10 Filmmaking Terms That Should NOT Be in Your Screenplay

There are screenwriting terms and filmmaking terms — and sometimes the latter doesn’t belong in the same vicinity as the other within the confines of a spec script.

Screenplays are metaphorical blueprints for potential cinematic experiences we call film or movies. Screenplays offer the core structure of who, when, where, how, and why. They set the location, the time, the characters, the situation, the conflict, and the ramifications of all of those elements as they come crashing together in moving pictures.

And yes, since it’s a visual medium, screenwriters are tasked with communicating those visuals to the potential producer, director, talent, and crew that will be tasked with making those visuals come to life in production and then onto the big screen.

However, just because the word blueprint is attributed to screenplays doesn’t mean that screenplays are a technical document.

Regardless, many budding screenwriters that are either cinephiles, current film school students, or former film school students, feel the need to inject technical directing terms into the screenplay format.

As you’ve hopefully read here or elsewhere, directing the way the visuals are portrayed on the screen is not the job of the screenwriter — it’s the job of the eventual director, cinematographer, and their crew. Thus, such technical filmmaking terms have no place in a spec script that screenwriters are trying to get Hollywood to read.

Here are ten common filmmaking terms that find their way into screenplays, even though they have no business being there. We’ll tell you why they shouldn’t be there and what you can write in their place.

1. Angle On…

Whether it’s Angle On a character or Angle On an object, this type of scene description is an attempt at directing the camera. And as we’ve mentioned before, that’s not the screenwriter’s job.

The annoying part of this term is that it is usually used in an unspecific form.

ANGLE ON BETSY as she enters the van.

What does this mean? Isn’t it assumed that the director and cinematographer would place the camera is some particular angle to film the shot?

Betsy enters the van.

That’s all we need.

2. Aerial Shot

This is a shot taken from a crane, plane, helicopter, or drone. Once again, you’re directing the script if you’re using this term. Yes, there are times now and then where a shot like this is partial to the story, but it should be used few and far between.

Bird’s Eye POV is also an alternative that should only be used when partial to the story.

3. Close Up (C.U.)

This is a shot that focuses close on a character or object. Another variation is Extreme Close Up (Extreme C.U.) where the shot focuses on only a small detail or portion of a character or object.

Close up shots are indeed very cinematic, but that’s not the screenwriter’s choice to make unless it’s partial to the story.

C.U. OF AMY

A single happy tear drips from her eye and down her cheek.

Drop the close-up. All we need is:

A single happy tear drips from her eye and down her cheek.

4. Cut To

This is the most common transition found in the screenplays of novice screenwriters. It was very prevalent in the screenplays of early cinema because, at that time, screenplays were more of a technical document. But in this day and age, the transition is implied by a change of scene.

The exceptions would include such visual transitions as Fade In (only sometimes used at the beginning of a screenplay), Dissolve To, Smash Cut To, and Fade to Black (which would just be at the end of a script). These types of transitions should be used sparingly and only when partial to the story or for specific stylistic effect that is intertwined with the emotion of the scene the writer is transitioning from.

But Cut To should never be used. It’s the true sign of an amateur writer, and you’d be surprised how many screenplays have that unnecessary and already implied transition between almost every scene.

5. Dolly Shot

Another repeat offender in screenplays.

Dolly shots are moving shots in which mechanism is employed to move the camera around a scene or location. Whenever a screenwriter uses this term, they are directing the screenplay’s visuals instead of just telling the story.

DOLLY SHOT 

Steve walks through an endless line of cars within the dealership’s equally endless lot.

Drop the Dolly Shot reference. All we need is:

Steve walks through an endless line of cars within the dealership’s equally endless lot.

6. F/X (Special Effects)

This term is often utilized in shooting drafts of screenplays. They denote the need for the Special Visual Effects crew to tackle the shot.

F/X: MATT TURNS INTO A WEREWOLF

It is entirely unnecessary for a screenwriter to dictate what scenes are going to require Special Visual Effects. Those decisions happen in preproduction, production, and post-production.

Matt begins to transform into a werewolf. Follicles of hair appear from every bald spot of his skin. His nails painfully grow into long, deadly claws.

Dazzle us with your cinematic description and let the filmmakers decide how the heck they are going to make that visual come to life.

7. Iris In/Iris Out

The term refers to a wipe from a certain point of the frame out in all directions, mirroring the visual of the iris of a human eye-opening for dimly lit situations.

It’s a stylistic director choice that has no place in a screenplay.

8. MOS 

MOS is a filmmaking abbreviation used in production reports to indicate that a portion of film has no synchronous audio track. The words abbreviated are motor only sync, motor only shot, or mit out sound, depending on who you talk to in the industry.

It basically means that the scene has no sound.

A better alternative is to just write:

There is no sound. 

Or…

Silence. 

9. Shot (Medium, Long Shot, Wide Shot, Master, etc.)

Some screenwriters have carried this over from reading older screenplays. Medium, long, and wide shots (and variations thereof) refer to the distance from the camera to the character or object that is being focused on, which results in how that character or object is framed within the frame of the shot.

MEDIUM SHOT

Tyler stands still, the wind blowing through his hair. 

LONG SHOT

It’s revealed that he’s standing on top of the roof of his house, overlooking the suburbs around him.

Drop the shots and just tell us what we see.

Tyler stands still, the wind blowing through his hair. He’s on top of the roof of his house, overlooking the suburbs around him. 

10. Zoom Into/Out From

Screenwriters use various zooms in their screenplays to denote a stylistic movement of the camera that focuses on a character or object, or “pulls” away from it.

Yes, it is mostly used for dramatic effect. But it’s another example of directing the camera.

Any time that you are telling the reader how the camera moves, you are directing the visuals — and that’s not your job.


These are ten of the most common filmmaking terms that screenwriters try to incorporate into their screenplays, thinking that they are enhancing the script by making it seem more stylistic.

Readers prefer substance over style. And they prefer simple format over overly busy format.

When in doubt, keep it simple and always stop when you find yourself telling the reader where the camera should be and how the camera should be moving.

Just simply focus on communicating what we should be seeing, not how we should be seeing it. Leave that up to our own imagination and let the director and the crew do their job.


Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures. Make sure to read his growing archive of posts at ScreenCraft for more inspiration.

He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies


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