How do you refer to one part of a movie, in which you would see only one character or a group of characters usually interacting with each other in one particular setting (= situation = place). This part may be only 30 seconds long, but in some movies it may last as long as 10 minutes or even longer.

The words that I've heard from different native English speakers when referring to it are these:

  1. scene
  2. episode
  3. sequence

Perhaps, some of these words don't really refer to what I mean.

What I want to know is the differences in meaning between these 3 words. And also, if you know another word to refer to what I have described above, please, tell me.


I work on film/TV productions in my university in the communication school, and here is how I/others on my team interpret it.

  • scene: Smallest unit as written in a screenplay.
  • sequence: A continuous collection of scenes that are linked to each other thematically or stylistically.
  • episode: A collection of sequences packaged for distribution.

Example: Within an episode of a live action TV show you might have an animated sequence consisting of scenes between discrete characters.

  • @brilliant: Also, to clarify, as you mentioned a scene could be 30 seconds or 10 minutes long. It doesn't matter. A scene is as long as it is written for in a script/screenplay. Usually, this means it will be filmed in one 'take' but it's not necessary. – Ankur Banerjee Apr 17 '11 at 16:28
  • 2
    a Hollywood release usually has about 25 scenes and is 100 minutes long, so a scene averages 4 minutes. A shot averages around 6 seconds, so there will be some 40 (!) shots in a scene. It's possible that many of those shots came from one take (which describes the production process, not the final result), but unlikely. Long single-shot (hence single-take) scenes are the mark of unusual (and, candidly, self-indulgent) directors like Stanley Kubrick and Woody Allen. Single shots are sometimes cobbled together from multiple takes (Children of Men, Rope), but it's rare. – Malvolio Apr 17 '11 at 17:05
  • @Malvolio +1. I was too lazy to write out the complete explanation. :) – Ankur Banerjee Apr 17 '11 at 17:11

That's usually called a scene.

scene 2 a sequence of continuous action in a play, movie, opera, or book : a scene from Brando's first film. [NOAD]

  • "Sequence" here is misleading. As Ankur points out, in the movie industry, a sequence is a collection of scenes, e.g., in a "dream sequence". Incidentally, what film critics call a "chase scene" is actually a "chase sequence", consisting, as it does, of multiple short intercut single-shot scenes (the pursuer, the pursued, inside the car, on the street, the helicopter pilot, the bear, the bridge of the Death Star, etc.) – Malvolio Apr 17 '11 at 17:12
  • @Malvolio: A word can have more than one meaning. In fact, the only way to really tell a scene from a sequence is how it's written in the script. A scene can have sequences or a film can have sequences of scenes. – Robusto Apr 17 '11 at 17:30
  • 2
    a "word" certainly can, and most words do, but a technical term in an industry has to have a nailed-down, specific, reliable meaning. Can you imagine what would happen to a $200 million movie if the editor and the director had different ideas of what a "sequence" was? Scenes have numbers, shots have time-codes, sequences (when there are such) have names. There can be a lot of money at stake and no one wants to screw around. – Malvolio Apr 17 '11 at 17:39
  • @Malvolio: Professionals use technical terms and know what they mean? Thanks for enlightening me. Now let me assure you that not everybody who talks about movies is a professional, and not everyone who is a professional uses technical jargon all the time. And when non-professionals overload the meaning of a word, nobody loses $200 million. In fact, if professionals overload the word nobody loses money either. They switch contexts effortlessly as we all do. – Robusto Apr 17 '11 at 17:52
  • I think the misunderstanding here is that the dictionary entry you quoted uses sequence in the general sense to describe that a scene comprises of multiple shots. True, non-professionals often overload the meaning of the word but what @Malvolio and I were trying to point out was what's the convention in the industry. Having said that, I haven't really seen or heard of 'sequences' within a 'scene' confirming to the conventional definition I posted. I see you're active on writers.SE too. Would love to know if there are examples of this that you've seen! :) – Ankur Banerjee Apr 18 '11 at 19:17

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