260mc tasks: Final task: Western Motel


Task: create a 4-6 minute cinematic response to Edward Hopper’s, Western Motel.

Initial reactions:

  • 1940/50’s
  • bold colours
  • tarantino movie influence?
  • suitcase contents?
  • red dress, representation?

An American New Realist painter, Hopper’s main work reveals the interior of everyday urban buildings and the interaction of that environment with it’s residents. Windows and light are prominent, and the themes of boredom, loneliness and resignation.

The subject seems pensive. Looking out, waiting for something to happen, ‘for the action to begin’. We reflected this in the long pause before our actress moves from the bed. An underlying fear/apprehension is balanced with her strength. She appears to be daring us to lose eye contact, to look away first, and this is where I developed our film’s narrative from.

The setting, the suitcase, the strong female lead and the use of lines and shadow led us to film noir and it’s more recent predecessor, neo-noir. I researched The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Touch of Evil (1958 ) through to modern day noirs like Pulp Fiction (1994), Memento (2000) and Better Call Saul (2015-)

I looked at film noir’s tropes, researched it’s plot lines and pondered whether noir even was a genre in the true sense. Most theorists agreed the majority center around crime, have non classical narrative patterns often using flashbacks, voice overs or montage and have a non-chronological revealing of the narratives events.

Conard, M.T. and Porfirio, R. (2006) The philosophy of film noir. United States: The University Press of Kentucky.
(Conard and Porfirio, 2006)

I selected some stills from classic noir that we kept for reference. Lighting and shadow were going to be the main tools in perfecting our pastiche so I researched the influence Caravaggio and Rembrandt’s paintings and the German Expressionist film movement had on how most noir’s were lit and set. Using strong back lighting and less fill lights, often because low budgets dictated fewer lights available, and using the rule of thirds in scene composition.

FilmmakerIQ (2016b) The basics of lighting for film noir. Available at: http://filmmakeriq.com/lessons/the-basics-of-lighting-for-film-noir/ (Accessed: 14 November 2016).
(FilmmakerIQ, 2016b)

I developed our plot around a Femme Fatale who shot her husband and was now fleeing with a final piece of incriminating evidence she needed to dispose of. She carries a mysterious suitcase which we never see the bottom of and is never far from her side.


leicaTo recreate the look of film noir we used vintage lenses with a modern dslr. We had a Leica and a Pentacon 50mm but found the Pentacon most adaptable to our shot list.

We researched John Alton’s cinematography style and Saul Bass’s poster and opening titles artwork.

We attended a lecture by Reed O’Beirne who explained that a short film’s credits need to be as good, if not better, than our films and we have taken this to heart.

Emerald Reels presents Reed O’Beirne (1995) Available at: http://www.emeraldreels.com/reed.htm (Accessed: 8 December 2016).
(Emerald Reels presents Reed O’Beirne, 1995)
We booked out the green screen in the TV studio and filmed a silhouette of our actress and suitcase that we could incorporate into our titles.Although we would have loved to totally step back in time for our film the lack of locations and budget let us down so we opted for new meets old style, like the remake of Psycho (1998) where the setting was present day but the wardrobe and some props were vintage.


The opening scene was to feature our protagonist looking down the barrel of a smoking gun. The gun and smoke were to be of main importance so needed to stay in sharp focus, and have the most light, while our actresses face needed less light and could fall into soft focus, just enough for her to be recognisable to the audience as the shooter when we see her in the following scene.


I secured a hotel room to film our second scene and the bed, carpet and wallpaper really echoed Hopper’s use of strong lines and colour.

I tried to use the natural light from the window along with lamps in the room. Adding an LED and small spotlight for emphasis when our protagonist finally discovers the lost handkerchief at the climax of the scene.


The final night scene proved most challenging but filming in November was an advantage, drizzle and light fog made our dark cobbled street very atmospheric. We used the street’s overhead light as back lighting with an additional side light. Two LED panels mimicked police search lights. A strip LED was used for fill lighting on the face and we tried to harness the dark shadows as a background for our femme fatale to merge into.

My role was as Producer/Director/Cinematographer and helped to direct the editing process. As a group we rotated many roles and everyone tried to input as many ideas as possible. This seemed to work really well and I am proud of our final piece.

If I could improve anything I would improve time management. We needed longer to perfect our edit with attention to color grading and contrast. I’d also like to add in an additional shot of our actress stepping into the doorway before the close up. It would give the audience more information, yet something we didn’t consider until the edit when we had no time to shoot additional scenes.


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30774, fra (2012) 26 movie opening sequence with a great idea. Available at: https://thisisnotadvertising.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/26-movie-opening-sequence-with-a-great-idea/ (Accessed: 3 December 2016).

Artist, C. and work, orphan (1957) Western motel. Available at: http://artgallery.yale.edu/collections/objects/52875 (Accessed: 4 November 2016).

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Bunge, M. (2014) Psycho (1960) vs. Psycho (1998). Available at: http://kimt.com/2014/11/14/psycho-1960-vs-psycho-1998/ (Accessed: 26 November 2016).

Conard, M.T. and Porfirio, R. (2006) The philosophy of film noir. United States: The University Press of Kentucky.

Crowther, B. (1989) Film noir: Reflections in a dark mirror. New York: Continuum Intl Pub Group.

Double Indemnity (1944) Available at: https://www.netflix.com/title/60030178 (Accessed: 10 November 2016).

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FilmmakerIQ (2016a) 5 elements of a great Chroma key. Available at: http://filmmakeriq.com/lessons/5-elements-of-a-great-chromakey/ (Accessed: 1 December 2016).

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Renée, V. (2014) Fog, smoke, & haze: The Swiss army knives of cinematography tools. Available at: http://nofilmschool.com/2014/05/fog-smoke-haze-the-swiss-army-knives-of-cinematography-tools (Accessed: 27 November 2016).

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www, P. (2009) Western motel, 1957 by Edward hopper. Available at: http://www.edwardhopper.net/western-motel.jsp (Accessed: 4 November 2016).


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