What Makes Film Noir Special? - Raindance

The Genre Format Series (Working Title) Extraordinaire returns this week with an emphasis on Film Noir.

Kat and Dušan are back at it again, and in this article/video we are going to explore what makes film noir so special. Some of the most memorable films from the 40s and 50s are certainly Film Noir – the legendary actresses and actors, the plot twists and stylised look of the films that made them stand the test of time.

Let’s take a look at some of the things that you as a filmmaker can incorporate into your films and learn from film noir:

Character tropes

The classic film noirs from the past had many character tropes that worked for the overall movement:

The femme fatale

Many fantastic actresses got the opportunity to portray some of the most seductive characters on screen ever – from Lauren Bacall to Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner and Barbara Stanwyck. These characters were usually used to stimulate the main protagonist in his ongoing search for the answer. Take a look at this classic scene from To Have and Have Not with the legendary Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart.


Speaking of Bogey, the lead character always seemed to be a broody detective trying to find meaning in life and solve the mystery at hand in the process. Humphrey Bogart is probably the first person you think of when film noir is mentioned, and rightfully so. The evolution of humanity, along with film and television gave more opportunities for different characters of other races and genders to step into the role of the detective – think Marvel’s Jessica Jones!


Aesthetic tropes

Even though the actors and characters are mostly what we remember when we think of these times, let us not forget the aesthetics we associate with film noir. Rain, coats, smoke and cigarettes all paint a picture of what makes these film stand out, but as a filmmaker you need to think about many other aspects of the film process apart from the set and costume designs. Think and research what kind of cameras were used back then? Camera angles and the very specific lighting that’s associated with noir? There are many things you can take away from the aesthetics and use them to better your film today!

Take a look at this classic scene from Orson Welles’ film The Lady from Shanghai starring the magnificent Rita Hayworth:

*spoiler alert*

Making a modern noir

A lot of great films since the 40s have used these elements to gain success at the box office. Think Chinatown, Blade Runner, Seven and Sin City? You have seen at least one of these films, and probably love everything about it. Whether you’re more classical or you take a Coen-like approach, if you’re thinking of making a mystery/crime film, why not consider how noir tropes work for you and hybridise your genres? There are so many ways to stylize your film and make choices that can create a similar foreboding noir atmosphere e.g. the rain in Seven, or interesting camera angles (images constantly reflected in mirrors/through bannisters/with something obscuring the frame to insinuate their agenda). Change the gender of your characters or just adjust the lighting to fit your own vision and you will come up with something completely unique and striking to show your audience

.Related image

(Rita Hayworth in Gilda)

Have fun with exploring this movement and never stop making films. The more you create – the further you will go.

Yours in film and mystery,

Dušan & Kat

Check out other genres from our series like comedy or horror or musicals!

Read more about Kathryn Butt here!

Why not try our Power of Lighting course and experiment with your own film noir inspired movie?



Dušan (pronounced (Scooby) Doo Shawn) joined the Raindance team as Campaign and Community Manager in 2018 after pursuing an extensive career in reviewing cheese. After acquiring a BA in Media and Marketing in Serbia, he completed an extensive year in filmmaking which lead to an MA in Film and TV Production from the Cambridge School of Arts. You can find him vigorously supporting indie filmmakers whilst pursuing a career in acting at the same time.

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