Is it time to retire this term?
This post was written by Jason Eksuzian.
We filmmakers love some good lingo: C-47, menace arm, hot points, fraturday, flying-in, push, pull, grip, stinger, and “striking!” While our industry may boast quite a unique lexicon, one of the oldest and most widely used terms in the business is dead wrong, and it has everything to do with a fundamentally backwards metaphor.
If you are a film and TV professional, you (like I) have used phrases like “What are we shooting?” “I love that shot!” and “Have a great shoot,” thousands of times. The term is so ubiquitous that it is routinely said with authority by still photographers, actors, models, influencers, critics, film nerds, and mothers worried about the long hours their showbiz children are putting in.
We obsess about our favorite shots: impossible shots; crane, drone, underwater, dolly, opening and closing shots. The trades speculate about who is shooting what and when. There’s a shoot we are prepping, and, if the budget only allowed, we would have definitely won an award for “that shot.”
It wasn’t until recently that I really started thinking deeply about why we use this word “shoot” in relation to the act of photographing. My little epiphany began with an expression I absolutely loathe: “Let’s spray down the place for B-Roll.”
This is something I hear frequently on the sets of my unscripted shows, and if you’ve never heard it before, I’ll explain: “Spray down” (or its equally cringe-y alternative wording of “hose down”) is often used by producers or directors as a way to ask for general B-roll of a location. I’ve always been somewhat allergic to it because instead of inspiring thoughtful visual compositions made to support the story being told, the phrase suggests a messy, artless approach emphasizing quantity over quality. In this scenario, what exactly is being sprayed? Who is cleaning it up?
Many people whom I respect have framed a B-roll request to me in this way. While I do not hold it against them, I often think about how and why we have come to see a camera in this way.
Why Do Filmmakers Use the Word “Shoot”
By my calculation, exactly zero percent of the filmmaking process involves anything at all exiting the camera. The entire event is about intake and capture. No projectile is shot, sprayed, launched or otherwise ejected in the making of moving images.
So how did we get here? The etymology of shoot, as it relates to filmmaking, allegedly finds its roots in the days of the hand-cranked film camera. A camera operator cranked away, running film through the shutter mechanism and gate. This resembled the hand-cranked machine guns of the time, and so the correlation was made: a cameraperson “shot” film as a gunman shot bullets.
We can also find commonalities in the basic ergonomics of a movie camera and a gun: there is a barrel, a triggering mechanism, a sight. Where the similarities end is in the actual function of these two machines, as defined earlier. A gun’s purpose is to propel a bullet outward. A camera’s purpose is to take light inward. In their most fundamental mechanical actions, we can see a gun and a camera are polar opposites.
“So, what’s the problem?” you ask? Who really cares? We use antiquated phrases, harmless slang and generally accepted misnomers all the time on set and in life. Fair point. But maybe, upon deeper examination, this one bothers me because what we make as filmmakers is art. Art is creative, not destructive. Art generates new ideas, births thought, stirs emotions, inspires. Art puts meaningful ideas into the world, it doesn’t take them away. It doesn’t wound or maim or kill.
Words matter. So what effect does this constant and casual usage of inherently violent terminology have on our workplace environment and our final artistic expressions? Is there something about it that unintentionally roots our perception in something destructive rather than creative? I have no idea, but I think it’s worth asking: do we as filmmakers and artists want our process described this way? I don’t think I do.
It’s not easy, but I am trying to mutate my industry DNA around these ideas by choosing to use words like capture, filming, frame and to project, in place of the gun metaphors. Besides being technically and practically more accurate, it just feels better to me.
I encourage you to try it too, with the Martini Shot as the one exception.
I'm not so sure about this.
The term 'Shoot' is a verb in at least the Cambridge Dictionary and literally means: to film or photograph something.
The word can mean lots of things depending on the context it is used.
By the way, I never tried baking bread before, but today I thought I'd give it a shot!
January 13, 2023 at 12:50AM
I don't know who this Guest Author is but they really need to go outside and touch some grass.
January 13, 2023 at 3:52AM
I think the issue might be a little too much "grass".
January 13, 2023 at 9:05AM
yeah... this was a long shot.
January 13, 2023 at 7:29AM
I have been advocating for as long as I can remember to drop the term “shooter” and use “operator” or “camera operator” instead but this term is still very prevalent in the unscripted world. It cheapens the perception of what it is we do, and yeah- with the problem we have with actual shooters in the US, I agree- it’s time to rebrand. And I agree wholeheartedly that “spray it down” is another phrase that we need to drop. When asked by a producer to “spray the room down”, I politely tell him or her that I will spend my time getting well composed and thoughtful scene setting images that will be useful to the editors. That sometimes leaves them stunned or gives them pause but it usually goes over well and makes them realize that I am a professional and we will be delivering professional results. Anyway, thank you for saying this out loud Jason… we have come a long way since the 1980’s and 90’s in flushing out derogatory names for grip & camera equipment, and we can certainly continue growing and improving our language to be reflective of the times.
January 14, 2023 at 3:50AM
I’m confused about the point of this article. Is it to reduce violence in some way? How about not “shooting” violent scenes or refusing to display weapons in your movie? Removing certain words from your filmmaker lexicon seems like the least effective way to reduce violence. Whatever the reason for this weird take on the word “shoot” the author of it will be hard pressed not to use the word when they shoot a basketball, do shots at a party, shoot to the top of their industry or wish upon a shooting star. The author states that “words matter.” True. But what matters most is the context of those words. In the context of film making, using the word “shoot” does not, has not, and never will imply violence and no reasonable person would ever feel threatened by such language. Please feel free to continue using the word shoot and speaking English and please disregard this idiotic article.
January 14, 2023 at 9:37AM
OMG another woke rant. Maybe we should take a look at what woke terms and ideas are doing in the film industry... It doesn't sell.
January 19, 2023 at 12:25PM, Edited January 19, 12:26PM
Good lord. Changing the lexicon won't help anything. That's just a way to feel like one is making a difference without doing anything of substance.
January 19, 2023 at 12:53PM