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The Greatest Movie & Movie Maker Ever

Hitchcock. The name is the stuff of Hollywood legends…and he remains one of the most intriguing personalities in Hollywood history.


Known as the Master of Suspense, Hitchcock was the Steven Spielberg of his day. Can you tell which is the real Hitchcock? Hint, he’s the one in black and white. Sir Anthony Hopkins (on the left) plays Hitchcock in the 2012 film of the same name.  

By the mid-1950s, Alfred Hitchcock was already acknowledged by Tinsel Town as a master of suspense and had created some of the best movies ever made.

Films like Notorious, Rear Window, and Suspicion put the director well above his peers of the day. The director also popularized the term “MacGuffin” and the technique. Recently the filmmaker returned to theaters, this time in the biopic Hitchcock, and while the movie hasn’t exactly set the box office on fire, it has gotten Hollywood talking about (another) Oscar nomination for Sir Anthony Hopkins and his co-star Helen Mirren.

So what’s the attraction to this old school filmmaker?

A Star on Both Sides of the Camera
Through his 1950s TV show Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Hitchcock made himself a star. The tubby and bald Hitchcock (always dressed in a formal dark suit and tie, like a mortician) had a dry and wicked sense of humor.

He spoke in a thick British accent, and gracefully introduced each of the short thrillers his program showcased. He was unlike anything else American TV audiences had ever seen, and the show made him famous as a television host, completely independent of his fame as a director.


Film audiences already knew a Hitchcock in part from cameos in each of his suspense movies. TV audiences learned quickly the director could also be outrageously funny.

By the late 1950s Hitchcock was solidly established as one of Hollywood’s most dependable money-makers. So it may come as a shock to learn that Paramount Studios had virtually no faith in Hitchcock’s next project—an adaptation of a book about murder and madness in a rundown motel. In fact, it made no sense to any studio execs why the Robert Bloch novel shocker titled Psycho  was such a labor of love for Hitchcock.

That’s the story behind the new Hitchcock—the tension between “Hitch” and the studio honchos as Hitchcock tries to get his cinematic classic made. What will the master director risk in order to gamble on making a modern masterpiece? And how will the public react to such a risky piece of filmmaking?

How Psycho Broke the Mold
Psycho was revolutionary for Hollywood filmmaking on many levels. Here are a few ways Hitchcock challenged the format of the day:

  • The female is lead is killed off only a half hour into the film.
  • The movie boldly showed a bathroom shower scene (very daring for 1960) and the murder there.
  • It was a big-studio feature that chose black-and-white photography at a time when nearly all Hollywood films had switched to color.

 
Two years before Psycho Hitchcock made another future classic, the psychological drama Vertigo. The film, about a former police detective obsessed with the image of his late wife, has been championed by today’s most respected directors, including Martin Scorsese, who presided over a careful 1996 restoration of the original film. The film is probably best known for its dramatic use of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge as a setting for some of the movie’s key scenes.

The Greatest Movie…Ever?
Recently the respected British film magazine “Sight & Sound” announced the results of its 2012 poll of film directors and critics. Since 1952, and in each decade following, the magazine has conducted the poll, which asks film folks to list the greatest films ever made. Critic Roger Ebert has called it “by far the most respected of the countless polls of great movies—the only one most serious movie people take seriously.”


Hitchcock’s 1958 Vertigo was recently named the best all-time motion picture.

This year’s poll created a sensation when the long-established top film of all time, Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane, was dethroned by a Hitchcock film—and it was not Psycho (which many fans consider his most powerful work). Instead, the film that was most universally admired in the “Sight & Sound” poll was 1958’s Vertigo, starring Hitchcock-favorite James Stewart and Kim Novak.

A Living Legacy
Alfred Hitchcock received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, but never won a Best Director Oscar, nor did any of his films ever win “Best Picture.” No matter; for anyone interested in learning movie making and film production, Hitchcock remains an important and inspirational figure. The 57 films he made over the course of his 54-year career are treasured as some of Hollywood’s finest and most enduring creations.

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posted by Phill Powell in News Blog and have No Comments

Behind the Scenes of “The Avengers”: The Storyboarding Process

“The Avengers” continues to set box office records. The reason? It’s a fun and well made movie. Behind the film were literally hundreds of artists (both traditional and digital) who brought the director’s vision to life.


A scene from “The Avengers,” in storyboard form.

For any special-effects movie (including “The Avengers”), after the script has been written, one of the first parts of the pre-production process is visualizing what the scenes will look like. For this process, storyboarding is essential; set designers, filmmakers and digital artists will all use the storyboards as a blueprint.

What are Storyboards? 
Storyboards are hand-drawn panels that show filmmakers how each scene will look. Storyboards usually look almost like comic-book panels, except without those little word balloons. Storyboards are primarily used for camera setups and effects shots where the effect will be created later, but they extremely helpful for the entire process.

For Marvel Studios’ “The Avengers,” the filmmakers enlisted artist Federico D’Alessandro.  D’Alessandro is the Head Storyboard Artist and Animatic Supervisor at Marvel Studios. He’s currently overseeing storyboards for “Iron Man 3,” but is also known for his work on “I Am Legend,” ”The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” ”Where the Wild Things Are,” ”The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” “Thor” and ”Captain America: The First Avenger.”


Federico D’Alessandro, Head Storyboard Artist and Animatic Supervisor, at his desk in Marvel Studios.

“A storyboard artist can progress to working as a director, which is something I always wanted to be. What I enjoy most is having control over how my vision is conveyed to the viewer,” D’Alessandro said in a interview. ”That means not only representing what the scene looks like in my head, but how it feels. When I create an animatic, I want the viewer to have an emotional experience. That means having control over not only the visual storytelling, but the pacing, the sound design and the musical cues. When all of that comes together and I’m able to show the viewer the same scene I imagined, that’s enormously gratifying.”


The battle sequence between Iron-Man and Thor was planned out using storyboards (click image for a larger view).

The Origins of Storyboarding
The storyboarding process was first developed by Walt Disney in the 1930s at Walt Disney Studios. In the biography “The Story of Walt Disney,” Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller remembered that the first complete storyboards were created for the animated short “Three Little Pigs.” The process evolved from “story sketches” that Walt would have artists create to set up key scenes.

Disney artist and animator Webb Smith was credited with the idea of drawing scenes individually and then pinning them to a bulletin board (hence the term “storyboard”). Within a few years, the idea had been adopted by other studios and by 1938 storyboarding was a standard practice.

“Gone With the Wind” (1939) was one of the first live action films to be completely storyboarded. William Cameron Menzies was hired by producer David O. Selznick to design each shot. The great suspense director Alfred Hitchcock relied heavily upon storyboarding, so much so that a myth emerged that he never bothered to look through the camera’s viewfinder to set up any shots.

In addition to storyboards, animatics are also used to help filmmakers visualize the story. Animatics are animated storyboards. These give filmmakers a way to see the action in real time, so shots can be planned.


For a sequence in “The Avengers” in which Black Widow attempts to take down an airborne alien, several drawings were required to convey the action.

Creating the Action
Learning movie making is not as simple as learning to point a camera. There are several skills that go into making a film, including scriptwriting, editing and, of course, storyboarding. Good directors (and for that matter, good filmmakers) understand that it takes more than one person to make a film and to use the latest technology available, while not forgetting the tried-and-true techniques that have worked for years.

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posted by Vince Matthews in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

Hitchcock and PSYCHO: A Love Story

Alfred Hitchcock, cinema’s all-time master director of suspense, is set to return to the big screen in 2013. “Hitch,” as he was called, influenced both the horror genre and forever left his stamp on the craft of filmmaking. We take a sneak peek at the new biography and the film’s star.


A larger than life presence: the great director Alfred Hitchcock works his magic.

Bringing Hitchcock Back
In the new film “Hitchcock,” Anthony Hopkins (best known as Hannibal Lector and more recently as Thor’s father Odin), will star as Alfred Hitchcock with Helen Mirren portraying Hitchcock’s beloved wife Alma. The Fox Searchlight production will be directed by Sacha Gervasi and co-produced by Ivan Reitman, of “Ghostbusters” fame.

“Hitchcock” will concentrate on the lifelong love story between the famous director and his wife. The backdrop for the story: the 1960 production of Hitchcock’s brilliant terror masterpiece, “Psycho,” a film many critics still consider the greatest horror film ever made.

Shooting on “Hitchcock” began last week in Los Angeles, with the cast being rounded out by Scarlett Johansson (as actress Janet Leigh, who portrayed the ill-fated Marion Crane in “Psycho”), Jessica Biel (as actress Vera Miles, who also starred in the original film) and actor James D’Arcy (who will play Anthony Perkins, an actor who gained tremendous notoriety based on his performance as “Psycho”’s deranged Norman Bates).


Hitchcock on the set of “Psycho,” setting up the shower scene…


…And Sir Anthony Hopkins, in full makeup, displaying the famous director’s profile in the new film “Hitchcock.” 

Hitchcock’s challenges to get “Psycho” made are legendary in Hollywood circles: The master director eventually was forced to fund the entire $800,000 budget himself and save money by utilizing the shooting crew from his celebrated TV program. Once released, however, the film (which the studio didn’t want to make) caused an international sensation and earned its director and producer both financial success and and a reputation as filmdom’s Master of Suspense.

Based on Stephen Rebello’s outstanding book, “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,” (which detailed Hitchcock’s struggles to get the project produced, despite a complete lack of interest in making the film by Universal Studios) “Hitchcock” could be an Oscar contender.


Ever the prankster, Hitchcock released this publicity shot of him sitting in the set chair of “Psycho”‘s very dead Mrs. Bates.

Meet the Masters in Film School 
Serious about becoming a filmmaker? Then learn how to make a movie this summer at film camp. Learn about the techniques that masters like Hitchcock used to make movies. If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, there’s no better time to learn the craft than now. Tools like Final Cut Pro X and After Effects make it easier than ever before to bring your cinematic vision to life. Who knows? You might have what it takes to be the next Alfred Hitchcock.

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

A Tribute: Alfred Hitchcock, Legendary Moviemaker and “Master of Suspense”

If you’re considering a career in filmmaking you’re probably studying the masters. Directors like Alfred Hitchcock. Maybe you’ve heard of him? He created such vintage thrillers as “Rear Window,” “The Birds” and “Vertigo,” but Hitch saved his most outlandish filmmaking tricks for a black-and-white classic called “Psycho.”


Hitchcock wasn’t kidding: Armed guards were posted in theaters to keep stragglers from wandering in after the film had started. Hitchcock felt that if the audience came into the picture too late, they would have no idea what was going on. 

Made in 1960, “Psycho” was the most shocking film audiences of the day had ever seen. And for a long time, it was considered the most frightening movie ever made. Even now, it ranks high on the list of movie thrillers and horror films.

Making Crazy
Considering it’s revered as a classic, it’s amazing to think that Universal Studios (the studio that backed Hitchcock) didn’t even want to make the movie. Hitchcock ended up financing it himself, using the production crew from his television show. Universal provided the set – building the famous Bates Motel and the Bates house on the Universal back lot, where both remain to this day. The film’s production budget? About $800,000 – a relatively small budget for a major picture, even in 1960.

Hitchcock’s “Psycho” is now world-renowned as a Hollywood classic and worth looking into for several reasons. However,”Psycho” is best known for “the shower scene.” Like Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws,” it’s what the audience doesn’t see that scared the heck out of ‘em.


Hitchcock and crew worked on the famous shower scene for seven full days.

Hitchcock was notorious for pulling the rug out from beneath his audience. He’d lead you down one path and suddenly leave you wondering why you didn’t end up where you thought you were going. But in addition to being a master storyteller, he was also a tireless perfectionist – using 70 camera set-ups to produce the necessary 45 seconds of footage for the shower scene.

Pysche-ing Out the Audience
Hitchcock used other clever tricks to psyche out “Psycho’s” audience too. Like refusing to let anyone into the theater after the film had started, and enforcing this rule with actual security guards who were posted at selected theaters during the film’s first run. (The reason is obvious, once you watch the movie.) Did the unusual approach to taking a film this serious pay off? You bet it did.)

The movie created a worldwide sensation – and a national panic over showering in motel rooms. One concerned parent actually wrote to Alfred Hitchcock and complained that since seeing “Psycho,” her daughter had refused to take a shower out of fear. Hitchcock jokingly replied, suggesting the parents send their child to the Dry Cleaner’s.

“Psycho” is now more than 50 years old and by now, all of its shocks and surprises have been fully integrated into American pop culture. “Psycho” is now considered the parent of every slasher movie to come along during the last five decades. However, in a very real way, Norman Bates remains the scariest slasher of them all, because he doesn’t rely on gore or gimmicks (like Freddy Kreuger or Jason or Michael Meyers). Norman Bates looks like an average person…most of the time. Measured by this standard, “Psycho” is far scarier than any monster movie, because it’s about the real monsters that walk among us.


“And…cut.”

Meet the Masters in Film School
If you’re serious about becoming a filmmaker and learning about the techniques that masters like Hitchcock used to make movies, why not start by going to film school? If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, there’s no better time to learn the craft than now. Tools like Final Cut Pro X and After Effects make it easier than ever before to bring your cinematic vision to life. Who knows? You might have what it takes to be the next Alfred Hitchcock.

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments