Step back in time 46 years with us to 1969. Alfred Hitchcock, fresh off “Topaz,” was entering the very tail end of his career. He had two more films in his future — “Frenzy” and “Family Plot” — but his best work was well behind him. Nevertheless, he was (and still is) a legendary director, one of the best of the best to have graced cinema, and his mind was as much (if not more) a treasure trove of movie history, information, and advice than ever.
One afternoon those many years ago, Hitch sat down with actor-writer-director Bryan Forbes (“The Stepford Wives,” screenplay for “Chaplin”) in the National Film Theatre in London to discuss movies and answer questions from an audience of cinephiles. Fortunately, for those of us too young or otherwise unable to have attended, Eyes on Cinema has uploaded an 18-minute recording of interview.
Forbes kicked off the interview — after a quick prologue about not wanting to bore the legendary helmer with hackneyed questions — by asking Hitchcock when he first feels himself committed to an idea that eventually becomes a picture. Hitchcock responds, “Well, for me, it all starts with the basic material first. Now, the question of when you have the basic material… you may have a novel, a play, an original idea, a couple of sentences and from that the film begins. I work very closely with the writer and begin to construct the film on paper, from the very beginning. We roughly sketch in the whole shape of the film and then begin from the beginning. You end up with around 100 pages, or perhaps even more, of narrative, which is very bad reading for a litterateur. There are no descriptions of any kind – no ‘he wondered’, because you can’t photograph ‘he wondered.’” He continues, “It’s as though you were looking at the film on the screen and the sound was turned off. And therefore, to me, this is the first stage.”
A little later, Forbes asks Hitchcock if he has ever had to abandon a project. Hitch tells him, “Many times. In the last two years I have abandoned two projects. You get so far but you realize it’s not going to work. It’s better to lose $150,000 or $200,000 than $2 million. Just dump it. Let it go.” More proof for aspiring and amateur filmmakers that even the greats can and do struggle to get their movies made.
One of the more interesting responses Hitchcock gives is in reply to an audience member who asks if he has any plans or desires to step out of the thriller genre and make another type of picture. He responds, “It’s not for me; it’s the public. If I made, for example, a musical, the public would wonder when will the moment come when one of the chorus girls will drop dead, and what from.”
Check out Hitch’s thoughts, experiences, and advice below. And, if you’re keen to pull some quotes from the talkback to use as inspiration or guidance, the British Film Institute (BFI) has a transcript of the entire interview on its website (it doesn’t match the dialogue verbatim, but it’s pretty darn close at times).