Showing posts with label Alfred Hitchcock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alfred Hitchcock. Show all posts

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Monday Morning Mixer - 8.26.13

Captain's Log.
Star date: 08.26.13

August 26, 1948 - Hitchcock's Rope released

By 1948, Hitchcock was considered one of Hollywood’s most distinctive, if not finest, filmmakers. And Rope, being his first film from his own production company Transatlantic Pictures, was going to show audiences just what he could do free from studios and producers, like David O. Selznick. Hitchcock settled on dark (even for him) material. The film’s story is a loose retelling of the infamous 1924 Loeb and Leopold murder case in which two very bright, gay students murder a child to prove they can. Patrick Hamilton wrote the play which was adapted by actor Hume Cronyn and playwright  Arthur Laurents. The film ditched all the details of the original crime except the homosexuality and the homicide. In the film, the central couple (played by John Dall and Farley Granger) are two brilliant men who live together and, for all to surmise, are lovers. While their relationship is never named, it was clear enough to many theater owners who banned the film. But even more daring was its execution. Hitchcock wanted to make a film that appeared to have been shot as a single take. Cutting only when the camera settled on dark spaces, Hitchcock created the illusion that the film was taking place in real space and real time. But the reviewers were not amused.  The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther stated, “The film was derided as a trick, an experiment, an exercise in style... novelty of the picture is not in the drama itself, it being a plainly deliberate and rather thin exercise in suspense, but merely in the method which Mr. Hitchcock has used to stretch the intended tension for the length of the little stunt.” ~~ Focus Features
To make a film is to constantly ask questions; What is your story about? Who do you cast in it? How do you shoot it? etc.  But after a while, once you figure out what works, you may find yourself in a monotonous pattern of filmmaking.  Maybe that's what happened to Hitchcock even though he was a master. And maybe that's why he chose to do something different with Rope once he had the leverage to be independent from the studio system.  As independent filmmakers, you are already freed from the shackles of the studio system (although, many of you would probably appreciate the financial stability the shackles provide, [but I digress]) but monotony is still a threat to your creativity. So, to prevent the monotony from settling in, here are two questions to ask yourself on your next project: 
  1. What kind of stylistic or aesthetic experimentation can you partake with your film? 
  2. What controversial subject matter can you tackle?    
And then here are some more questions to grow on...

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:

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