Occupational Folktale- Origin of the term “MOS”

The informant is a 27-year old grad student. He was born in Los Angeles, California, grew up in Seattle, Washington, was educated at UC Berkeley and now studying film production in Los Angeles. He’s worked as a freelance writer and filmmaker around Los Angeles and is a teaching assistant at the School of Cinematic Arts. He shall be referred to as NW.

In this story, NW explains how the use of the term “M.O.S.” came to be used on film sets, a phrase used to refer to when directors shoot without sound:

And the story goes, I know this one’s hypocryphal, but the story goes is that some German director, like all the early great directors were German, and he’d come out to Hollywood and was trying to say “we’re gonna take this one without sound, W.O.S in that case, but since his accent came through, it sounded like “Mith-out-sound” and it just stuck so it’s M.O.S., but really means, I know it was a nerdy thing to do but I went through a lot of stuff to find out, it actually means, it either means “motor only sound,” or “motor only sync” and it’s just like a technical reference to the fact that they’re only running the camera because really early sound stuff used to run on its own separate motor, so I think that’s what it actually means, but that’s the story, “mith out sound.”

NW explained further that he feels there is no contemporary reason for the use of the phrase “M.O.S.” on film sets because of modern film technology. He believes that the use of the term is mostly in being able to draw a distinction between new filmmakers and more experienced ones. This use of jargon can easily go over the head of a new hire, so it becomes a learning experience.

I feel that there’s also some cross-cultural resentment present in this story. German Expressionism is a highly lauded facet of film aesthetics by some, but seen as incredibly pretentious by others (such as those working in manual labor positions in Hollywood). There was a great divide between Hollywood film crews and this hypothetical German director, a divide they would try to reconcile. Thus, this story features a slight humbling of the image of a German director: Though he is hailed as an auteur, he is slightly mocked for his accent. As NW explained, there is an actual technical origin for the phrase (possibly), but the prevalence of the other story suggests its humorous appeal as well as an address of cultural divides within the film industry.