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Screen & Stage
Learning The Lingo
By Gene Lenore
November, 2007, 12:59

Television terminology is a language all its own that you need to learn to succeed.
If you're going to work in television as a writer or writer/producer, you're going to have to learn a whole new "language." This is particularly true if all of your writing, up until now, has been for print. The faster you learn the television lingo the easier your job will become, and the happier your boss will be.

For now, I'm going to focus on television terminology that relates to capturing and using images on film and video. Before TV, there were the movies; and in the early days of television, there was the shooting and editing of pre-recorded programming stories filmed for newscasts or half-hour shows like westerns and police shows taking their cues from Hollywood, which had decades of experience in shooting and editing films.

Whether a film or video piece is going into a newscast, a gritty cop drama, a corporate video production, or a full-length theatrical release, it will be composed of a series of shots (scene changes) edited together into a sequence to tell a story. There are three basic shots all film/video makers use to capture images.

Long Shot (LS)

The long shot is sometimes called an establishing shot or a wide shot. This is a wide angle view that tells viewers where they are at a wreck, at a fire, at a news conference, in a desert, in a forest, etc. Let's say a program on nature is set in the backyard. The LS orients viewers the fact that they are looking at a backyard or garden.

Medium Shot (MS)

A medium shot takes the viewer closer to the action. For example, the MS might show a rose bush with a spider web glistening in the morning dew.

Close Up (CU)

A close up shot moves in on the action. For example, the CU might show the spider spinning a web.

While these are the three basic shots, there's another that's used from time to time. It's called an Extreme Close Up (ECU). It brings the viewer right up close to the action. In the case of the spider in the garden, an ECU might focus on just the spider's eyes.

The next time you're watching a newscast, a drama program or a movie, notice how these basic shots come into play. While you're watching, also begin to pay attention to how sequences are edited together.

In addition to the basic shots listed above, there are some camera moves that you need to understand.


The camera moves from one side of the view to the other. The camera may pan left or right. This is done to show the relationship between two objects or people. For example, a girl is standing on a balcony overlooking a city a night. The camera pans to the right to reveal a man hiding in the shadows.


The camera moves vertically either up or down. Like the pan, the tilt is used to show the relationship between two objects or people. Let's use the girl on the balcony scene again. The camera tilts down to the floor where we see a snake with fangs bared, poised to strike the girl's leg.


A change of shot from a LS to a MS or CU using a variable focus lens. It's usually referred to as zoom in or a zoom out. There's also a shot called a snap zoom where the change from LS to MS or CU is made extremely fast.

Now let's look at some terminology or lingo that relates to sound.

Natural Sound (Nat Sound)

This is ambient sound that exists in a scene. A man is fishing in a stream that's flowing over rocks. Nat sound would be the sound of the water lapping against the rocks, the sounds of birds singing in nearby trees, the chirping of crickets, etc.

Sound on Video Tape (SOVT) or sometimes Sound on Tape (SOT)

This usually refers to a sound bite (SB) a comment made by a person being interviewed or a comment made by a speaker at a podium.

Voice Over (VO)

These are the words spoken by an unseen narrator. In the case of a newscast, it's the anchor. In the case of documentaries or corporate and industrial video productions, it's the person narrating the film/video.

Music Bed

A music bed is pre-recorded music that is used in a production.

In television, corporate and industrial videos, and documentary productions, it's critical to understand these basics because you're not just writing for film or video, but you're writing to film or video!

Writing to film or video means the words you write have to relate to what's being seen on the screen. You'll also have to learn to write in a different format than that used for print.

Newscasts, documentaries, and corporate and industrial film or video productions are written in a two column format one column on the left for video (visuals) and a column on the right for narration and other sounds, such as nat sound and music beds.

The next time you're watching a newscast, a documentary, or a corporate or industrial video, notice and consider how the writer or writer/producer put the story together. You can learn by doing, but you also can learn a lot by watching. Don't just watch for enjoyment, watch to learn. Make your TV set a learning laboratory.

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Gene Lenore is an award-winning creative talent with more than 30 years of experience in television, radio, video, film, and print. A former radio, television and print journalist, a veteran writer, producer, and director currently operating Red River Productions, in Sherman, Texas. Red River is a Telly Award Winner for the DVD "A Passion for Excellence: The Story of Sherman High School" or call (903) 893-8952.

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