Walking onto a set for the first time can feel a little intimidating, especially when you hear actors and crew talking to each other using acting terms you’re unfamiliar with. As with any industry, acting has its own terminology—and a very colorful one at that.

If you’re planning to embark on a career as an actor, it’s important to understand acting terminology and know how to use it correctly. Doing so will help you appear knowledgeable and professional as well as allow you to focus on your work. Instead of worrying over what certain acting terms mean and if “honeywagon” is something you’d find in the catering tent, you can be confident that you understand exactly what the professionals around you are talking about. This will also prevent misunderstandings on set.

To help aspiring actors, we’ve created this acting glossary with words and phrases you’re likely to come across in your work.

Acting Glossary for New Actors

Acting Terms Glossary for New Actors

Ad Lib

In cinema, TV and the theatre, an ad lib is when an actor says something that’s not in the script. An ad lib might be a small improvisation to the lines or completely made-up dialogue.

Automatic Dialogue Replacement (ADR)

If you’re called in to do “ADR,” it means you must go into the studio post-production to re-record some of your lines. Reasons for ADR include the poor audio quality of the original recording and a vocal performance that needs some work.

Booking

Possibly one of the best-loved words in acting terminology, a booking means a job. Sometimes you’ll be booked right away, and other times you’ll be placed on hold until they’re 100 percent sure they want you for the part.

Demo Reel

Also called an actor’s reel or a showreel, a demo reel is a video compilation composed of short clips that showcase your acting work. It’s an essential part of your acting kit, along with your resume and headshots, because casting directors, agents and producers will use it to judge your capabilities.

Speed-Through

This is a quick rehearsal that does not require sets, lights or crew. At a speed-through, actors typically sit at a table and read lines to check their accuracy and timing.

Day Player

An actor who is hired to be a “day player” works on a set daily and not on a long-term contract. Another term for a day player is “additional,” as in, “The actor who said the memorable line, ‘I’ll have what she’s having” in ‘When Harry Met Sally’ was an additional named Estelle Reiner.”

Greenroom

If the director tells you to take a break and go to the greenroom, they mean you should go to the actors’ lounge.

Off Book

When you’re “off book,” you no longer have to read from the script because you already have all your lines memorized.

Wrap

No acting glossary is complete without the magical word, “wrap.” When a director calls out, “it’s a wrap,” it means that filming has ended.

Honeywagon

Finally, “honeywagon” in acting terms is a truck, trailer or a combination of both that houses dressing rooms and toilets.

There are many other acting terms used by film, theatre, TV and commercial actors. While reading up on these is a great way to familiarize yourself with industry jargon, you should also consider attending classes taught by an acting coach. An acting coach, apart from training you to use your talent to portray varied characters on screen and stage, will also teach you everything you need to know to be prepared for your chosen career.

Audition

This is where it all starts!  An actor will either get a call from their agent or manager, or find a casting call on one of the casting websites, submit their headshot and resume, have the look that the producer/director is looking for and ask them to perform one scene or more to see if they have the right skills, look, etc. to be part of the production.

Points or Hot Points:

This is a safety term used by grips to let those nearby know they are carrying some equipment, like a light stand for example with its tip pointing forward. It can also mean some heavy equipment in the vicinity that could be harmful or dangerous.

Mark:

A mark is where the actor needs to stands.   They can be on their mark the entire time or have a beginning mark and end mark.

Callback:

After the initial audition, an actor is asked to audition again sometimes with different scenes or adjustments to what they initially did.  It’s not uncommon to have more than one callback.

Background:

Same as extra work.  No lines, just a person in the scene.

Extra:

Same as background.  No lines, just a person in the scene.

Scale:

If it is a union job, it is the minimum amount the actor can be paid according to the union’s schedule of minimums.

Per Diem:

In addition to the pay an actor receives, if it is a union job, they will also get a daily allowance for personal expenses.

Local Hire:

Actors who live where the project I being shot.  Producers like to hire actors who are local to avoid transportation, room and board expenses.

Scale + 10%:

the minimum amount the actor can be paid according to the union’s schedule of minimums plus 10% this amount to be paid to the actor’s agent.

Headshot

Resume:

A list of the actor’s acting jobs, training and specials skills.  This will also include agent and  contact information and physical traits

Voiceover:

Only the actor’s voice is used.

Stand In:

An actor who is put into place so that lighting can be set and checked.  This gives the principals time to rehearse, eat or do whatever else they might do until they are needed.

Principal:

An actor with a speaking role

Call Time:

The time the actor needs to arrive on set for hair and makeup

Craft Services:

A table that has drinks and snacks for the cast and crew

SAG/AFTRA:

The combined Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists unions.  Actors need to meet certain requirements to be eligible to join the union and pay an initial membership fee and then annual fees to remain in the union.  The benefits are many and can be found on the SAG/AFTRA website.

Sides:

Pages of the script the actor is asked to perform for their audition.

Right of First Refusal:

A producer requests that the actor contact them before booking another job that would conflict with the one they are casting.

Back to One:

All cast and crew are to return to their first positions.

10-1:

A short bathroom break.

10-2:

A longer bathroom break.

 

How-to-Break-Down-an-Acting--Scene-1

TERMS THE STUDIO USES IN BREAKING DOWN A SCENE

 

  1. OVERALL OBJECTIVE: What does your character want more than anything else in life throughout the story? Love, power, validation, money, etc.?
  2. SCENE OBJECTIVE: What does your character want over the course of the scene?  Must support the OVERALL OBJECTIVE.
  • OBSTACLES: What are the physical, emotional, and mental roadblocks that make it difficult for your character to achieve his or her OVERALL OBJECTIVE and SCENE OBJECTIVE?

 

  1. SUBSTITUTION Finding the person from your own life to endow the actor you are doing the scene with that makes sense with the OVERALL AND SCENE OBJECTIVE.  The right SUBSTITUTION will give the scene heat, energy, an emotional life, and truth.  For example, if you are trying to get the other person to love you, you would endow that actor with someone from your life that you want to love you but probably does not.
  2. INNER OBJECT: The images you see in your inner mind when you speak of a person, place, thing or event. If you don't know what you are talking about, neither will your audience.
  3. BEATS AND ACTIONS: Are the mini-OBJECTIVES that support the SCENE AND OVERALL OBJECTIVE.  When asked what your beat or action is try to answer with, “I’m trying to get him/her to __________” or “I am trying to make him/her _______.” (SEE ATTACHED ACTIONS/INTENTIONS)

 

HOW DO I GET WHAT I WANT FROM THE OTHER CHARACTER?

 

  1. You will learn how to “fight" for what the character wants and win every beat.
  2. You will learn what the “beats” and the “actions” in your scenes and how to make a variety of choices.
  3. You will learn how to discover/create the highest stakes in the scene. Usually are the most difficult to play.

 

PLACE AND FOURTH WALL:

  • Putting up an imaginary fourth wall to block out the audience and deepen the required intimacy between you and your scene partner. A place that evokes the kind of emotion required in the scene.

 

  1. MOMENT BEFORE: Whatever happens immediately before the director yells “Action”—It gives your character a place to come from physically and emotionally and gives the scene more energy and truth. The difference between the character's moment before and the actor's.
  2. LINE BETWEEN THE LINES: A word or phrase or sound that gets the actor out of their head and allows them to feel the performance and tap into the essence of their character.
  3. PRIMARY EMOTION: The main feeling your character is experiencing throughout the scene.
  • DOINGS: Using your physical world and props in order to establish behavior for your character. Should support the overall and scene objective.  Great acting is about movement and behavior.  Not lines.  People read books if they just want lines.

 

  • INNER MONOLOGUE: Whatever is going on in your head when you have no lines.
  • PREVIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES: The entire life of your character. These experiences will infuse your character with a history and enable you to use your own life experiences to personalize it.

 

FORGET ALL OF THE ABOVE And move it from your head zone (brain) to your heart zone (life).

 

There are many other acting terms used by film, theatre, TV and commercial actors. While reading up on these is a great way to familiarize yourself with industry jargon, you should also consider attending classes taught by an acting coach. An acting coach, apart from training you to use your talent to portray varied characters on screen and stage, will also teach you everything you need to know to be prepared for your chosen career.

 

TBell Actors Studio is led by Theresa Bell, a Master Coach with more than 20 years of experience helping her students find success in the acting world. Get to know more about her, the studio and the exciting world of professional acting by signing up to observe a class.

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