College of Letters & Sciences
UW-Whitewater Film Studies

Film Analysis Guide

Basic Terms

SHOT — one continuous piece of film footage, ending with a cut to the next shot.

SEQUENCE — series of shots combined to represent a discrete set of actions or a coherent narrative section.

MOTIF — anything repeated more than a few times in a film. A motif can be visual (an image or film technique), sonic (a sound or piece of music), or rhetorical (a word, phrase, metaphor, etc.).

TROPE — a common convention repeated in many films. A symbolic visual, auditory, or narrative element with a predictable meaning.

Analysis Categories

CINEMATOGRAPHY — a term used to define the ways in which the camera captures the shot. Under the heading of cinematography, we speak of such things as the different lenses used by the camera, how the camera frames the shot, the angle of the camera relative to the action, and how the camera moves.

EDITING — refers to how the individual shots are spliced together. The norm here is "continuity editing," in which shots are put together to achieve narrative continuity—to make the action appear to flow logically and naturally from shot to shot.

MISE-EN-SCÈNE — literally meaning "put into the scene," this term refers to the arrangement of actors and objects in front of the camera. Setting, lighting, costuming, and acting are aspects of mise-en-scène.

SOUND — refers to both the sounds that come from the scene itself, such as spoken dialogue or ambient noise, and the sounds that are imposed on the scene, such as voice-overs or musical scores.


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Camera Distance

EXTREME LONG SHOT (ELS) — a shot of a character's full figure at a great distance, including a panoramic view of the surroundings

Cinematography, Still 1

LONG SHOT (LS) — a shot that includes a character's full figure as well as his or her surroundings STILL 2
MEDIUM SHOT (MS) — a shot that captures a figure from the waist up STILL 3
CLOSE-UP (CU) — a shot filled primarily by the subject's face, including little to no background STILL 4
EXTREME CLOSE-UP (ECU) — a shot filled entirely by a small part of the subject's body STILL 5


Camera Angle

HIGH ANGLE — the camera looks down at the subject STILL 6
LOW ANGLE — the camera looks up at the subject STILL 7
CANTED ANGLE — a shot in which the framing is tipped. STILL 8
OVERHEAD ANGLE — the camera looks directly down at the subject from above. overhead
WORM'S EYE ANGLE — the camera looks directly up at the subject from below. worm's eye


Camera Movement

PAN — the camera scans horizontally from a fixed axis point

TILT — the camera scans vertically from a fixed axis point

TRACK — the camera follows the action, travelling along a parallel path to capture the movement


DEEP FOCUS — objects in the background and foreground are equally in focus still 11
SHALLOW FOCUS — only objects in one plane are in focus, while others are out of focus still 12
RACK FOCUS — focus shifts from one plane to another within a shot

ZOOM — changes focal length to create motion towards or away from the subject


Process Shots

SUPERIMPOSITION — images are overlaid within the frame

DIGITAL ANIMATION — images created or modified by computer software

TITLE CARDS — text from outside the world of the narrative appearing on screen to supply information to the audience

Basic Terms

CONTINUITY EDITING — the process of putting shots together to create the impression of continuous narrative time and/or visually coherent space

CUT — An immediate transition from one shot to the next, with no dissolve, fade, or wipe. Straight cuts usually imply continuous action between one shot and the next.  

DISSOLVE — A shot slowly disappears at the same time the next appears, featuring a time during which one shot is briefly superimposed on another. Dissolves usually imply some distance in time or space between one shot and the next.

FADE — A shot slowly becomes darker until the entire screen is black ("fade out" or "fade to black"). This can be done in reverse: the shot slowly gets brighter until the entire screen is white. A "fade out" is often paired with a "fade in" in which the next shot slowly emerges from the black or white screen. Fades often imply a greater distance in time and/or place between one sequence and the next. 

WIPE — one shot "wipes" another from the screen, usually from one side of the screen to the other, bottom to top, or top to bottom. Expanding or contracting shapes (such as stars, circles, or hearts) can also be used to "wipe" one shot from the screen and reveal the next.

Graphic & Temporal Relations

180 DEGREE RULE — a principle of continuity editing dictating that the camera remain on one side of the action to maintain the viewer's perspective and understanding of the left-right spatial relationship between characters


SHOT / REVERSE SHOT — alternating shots between subjects, usually in conversation, viewed from different camera positions

CROSSCUTTING — transitioning back and forth between two or more action sequences taking place simultaneously

EYELINE MATCH — a cut between a shot of a person looking towards an object and a shot of the object being viewed

MATCH ON ACTION — a cut that transitions between two different views of the same action so that the action appears continuous from one shot to the next

GRAPHIC MATCH — a cut that relates consecutive shots through repeated compositional features (shapes, colors, patterns)

JUMP CUT — a cut that distorts continuity, suggestive of a skip ahead in time or space

Basic Terms

COMPOSITION — the arrangement of subjects, props, and environments within a given shot


COSTUMES — clothing designed to express character, social setting, and/or mythos. Costumes
DECOR — the set design, whether in studio or on location. Includes colors, styles, textures, architecture, props and the sociocultural locations or psychological states they are intended to evoke. Decor



THREE POINT LIGHTING — standard lighting  using three light sources: a key light to provide the main source of illumination along with a fill light from another side and back light from behind

Three Point Lighting

HIGH KEY — nearly all parts of image illuminated High Key
LOW KEY — extreme contrast between light and dark within an image

CHIAROSCURO — use of strong contrasts between light and dark to create a sense of visual drama or a sense of volume and dimension to the space and the figures within it


Basic Terms

DIEGETIC SOUND — sound produced in the world of the film, taking place within the narrative

EXTRADIEGETIC SOUND — sound originating outside the narrative, not produced in the on-screen setting


Sound Transition

SOUND BRIDGE — a transition assisted by a continuous sound from one shot to the next, often to introduce a new scene or sequence before it appears visually

EDIT ON SOUND — a cut made on a sound cue