Recreating the Bold Look of Classic Film Noir

This video shows you several cinematic techniques that will help create the iconic look of film noir.

How slick is film noir? Not only did it dominate the big screen from the early 40s to the late 50s, but the look was so stylish it made fedoras cool and slatted blinds ominous. The look is so iconic, with the chiaroscuro lighting, cigarette smoke, and urban settings, that it has become a favorite among filmmakers to replicate. If you're interested in making your own work more gritty and stylized like that of a film noir, check out this video from Film Riot, which not only explains many of its stylistic elements, but gives you some history behind the film movement, as well as some simple techniques you can use to get that classic look.

There are many elements that made film noir what it was, from snappy dialog to femme fatale characters, but host Ryan Connolly highlights and breaks down a few basic visual elements that are definitely quintessential film noir.

  • Low key lighting
  • Black and white images
  • Smoke
  • Venetian blinds
  • Urban backdrops
  • Costuming

The great thing about these elements is that they're relatively easy to include in your film. Lighting is probably the most complicated out of them all to get right, but as the video demonstrates, all you really need is a couple of lights and some modifiers, like a shower curtain liner for diffusion and a cookie to create the Venetian blinds look.

However, the coolest thing the Film Riot team did in the video was create an urban setting in post, with a fake brick backdrop and a cityscape image. Now, even though it's cool, I'd be very cautious about doing this in any type of serious or important project, or if your After Effects skills aren't all that great just in case your faux background wanders too close to Tommy Wiseau Land (the cityscapes in The Room were all added in post and you can definitely tell).

Even if you're not looking to recreate an actual 1940s film noir, these techniques are great if your project calls for some stylish darkness and bleakness. Neo-noir films, like SevenMemento, and Blood Simple have taken many classic film noir elements and given them a modern makeover to great effect. So really, the stylistic possibilities are endless if you've got a vision and some creativity.     

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3 Comments

Till this day I really regret not buying a Bolex D16 monochrome camera. I was close to getting one , I used to eye that thing on their website all the time. Now Its hard to even find one on eBay or Craigslist. Besides I'm no longer in the market for a camera that cost 3-5grand at the moment. I'm hoping I can get my hands on a monochrome camera some day.

May 5, 2017 at 8:22PM, Edited May 5, 8:22PM

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I used a lot of those concepts in the music video that I did for my new CD, Ambient Jazz volume II. I really like this stuff.
https://vimeo.com/215018350

May 7, 2017 at 7:25AM

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jim fiegen
sound designer
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Film riot is always creative and informative.
Wonderful stuff.
Thanks.

May 10, 2017 at 9:39AM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
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