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12 Head-Scratching Terms Heard on Film Sets

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Fox Photos/Getty Images

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.

1. C-47

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.

2. STINGER

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.

3. GREEK

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.

4. PANCAKE

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).

5. STICKS

The director of photography might announce that the next shot will be on “sticks,” which is another name for a tripod.

6. EYEBROW

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).

7. LOCK-UPS

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.

9. MOS

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.’”

10. MOTHER-DAUGHTER

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.

Additional Sources:
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

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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language
Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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