5 Lessons from Hitchcock
“What is drama but life, with the dull bits cut out”- Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock is often ranked as one the greatest director’s and filmmakers of all time. Hitchcock was a pioneer of the psychological thriller genre and was especially skilful in creating tense, atmospheric films. Hitchcock famously said: “there is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” It is perhaps for this reason that his films have stood the test of time; after all, he was nicknamed “the master of suspense.”
But what can aspiring filmmakers, scriptwriters and directors learn from Hitchcock? Here are our top 5 Lessons from Hitchcock:
Hitchcock never relied on expensive special affects and jump scares like many of todays big blockbusters. Think about the infamous shower scene from ‘Psycho’. The anticipation builds, as the murder is about to take place. Hitchcock made clever use of camera angles to ensure that the viewer never actually sees the stabbing and yet the scene is still as terrifying today as it was 60 years ago.
“My suspense work comes out of creating nightmares for the audience. And I play with an audience. I make them gasp and surprise them and shock them,” Alfred Hitchcock.
- The ‘Gaze’
Hitchcock had a gift for making the viewer feel that they were experiencing the film through the eyes of the character. This is referred to as ‘point of view (POV) editing’ as the camera follows the characters ‘gaze’. Next time you watch ‘Vertigo’ notice how POV editing is used extensively to unravel the mystery. Also examine how POV editing contributes to the voyeuristic elements of the film and how this may change the meaning.
- The Story
Can you name one Hitchcock film where you struggled to keep up with the plot? This was deliberate- Hitchcock kept the story simple and removed anything superfluous. His films often had linear plot lines and had plot twists- he let his characters and their emotions drive the story. Think about the plot of ‘Rear Window’. How did a movie about a person stuck in an apartment become a tense, psychological drama?
Sometimes you can learn more about a character, not by what they say, but by what they don’t say. Consider ‘North by Northwest’. Roger Thornhill is completely confused as the why he is being framed for murder. Notice how Thornhill’s gaze breaks eye contact with the person his speaking to.
“People don’t always express their inner thoughts to one another. A conversation may be quite trivial, but often the eyes will reveal what a person thinks or needs,” says Hitchcock. How does Thornhill’s gaze make you part of his thought process?
Last but not least, have fun with it! “For me, suspense doesn’t have any value if it’s not balanced by humour,” – Alfred Hitchcock. Notice the cameo characters in Hitchcock’s films that lighten the mood or the ironic situations that characters often find themselves in. Who can forget the auction scene in “North by Northwest.” Cary Grant is on the run from hit men and finds himself posing as a difficult bidder in an exclusive auction house.
Hitchcock’s films have remained classics throughout the decades. His timeless directing and attention to characters and suspense are his signature hallmarks that will be studied for many years to come.
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