You may have heard some of the following interesting film terms, but do you know where they came from? We did a little investigation to learn their origins.
- Abby Singer – The term refers to the second to the last shot of the day and is coined after Production Manager Abby Singer, who used to let the crew know when they were almost done, so they could start wrapping up equipment early, thereby saving money on the production.
- Alan Smithee film – This name, coined in 1968, is used by a director instead of his/her own name when so many unauthorized edits or changes have been made to a film that the director wishes to disassociate with it. The term was invented with the release of Death of a Gun Fighter when Richard Widmark fired the first director and hired a second. With the directing split, it did not meet either director’s vision, so neither wanted to take credit. Because a director had to be associated with a film, the name Alan Smithee was chosen. According to Wikipedia, “Critics praised the film and its “new” director, with The New York Times commenting that the film was “sharply directed by Allen Smithee who has an adroit facility for scanning faces and extracting sharp background detail.”[
- Bowdlerize(d) – This term refers to the action of removing disturbing, violent or adult-oriented content from a movie to make it more acceptable for mass consumption. The term is attributed to Englishman Thomas Bowdler who published a ‘censored’ Family Shakespeare version in the early 1800s.
- Contrazoom – Also known as the vertigo effect, this technique was invented by film great Alfred Hitchcock for his film Vertigo. It involves tracking the camera backwards while zooming in, making the subject matter the stationery element while the surroundings change.
- Coogan’s Law – Named after child actor Jackie Coogan, this law was enacted in 1939 to ensure that a child actor’s employer set aside 15% of the earnings in a trust for his or her later use as an adult. It also regulated the child actor’s schooling, work hours, and time-off. Jackie Coogan was one of Hollywood’s earliest child stars. He earned an estimated $3 to $4 million as a child, but in the lawsuit he ultimately brought against his mother and stepfather, he received only $126,000 of the remaining $250,000 that they hadn’t frittered away.
- Dunning – Invented around 1925 by C. Dodge Dunning, this technique refers to when studio-filmed shots are combined with background footage that has been filmed in a different location. The process was first used on the 1933 film King Kong.
- Grand Guignol – Taken from the French meaning “Large Puppet,” and originating in 1900s Parisian shock theater, this term now refers to works with dark, disturbing, dramatic, and gothic elements that are often presented in a stylized and overly dramatic manner.
- Martini Shot – Also known as the Window shot, the martini shot is the last one of the day, before everyone heads off to celebrate with drinks.
Image: Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” trailer, Vertigo’s Effect… Photo is in the public domain because it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1977 and without a copyright notice.