Pocket Guide To Showbiz Terminology

In case you ever need a translation of showbiz jargon, we offer this short pocket guide that you can print out, fold up, and keep in your pocket. But brace yourself, because there is a complete disconnect between what a word means in English and what it means in Hollywood. When Humpty Dumpty said, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean,” he must have thought he was in Hollywood. So here we go:

United States means the United States (including our 51st state, Canada, and, for the hell of it, all of the Caribbean).

Domestic means the United States (including our 51st state, Canada, and all of the Caribbean).

North America means the United States and — you guessed it — Canada and all of the Caribbean, but not Mexico. On Hollywood maps, Mexico is part of South America because Mexicans speak Spanish.

First Look means, depending on whom you ask, either (a) a right of first negotiation, the weakest form of a right to acquire something, or (b) an option, the strongest form of a right to acquire something. So, if you like litigation, use this term often.

Gross. How could “gross” need a definition? Well, if you ask a studio, it means that only 20% of VOD is included, and it also means that a bunch of “off-the-top” expenses are deducted (see below).

justed Gross means, well, actually the same as “gross,” unless you are an agent that wants to tell your client that he got a share of “adjusted gross,” in which case it might mean “net” (see below).

Net means $0.

Actual Break-Even means “net” (see above).

Off-the-Top Expenses means a bunch of expenses that studios say should always be deducted in the interest of fairness, even from “gross,” although most of the expenses have nothing to do with the film (like trade dues) or shouldn’t be deducted at all (like taxes for which a credit is available).

Budget means a forward-looking estimate of anticipated production costs – um, except when it means a backwards-looking statement of actual production costs.

Attached (as in, “Brad Pitt is attached”) means that you sent the script to the actor’s agent and haven’t received a rejection letter yet.

NDA means non-disclosure agreement. It also means that whatever is disclosed pursuant to it will be summarized on an online blog within minutes, since there are no secrets in Hollywood.

Pay or Play means that the person is absolutely guaranteed to be paid (unless a number of standard conditions neuter the guarantee).

Pay and Play means you can’t get a completion bond (see “completion bond” below).

Completion Bond means a guarantee that your film will be professionally completed on time exactly as originally envisioned (though the bond company will use a camcorder and have the actors read their lines if it has to take over production).

Loan Out Corporation. “If you want to find a Granfalloon, remove the skin from a toy balloon.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle.

Deal Memo, Term Sheet, or Letter of Intent means the lame, half-baked document attached as Exhibit A to a complaint.

Green Light means that someone says that the film will be produced (unless someone else says it’s not).

Residuals are one of the main reasons most films lose money.

Gap means the difference between reality (the few bucks the producer has) and fantasy (the fully funded budget).

Pre-Sale means the sale of a film before production based on a pack of lies.

Notice of Assignment means a document sent by the bank loaning against a “pre-sale” that overrides all the lies in the “pre-sale.”

Single-Picture Financing means a transaction in which investors lose money on a single film.

Slate Financing means a transaction in which investors lose money on a bunch of films.

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