative sections. Traditional films work in three acts.

  • Characters: protagonist (main character) and antagonist (main opposition character).

  • Explicit meaning: the surface level of the text. What literally happens.

  • Implicit meaning: the depth of the text. What we infer through context.

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