Director: Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Lehman
plan Hitch's final film
Except for the actor, no other position in filmmaking is as much discussed or as little understood as that of the director. At once a creative, technical, and managerial undertaking, it is indeed an unusual job. The director develops the visual and dramatic approach to a film. Guiding the interpretation of the script and coordinating the actors, designers, and film crew, the director endeavors to create a homogeneous piece of work.
Directing a film requires sensitivity to the story, understanding of technical filmmaking processes, and coordination of these two skills. It also demands the ability to communicate, persuade, and shape the work of other artists and technicians working on the film.
In this audio clip we hear director Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman developing the storyline for what would be Hitchcock's last film, Family Plot (1976).
The screenplay for what turned out to be Alfred Hitchcock's last film, Family Plot, was written by Ernest Lehman who had previously worked with the director on North by Northwest (1959). On both films, the writer and director collaborated closely, but on Family Plot Lehman recorded their story conferences, providing unprecedented insight into their working methods. An estimated 80 hours of their conversations are preserved at the Ransom Center.
This is just one item from the "Director" section of the Making Movies exhibition, which opens February 9 at the Ransom Center. Follow our RSS and Twitter feeds or become a fan on Facebook to see new items from the exhibition revealed each day for the next few weeks as part of "Script to Screen."
For Central Texas readers, join us on the red carpet for a special opening celebration for the Making Movies exhibition on Friday, February 12. Details at www.hrc.utexas.edu/redcarpet.
Reproduced with permission from the Trustees of the Alfred Hitchcock Trust and Laurie Lehman.
HITCHCOCK: We haven't worked out yet what Miss Rainbird's—whether she's religious or not. Does she ever go to Grace Cathedral?
LEHMAN: I don't know. Oh, this could get quite complicated.
HITCHCOCK: Well, not necessarily.
LEHMAN: That's a good question.
HITCHCOCK: It's a question and it might be, you throw it out if it's no good—the hell with it—let's not bother with it—forget it.
LEHMAN: It's certainly worth putting in the hopper though.
HITCHCOCK: Well, it's digging in the—let's say we're coal mining, and we're digging into a certain scene and there's no coal there. All right, too bad. Well, from what we've discovered—what we've discussed so far (and the manner I'm not sure, in which we're doing it); especially if we extract all our comedic things, we sure haven't gone over any old ground at all.
LEHMAN: Doesn't seem old to me.
HITCHCOCK: No, that, I'm most enthusiastic about.
LEHMAN: It all seems weirdly fresh.
HITCHCOCK: It's almost like a French picture in parts, especially around the graveyard stuff. They always get graveyards in French pictures, don't they?
LEHMAN: Do they?
HITCHCOCK: Oh, sometimes they do, yeah. Have you ever wondered what the photograph of that local [unintelligible] is doing there?
LEHMAN: No, I’ve just kind of looked at it and never given it a thought. But I’ve looked at it many times.
HITCHCOCK: I’ll tell you how it happened. There was…
HITCHCOCK: Up until recently, Catholics couldn't be cremated, you know.
LEHMAN: I didn't know that. Graveyards are like a secret that people keep from other people; they're there, but nobody talks about them very much. No, we were out of the graveyard scene without being definite about it. We'll come back to it, I'm sure.
LEHMAN: I think on Friday we just were fooling around with the opening.
HITCHCOCK: Yes, we were doing the various set-ups.
LEHMAN: When the Trader and his girl are in Grace Cathedral, looking over the place, what sort of non-High Mass services could be going on there? You don't necessarily have to have services, though—you just—they could be there with a few other people.
LEHMAN: Right. Doesn't have to be some...
HITCHCOCK: Has to be some sort of service when the Archbishop is kidnapped.
HITCHCOCK: The big problem that we're going to have in the kidnapping of the Archbishop is—see if I can try and give you a visual picture: As you look at an altarpiece, there are benches each side – rows of benches where the choir often sit.
LEHMAN: Behind the Archbishop—behind the altar?
HITCHCOCK: No, each side of the altar—in front of it—each side.
LEHMAN: Each side and in front. On each side and in front. And he would be behind the benches so that in effect the choir's backs would be to him?
HITCHCOCK: No, that's the tragedy. They'd be facing the whole business.
LEHMAN: Facing. SO that if you were shooting towards the Archbishop, you'd be shooting past the backs of their heads?
HITCHCOCK: If you were shooting towards the Archbishop, you'd be shooting their profiles—left side and left side.
LEHMAN: Oh, I see—they're facing each other?
HITCHCOCK: Yes, that's right.
LEHMAN: The benches face each other.
HITCHCOCK: Yes, that's right.
HITCHCOCK: So, it's not going to be so easy.
LEHMAN: Well, must you...
HITCHCOCK: First of all, I'll tell you what I did have a thought: that The Trader should dress himself with a white surplice. Definitely, so that he's not out of place up on that altar, buzzing around.
LEHMAN: And no one would know that he really had no place there, I guess, huh?
HITCHCOCK: Well, one or two of the choir might say: "Who's that fellow there?" They might do that. Our problem is though, I'm afraid, that we're going to have almost to construct our own cathedral to suit our purpose.
LEHMAN: Who would know the difference, really?
HITCHCOCK: Well, my point is that the column and the pulpit should be over that way enough so that when the Trader trips the Archbishop, he swiftly carries him behind the last row of benches—behind the choir.
LEHMAN: Do you see the pulpit—let's say you're facing the altar from the congregation—facing the altar: do you see the pulpit as being to the right side?
HITCHCOCK: Doesn't make any difference.
LEHMAN: Not center?
HITCHCOCK: Oh, no, can't be center.
LEHMAN: Left or right.
HITCHCOCK: Left or right, oh sure.
LEHMAN: For some reason I always thought it's left, but I have no reason why I should see it to the left.
HITCHCOCK: Can be left, well, let me....
LEHMAN: You described it to me once.
HITCHCOCK: Westminster Cathedral in London—the Catholic one—that's on the right. Many others are on the left. In fact, I think Westminster in London—the Catholic cathedral, has got two pulpits; a wooden one and a marble one built into the cathedral itself. But, for our purpose, it seems to me, we've got to do some extraordinary trickery. For example, the choir have got to be singing, or finishing a hymn as the Archbishop walks by to start up the steps to go to the pulpit—so that they will be facing each other—the choir.
LEHMAN: Will they be seated or standing?
LEHMAN: Now, his back is to the congregation as he walks between the two...
HITCHCOCK: Profile to the congregation.
LEHMAN: Is not the choir in profile, facing each other?
HITCHCOCK: They're facing each other on the altar.
LEHMAN: On each side of the Archbishop?
LEHMAN: Who is walking between them.
HITCHCOCK: He's come down from the altar—down the center steps in front of each choir—then, he's turned left. And you've changed the angle.
LEHMAN: Turn left. Now the choir is behind him. The POINT OF VIEW being from the congregation, he is now come in front of them and turned left.
HITCHCOCK: Well, he's come in front of the altar rail.
LEHMAN: And turned left.
LEHMAN: And then doesn't he make a right turn to start up to the pulpit...
HITCHCOCK: Yes, but he's stopped before he ever gets near there.
LEHMAN: Well, you're going to have draw this for me some day, obviously.
HITCHCOCK: Well, the point is that...
LEHMAN: We don't have to show him being stuck, do we?
HITCHCOCK: Oh, we can put a big insert in—he's going to collapse.
LEHMAN: Isn't the beauty of your treatment the fact that he just never appears. And we don't know where he is and we keep waiting and waiting and waiting.
HITCHCOCK: That's true.
LEHMAN: So that we'll never show him being stuck—I don't think we have to.
LEHMAN: Could be in a van someplace by the time anyone realizes that he's missing.
HITCHCOCK: I hope so, I hope so.
LEHMAN: I think it would be nice never having to show the dirty business of rendering an Archbishop unconscious and carrying him out and all of that.
HITCHCOCK: Oh, I agree—yes, sure. I said we'll have to flash a REVERSE SHOT of the public facing the altar and leaning out. They say: "What's—what's—there's something wrong. Is there something wrong out there?"
LEHMAN: In other words: "Where is he?"
HITCHCOCK: "Where is he?" "Well, what's he doing, going down there instead of in the pulpit?" Something's wrong, but we don't show it.
LEHMAN: Oh, I see—we show the public's reaction.
HITCHCOCK: Reacting to it.
LEHMAN: And then when you cut back to their POINT OF VIEW, it has already happened and is off screen.
HITCHCOCK: When you CUT and a door is closing, you see. And the choir are now seated, waiting off-center for him to start. But there's a hubbub among the people by this time.
LEHMAN: That would have been such a good start to work in your famous, still unused, high note becoming a scream.
HITCHCOCK: Yes, but the irony of the 'high note shot' is that she gets a round of applause for it.
LEHMAN: That's right!
HITCHCOCK: See, that's the whole element of that—not that she merely goes into a scream; she gets the biggest round of applause she's ever had. I think we've got to absolutely, almost build for this kind of set-up. Boy, it's going to be damned expensive, isn't it?
LEHMAN: Yes, you were planning to do just a little piece, remember?—yes, just a little piece.
HITCHCOCK: Yes, just a little piece on the back, No, but I'm thinking of our opening shot and all that sort of thing. You know and the congregation...
LEHMAN: You're not certain you can't get a cathedral—are you certain you can't get one?
HITCHCOCK: Well, we don't know yet—we'd have to try.
LEHMAN: It's really a painting kind of shot, isn't it?
HITCHCOCK: Well, it's choosing a little piece of this angle. For example, it's building each piece—for example, you take the shot of the public looking—well, actually you'll be shooting down the side of the cathedral, which you can make a MATTE SHOT with just enough room for the heads for about four or five rows. And after that, he can paint them in. And rock them.
LEHMAN: How do you rock them, if they're painted?
HITCHCOCK: On strings—cut them out.
LEHMAN: Oh, you mean cut-outs.
HITCHCOCK: Sure. Include them in the continuation of the hubbub. See your front half a dozen rows are people looking out and turning and "Look, the Archbishop's gone down that way." And now, a lot of them lean out—well, you do that for about 5 or 6 rows, you see. And then it communicates itself further back, further and further back. See, by this time, they're all probably seated, you see.
LEHMAN: The choir is still singing?
HITCHCOCK: They're finished—they're seated. They're waiting for him to get up the top there—but he never gets there. What we've got to do is to make it foolproof so that we can't be criticized for spiriting him away under the very noses, you know. Of course, when you have an Archbishop, not only have you got a choir, you've got about three or four bishops as well. You know, you've got a lot of minor characters around there.
LEHMAN: Well, now is there anything in the Mass at this particular point...
HITCHCOCK: Well, it wouldn't be a Mass.
LEHMAN: Oh, not a Mass.
HITCHCOCK: A service.
LEHMAN: A service—is there any way they can be preoccupied. The choir, of course, doesn't use anything in front of them to sing.
HITCHCOCK: Yes, they do.
LEHMAN: They do?
LEHMAN: It seems to me that they would be looking at that which they are singing and that would take care of them.
HITCHCOCK: That's right. But, actually though, in the point of timing, they would have seated themselves before he ever walked off that altar. We'd have to cheat that—they'll go on singing.
LEHMAN: We could start just before they end, huh?
LEHMAN: He could, the last few bars, be on his way, so that as they sat, he had already perhaps disappeared.
HITCHCOCK: Yes. What we have to really consider is that the Trader plots this thing so audaciously that people can't believe their own eyes—what they're seeing. And I think that's what we have to sell the audience ahead of time. In other words, you ask yourself: "Well, why didn't they wait till outside the vestry," you know, one night when he was in civies—-you know, a black coat, in the darkness of the night?
LEHMAN: I think we'll have to give the Trader a plan to commit all the kidnappings under audacious circumstances as though that is part of his plan. Namely, the highly publicized nature of what he does and the fact that he does it under daring circumstances.
HITCHCOCK: Which is what the helicopter is, isn't it?
LEHMAN: Yes. And it may turn out, Hitch, that the first kidnapping, instead of just being: "I left the building at 9 o'clock and that's the last thing I remember", it may turn out that the first kidnapping was done under daring circumstances. Broad daylight, so to speak. No, I mean, in treating this cathedral, it may turn out that all the audience has to see is the Trader is there. Oh, but that tips your mitt, Hitch—that tips it, doesn't it. And you didn't want to do that.
HITCHCOCK: No, not for the first one.
LEHMAN: No, I mean the Archbishop. Will that not tip off what you're planning to do? If you see the Trader in the white surplice?
HITCHCOCK: I don't think you need—you could have so many around, you know, that you wouldn't know. I think you could have The Trader....
LEHMAN: That's enough to tell an audience: "Look he was there, therefore, it could have happened." If he was there and he disappears on the altar—someplace on the altar.
HITCHCOCK: I think that the Archbishop is in the back of the car and I think that while The Trader is driving, the girl is pulling the surplice off him. You know, he can't be a magician and handle all this—drive a car and with another hand...
LEHMAN: Well, she could drive the car.
HITCHCOCK: She could drive the car.
LEHMAN: Oh, yes. It might be a delivery truck for a florist shop's...
HITCHCOCK: But, it'd be nice to see him take that surplice off because that's AFTER the fact. That tells your audience how he got in—how he got so near.
LEHMAN: Oh, you don't see him before.
HITCHCOCK: Yes, but his back view is to us.
LEHMAN: And there can be others wearing the same garment?
HITCHCOCK: Well, you've got to be careful. If you've got the others, they'll see him hurry the Archbishop down behind that choir. See, it's tricky.
LEHMAN: Tricky, is right—it is. It is tricky.
HITCHCOCK: It's tricky, but on the other hand, it can be handled in such a way that—there are so many angles on this—so many shots. You know, you can have him almost under those stairs, and shooting across the—from behind the pulpit, right across the front of the altar and where the altar rail is, Because it depends—if the altar rail is along here, the actual altar is back there with—it's a big marble—floored space, you know, with two steps up with carpet on it between the altar rail and the actual altar itself. It's a big distance. So, he's got to walk there, and as he turns left, you can change your angle. And there, you can see, standing in the shadows, this figure with the surplice, without revealing the face. And he comes towards us, you see.
LEHMAN: Who does?
HITCHCOCK: The Archbishop, you see.
HITCHCOCK: Now, the choir on the left and singing, and they seat themselves just as he gets to the—say, there are four rows of choir singing—just as he gets level with the end row. Now we CUT to the DOWN SHOT on the congregation and they sit, you see. And they look up and there's nobody in the pulpit. And yet, last time we saw him, although there was a man in surplice under the stairs, he was about to put his foot on the first step to go into the pulpit. But we CUT AWAY before he gets his foot on the step.
LEHMAN: As a member of the audience here, I feel slightly cheated, Hitch, right there.
HITCHCOCK: He hasn't put his foot on the steps—this is my point. That you now go to the congregation and they look up—the front row looking up. Now you CUT to what they see and there's the pulpit. Now you HOLD your camera on that empty pulpit. Now you CUT BACK to your people: "Well, what's happened?"—now you come back behind the column and the pulpit...
LEHMAN: We had George Lumley discover that an important clue can be obtained from the former parson who is now an Archbishop. He went to Grace Cathedral and saw the Archbishop, or else had somebody else take in the question to the Archbishop, for which he got an answer. George Lumley then left the cathedral, but the camera stayed behind and there discovered The Trader and his girl looking over the place. I thought it was a very good idea, and in fact, before either of us had a chance to point out what a coincidence it was, I remember going into a long speech explaining how it wasn't a coincidence that the very reason George Lumley was at Grace Cathedral was the very reason why The Trader was there planning to kidnap the Archbishop. Lumley was there because the Archbishop was involved years go in The Trader's past. The Trader was at Grace Cathedral because the Archbishop had been involved in his past, and he was going to make him his second kidnap victim. Now, in this suggestion that I just came up with that I think is just worth examining, it's the same coincidence or the same lack of coincidence. The only thing it does do is create the possibility that we will not have a previous scene at Grace Cathedral. However, this may be fairly neat—this may be fairly neat. See, I often wondered how we were going to get to Grace Cathedral to show The Trader and his girl looking over the place. Well that looking over Grace Cathedral was not going to be much of a scene, therefore, I had George Lumley go there which was pretty good. However, now if we have George Lumley go to Grace Cathedral…I kind of like the fact that he doesn't get to the Archbishop—because the Archbishop is kidnapped.
HITCHCOCK: Well, I think it has this value. If the informant was the parson that had now become an Archbishop, it will help, I feel, if at that time when he gets the information, they'll say: "Yes, he's now an Archbishop. He knows all about the young man because he's been in communication with him."
LEHMAN: Twenty years ago.
HITCHCOCK: Ever since—right up to date. But he can't get it—he's kidnapped!
LEHMAN: Oh, I see! Well, that's very good. Except that we have to prepare ourselves for the fact that the Archbishop will be released—he will be released, you know. So, let's not have The Trader know that—that the Archbishop will give everything away once he's released.
HITCHCOCK: No, the only thing he can give.... He can't say: "He's now become a kidnapper." Obviously not.
LEHMAN: No, I like the idea that the clue which Lumley hopes to get from the Archbishop is a fairly sizeable one—you know, an important one. But it mustn't be something that indicates that the Archbishop knows EVERYTHING that The Trader has been trying to keep a secret all this time.
HITCHCOCK: Oh no, he shouldn't.
LEHMAN: Otherwise, he might even know who's kidnapping him. The Archbishop won't know who's kidnapping him. No, I think he goes there with a very good purpose. Lumley goes there with a real purpose and well, if he can talk with the Archbishop, he'll be able to find out whatever it is—whatever that clue is, and it should be important. Now, when the Archbishop is released toward the third act of the picture, Lumley will be getting that all-important clue—but, by the time he gets it, it'll probably be too late. Maybe he doesn't get to the Archbishop that soon. But, I do think there's some value in the fact that he's really hot on the trail and he goes to Grace Cathedral. There's even a possibility that... Possibility, I don't know how it would work for us because we weighed this on Friday for an earlier type of scene. 'Man in a white surplice'. God, it almost sounds as though Lumley might have some notion as to who did that kidnapping, huh?
HITCHCOCK: I doubt it.
LEHMAN: He doesn't know what's going on.
LEHMAN: He doesn't know what's going to happen.
LEHMAN: It's a damn shame we can't show The Trader, huh? Oh I see, we think we're there for another reason. We're there with Lumley, so we think that's why we're at Grace Cathedral.
LEHMAN: And we're watching this whole service—the choir—and Lumley is waiting, and he's looking at his wristwatch and he's probably wondering....
HITCHCOCK: "When will this service be over?" Just at the verge of—"Oh, I have an appointment with the Archbishop" he can say. And they say: "Well, that would be at the Church House—that's just around the back of this block. That's where you'd see him."
LEHMAN: Church House?
HITCHCOCK: Yes. They call it Church House—that's usually where the—St. Patrick's you know, it's at the back on Madison—Church House for St. Patrick's Cathedral.
LEHMAN: Uh-huh. Where are the doors, or the door, or doorway—is there one to the left or right of the altar?
HITCHCOCK: Back door?
LEHMAN: Well, from whence does an Archbishop appear, for example?
HITCHCOCK: He appears from the side—from the sacristy, where they put their robes on.
LEHMAN: From the side?
HITCHCOCK: They'd be side doors, but, The Trader goes right by those doors and he goes outside the back entrance—which, we'll have to make behind the altar.
LEHMAN: Behind the altar?
LEHMAN: I see. The door, itself, is not visible from the public's POINT OF VIEW, is it? I guess not.
HITCHCOCK: Not if it's centered, no.