Film is a term that encompasses motion pictures as individual projects, as well as the field in general. The origin of the name comes from the fact that photographic film (also called filmstock) has historically been the primary medium for recording and displaying motion pictures. Many other terms exist — motion pictures, the silver screen, photoplays, picture shows, flicks — and most commonly movies. Academics and the English-speaking international community prefer to use film or "cinema", due to the colloquial nature of these other terms. Films are produced by recording actual people and objects with cameras, or by creating them using animation techniques and/or special effects. They comprise a series of individual frames, but when these images are shown rapidly in succession, the illusion of motion is given to the viewer. Flickering between frames is not seen due to an effect known as persistence of vision — whereby the eye retains a visual image for a fraction of a second after the source has been removed. Perhaps of more relevance is what causes the perception of motion — a psychological effect identified as beta movement.

Film is considered by many to be an important art form; films entertain, educate, enlighten and inspire audiences. The visual elements of cinema need no translation, giving the motion picture a universal power of communication. Any film can become a worldwide attraction, especially with the addition of dubbing or subtitles that translate the dialogue. Films are also artifacts created by specific cultures, which reflect those cultures, and, in turn, affect them.

History of filmEdit

Main article: History of film

Film theoryEdit

Main article: Film theory

Specific theories, styles and movements in filmEdit

Film criticismEdit

Main article: Film criticism

The motion picture industryEdit

The making and showing of motion pictures became a source of profit almost as soon the process was invented. Upon seeing how successful their new invention, and its product, was in their native France, the Lumieres quickly set about touring the Continent to exhibit the first films privately to royalty and publicly to the masses. In each country, they would normally add new, local scenes to their catalogue and, quickly enough, found local entrepreneurs in the various countries of Europe to buy their equipment and photograph, export, import and screen additional product commercially. The Oberammergau Passion play of 1898 was the first commercial motion picture ever produced. Other pictures soon followed, and motion pictures became a separate industry that overshadowed the vaudeville world. Dedicated theaters and companies formed specifically to produce and distribute films, while motion picture actors became major celebrities and commanded huge fees for their performances. Already by 1917, Charlie Chaplin had a contract that called for an annual salary of one million dollars.

In the United States today, much of the film industry is centered around Hollywood. Other regional centers exist in many parts of the world, and the Indian film industry (primarily centered around "Bollywood") annually produces the largest number of films in the world. Though the expense involved in making movies has led cinema production to concentrate under the auspices of movie studios, recent advances in affordable film making equipment have allowed independent film productions to flourish.

Profit is a key force in the industry, due to the costly nature of filmmaking; yet many filmmakers strive to create works of lasting social significance. The Academy Awards (also known as The Oscars) are the most prominent film awards in the United States, providing recognition each year to films, ostensibly based on their artistic merits. Also, film quickly came to be used in education, in lieu of or in addition to lectures and texts.

Stages of filmmakingEdit

Main article: Filmmaking

The nature of the film determines the size and type of crew required during filmmaking. Many Hollywood adventure films need computer generated imagery (CGI), created by dozens of 3D modellers, animators, rotoscopers and compositors. However, a low-budget, independent film may be made with a skeleton crew, often paid very little. Filmmaking takes place all over the world using different technologies, styles of acting and genre, and is produced in a variety of economic contexts that range from state-sponsored documentary in China to profit-oriented movie making within the American studio system.

A typical Hollywood-style filmmaking production cycle comprises five main stages:

  1. Development
  2. Preproduction
  3. Production
  4. Post-production
  5. Distribution

This production cycle typically takes three years. The first year is taken up with development. The second year comprises preproduction and production. The third year, post-production and distribution.


This is the stage where an idea is fleshed out into a viable script. The producer of the movie will find a story, which may be from books, other films, true stories, original ideas, etc. Once the theme, or underlying message, has been identified, a synopsis will be prepared.

This is followed by a step outline, which breaks the story down into one-paragraph scenes, concentrating on the dramatic structure. A treatment is produced, a 25- to 30-page description of the story, its mood, and characters, with little dialog and stage direction, often containing drawings to help visualize the key points.

A distributor will be contacted to assess the likely market for the particular genre of the movie.

The screenplay is then written over a period of perhaps six months, and may be rewritten several times to improve the dramatization, clarity, structure, characters, dialog, and overall style.

The movie pitch is then prepared and directors are approached to see if the movie can be continued. If the pitch is successful, then financial backing will be required from a major studio, film council or independent investors. The deal is negotiated, and contracts signed.


In preproduction, the movie is designed and planned. The production company is created and a production office established. The production will be storyboarded and budgets allocated. The shooting schedule will also be drawn up at this stage.

The production sets, costumes, makeup, music, and sound will all be designed, and the crew will be recruited for the following roles:

  • The director is responsible for the overall look and feel of the movie. A director is usually the primary creative force behind a motion picture.
  • The casting director hires actors for the necessary roles. Sometimes this requires an audition on the part of the actor, but many parts, especially lead roles, are handed out based on an actor's reputation and "star power."
  • The location manager manages detail surrounding filming on location. The majority of a modern motion picture is shot in a studio, but occasionally outdoor sequences will call for filming outside the studio, on location.
  • The production manager manages the production budget and schedule. He or she also reports on behalf of the production office to the financiers.
  • The director of photography (DOP) designs and coordinates the picture and lighting. He or she cooperates with the director, first assistant director (1AD), director of audiography (DOA) and assistant director (AD). He or she may also be listed in the credits as cinematographer. There is no real difference between the titles.
  • The production designer designs the look and feel of the setting and costumes.
  • The storyboard artist/graphic designer helps the director and production designer communicate their ideas by creating artwork for the production.
  • The director of audiography (DOA) designs and coordinates the sound and music. He or she cooperates with the director, 1AD, DOP, and AD. This role is common in Bollywood films but usually overlooked in Hollywood films, where dialog is often replaced in post-production.
  • The sound designer creates new sounds with the help of foley artists.
  • The music composer creates new music.
  • The choreographer creates and coordinates the movement and dance, typically for musicals, although some films credit a fight choreographer.


Here the movie is actually created and shot. More crew will be recruited at this stage such as the property master, script supervisor/continuity, assistant directors, stills photographer, picture editor, and sound editor. Actual shooting is also referred to as principal photography.

A typical day's shooting begins with a schedule being distributed by the director. The settings will be constructed and the props and camera set up appropriately. The lighting is rigged and the actors put on their costumes and make-up.

The script and blocking is rehearsed. This is vital for the picture and sound crews. The action is then shot with as many "takes" as necessary.

Each take of a shot is marked by a "clapperboard," which helps the editor keep track of the takes in post-production. The clapperboard records the scene, take, director, producer, date and name of the film written on the front, displayed for the camera. The clapperboard also serves the necessary function of providing a marker to sync up the film and the sound take. Sound is recorded on a separate apparatus from the film and they must be synched up in post-production.

The director will then check to see if the shot was "good" or "not good". The continuity, sound, and camera teams mark every take as either G or NG on their own report sheet. Each report sheet records special facts about every take.

When shooting is finished for the scene, the director declares a "wrap." The crew will "strike," or dismantle, the set for that scene. The director approves the next day's shooting schedule and a daily progress report is sent to the production office. This includes the report sheets for continuity, sound and camera teams. Call sheets are distributed to the cast and crew to tell them when and where to turn up the next day.

For productions using traditional film, the day's takes, known as rushes are sent to the laboratory for processing overnight. Once processed, they become known as dailies and are viewed in the evening by the director and selected cast and crew. For productions using digital technologies, shots are downloaded and organized on a computer for display as dailies.

When the entire film is finished, or "in the can," the production office holds the wrap party for all cast and crew.


Here the movie is assembled. During this stage, the movie is edited and the visual effects composited. The voice recordings are synchronized and the final sound mix is created. The sound mix combines sound effects, background sounds, foleys, ADR, dialog, walla, and music.

The titles are added and the movie is locked, resulting in the final cut. The edit decision list (EDL) is generated and the master negative (film) or edit from the master tapes (video) created. An answer print of the movie (containing sound) is produced from the master and duplicated to create a theatrical release print.

The movie will be previewed with the target audience and their reactions gauged. Any changes to the movie may then be made following audience feedback.


This is the final stage, where the movie is released to theaters or, occasionally, to DVD or VHS. The movie is duplicated as required for theatrical distribution. Press kits, posters, and other advertising materials are published and the movie is advertised.

The movie will usually be launched with a launch party, press releases, interviews with the press, showings of the film at a press preview, and film festivals. It is also common to create a Web site to accompany the movie.

The movie will play at selected theaters and the DVD is typically released a few months later. The distribution rights for the movie and DVD are also usually sold for worldwide distribution. Any profits are divided between the distributor and the production company.

Film crewEdit

Main article: Film crew

A film crew is a group of people hired by a film company for the purpose of producing a film or motion picture. Crew are distinguished from cast, the actors who appear in front of the camera or provide voices for characters in the film.

Production TeamEdit

These are the senior personnel responsible for the creation of a film:

Film producer
A person or persons responsible for accepting or creating, securing or providing financing for, and controlling from a business perspective the project to be filmed, on behalf of the film production company. Films may have many "producer"-like credits, which suggest a priority from "Executive Producer" to "Producer" to "Co-Producer" to "Associate Producer" to "Line Producer"; in Europe, there is also a credit which translates as "Production Director" and appears to be similar to a Line Producer. However, in some cases, one or more of these may be "honorary" titles accorded film financiers, and the exact tasks of each type of "producer" can vary widely across films, companies, countries and periods in the history of Film. In general, however, as the producer is financing the project, he/she will have some say in the creative process including, if he/she originates the project, as in the days of the studio system, selecting major actors, the film director and other major artistic staff.In the USA, in recent decades, producers have organized under the Producers Guild of America.
Line producer
A type of Film Producer with on-set, day-to-day responsibility for the making of the film, in terms of keeping the production on schedule and within budget, and making executive decisions during artistic conflicts or in unexpected circumstances.
Production manager
Responsible for tracking expenses versus budget and making sure production stays on schedule. May assist the Line Producer or serve that role in the absence of a separate Line Producer.
The person(s) responsible for the script - plot development, character development, dialogue and general scenic descriptions - which constitutes the core of the production.
Film director
Responsible for translating the script into a dramatic performance, working directly with the actors to develop characters and actions, and collaborating with the other major behind-camera artists in their contributions to the film, and making final artistic decisions in the face of disputes or options. In the USA, directors currently belong to a guild, the D.G.A. Directors Guild of America ( )
Assistant director
Assists and collaborates with the director in the performance of his/her duties, may physically direct secondary scenes, extras shots, and substitute for the director in his/her absence on the primary shooting Guild: D.G.A. Directors Guild of America ( )
Unit manager
The "production manager" for special or secondary "unit" shooting.
Script supervisor/continuity person (formerly script girl)
Keeps track of what parts of the script have been filmed and makes notes of any deviations between what was actually filmed and what appeared in the script. Ensures that consistency is maintained from shot to shot.

Camera and lightingEdit

Cinematographer or director of photography
A cinematographer (from 'cinema photographer') is one photographing with a motion picture camera. The title is generally equivalent to director of photography (DP or DoP), used to designate a chief over the camera and lighting crews working on a film, responsible for achieving artistic and techical decisions related to the image. The cinematographer is sometimes also the camera operator. The term cinematographer has been a point of contention for some time now; some professionals insist that it only applies when the director of photography and camera operator are the same person, although this is far from being uniformly the case. To most, cinematographer and director of photography are interchangeable terms.
The English system of camera department hierarchy sometimes firmly separates the duties of the director of photography from that of the camera operator to the point that the DP often has no say whatsoever over more purely operating-based visual elements such as framing. In this case, the DP is often credited as a lighting cameraman. This system means that the director will consult together with both the lighting cameraman for lighting and filtration, and the operator for framing and lens choices.
The American system tends to be the more widely-adopted, in which the rest of the camera department is totally subordinate to the DP, who with the director is the final word on all decisions related to both lighting and framing.
Guilds: A.S.C. American Society of Cinematographers, B.S.C. British Society of Cinematographers
Camera operator
Works under Cinematographer to set up and choreograph shots. Physically operates the camera during shots.
Focus puller (First assistant camera)
Responsible for keeping camera in focus during a take. Assists camera operator.
Clapper loader (Second assistant camera), formerly clap boy
Operates clapboard at beginning of each take and loads film stock into film magazines. Assists first assistant camera.
Chief electrician
Best boy
Assistant to gaffer
Key grip
Supervisor of the grips. Grips are responsible for jobs such as setting up equipment and moving props.
Light technician
Sets up and controls lighting equipment

Production soundEdit

Production sound mixer
Head of sound department on the set. Responsible for recording all sound on a set.
Boom operator
Assistant to production sound mixer. Responsible for microphone placement and movement during a take.
Recording mixer

Postproduction pictureEdit

Film editor
Assembles the separate takes into a coherent motion picture. Typically, the editor follows the screenplay as the guide for establishing the structure of the story and then uses his/her talents to assemble the various shots and takes for greater, clearer artistic effect. An important guild in the United States is the American Cinema Editors (A.C.E.).
Chyron operator
Creates titles and/or text graphics. (Chryon is a brand name for a character generator.)
Color timer
Works in film lab to adjust the film color balance.

Postproduction soundEdit

In the traditional Hollywood systemEdit

Dialogue editor
Responsible for balancing, assembling and editing all the dialog in the soundtrack.
Sound effects editor
Responsible for balancing, assembling and editing all the sound effects in the soundtrack.

Northern California systemEdit

Sound designer
Responsible for all aspects of a film's audio track. (See Walter Murch, Skywalker Sound.)

Common to both systemsEdit

Music supervisor
Works with composer, mixers and editors to create and integrate the film's music. Also known as musical director.
Music editor
Foley artist
Creates and records sound effects.
Re-recording mixer
Mixes together all the final sound elements, including dialog, music and sound effects.

Independent filmmakingEdit

Main article: Independent film

Filmmaking also takes place outside of the Hollywood studio system, and is commonly called independent filmmaking.

An independent film (or indie film) is a film initially produced without financing or distribution from a major movie studio. Creative, business, and technological reasons have all contributed to the growth of the indie film scene in the late 20th and early 21st century.

Creatively, it was becoming increasingly difficult to get studio backing for experimental films. Experimental elements in theme and style are inhibitors for the big studios.

On the business side, the costs of big-budget studio films also leads to conservative choices in cast and crew. The problem is exacerbated by the trend towards co-financing (over two-thirds of the films put out by Warner Bros. in 2000 were joint ventures, up from 10% in 1987). An unproven director is almost never given the opportunity to get his or her big break with the studios unless he or she has significant industry experience in film or television. Films with unknowns, particularly in lead roles, are also rarely produced.

Until the advent of digital alternatives, the cost of professional film equipment and stock was also a hurdle to being able to produce, direct, or star in a traditional studio film. The cost of 35mm film is outpacing inflation: in 2002 alone, film negative costs were up 23%, according to Variety. Film requires expensive lighting and post-production facilities.

But the advent of consumer camcorders in 1985, and more importantly, the arrival of high-resolution digital video in the early 1990s, have lowered the technology barrier to movie production significantly. Both production and post-production costs have been significantly lowered; today, the hardware and software for post-production can be installed in a commodity-based personal computer. Technologies such as DVDs, IEEE 1394 connections and non-linear editing system pro-level software like Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro, and consumer level software such as Final Cut Express and iMovie make movie-making relatively inexpensive.

Since the introduction of DV technology, the means of production have become more democratized. Filmmakers can conceivably shoot and edit a movie, create and edit the sound and music, and mix the final cut on a home computer. However, while the means of production may be democratized, financing, distribution, and marketing remain difficult to accomplish outside the traditional system. Most independent filmmakers rely on film festivals to get their films noticed and sold for distribution.

Communities of independent professionals and artistsEdit



Main article: Animation

Animation is the technique in which each frame of a film is produced individually, whether generated as a computer graphic, or by photographing a drawn image, or by repeatedly making small changes to a model unit (see claymation and stop motion), and then photographing the result with a special animation camera. When the frames are strung together and the resulting film is viewed at a speed of 16 or more frames per second, there is an illusion of continuous movement (due to the persistence of vision). Generating such a film is very labour intensive and tedious, though the development of computer animation has greatly sped up the process.

Graphics file formats like GIF, MNG, SVG and Flash allow animation to be viewed on a computer or over the Internet.

Because animation is very time-consuming and often very expensive to produce, the majority of animation for TV and movies comes from professional animation studios. However, the field of independent animation has existed at least since the 1950s, with animation being produced by independent studios (and sometimes by a single person). Several independent animation producers have gone on to enter the professional animation industry.

Limited animation is a way of increasing production and decreasing costs of animation by using "short cuts" in the animation process. This method was pioneered by UPA and popularized (some say exploited) by Hanna-Barbera, and adapted by other studios as cartoons moved from movie theaters to television.

Film venuesEdit

When it is initially produced, a film is normally shown to audiences in a movie theater. The first theater designed exclusively for cinema opened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1905. Thousands of such theaters were built or converted from existing facilities within a few years. In the United States, these theaters came to be known as nickelodeons, because admission typically cost a nickel (five cents).

Typically, one film is the featured presentation (or feature film). There were "double features"; typically, a high quality "A picture" rented by an independent theater for a lump sum, and a "B picture" of lower quality rented for a percentage of the gross receipts. Today, the bulk of the material shown before the feature film (those in theaters) consists of previews for upcoming movies and paid advertisements (also known as trailers or "The Twenty").

Originally, all films were made to be shown in movie theaters. The development of television has allowed films to be broadcast to larger audiences, usually after the film is no longer being shown in theaters. Recording technology has also enabled consumers to rent or buy copies of films on video tape or DVD (and the older formats of laserdisc, VCD and SelectaVision—see also videodisc), and Internet downloads may be available and have started to become revenue sources for the film companies. Some films are now made specifically for these other venues, being released as made-for-TV movies or direct-to-video movies. These are often considered to be of inferior quality compared to theatrical releases. And indeed, some films that are rejected by their own studios upon completion are dumped into these markets.

The movie theater pays an average of about 55% of its ticket sales to the movie studio, as film rental fees. The actual percentage starts with a number higher than that, and decreases as the duration of a film's showing continues, as an incentive to theaters to keep movies in the theater longer. However, today's barrage of highly marketed movies ensures that most movies are shown in first-run theaters for less than 8 weeks. There are a few movies every year that defy this rule, often limited-release movies that start in only a few theaters and actually grow their theater count through good word-of-mouth and reviews. According to a 2000 study by ABN AMRO, about 26% of Hollywood movie studios' worldwide income came from box office ticket sales; 46% came from VHS and DVD sales to consumers; and 28% came from television (broadcast, cable, and pay-per-view).

Development of film technologyEdit

Filmstock consists of a transparent celluloid, polyester, or other plastic base coated with an emulsion containing light-sensitive chemicals. Cellulose nitrate was the first type of film base used to record motion pictures, but due to its flammability was eventually replaced by safer materials. Stock widths and the film format for images on the reel have had a rich history, though most large commercial films are still shot on (and distributed to theaters) as 35 mm prints.

Originally moving picture film was shot at various speeds using hand-cranked cameras; then the speed for mechanized cameras and projectors was standardized at 16 frames per second, which was faster than much existing hand-cranked footage. A new standard speed, 24 frames per second, came with the introduction of sound. Improvements since the late 1800s include the mechanization of cameras, allowing them to record at a consistent speed, the invention of more sophisticated filmstocks and lenses, allowing directors to film in increasingly dim conditions, and the development of synchronized sound, allowing sound to be recorded at exactly the same speed as its corresponding action. The soundtrack can be recorded separately from shooting the film, but for live-action pictures many parts of the soundtrack are usually recorded simultaneously.

As a medium, film is not limited to motion pictures, since the technology developed as the basis for photography. It can be used to present a progressive sequence of still images in the form of a slideshow. Film has also been incorporated into multimedia presentations, and often has importance as primary historical documentation. However, historic films have problems in terms of preservation and storage, and the motion picture industry is exploring many alternatives. Most movies on cellulose nitrate base have been copied onto modern safety films. Some studios save three B&W negatives exposed through red, green, and blue filters. Digital methods have also been used to restore and preserve films. Film preservation of decaying film stock is a matter of concern to both film historians and archivists, and to companies interested in preserving their existing products in order to make them available to future generations (and thereby increase revenue).

Some films in recent decades have been recorded using analog video technology similar to that used in television production. Modern digital video cameras and digital projectors are gaining ground as well. These approaches are extremely beneficial to moviemakers, especially because footage can be evaluated and edited without waiting for the film stock to be processed. Yet the migration is gradual, and as of 2005 most major motion pictures are still recorded on film.

Endurance of filmsEdit

Films have been around for more than a century. Having endured for so long as a medium is quite an achievement. Many believe this is because motion pictures appeal to diverse human emotions.

Apart from societal norms and cultural changes, there are still close resemblances between theatrical plays throughout the ages and films of today. Romantic motion pictures about a girl loving a guy but not being able to be together for some reason, movies about a hero who fights against all odds a more powerful fiendish enemy, comedies about everyday life, etc. all involve plots with common threads that existed in books, plays and other venues.

The reason motion pictures endure is because people still want escapism, adventure, inspiration, humor and to be moved emotionally. Films provide this in a dynamic, colorful and powerful way.

See alsoEdit


Basic types of film Edit

Lists Edit


Other Edit


  • Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey (ed.). The Oxford History of World Cinema. Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0198742428
  • Hagener, Malte, and Töteberg, Michael. Film: An International Bibliography. Stuttgart: Metzler, 2002. ISBN 3-476-01523-8
  • Vogel, Amos. Film As a Subversive Art. Weidenfeld & Nichols, 1974.
  • The Oxford History of World Cinema, Oxford University Press, 1999; Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, ed.
  • Glorious Technicolor: The Movies' Magic Rainbow, Fred E. Basten. AS Barnes & Company, 1980
  • Reel Women. Pioneers of the Cinema. 1896 to the Present by Ally Acker, London: B.T.Batsford 1991
  • Reel Racism. Confronting Hollywood's Construction of Afro-American Culture, Vincent F. Rocchio, Westview Press 2000
  • New Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction, Geoff King . Columbia University Press, 2002.
  • Notes on Film Noir Paul Schrader. Film Comment. '84?
  • Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American Independent Film by Greg Merritt; Thunder's Mouth Press 2001
  • Africa shoots back. Alternative perspectives in sub-saharan francophone african film by Melissa Thackway, Indiana University Press 2003
  • Glorious Technicolor; directed by Peter Jones. Based on the book (above); written by Basten & Jones. Documentary, (1998).
  • Francesco Casetti, Theories of Cinema, 1945-1990, Paperback Edition, University of Texas Press 1999
  • The Oxford Guide to Film Studies, Oxford University Press 1998
  • Walters Faber, Helen Walters, Algrant (Ed.), Animation Unlimited: Innovative Short Films Since 1940, HarperCollins Publishers 2004
  • Trish Ledoux, Doug Ranney, Fred Patten (Ed.), Complete Anime Guide: Japanese Animation Film Directory and Resource Guide, Tiger Mountain Press 1997
  • Steven Spielberg in The making of Jurassic Park

External linksEdit


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