Graphic Design / Photography Inspiration Blog

Shadows, Trenchcoats, and Mystery: Creating Your Own Film Noir Movie


If you love the 1940s so much, maybe you should marry that era. No, really. Seal the deal by making a stylized film. It’s called “Film Noir” and it’s one of the most popular styles of all time. Usually, in the films, it’s not the damsel that’s in distress but the male protagonist. The mood and style is very different from what you find today, and there’s a certain edgy feel, along with the dialog, that’s “hard edged.” Here’s how to replicate that for your film project.

Master The Lighting

Lighting for film noir is notoriously dark and shadowy. Ever see The Maltese Falcon? This is basically what you want to recreate in your film. Harsh, low-key lighting should come across all of your subjects. The idea isn’t to cast a lot of light and eliminate shadow, but rather envelop subjects in shades of grey and black.

It’s an inherently edgy style and it should look as much.

Master The Camera You’re Using

You’ll want to use a low ISO setting on your camera for higher film speed when doing shoots with your digital camera. This will reduce noise, which can ruin the details in your high-contrast shots. And, in noir films, it’s all about the contrast. What you’re trying to do with this type of film is capture just enough of the subject so that you can see isolated details of his or her face or body, but not so much that everything is clearly in view.

Use Hard-Boiled Heroes

Your heroes in the film are going to have to be hard-boiled, preferably detectives. OK, they don’t have to be detectives, but this is the tradition of the style. The male protagonists are often anti-heroes, while the female leads are anything but in distress. Usually, they’re the brassy trouble-makers who drag the males into their schemes.

Use Gobos

A “gobo” is a “go between.” It’s an object that intersects your primary light source and the object being filmed. Usually, “”gobos” are used to create or enhance a feeling in the film. For example, the shadow of jail cell bars on the sidewalk gives you the dark mental image of a dark jail cell.

A shadow of a man in a hat casting a long shadow on the sidewalk or road gives you the impression that something sinister or devious is about to happen.

Don’t Restrict Yourself To Black and White

Not all of your films need to be in black and white. After all, films like The Reservoir Dogs was filmed in color, yet paid homage to the old film noir style of the ‘40s and ‘50s.

Edit and Share

When you’ve finished shooting your film, and it’s ready to be edited, you’re probably going to need a paid editing app like Final Cut Pro X or Adobe’s suite to finish the project and do the voiceovers.

When you’re ready to share your finished project, consider downloading a P2P file sharing client from It’s one of the better clients out there, and it has lots of interesting features. One of the best things about P2P file sharing is that you’re sharing directly with other individuals, and you can spread your film around to a lot of people, gaining grass-roots support.

Alternatively, you can try uploading your film to sites like YouTube or Vimeo, but these sites restrict your video length and change the format. On the upside, you still have a lot of control over who sees it, and you could end up becoming a hit on either of these video sharing sites.

Robert McDermott’s career as a videographer is full of great art and challenges. With years of experience creating fun and beautiful projects, he enjoys inspiring others to produce and share their own unique memories.

Featured image credit: ShutterStock

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