So, WTF is a Slurpasaur? Today with the help of Wikipedia we explain that and nine other strange filmmaking terms. Evey industry and profession has its own slang, but the movie industry seems to be a little more creative in their lingo.
This is a first in a series of articles where we define terminology, techniques, job titles and more. Stay tuned…
Concurrently with Willis O’Brien and others in making stop-motion animated dinosaurs since the early days of cinema, producers have used optically enlarged lizards, often with horns and fins glued on, to represent dinosaurs, to cut costs, and to present a living analog to dinosaurs, despite huge morphological differences between dinosaurs and reptiles. The first film that used reptiles dressed as dinosaurs was D.W. Griffith‘s Brute Force. Various slurpasaurs appeared in the 1929 film version of The Mysterious Island, the 1933 British film Secret of the Loch, and the 1936 Flash Gordon serial. The first major use of the slurpasaur was in One Million B.C. (1940), which included a pig dressed as a triceratops, with the special effects in this film re-used often, such as in the 1955 movie King Dinosaur.
Other notable films with slurpasaurs include Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) and The Lost World (1960). The former featured reptiles with attached tall spinal fans, simulating Dimetrodons and looked superficially similar to those creatures, as Dimetrodons have a low slung body structure more reminiscent of lizards than many other dinosauria. The latter is notable for a dinosaur battle wherein a monitor lizard and a young alligator engage in an unsimulated, fierce battle. On the 1960 Lost World, O’Brien, who did the stop-motion dinosaurs for the original, was hired as the effects technician, but was disappointed that producer Irwin Allen opted for live animals.
Fake Shemp or simply, “Shemp,” is the term for someone who appears in a film under heavy make-up, filmed from the back, or perhaps only showing an arm or a foot.
The term references the comedy trio The Three Stooges. In 1955, Stooge Shemp Howard died suddenly of a heart attack. At the time, the Stooges still had four shorts left to deliver (Rumpus in the Harem, Hot Stuff, Scheming Schemers, and Commotion on the Ocean), by the terms of their annual contract with Columbia Pictures. By this point in the trio’s career, budget cuts at Columbia had forced them to make heavy use of stock footage from previously completed shorts anyway, so they were able to complete the films without Shemp. New footage was filmed of the other two Stooges (Moe Howard and Larry Fine) and edited together with stock footage. When continuity required that Shemp appear in these new scenes, they used Shemp’s stand-in Joe Palma to be a body double for him, appearing only from behind or with an object obscuring his face. Palma became the original “Fake Shemp,” although the term was not officially in use at the time.
There have been many Fake Shemps over the years, but the most notable ones are Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi, who have “Shemped” frequently throughout their careers. Both have had “Shemp” cameos in nearly all of Raimi’s movies, most notably in the Spider-Man franchise. Campbell is also known to Shemp in many Coen brothers movies. The Coens were involved in the editing process of The Evil Dead.
In Superman II, there is a Fake Shemp standing in for Gene Hackman during scenes director Richard Lester re-shot in order to earn full director’s credit after Richard Donner was fired during production. Hackman refused to come back and re-shoot scenes upon hearing of Donner’s firing.
Most of the scenes in Trail of the Pink Panther that have Inspector Clouseau in them are actually pieces of reused or previously unused footage from previous films in the series with its star, Peter Sellers, who died two years before the film’s release. The last scene uses a body double and was the only shot with Clouseau that was not done by Sellers.
Alan Smithee (also Allen Smithee) was an official pseudonym used by film directors who wish to disown a project, coined in 1968. Until its use was formally discontinued in 2000, it was the sole pseudonym used by members of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) when a director dissatisfied with the final product proved to the satisfaction of a guild panel that he or she had not been able to exercise creative control over a film. The director was also required by guild rules not to discuss the circumstances leading to the move or even to acknowledge being the actual director.
The Smithee pseudonym was created for use on the film Death of a Gunfighter, released in 1969. During its filming, lead actor Richard Widmark was unhappy with director Robert Totten, and arranged to have him replaced by Don Siegel. Siegel later estimated that Totten had spent 25 days filming, and he had spent 9-10, and each had roughly equal footage in Siegel’s final edit. But he made it clear that Widmark – rather than either director – had effectively been in charge the entire time. When the film was finished, Siegel did not want to take the credit for it, and Totten refused to take credit in his place. The DGA panel hearing the dispute agreed that the film did not represent either director’s creative vision.
The original proposal was to credit the fictional “Al Smith”, but that was deemed too common a name, and in fact was already in use within the film industry. The last name was first changed to “Smithe,” then “Smithee,” which was thought to be distinctive enough to avoid confusion, but without drawing attention to itself. Critics praised the film and its “new” director, with The New York Times commenting that the film was “sharply directed by Allen Smithee who has an adroit facility for scanning faces and extracting sharp background detail,” and Roger Ebert commenting, “Director Allen Smithee, a name I’m not familiar with, allows his story to unfold naturally.”
Over the years the name and its purpose became more widely known. Some directors violated the embargo on discussing their use of the pseudonym. In 1998, the film An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn was released, in which a man named Alan Smithee (Eric Idle) wishes to disavow a film he has directed, but is unable to do so because the only pseudonym he is permitted to use is his own name. The film was directed by Arthur Hiller, who reported to the DGA that producer Joe Eszterhas had interfered with his creative control, and successfully removed his own name from the film, so “Alan Smithee” was credited instead. The film was a commercial and critical failure, grossing only $45,779 in the US with a budget of about $10 million, and the Rotten Tomatoes web site reports an aggregate critical rating of only 8% positive. The harsh negative publicity that surrounded the film drew unwanted mainstream attention to the pseudonym. Following this, the DGA retired the name; for the film Supernova (2000) dissatisfied director Walter Hill was instead credited as “Thomas Lee.”
A MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is “a plot element that catches the viewers’ attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction”. The defining aspect of a MacGuffin is that the major players in the story are (at least initially) willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to obtain it, regardless of what the MacGuffin actually is. In fact, the specific nature of the MacGuffin may be ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot. Common examples are money, victory, glory, survival, a source of power, or a potential threat, or it may simply be something entirely unexplained.
The MacGuffin is common in films, especially thrillers. Usually, though not always, the MacGuffin is the central focus of the film in the first act, and then declines in importance as the struggles and motivations of characters play out. It may come back into play at the climax of the story, but sometimes the MacGuffin is actually forgotten by the end of the film.
Multiple MacGuffins are sometimes—somewhat derisively—referred to as plot coupons.
The director and producer Alfred Hitchcock popularized both the term “MacGuffin” and the technique, with his 1935 film The 39 Steps, an early example of the concept. Hitchcock explained the term “MacGuffin” in a 1939 lecture at Columbia University: “[We] have a name in the studio, and we call it the ‘MacGuffin’. It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers”.
The 1996 novel Fight Club and its film adaptation of the same name drew attention to cue marks, referring to them as “cigarette burns.” This term is not used in the industry and is not a standard term. In one instance, a filmmaker has used the moniker in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: a 2005 episode of Masters of Horror by John Carpenter is titled “Cigarette Burns“; its plot revolves around film collection and distribution, with the lead character hallucinating cue marks.
A honeywagon is a mobile toilet unit used in the film and television industry. The legend behind the name ‘honeywagon’ is thought to relate to the ‘honey-colored’ liquid that comes out of it when emptying the holding tanks.
Many are the size of a semi trailer. Some honeywagons will be just two large restrooms. Others are a combination of variously sized rooms for specific purposes. These rooms can be private dressing rooms assigned to a single person, larger rooms configured for the wardrobe, or makeup departments, small individual restrooms for the crew to share, and multiple user or individual shower rooms for bathing.
The uncanny valley is a hypothesis regarding the field of robotics. The hypothesis holds that when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost like actual humans, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The “valley” in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot’s lifelikeness.
The term was coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori as Bukimi no Tani Gensh? in 1970, and has been linked to Ernst Jentsch‘s concept of “the uncanny” identified in a 1906 essay, “On the Psychology of the Uncanny”. Jentsch’s conception is famously elaborated upon by Sigmund Freud in a 1919 essay titled “The Uncanny” (“Das Unheimliche“). A similar problem exists in realistic 3D computer animation.
Roboticist Dario Floreano stated that the concept of the uncanny valley is taken seriously by the film industry due to negative audience reactions to the animated baby in Pixar‘s 1988 short film Tin Toy. The 2004 CGI animated film The Polar Express as well as the 2007 CGI animated film Beowulf were criticized by reviewers who felt that the appearances of the characters were “creepy” or “eerie”.
In the 2008 30 Rock episode “Succession“, Frank Rossitano explains the uncanny valley concept, using a graph and Star Wars examples, to try to convince Tracy Jordan that his dream of creating a pornographic video game is impossible. He also references The Polar Express.
In the Doctor Who serial The Robots of Death, a similar concept is referred to as “Grimwade’s Syndrome” which is described as a psychological condition among people with frequent contact with robots, attributed to the robots moving like humans, but without any of the characteristic human body language. In the mind of those afflicted, they appear to be, in the words of the Doctor, “surrounded by walking, talking dead men.”
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Datalore“, Lore initially claims that he was created after Data, saying when Picard asks who was created first, “He was, but they found him to be imperfect, and I was made to replace him.” Later in the episode Lore reveals to Data that, in fact, Lore was created first. He explains that he was so close to human that the human colonists asked his creator to create a less-perfect android, Data. However, Lore is lying, and in a later episode the creator of both androids, Dr. Noonian Soong, tells Data that he is not less perfect than Lore, and says that Lore was deactivated because he was unstable.
The Tachikomas in the anime television series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex worry that the Major dislikes them because of their increasingly human-like personalities, in spite of their tank-like outward appearance, and try to regain her favor by acting more like robots.
Episode 12 (season 5) of Criminal Minds is titled “The Uncanny Valley” and explores the theme through the lens of a serial abductress (and murderess) who chemically paralyzes the women she abducts and treats them like dolls.
In the season 6 episode of Red Dwarf, “Out of Time“, Kryten mentions the Uncanny Valley (though not by name) as the reason his faceted head was designed to look so inhuman. The series of Mechanoids that preceded his were hyper-realistic, and people’s natural revulsion to such realistic-appearing machines severely hurt their sales.
The 1972 satirical thriller The Stepford Wives and its 1975 and 2004 movie adaptations feature, though unmentioned and unexplored, the concept of the uncanny valley. As the story’s protagonist moves to a suburban residence, she notices increasingly uncharacteristic behavior by the women in her community. As they become more and more docile and subject their behavior and ambitions to the needs of their partners, this leads to the protagonist beginning to see a conspiracy where the women are replaced by “gynoid“.
Vorkapich was named after Slavko Vorkapic (English: Slavko Vorkapich). He was a film director and editor, former Dean of USC Film School, painter, and a prominent figure of modern cinematography and film art.
He is best known for his montage work on Hollywood films such as Viva Villa (1934), David Copperfield (1935), San Francisco (1936), The Good Earth (1937), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). In October 2005, the DVD collection Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant Garde Film 1894-1941 was released and included a one-minute montage sequence Vorkapich did for the otherwise lost film Manhattan Cocktail (1928), directed by Dorothy Arzner.
The now-common montage sequence often appeared as notation in Hollywood scripts of the 1930s and 40s as the “vorkapich” because of his mastery of the dynamic visual montage sequence wherein time and space are compressed using a variety of editing techniques and camera moves. Vorkapich used kinetic editing, lap dissolves, tracking shots, creative graphics and optical effects for his stunning montage sequences for such features as Meet John Doe, Maytime, Crime without Passion, Manhattan Melodrama, and Firefly. He created, shot, and edited these kinesthetic montages for features at MGM, RKO, and Paramount.
Mull of Kintyre Test
The Mull of Kintyre test was an unofficial guideline said to have been used by the British Board of Film Classification in the United Kingdom to decide whether an image of a man’s penis could be shown.
The BBFC would not permit the general release of a film or video if it depicted a phallus erect to the point that the angle it made from the vertical (the “angle of the dangle”, as it was often known) was larger than that of the Mull of Kintyre, Argyll and Bute, on maps of Scotland.
According to Professor John Hoyles of the University of Hull, the guideline was adopted by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) in 1992. Hoyles presented it as “the male performer’s penis must never appear more than slightly tumescent”. The Scottish lawyer Richard Findlay had previously alluded to it in a 1999 interview with Annette McCann. This test was subsequently adopted by UK television broadcasters and by some print publishers.
According to writer Emily Dubberley, the rule hampered the 1990s trend toward feminist pornography; since “you couldn’t show a man in a state of arousal”, the allowed depiction was “hardly a turn-on”, and she criticized it as a double standard that was permitted due to the perception that women did not respond to visual erotic stimuli.
In 2000, a BBFC spokeswoman commenting upon the criteria that the BBFC uses for classification denied that this test existed.
By 2002 the BBFC had largely abandoned its restrictions on the depiction of a tumescent penis. The rule is thought to have first been broken on UK television by a 2003 Channel 4 series entitled Under the Knife with Miss Evans.
Martini Shot is a Hollywood term that describes the final shot set-up of the day. According to Dave Knox, author of the film industry slang guide Strike the Baby and Kill the Blonde, the Martini Shot was so named because “the next shot is out of a glass“, referring to a post-wrap drink.
Other named shots include:
The Abby Singer Shot – The 2nd to last shot (named after an Assistant Director Abby Singer)
The Marislasis – The 3rd to last shot (named for Elian Gonzales‘ aunt)
The Maya Angelou – The 4th to last shot (origin unknown)
The Lou Nidus – The shot before lunch (origin unknown).