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Breaking the Code

A festivalgoer’s guide to whatever it is those people onstage are saying.



From a visiting director sharing “a few brief words” before her latest screening to the post-film Q&A, every good film festival brings opportunities for audiences to sit in a theater and hear seasoned professionals talk. On occasion, of course, these pros’ comments are riddled with insider language that sounds like some bizarre secret code. Here we project a little light on ten words or phrases you might hear during the average film festival.

AD
To historians, it’s the abbreviated form of anno Domini — since the birth of Jesus — but in the filmmaking world it’s short for assistant director, the one responsible for keeping the production running smoothly and on schedule.

AUTEUR THEORY
From the French word for “author,” it’s the notion that a movie’s director — not the star, not the screenwriter, not the producer — is the primary creator of any artistically successful movie.

DP
Director of photography.

FINAL CUT
The power to say when editing is finished and a film is ready for the market. “I have ten commandments,” director Billy Wilder said. “The first nine are, thou shalt not bore. The tenth is, thou shalt have right of final cut.”

FPS
No, not some Hollywood delivery service. It means frames per second, the speed at which a film is shot and projected.

LEGS
A film’s ability to stay popular once released. If it has legs, it will likely stick around awhile.

MAJORS
The major Hollywood film studios (Disney, for instance) as opposed to one of the smaller independents, like Spike Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule.

Q RATING
In film advertising, an actor’s Q rating is how quickly the general public recognizes him or her.

REAL TIME
When a film lasts roughly as long as it would take for its action to unfold. Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon is an early example, and Jodie Foster’s Money Monster is a recent one.

STINGER
A humorous or attention-grabbing short scene that comes during or after the closing credits. One classic stinger is at the end of John Hughes’ Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, when Ferris (Matthew Broderick) appears in character to tell the remaining audience, “You’re still here? It’s over. Go home.”

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