When watching a movie with others, do you feel lost in a sea of experts? Do you find it difficult to converse with film geeks, who seem to know every facet of their favorite director and the industry as a whole? Do you feel intimidated in their presence?
The following terms may help you to jump into a conversation. Keep in mind that this is far from a complete list, but using these terms wisely could earn you some credibility among giants.
Alan Smithee is not a real person. This was a pseudonym used by certain directors and other industry professionals between 1968 and 2000. In occasional circumstances, a director would become so dissatisfied with the end result of a project that he would request to have his name removed from the credits. This type of frustration is frequently the end result of internal fighting between a director and other creative parties (e.g. the executive producer).
For a list of films directed by “Alan Smithee,” click here.
Breaking the Fourth Wall
This is a term used in film, television, and stage. It simply means that a character is interacting directly with the audience. The “fourth wall” is the imaginary barrier represented by the screen (or edge of the stage).
This type of scenario occurs all the time, but a great example of frequent fourth-wall breaking can be found in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. From the opening scene to the final “It’s over. Go Home” joke after the credits, Matthew Broderick is constantly speaking to the audience as Ferris.
Some occurrences aren’t quite so obvious. Norman Fell (as Mr. Roper on “Three’s Company”) had a habit of looking directly at the camera after telling a joke, non-verbally asking the audience, “Wasn’t that funny?” It’s claimed that C-3PO speaks to the audience for a moment in The Empire Strikes Back (when a door closes before him as he tries to escape the Rebel Base on Hoth). He looks at the camera and remarks, “How typical.”
This is a sound effect that’s been used for years in television and movies, to mimic the sound of thunder. It dates at least as far back as 1931’s Frankenstein. Unfortunately, a real thunderstorm sounds nothing like this.
Are you having a difficult time imagining the sound? Try this link. I tend to equate it with the opening credits of “Gilligan’s Island.”
Have you ever watched an older (pre-digital age) film, especially in a theater? Most full-length movies were stored on multiple reels, switching back and forth from one projector to another. Theaters using more than one projector allowed the audience to experience a near-seamless transition between reels.
In order for the projectionist to time the switch appropriately, a small mark was placed on to a frame of the film, visible to the viewer near the end of the reel. This was the “warning” mark, alerting the projectionist to get ready. After several seconds, a second mark would appear. This was the “now” alert, when the second projector would need to be started.
A more detailed explanation of this can be found here.
Did you know Tim Burton frequently uses black and white stripes in his film’s costume designs? How about Steven Spielberg’s recurring placement of a shooting star? Alfred Hitchcock and M. Night Shyamalan can usually be found in cameos in their own movies.
Many directors like to add a signature element (or more) into their projects. If the director has a large enough fan base, this type of identification can be used in deep, lengthy conversations with other film buffs.
Similar to director trademarks, “Easter eggs” are fun elements placed into a movie, simply for the enjoyment of viewers and/or the creators. They could be obvious (such as Stan Lee’s frequent cameos in Marvel Comics’ films), or very subtle (like the frequent “A113” Pixar in-joke, which can be explained here).
“Easter eggs” are also frequently used in DVDs and video games. If the viewer/player enters a certain code, or follows a certain sequence of commands, an unexpected feature will appear. These surprises may include bonus video material or unseen levels to a game.
Jumping the Shark
This isn’t a movie term, but it’s necessary to understand when we cover the next topic. “Jumping the Shark” is the common phrase used to define the moment when a television program begins to drop in quality. Famous “jump the shark” moments include Robbie Rist joining the “Brady Bunch” cast as Cousin Oliver, and the Conners winning the lottery on “Roseanne.”
The term itself comes from an episode of “Happy Days,” when Fonzie jumps over a shark on water skis. Many fans felt that after the episode, the series had lost its edge.
Nuking the Fridge
Essentially the same as “jumping the shark,” but this term refers to movie series rather than television. It was coined shortly after the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. For those who haven’t seen the movie, it contains a scene where Indy stumbles across a nuclear testing site, right before a bomb is detonated. To escape the explosion, he climbs inside a lead-lined refrigerator, which is blown into the sky. He escapes relatively unharmed. Details about the origin of this phrase can be found here.
Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon
Here’s a fun game to play, if you’re adept at remembering which actors have worked together in which movies. Legend has it that a number of years ago, someone declared actor Kevin Bacon to be the center of the Hollywood casting universe. This probably stemmed from the fact that he has appeared in a large number of movies, opposite some very big names.
The game goes like this: Most actors, past or present, can be linked to Kevin Bacon in six movies or less. For example, Clark Gable worked with Eli Wallach in The Misfits (1961). Eli Wallach worked with Kevin Bacon in Mystic River (2003).
There are many variations of the game. In fact, some actors are mathematically a better “center” than Kevin Bacon. To see how your favorite actor connects to him, click here.
You may not be familiar with the term, but you’ve undoubtedly heard the sound effect. In countless movies (especially those with an action sequence), someone along the way lets out an “AIEEEEEEEE!!!” sound. This is called the “Wilhelm scream.”
The first use of the sound effect was in a 1951 movie called Distant Drums, when a man was attacked by an alligator. A later use was in 1953’s The Charge at Feather River, attributed to a character named Wilhelm (hence the name of the effect). The scream has become a recurring staple in Hollywood, used in one movie after another.
For a list of movies known to have used this effect, use this link. For sample clips, click here.
Hopefully, these terms will prove helpful the next time you engage in a conversation with serious film fans. If nothing else, you now have some new ways to pass the time when your friend or significant other drags you to a movie. Enjoy!