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6.26.2013

SCRIPT TO SCREEN: Alfred Hitchcock on planning the shots


"You see, it is very, very essential that you know ahead of time something of the orchestration: in other words, image size. What I mean by orchestration is, take the close-up, well, that's like in music: the brass sounding brassy, loud sound before you need it. Sometimes you see films cut such that the close-up comes in early, and by the time you really need it, it has lost its effect because you've used it already.

Now, I'll give you an example where a juxtaposition of the image size is also very important. For example, one of the biggest effects in PSYCHO was where the detective went up the stairs. THE PICTURE WAS DESIGNED TO CREATE FEAR IN AN AUDIENCE AND THEN GRADUALLY TRANSFER FROM THE SCREEN INTO THEIR MINDS. HENCE, THE VERY VIOLENT MURDER TO START WITH, ANOTHER ONE LESS VIOLENT -- AND MORE FRIGHTENING -- AND THEY'VE GOT THE THING IN THEIR MIND. Then, as the film goes on there is no more violence. But in the mind of the audience, and in the anticipation of it, it is all there. Here is the shot of the detective, simple shot going up the stairs , he reaches the top stairs, the next cut is the camera as high as it can go, it was on the ceiling, you see the figure run out, raised knife, it comes down, bang, the biggest head you can put on the screen. But that big head has no impact unless the previous shot had been so far away.

So, that is just where your orchestration comes in, where you design the setup. That's why you can't just guess those things on the set." ~~Alfred Hitchcock



Jeffrey Michael Bays, author of How to Turn Your Boring Movie into a Hitchcock Thriller, also has some very good points about Hitchcock's shot planning that can serve filmmakers well.  The 2 below I chose because they are directly relevant to the scene above and the points Hitchcock was making in his quote. Jeffrey has more lessons through Hitchcock that filmmakers should know and I recommend checking them out here:

FRAME FOR EMOTION - Emotion (in the form of fear, laughter, surprise, sadness, anger, boredom, etc.) is the ultimate goal of each scene.  The first consideration of where to place the camera should involve knowing what emotion you want the audience to experience at that particular time.  Emotion comes directly from the actor's eyes.  You can control the intensity of that emotion by placing the camera close or far away from those eyes.  A close-up will fill the screen with emotion, and pulling away to a wide angle shot will dissipate that emotion.  A sudden cut from wide to close-up will give the audience a sudden surprise.  Sometimes a strange angle above an actor will heighten the dramatic meaning.  (Truffaut)

Hitchcock used this theory of proximity to plan out each scene. These varations are a way of controlling when the audience feels intensity, or relaxation.  Hitchcock compared this to a composer writing a music score - except instead of playing instruments, he's playing the audience!
MONTAGE GIVES YOU CONTROL - Divide action into a series of close-ups shown in succession.  Don't avoid this basic technique.   This is not the same as throwing together random shots into a fight sequence to create confusion.  Instead, carfully chose a close-up of a hand, an arm, a face, a gun falling to the floor - tie them all together to tell a story.  In this way you can portray an event by showing various pieces of it and having control over the timing. You can also hide parts of the event so that the mind of the audience is engaged. (Truffaut)
Hitchcock said this was "transferring the menace from the screen into the mind of the audience." (Schickel)  The famous shower scene in Psycho uses montage to hide the violence.  You never see the knife hitting Janet Leigh.  The impression of violence is done with quick editing, and the killing takes place inside the viewer's head rather than the screen.  Also important is knowing when not to cut. (Truffaut)

Basic rule: anytime something important happens, show it in a close-up.  Make sure the audience can see it.  

Below, Jeffrey further investigates all of Hitchcock's techniques using video:


Also for a lesson-guided overview of Hitchcock's production process through every stage, visit: http://alfredhitchcock.wordpress.com/about/

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