12 Head-Scratching Terms Heard on Film Sets
With countless websites dedicated to movie trivia, DVD special features offering behind-the-scenes looks, and even photos “leaked” by the stars themselves on social media, the once-mystifying inner-workings of Hollywood, and its movie magic, have become increasingly transparent over the last couple of decades. Having said that, step onto a working film set and you’ll soon realize that you are indeed in another world—one full of protocols, job titles, and lingo that can elude even the most seasoned cineaste. Below are 12 head-scratching terms that are frequently heard on film sets.
The C-47 is a versatile tool found on every film set. Its most frequent use is helping secure colored gels or diffusion onto the fronts of lights. Its non-Hollywood name? The clothespin. Although there is no definitive answer as to how the clothespin came to be known as the C-47, several theories persist: an homage to the C-47 transportation plane utilized during WWII, a reference to an early patent number for clothespins, and even a storage method at an old film studio (which supposedly kept clothespins shelved in row C, slot 47). But the most commonly shared story is that in the early days of filmmaking, executives would regularly rebuke a lighting team for including a budget for clothespins, as they didn’t want to front money for such an everyday item. But those same executives gladly accepted the modified expense reports, which instead included requests for the mysterious—yet highly technical-sounding—C-47.
Nothing sets the amateurs apart from the professionals on a set faster than those individuals who ask for extension cords, which are referred to as “stingers.” The stinger likely received its Hollywood name early on when it was realized that if there was a malfunction, the electrical shock would, well, sting.
The phrase “It’s all Greek to me” serves as the basis for the name of an important process that happens before shooting begins: “Greeking” is the art department's process of removing branding from any products that will be appearing on screen, but where the company hasn’t paid for product placement. It can be as simple as placing a piece of black tape over part of the product’s name, thus allowing the prop to be used without being a direct representation or promotion of the product itself. If you look carefully, you might find some of your favorite TV characters using “ial” soap, eating their favorite “eerios” cereal, or using laptops with stickers conveniently placed over recognizable logos.
Although most crew members wish it did, a request for a “pancake” does not bring a syrup-doused breakfast treat to the set. A pancake is the nickname given to the smallest and thinnest box in the apple box family. Typically a one-inch thick piece of wood, it boasts an endless variety of uses including the leveling of stands, protecting electrical cables from damp ground, and even boosting an actor’s height (although the bigger apple boxes are more common for this).
The director of photography might announce that the next shot will be on “sticks,” which is another name for a tripod.
If the camera is the all-seeing eye on a film set, then it makes sense that the black “visor” placed above the lens is nicknamed the eyebrow. The eyebrow is used to help prevent any unwanted glare on the lens, which might create a flare (we’re looking at you J.J. Abrams).
It is common for the 1st assistant director to yell for the PAs to get to their “lock-ups” right before a take. “Lock-ups” are strategic positions throughout the set where there is the potential for an accidental disruption. Doorways, hallways, blind corners, etc. are all guarded, or “locked up,” to prevent non-cast members from accidentally strolling into the shot or making noise.
8. HOT POINTS
Mixing heavy, expensive, and sometimes “pointy” film equipment with large crowds of focused filmmakers can be the perfect recipe for an injury. To prevent this, crew members carrying such gear into confined or crowded spaces often yell “hot points!” as a reminder for all to clear a space.
MOS is a term most relevant to the sound department. When a shot is MOS, it means that no audio will be recorded. For these shots, the audio will be addressed in post-production, most likely with pre-recorded sound effects or music. There are a plethora of theories as to how the term came about, but three fight to the forefront: Some argue that MOS equates to an abbreviated version of “motion omit sound” or “motor only shot,” a reference to the synchronization between film cameras and audio (as audio is recorded on a separate device). In an MOS shot, only the motor of the camera would run, hence “motor only shot.” The other, more widespread theory is explained by David Trottier in The Screenwriter’s Bible: “German director Eric von Stroheim ... would tell his crew, ‘Ve’ll shoot dis mid out sound.’ Thus MOS stands for ‘mid out sound.’”
This less-than-politically-correct term can sometimes be heard among the more jocular crew members. It refers to shooting the same action again, but with a tighter framing than the previous take. This is accomplished by either moving the camera closer or by using a different lens. You’ll have to read between the lines for how this one got its name (we’ve said enough).
11. THE ABBY SINGER SHOT
Abby Singer was a 1st assistant director and production manager who was known for informing his crew when the second-to-last shot for a particular location, or for the day, was taking place. This gave the crew time to either transport the equipment not in use to the next location, or to put it away. By doing so, he saved the crew the stress of hurrying to the next location, not to mention priceless production time that could be better spent later on. Having passed away in early 2014, Singer's legacy continues through his namesake being synonymous for the second-to-last shot of the day.
12. THE MARTINI SHOT
The crew will collectively sigh when the Martini shot is announced, as it signifies the last shot of the day. This nickname likely originates from a joke about what the following shot will be ... at the bar.
Strike the Baby and Kill the Blonde: An Insider's Guide to Film Slang, by Dave Knox
The Screenwriter's Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script, by David Trottier