The Director’s Chair Issue #148 – December 10, 2013 (How Hitchcock can Save your Film)
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December 10, 2013 Scene 14 – Take 11
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4. Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling
5. FEATURE ARTICLE: How Hitchcock can Save your Film
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8. Filmmaking Links of Interest
9. Product Promotion and Film Workshops
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Welcome to Issue #148 of The Director’s Chair, Dec. 10, 2013
1. The Feature Article this month is called: “How Hitchcock can
Save your Film” by Jeffrey Michael Bays. Whether your next film
is a thriller or a comedy, naturally your most important concern
is whether the material connects emotionally with the audience.
Your ultimate goal is to lure them in and make them forget they
are watching a movie. The true master of the audience was
director Alfred Hitchcock. (Read full article below.)
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4. Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling
Stephan Vladimir Bugaj has an ebook with an elaboration of each
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friendly action drama. This role was the result of mentoring with
various Pixar heads of story and directors starting in 2004.
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production roles have also given him extensive expertise in most
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On the live action side, he currently has features in development
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directed several low/no-budget short films.
Check out his website here: http://www.bugaj.com/
5. Feature Article: How Hitchcock can Save your Film
“How Hitchcock can Save your Film” by Jeffrey Michael Bays
Whether your next film is a thriller or a comedy, naturally your
most important concern is whether the material connects
emotionally with the audience. Your ultimate goal is to lure
them in and make them forget they are watching a movie. The true
master of the audience was director Alfred Hitchcock.
The master made more than fifty feature films, and twenty TV
episodes. Alfred Hitchcock (known by his colleagues as Hitch)
not only was a pioneer in directing, his insights into the craft
of visual storytelling are to this day unmatched. He knew
precisely how to manipulate the expectations of the audience,
when to reveal plot information and when to conceal it. His
camera paid close attention to eyes and glances, revealing his
characters’ inner feelings. Most uniquely, he treated tragedy
with a sense of humor, making his films all the more
So when it comes to forming a close bond with your audience,
Hitch is the most natural director to turn to for guidance. He
was the Master of Suspense, but in “suspense” what he was really
talking about was generating empathy toward the characters on
screen. In order to do this, he had to break the cliche. He had
to turn filmmaking conventions upside down, and in the process
dispelled some common myths about cinematic storytelling.
Let’s see how many of these you’ve been guilty of:
(1) Filmmaking Myth #1: I want suspense, so my film should be
dark and creepy.
False. Hitch proved many times over that suspense can be
achieved (and even heightened) in bright, sunny atmospheres.
Just look at the crop duster scene in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, where
he placed an attempted murder in an empty farm field in
He was also an advocate of comic openings for all drama. By
starting your film with playful music and a comic mood, you warm
up your audience and win their affection. Once the audience is
laughing and bonding with your characters, you start to introduce
the drama. This drama has more impact because it contrasts so
starkly with the comedy, and your audience now cares about the
Starting dark and creepy may create a sense of curiosity and
mystery, but it will leave your audience yawning.
(2) Filmmaking Myth #2: My villain must be sinister, ugly, and
Nope. According to Hitch, audiences can’t relate to professional
criminals, serial killers, and mindless evil. If they can’t
relate, they won’t feel suspense.
Allow your audience to have empathy with your villain. When your
audience starts to care about your bad guy, they feel story on a
deeper level. Hitchcock revolutionized this narrative boundary
between good and evil, making both sides imperfect and vulnerable
to making mistakes.
It’s similar to a football game. We don’t know which team is
going to win, so the game is full of suspense. Now, you might
not like the opposing team, but you appreciate their skills.
Imagine a game between humans on one side and cardboard cutouts
on the other. How excited would the fans be when the humans win
If your villain is placed into your story only as a cardboard
placeholder to give the hero something to fight against, it is
not a suspenseful villain. Your villain must be personable,
funny, easy going, and we must believe in the logic behind
his/her goals. After all, as Hitch once said: The more
successful the villain, the more successful the picture.
(3) Filmmaking Myth #3: Dialogue is the most important thing in
Not if your audience is awake. From the Hitchcockian standpoint,
dialogue is just a meaningless sound coming out of the mouths of
the actors. When your characters are talking, something else in
the scene should be the focus of the camera.
Something aside from the topic of conversation should be the
focus of a dialogue scene; either a withheld secret by a
character, a glance accented in a close-up, or a trivial
In SABOTAGE, a woman is cutting her food with a knife. Hitchcock
makes this knife the focus of the scene while the trivial
conversation is about the bad food. By making the knife the
center of attention for the audience, we feel her guilt
surrounding a murder.
Hitch often treated dialogue like a composer would music, paying
special attention to rhythms, movements, and crescendos. He
coached each actor carefully on where he wanted a pause, a
glance, or a nervous stumble in order to call attention to
(4) Filmmaking Myth #4: Suspense requires music score.
Surprisingly no. Hitch believed that music only gets in the way
during tense moments of crisis. It is no coincidence that with
his first sound film BLACKMAIL he pioneered the use of silence as
a dramatic device.
The lack of music brings foreboding reality to the forefront.
You hear everything the characters hear; every footstep, every
creak. The small details of background become part of the
tension, bringing you closer into the moment.
Hitch made entire films without music score (THE BIRDS is one)
and most of his murder scenes were music-less. He tended to use
music in the more comedic parts of his films, but once the crisis
breaks out, music disappears in favor of stark realism.
(5) Filmmaking Myth #5: Keep things from my audience and they’ll
Wrong. Hitch said that clear thinking is essential to suspense.
Anything that adds to confusion is going to dissipate the bond
with the audience. This even means your characters need to look
and dress differently to each other so they can be quickly
recognized on screen. If they all have the same haircuts, you’ll
In order to create the Hitchcockian brand of suspense, you must
create a situation where the audience knows clearly what’s going
to happen, but is helpless to stop it. To do this, your audience
must know more than the characters do. By playing on the
viewer’s empathy, you generate a visceral interest in the success
of the characters’ plans.
This doesn’t mean you can’t trick your audience. By all means,
lead them down the wrong path and then surprise them with a
twist. As long as they felt the clarity of danger unfolding,
they’ll love you for it.
For an easy-to-use guidebook on putting more of Hitchcock’s
techniques into practice, see my eBook ‘How to Turn Your Boring
Movie into a Hitchcock Thriller’ now available on Kindle:
Further articles on Hitchcock techniques can be found at my
Jeffrey Michael Bays is author of ‘How to Turn Your Boring Movie
into a Hitchcock Thriller’ as well as ‘Between the Scenes: What
Every Film Director, Writer and Editor Should Know about Scene
Transitions,’ and he offers a Hitchcockian script consulting
service. He is both a director and film scholar with an MA in
Cinema Studies from La Trobe University, Australia. He is also
writer and producer of XM Satellite Radio’s award-winning drama
‘Not From Space’ (2003), recently listed by Time Out magazine as
among the top five most essential radio plays of all time.
6. Film Directing Coach – Peter D. Marshall
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Rafael Nadal’s coach urged him on from the sidelines during his
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Arnold Palmer improved his game with the help of a coach. Even
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2. The Screen Directors Guild of Ireland http://www.sdgi.ie/ has
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In this, the second year of the scheme,
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8. Filmmaking Links of Interest
1. Filmmaking Tips for When Times Get Tough from Director Mike
2. 6 Filmmaking Tips from Roger Deakins
3. Why You Should Be Making Experimental Films
4. Wim Wenders Shares His 50 Rules of Filmmaking
5. 15 Golden Rules of Filmmaking from John Waters, Wim Wenders
& Jim Jarmusch http://bit.ly/1fPAOpD
6. The Art of Editing in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
7. 3 Simple But Critical Filmmaking Tips From Director Ron Howard
8. 6 Filmmaking Tips from Steve McQueen
9. 10 Zero-Budget Filmmaking Tips
10. 5 Tips to Direct Your First Music Video
9. Product Promotion And Film Workshops
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