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Acting Terminology: 26 essential terms every actor must know

Acting Terminology: 26 essential terms every actor must know

Like any industry, show business is full of unique and colorful acting terminology. Actor Will Roberts is here with a little cheat sheet to help you decode some of the buzzwords used on the film set.

There's a lot to take in, so it's understandable if you don't know all the terms for actors. BUT, it's important to learn these acting terms for beginners as soon as possible, so that when your kid gets that desired role, they don't feel out of place and lost during filming. 

So if your kid has survived their audition, memorized their lines, and learned these acting terms, the production team will absolutely love them, because they'll be easy to work with! 

Will Roberts is a professional actor with over 30 years industry experience under his belt. And here are the 26 essential acting terms he believes every aspiring actor needs to know.

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Basic acting terminology:  

1. Action! 

So the first word in your acting terminology book is 'action'. When you hear 'action', it's your cue to start acting. 

2. Director

This is the person that's in charge of the whole production. What you want to try to do is stay out of their way. There are assistant directors (AD) - first, second, third, and background. These are the people that you normally would report to when you get on set. You'll get your paperwork and all that other stuff from the production assistants, but the assistant director normally is the first point of contact.

3. Background action

Background is the people that are extras or background. They usually don't have lines. When they say 'background action' this is a cue to start doing your business and remember, don't look at the camera.

4. Boom

A boom mic with a pole. The boom mic that comes in usually gets all the sound from whatever the actors are saying or around the area of the acting.

5. Buyout

This is basically an amount of money they give you as an actor to buy out the rights for you to be in that film or that commercial for that length of time that they want it.

6. Residuals

If you do a union commercial, then every time it shows you'll get some amount of money. This is much liked by actors. 

7. Union

The only one you need to remember is SAG - Screen Actors Guild. It's the most important union for actors in the U.S.

8. Callsheet

A daily report that tells you where to be and when to be there. It tells you everything you need to know. You usually get that the day before in your email and it'll tell you what to do. This can potentially be one of the most important acting terms for beginners. 

9. Close up

It's a close camera shot of a person.

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10. Continuity

It means keeping things the way they are, so that when they edit the scenes, it makes sense. This can involve movement for actors, props, clothes, and even the length of your hair - look how much Dorothy's has changed in the span of a couple of seconds! 

acting terminology continuity

Check out some fun continuity mistakes here!

11. Camera right and camera left

This describes the view of the camera point of view, so if you are told to move camera left and you're facing the camera, then you move right. And vice versa. 

12. Costume fitting

Normally this will happen before the production actually goes up. You'll be asked to go somewhere, perhaps bring some things. You'll be trying on wigs and prosthetics and doing different things, so that way when they get on set and you get on set, everything's clear. 

13. Craft services

That's where you get your tea, coffee, water, food. 

14. Voucher or chit

It's the paperwork that you're given when you come in. When you sign up, you put all your information in there. Before you leave, you must give it back to someone otherwise you won't get paid.

15. First position

It's the position from which the scene starts. 

16. Hair and makeup ready

That means that you arrive with your hair and your makeup done per the instructions that they've given you or you can go to hair and makeup and they'll get you ready.

17. Honey wagon

It's the bathroom. And an important addition your acting terminology list. 

18. Holding area

This is a place you're gonna be at if you're a background actor or an extra. On the other hand, if you're one of the actors speaking, you'll have a dressing room.

19. Night shoot

This means it films through the night. No set hours, so you basically know that you can start at 4 p.m. and you could end as late as 7 a.m.

20. On avail

Short for on availability. If you get through the casting process, get a callback and they say you're on avail, it means they want you to hold the time because you are one of their likely suspects to be cast in this production.

21. Rehearsal

It's when you rehearse and try something before you actually film it. It might seem obvious, but when you're on set and super nervous, even the most obvious acting terms can slip your mind. Speaking of being on the set...

22. Set

The place where the filming takes place. 

23. Sides

A side of the script or part of the script is usually either a page or two of the script. Usually you're not going to get the whole script even if you have lines, unless you have a lot of lines. So the sides are something you get before you go on set and do your scenes, so you have it memorized. Also the sides are something you get at an audition.

24. Stand-in

A stand-in is a person used in place of the actual main actor so they can set the lights and the cameras and the whole thing. Usually that person is the right height, age, skin type. They pretty much look like the actor.

25. Special EFX

Special effects can be anything from a fire or wind coming in, or rain, or snow, or gunfire. Usually, they're added in post-production (after the filming). 

26. Wrap

This means 'that's it' - we're done with the film. We're done with our day, done with the filming day, so at the end you'll hear: “ All right everybody, that's a wrap!”

And that's a wrap for us as well. We hope this acting words list, acting terminology glossary, comes in handy on your actor endeavors. If there are any other acting terms you struggle with and would like explained, don't hesitate to reach out.

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