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Film Noir Photography Workshops

September 6th 2014

In the Studio
In the studio
On Location
On location

Our two-part Film Noir workshop day took place on Saturday 6th September 2014, beginning with a studio session at the excellent Red Dawn Studio and ending with an evening location session at various locations around Aberdeen. Our models for the day were the amazing Helen Stephens as Helen the dancer, the lovely Kayleigh Morrison as the nightclub singer and owner, Duncan Kennedy as Baby Face the fresh-faced mob hitman and the mob boss was played by Howard. Makeup and hair for the female models was done by Gosia Weiss. Throughout the studio session, Jason, Doug Meldrum and Roy Clarke took turns at filling in for Howard to allow him to grab a few shots too.

The aim of this workshop was to give everyone not just an idea of the techniques used to create the images but to immerse them in the whole world of Film Noir. To this end we designed a workshop with a complete Film Noir storyline to it and encouraged everyone attending to bring any props they thought might prove useful. Everyone got really into the spirit and special mention must go to Doug Meldrum for the fantastic collection of props he brought along, including a vintage typewriter, a bakelite radio, a vintage whisky bottle and many other items.

One of the reasons for the unique lighting atmosphere in Film Noir movies was that they were very often shot on a shoestring budget, so the company may only have had one camera and one light to make the movie with. The key to creating the drama was in improvisation and we wanted people to experience that, so we used continuous lighting only in the studio, with some home-made cookies to create effects like light coming through window blinds. For the outdoor scenes, we shot at night with only street lighting, large torches bouncing off reflectors for fill and small home-made torch cookies to modify the light further for throwing highlights into faces.

The story began with nightclub singer and owner Kayleigh singing to an audience of mobsters. The back-story being that Kayleigh had been a nightclub singer for the mob and the mob boss had helped her acquire her own club but this meant that now she was beholden to the mob. So our first scene was Kayleigh singing in her club with the mob boss and one of his henchmen in the front row of the audience.

Singing for the Mob
Kayleigh sings for the mob
(with Jason standing in for Howard as Mob Boss).


In the next scene, still in the nightclub, Helen the dancer auditions. The back story here is that Helen's father was murdered because he refused to pay protection money and Helen plans to find out as much information as she can about the mob activities to help the Police convict the mob boss: to do this she needs to get inside their circle, so she auditions to dance in Kayleigh's nightclub, making an instant impression on Babyface, the hitman..

Helen Auditions
Helen auditions for Kayleigh and immediately catches the eye of Babyface, the hitman.
Image kindly supplied by Karen Kennedy

Having made a good performance at her audition, Helen then starts working for the club as a dancer and Babyface becomes a regular in the front row.

Helen dances for Babyface
Helen dances and Babyface is smitten.

Babyface asks to see Helen alone in one of the private rooms at the nightclub and the two hit it off immediately. Before long they are hopelessly in love. Helen is torn between her desire to punish the mob for what they did to her father and her infatuation with the baby-faced killer.

Babyface and Helen get close
Helen and Babyface get close.

The mob boss turns up at the club, looking for Babyface but can't find him. He seeks out Kayleigh in her dressing room and finds that Babyface and Helen have been getting very close. He demands to know where they are and Kayleigh takes him to the private room.


The Mob Boss visits Kayleigh
The mob boss visits Kayleigh.
Image kindly supplied by Karen Kennedy


Finding Helen and Babyface in a clinch, the mob boss becomes enraged and as Kayleigh pulls Helen away, he punches Babyface square on the jaw.

The Mob Boss punches Babyface
The mob boss punches Babyface as Kayleigh pulls Helen away.
Image kindly supplied by Karen Kennedy


The mob boss returns to the nightclub a few days later and confronts Kayleigh in her office. He demands to see Helen and when Kayleigh pretends not to know where she is, he pulls a gun and threatens to kill her. He says he knows who Helen is and if Kayleigh doesn't produce Helen, he will shoot her.


low key
The mob boss threatens to shoot Kayleigh if she doesn't produce Helen
(Doug standing in for Howard as the mob boss)


Kayleigh sends for Helen and when she arrives, she tries to protest her innocence but the mob boss orders Kayleigh to leave the office.


Kayleigh is ordered to leave the office
As Helen protests her innocence, the mob boss orders Kayleigh to leave the office.
Image kindly supplied by Karen Kennedy


As soon as Kayleigh is out of the office, the mob boss attacks Helen. The typewriter and radio are knocked off the desk as he tries to throttle her.

The mob boss attacks Helen
The mob boss attacks Helen.
Image kindly supplied by Karen Kennedy


Helen struggles for her life but the mob boss is too strong for her. She spots the letter opener lying on Kayleigh's desk and desperately reaches for it.


Reaching for the letter opener
Helen reaches desperately for the letter opener.
Image kindly supplied by Karen Kennedy


In a final desperate bid for survival, Helen plunges the letter opener into the mob boss's heart, killing the man who killed her father and was trying to kill her.

Helen kills the mob boss
Helen plunges the letter opener into the mob boss's heart.
Image kindly supplied by Karen Kennedy

Helen realises what she has done
A shocked Helen realises what she has just done.
(Jason standing in for Howard)


Helen goes to the private room and waits for Babyface to arrive. She tells him everything that has happened and he promises to help her escape the wrath of the mob. The young lovers plan to run away together and arrange to meet later, once Babyface has had time to pick up some money and a car for them to make their escape.

The lovers plan their escape
The young lovers plan their escape from the mob.


After darkness, Helen sneaks out of the club with her belongings in a suitcase and heads off to meet Babyface.

Helen leaves to meet Babyface
Helen sneaks out under cover of dark to meet Babyface.


Helen hurries to the rendezvous point to meet Babyface, unaware that the mob are already following her.

Helen is afraid to look back
Helen is afraid to look back, as well she should be.


At their agreed rendezvous point, Helen waits anxiously for Babyface to arrive.

Helen waits for Babyface
Helen waits anxiously for Babyface.


The lovers embrace and Babyface leads Helen to the car they will use to make good their escape.

Helen waits for Babyface
Helen and Babyface kiss under the lamplight.


The young lovers are finally happy as they make their escape from the mob...

Driving to safety
Babyface and Helen make their escape.


...Until an ominous light approaches fast through the fog from behind them.

Ominous lights appear behind them
Lights appear through the fog behind them.
(Many thanks to Roy, who brought the smoke pellets to create the fog effect).


Realising they cannot outrun the mobsters by car, Babyface and Helen abandon the car and try to make a run for it on foot through the dark back streets but a shot rings out from the shadows.

A shot rings out
As Babyface and Helen try to make a getaway on foot, a shot rings out.


And Helen falls to the ground.

A shot rings out
Helen falls to the ground, shot.


Helen dies, cradled in the arms of Babyface and the credits roll.

A shot rings out
Helen dies in the arms of Babyface.


Behind The Scenes


Everyone got really into the atmosphere and people brought along some absolutely superb props which added to the theme considerably. The models were brilliant and really brought the scenes alive too. Below are a few images from behind the scenes.


Kayleigh holding the ladder as Doug covers the smoke alarm so that the smoke machine doesn't set the alarm off during the nightclub scene.
Image kindly supplied by Karen Kennedy


Photographers chatting as they wait for their turn to shoot.
Image kindly supplied by Karen Kennedy


Howard photographing the confession scene
The mob boss makes a remarkable recovery to photograph Helen confessing the killing to Babyface.
Image kindly supplied by Karen Kennedy


Helen and Duncan waiting patiently as everything is set up for the lovers scene.


It's a wrap!
It's a wrap ~ after the final scene in the studio, it's time for a break before we head out for the first location scene.
Image kindly supplied by Karen Kennedy


We had a fantastic time producing this workshop and it was great to have so many photographers totally committed to getting the most out of it. Massive thanks are due to everyone who took part but especially our amazing models, Helen, Kayleigh and Duncan.

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