Thursday, February 12, 2009

A murder scene written by - Hitchcock!


Have you ever read a scene that was written by Alfred Hitchcock?

I’m sure most of you have not. Now get yourself into an Alfred Hitchcock state of mind. Can you hear the music from
his TV show? Or Psycho perhaps? Do you remember how he spoke? The loooong pro-NOUNCEd woooords of Allll-fred Hitch-COCK. Hehehe… I posted a video interview below to help young writers of the world discover his wonderfully eccentric speech. Are you in that state of mind now?

Good.

I’ll try to be brief setting this up. After the cool reception of Torn Curtain in 1966, Hitch found himself in a career crisis. He needed to do something amazing to get back on top again and he had some radical ideas (at the time) to do just that.

He was going to have a serial killer protagonist.

And he was going to call it Kaleidoscope or Frenzy (not to be confused with the other Frenzy that was made – similar in name only).


This is what he submitted when he registered his ideas with the WGA:

The story idea in which Mr. Hitchcock is interested is one which would cover the events prior to the beginning of the story told in "SHADOW OF A DOUBT". That is to say, the events surrounding the killing and disposal of these various women.

He had three killers in mind as models for his protagonist. First, there was the case of JG Haigh, the acid bath murderer. This crazy man killed a number of women for personal gain and disposed of their bodies in “baths of acid.” There was also the case of Christie, who was actually a necrophile. He murdered a number of women but instead of disposing of their bodies, he would actually hide them in various parts of the house... in cupboards, under floorboards, etc. (Among these scattered women was his wife!) And then there was Neville Heath, an attractive, charismatic, and quite deadly Royal Air Force officer, also known as “The Baby-Faced Killer.”


Well, Hitch shared these ideas with screenwriter Benn Levy who had worked with him on Blackmail. Benn said, basically, go with Neville Heath and wrote in a letter to Hitch: “The ultimate irony of his psychoses of course is that he truly is ‘just a little boy who can't cope with life’. ‘Little Boy’ might be a nice title.” Hitch loved it. Papers were drawn. Benn wrote the script. Hitch hated it. Really hated it.

So then a funny thing happened. At the ripe young age of 68, Hitch sat down to write this screenplay himself. The protag would be called Willie Cooper. There would be two murder sequences and a big ending. The first victim, Caroline Varley, works for the United Nations, and gets offed in Central Park. Willie meets the second victim, Patti Landis, at a Manhattan art school and much suspense is drawn out of when and how Willie might murder this girl, which would eventually take place on an abandoned U.S. battleship from World War II.


And then there’s the ending. A female policewoman is sent out as a decoy to capture Willie, and he actually falls in love with her.

Hitch called it his “dark love story.” Hehehe

Now Hitch went further in the development of this film than any other project that never made it to the big screen. He was going to break new ground with the use of indoor natural lighting and a 360 degree pan of an entire apartment. He scouted locations and did test footage (the stills from those tests are peppered throughout this article). The sex and violence would’ve broken the kind of barriers that were later broken in films like Bonnie and Clyde. Hitch was ahead of his time. Dan Auiler wrote, “Here is one of cinema’s greatest directors proposing a groundbreaking film that would have eschewed the American studio style for the kind of filmmaking Hitchcock was seeing in France and Italy. More importantly, [Kaleidoscope] would have returned Hitchcock to the kind of dark films that characterized his British period.” But Universal’s rejection of his concept (and that of a serial killer protag) was absolute. It was a decision that irked Hitch to the end of his life.


The thing is, Hitch was right. His concept would have worked, and everybody was (and is) wrong about unsympathetic protags. Sympathy or its lack of has nothing to do with a great protagonist. What matters is
character depth. If you have a dynamic character as your protagonist, who has many different sides to his character, a guy who is incredibly charming and yet also a demented killer, people will be repulsed and also fascinated. And if this dynamic character is surrounded by sympathetic supporting characters, they will watch the film to the end, because they will try to A) figure out what makes the killer tick, B) they will quietly sympathize with (and worry about) all of those innocent supporting characters, and C) they will root for his downfall and be overjoyed when it finally happens.

This is what happens in
Don Giovanni and people love it.


A quick analysis of the scene:

* This is not the greatest murder scene since Psycho. At times, you may laugh, as well you should. This should be enjoyed! We should have fun! It is fascinating in both its strengths and weaknesses and in just observing how a master is thinking about a scene. But there are some golden nuggets that may be plucked with analysis.

* Consider the fact that this one suspenseful murder sequence takes up about 12 pages in Final Draft. 12 PAGES! A good scene with suspense takes time to set up and should be dragged out to considerable lengths to heighten the experience for the audience. An entire film is not about advancing a plot. The plot must be advanced until we get to the reason why we’re there to watch the film, and in this case, it's great suspense, which we expect from Hitchcock. This is a moment of
vertical screenwriting. The is why we’re all here. So consider this question with your script: why are we here? What is the big payoff to everything you’re setting up in the story?

* This scene is Hitch fully employing
his bomb theory. The bomb is in the woods. The bomb is ticking. And the bomb is threatening the life of Caroline. Audience knowledge is key to the suspense here.


* I think, generally, amateurish approaches to scenes with killers goes like this: killer and victim meet, something makes the killer suddenly irate, he kills the victim, and the scene is over. Consider how much more advanced this approach is. This isn’t simply about a killer suddenly becoming irate and killing. This is a killing rooted in character. This guy’s got some mommy issues, so the trick to this scene is how he draws her in, gets her to be motherly to him, almost sexually maternal, in order to trigger the feelings he needs to kill. This also feeds the need of the audience to understand what makes him tick. If he was just a flat, unsympathetic killing machine, people would be walking out of the theaters. But this is about character.

* I love how the sequence begins with long and medium shots, gradually moves to close-ups and extreme close-ups as the emotions of the characters become heightened, and then we end on a long shot. Needless to say, this is a 1968 shooting script style and the format is not how we would write specs today. We don't write camera angles. You can, however, imply the shots with
the way you write your action lines and imply close-ups with Secondary Headings. (Hopefully, this will also prove how absurd “we see” reads in action lines.)

* There’s a playfulness to the camera work, as if we're sneaking through the woods and hiding behind trees just to watch them. There's a playfulness to the characters, too, albeit a playfulness of the 1960’s variety, but that’s still essential to these moments just as the humor of
John Michael Hayes elevated his earlier films. But Hitch is no John Michael Hayes and he still could’ve used a good writer.

* You may think that Willie's dialogue about his wife is way too on-the-nose. Here's the thing. He’s not married. (Mommy issues.)

* The most hilarious aspect of this excerpt is that Hitchcock writes just as he talks and you can hear his voice in the action lines, as if he was talking to you now, as if he was just telling you a little story…


INT. WILLIE’S CAR - DAY

WILLIE
They’re the mothball fleet.
Freighters left over from the war.

CAROLINE
They’re sad-looking, aren’t they?

WILLIE
They’re dead. Shall we see if we
can gate-crash them?

Caroline shivers a little and shakes her head.

CAROLINE
No.

Willie looks at her inquiringly.

CAROLINE
They’re spooky.

WILLIE
Okay, we’ll stick to our original
plan.

He starts up the car and they move on OUT OF PICTURE.

EXT. WOODED COUNTRY - LONG SHOT - DAY

WE SEE Willie’s car about a hundred feet away. It is tilted down as though they had turned off the roadway. There is no one in it. The CAMERA PANS and in the distance, through the trees, WE SEE Willie and Caroline. They are hand in hand. Willie carries a large paper sack in the crook of his arm.

ANOTHER ANGLE - LONG SHOT - DAY

WE SEE them crossing and coming NEARER TO CAMERA which is PANNING with them, with trees crossing in the f.g. from time to time. We LOSE them behind one large tree in the f.g. so the CAMERA MOVES and has a PEEK. WE FIND them in an embrace.

CLOSEUP - THE TWO

still in an embrace. As Willie shifts his position slightly to envelope her more closely, first an orange then a tomato, then another falls out of the sack. He releases her.

CAROLINE
What is it?

Willie looks down.

WILLIE
Tomato.

He stoops to retrieve it, the CAMERA PANNING DOWN as he does so without mishap. Still bent down he reaches for the orange.

CLOSEUP - WILLIE’S FOOT

stepping on the second tomato.

WILLIE
There we go again!

CAROLINE
(grinning at him)
Romantic, aren’t you?

WILLIE
Well, you can’t have everything.
Come on.

ANOTHER ANGLE

Willie stretches out his hand to her and starts to move but, as he is looking over his shoulder, he bumps into a small tree.

CAROLINE
Round the tree, Willie, not through
it.

WILLIE
Oh, I see.

WE LOSE them behind some bushes or ferns for a moment. They emerge from the bushes and as they both FILL THE SCREEN they stop and look.

LONG SHOT - WATERFALL - DAY

From their viewpoint is a waterfall. During the previous scenes, the sound of this waterfall has been growing and at this moment it is at the loudest we have heard it.

CAROLINE
(shouting)
What are we going to eat?

WILLIE
(shouting)
There’s a place over there. Let’s
get across.

CAROLINE
(shouting)
Do you think we can?

WILLIE
(shouting)
Easy.

LONG SHOT

WE SEE the two tiny figures starting to cross the stepping stones at the foot of the first part of the waterfall. We can just about hear their voices above the roar of the water as they shout to each other.

CAROLINE
Willie, I know I can’t make it!

WILLIE
Of course you can.

WE SEE Willie stretch out a hand and help her across.

WILLIE
There you are... That’s a girl...
That’s it... Easy does it...

They have nearly reached the other side when his foot slips.

CAROLINE
(in alarm)
Willie!

WILLIE
(grinning)
You nearly lost me that time! On
we go... Just a pair of mountain
goats.. Careful with that one...

Willie loses his balance again. His arms wave upwards in an effort to regain equilibrium.

CLOSE SHOT - CAROLINE

reaches our for him but her hand succeeds in grabbing only the paper bag. He flops down into a swirling pool.

CAROLINE
(screams)
Willie!

ANOTHER ANGLE

The water is deep where he falls. When he surfaces he splutters...

WILLIE
By God, you have lost me!

He scrambles his way up the nearest rock to the shore. Caroline leaps competently until she lands on the top of this same rock, helpless with laughter.

CLOSER SHOT - WILLIE

now seated looks up. Caroline drops INTO PICTURE beside him. The waterfall is seen OUT OF FOCUS behind him.

CAROLINE
Oh, Willie!
(she puts her head on his
wet shoulder)
Darling, you’re not fit to be let
out alone.

WILLIE
(grinning)
That’s right; you notice
everything.

CAROLINE
(rises to her knees)
Let’s get you out of those wet
clothes.

WILLIE
Oh? And into what?

CAROLINE
Into anything. Do you want double
pneumonia? We’ll hang your things
on the bushes; they’ll soon dry in
this sun.

WILLIE
Well, what am I going to wear?

CAROLINE
You’re going to wear this.

Caroline removes her sloppy-joe revealing a plain white, open-neck shirt underneath.

WILLIE
How can I get into that? It’s a
woman’s.

CAROLINE
It’s not. It was my brother’s. He
gave it to me. He’s just as big as
you.

WILLIE
But for God’s sake, Caroline, it’ll
only come down to here!

The CAMERA PULLS BACK as he rises to indicate a position barely below his waist.

CAROLINE
You won’t wear it as a sweater,
stupid. Just wrap it around your
middle.

WILLIE
Oh!

CAROLINE
Go round the back there and I’ll
get out the food. Be seeing you.

Willie holds the sweater in front of him held high to the shoulders. It does not quite reach - !

WILLIE
You’ve said it sister.

He goes off and wanders away to the bushes taking off his clothes as he does so.

WILLIE (O.S.)
Hey, my cigarettes are all wet.

CLOSE SHOT - CAROLINE

She now squats on the ground and starts to unload the brown paper sack.

CAROLINE
I’ve got some.

She takes out a couple of bottles of beer and cokes, a package of sandwiches, some paper cups, etc...

CAROLINE
Hurry up. How does it look?
She glances up.

MED. SHOT - CAROLINE’S VIEWPOINT

Willie appears. The arms of the sweater are tied round his waist and the body of it hangs down in front of him like an apron. He carries the rest of his clothes in his arms.

WILLIE
Well, it’s not exactly my color.

He turns round to spread his wet clothes over a nearby bush.

CLOSE SHOT - CAROLINE

breaks into laughter at the sight of his bare behind.

MED. SHOT - WILLIE

He turns good-naturedly.

WILLIE
Alright, alright!

He advances toward her.

CLOSE SHOT - CAROLINE

rises and crossing, goes into his arms. She is still laughing.

CAROLINE
I’m sorry, darling. You look so
sweet. You just look like a little
boy. I don’t know why. Here, come
and sit down; let’s eat.

The CAMERA PANS THEM DOWN ONTO the grass, side by side. Willie freezes for a moment.

CAROLINE
What’s the matter?

Willie puts his hand under his behind.

CLOSEUP - WILLIE’S HAND AND HIS BARE BEHIND

He leans his body over to permit his extracting a pine cone.

CLOSE SHOT - THE TWO

CAROLINE
Oh no! You would!

Caroline turns and starts to busy herself with the lunch. She takes out a bottle opener, turning to Willie, she asks him...

CAROLINE
Coke?

Willie shakes his head, a different mood seems to envelope him.

CAROLINE
Sandwich? Ham or tuna?

WILLIE
What? No, I’m not hungry yet.

CAROLINE
Anything the matter?

WILLIE
No.

Caroline glances at him watchfully and then bites into her sandwich. Willie leans out and slightly behind him, he breaks off a dried branch from the bush. He starts to play with it, stripping the leaves off as he does so. There is silence for a moment then Willie turns to Caroline.

WILLIE
Why do I like being with you?

CAROLINE
I like being with you.

WILLIE
(barely smiles, pursuing
his own mood)
Why do you never ask me questions?

CAROLINE
About yourself! But I do, don’t I?

Willie shakes his head.

CAROLINE
I suppose because you tell me all
you want me to know.

WILLIE
What I want you to know is
everything.

CAROLINE
I know. There isn’t much that you
hold back, is there?

WILLIE
Not from you.

There is a slight pause.

WILLIE
But there has been one thing.

Caroline waits.

WILLIE
It’s - it’s kind of difficult.

CAROLINE
I’ve got a shrewd idea.

Willie looks at her.

WILLIE
Have you? What?

CLOSEUP - CAROLINE

CAROLINE
You’re married, right?

CLOSEUP - WILLIE

looks straight ahead.

WILLIE
Right.

CLOSEUP - CAROLINE

looks away.

LONG SHOT - CAROLINE’S VIEWPOINT - THE WATERFALL

CLOSEUP - CAROLINE

without turning, she quietly says...

CAROLINE
I think - I think you should have
told me earlier.

CLOSEUP - WILLIE

WILLIE
I’m sure I should... but when it
comes to self-destruction, I always
play my trump card at the right
moment! If you want to know, I
ducked it. I was afraid you might –
might lose interest.

CLOSEUP - CAROLINE

still looking away.

CAROLINE
Are you - happy?

CLOSEUP - WILLIE

WILLIE
That’s a silly question. I
wouldn’t be here, would I..? She’s
older than I, quite a bit older.
We came together because - I don’t
know...

CLOSEUP - CAROLINE

turns back and says to him...

CAROLINE
Because you thought you needed
somebody to look after you... and
she needed somebody to look after.

The CAMERA EASES BACK to INCLUDE Willie as he continues.

WILLIE
Smart, aren’t you? Well, I don’t
need it now. At least I probably
need it but don’t want it! I
suppose nobody wants... a warden...
I shouldn’t say that. She’s very
nice really. I’m probably more to
blame than she is. God knows I
make her as unhappy as she makes
me... a tough life, you know. She
doesn’t get much work; not as much
as she deserves. And it makes her
nervous and unhappy... she’s rather
fond of the bottle.

CAROLINE
Oh, no.

WILLIE
That’s one reason why I’ve never
left... Maybe I haven’t had the
guts, anyway... Maybe I haven’t had
the incentive - before.

CAROLINE
Would she mind?

WILLIE
Would she mind.

Willie thinks for a moment. He continues with genuine bitterness.

WILLIE
I think she’d be glad to get shot
of me. I’m her cross!

CLOSEUP - CAROLINE

startled by the tone of his voice, looks directly at him.

CAROLINE
Is - is there another man?

She waits and then we hear Willie’s voice off...

WILLIE (O.S.)
Could be.

There is a pause.

CAROLINE
Is he - around?

CLOSEUP - WILLIE

shakes his head.

WILLIE
Someone... she knew before me. I guess
he’s still in her system.

He turns his head away from her.

CLOSEUP - CAROLINE

as she watches him.

BIG HEAD OF WILLIE - CAROLINE’S VIEWPOINT

He covers his eyes with one hand. We hear Caroline’s voice off...

CAROLINE (O.S.)
Oh, Willie, don’t.

WE SEE her hand on his shoulder. It strokes his back tenderly.

BIG HEAD OF CAROLINE

She murmurs softly...

CAROLINE
Willie!

The CAMERA PANS her over as she presses her cheek against his bare shoulder.

CAROLINE
Oh, please!

BIG HEAD OF WILLIE

He turns his face back towards her, the CAMERA PANS SLIGHTLY as Caroline’s face comes up INTO PICTURE. They look at each other. The CAMERA EASES BACK SLIGHTLY as he takes her in his arms and kisses her. WE SEE her arms go about him. The CAMERA GOES WITH THEM as he presses her back gently onto the grass.

CLOSEUP - BIG PROFILES

FILLING THE SCREEN - They kiss at great length.

CLOSEUP - WILLIE’S HAND

travelling over her back. It moves on past her waist and WE SEE his arm pressing her to him.

BIG CLOSEUP - THE ZIPPER

coming undone. It FILLS THE SCREEN, WE SEE Willie’s hand come between their bodies as he starts to unbutton Caroline’s shirt.

Back to their NOSES AND MOUTHS still kissing. The CAMERA GRADUALLY PULLS AWAY until the back of Willie’s head FILLS THE SCREEN. We see nothing but his hair. The CAMERA CONTINUES TO RECEDE, passing a bush which obscures the lower part of their bodies until their two reclining figures FILL THE SCREEN. The CAMERA PULLS AWAY CONTINUALLY until the figures are so tiny and the scenic waterfall FILS THE PICTURE. The CAMERA is so far away now that we have LOST SIGHT of them altogether. The only sound is the loud roar of the waterfall, which somehow seems to increase with the size of the picture.

LOW CAMERA SHOT - WILLIE

His feet FILL THE SCREEN in the f.g. WE SEE that he has his pants on. The CAMERA MOVES IN until his head FILLS THE SCREEN. A cigarette dangles from his lips. He is staring ahead. A puff of smoke emerges from his mouth.

The CAMERA MOVES OFF him and down to the head and shoulders of Caroline. She is lying on her back, the sweater by her head. Her eyes are open and glazed. There is a trickle of blood from one nostril. His hand ENTERS SHOT and strokes her hair for a moment. There are scratches on the back of his hand.

CLOSEUP - WILLIE

He turns and eyes the body.

CLOSEUP

The CAMERA PANS FROM the dead face down onto the body.

CLOSEUP - WILLIE

His eyes are travelling down.

CLOSEUP

The CAMERA ARRIVES on the girl’s abdomen where WE SEE rivulets of blood.

LONG SHOT - THE WATERFALL

WE SEE Willie rise. He stoops to pick up some clothes including his coat and shirt from the bush. He glances down at the reclining figure which WE can FAINTLY SEE and then he moves away. He crosses the rocks and goes back in the direction of his car.

LONG SHOT - WILLIE

in the distance making his way towards his car. He gets in it and drives off. The CAMERA PANS into a different direction up the road. Round the bend WE SEE a GROUP OF CHILDREN, perhaps a dozen or so, accompanied by an adult WOMAN. They are obviously out on a picnic and are singing together in unison.


7 comments:

Mystery Man said...

A bonus! Here's a paragraph I cut from the article.

Hehehe...

When [Hitch] was finished [writing the script], he shared the script with colleagues for feedback, including Francois Truffaut, who was intimately familiar with his films and was about to release a gigantic book in the U.S. called Hitchcock, which is now considered THE definitive study on Hitchcock and his films. In any case, there were problems with the script, particularly the third act, which Hitch acknowledged. But when you read around the web that Truffaut’s reaction to this script was “uneasy about the sex,” I shake my head. That really wasn’t the case, and it’s not like Truffaut didn’t have sex in any of his films. His letter to Hitch has to be one of the most respectful, constructive, intelligent assessments of a story I have ever read in my career. All he ever said was, “there does rather seem to be an insistence on sex and nudity, but it does not worry me too much because I know that you shoot such scenes with real dramatic power, and you never dwell on unnecessary detail.” If anything, a friendly word of caution.

You can read Truffaut’s assessment in its entirety in Hitchcock’s Notebooks by Dan Auiler, which is also where you’ll find this scene.

ScreenScriber said...

About unsympathetic characters, for me, there are five ways of making sure the audience will like and follow a character, even if he is unsympathetic, very much in the way of a "Save the Cat".

My aproach is the same that a sympathetic character: I make sure that their first appearance is fascinating, and their first action is as cool as possible.

I just make sure that he's not just a prick, for me it's important to let the audience get a peek of a possible reason to make him so unsympathetic. If he's unsympathetic, but has a human side to it, the audience will follow him. Hence, there's an added suspense to know more about his past, and more importantly, it makes him human.

Crumbs said...

Hmm. Interesting. I don't think this could have gone up there with Psycho, but then again it's got a hint of Britain that most of his other films don't have. Ugh, by the way, Hitchcock was a great visual storyteller. Not on par with Kieslowski but DAMN, he used the camera to tell a story well.

About unsympathetic protags: I think the film Sympathy for Lady Vengeance has one of the most interesting protagonists ever, film or otherwise. She's soooo...passive. Also Sympathy For Mr Vengeance I guess, but that's probably more two anti-hereos going for each other. Great films, though. I should really write about them once I get my blog back-u.

David Alan said...

I has bored with this excerpt. Would I have liked it more had you taken out the "we sees" and camera angles? I’m not certain, but one thing is evident: Hitchcock would’ve needed a good writer to elevate the story. You are spot on here.

Laura Deerfield said...

Reading this, and listening to the interview below, I am struck by something: He says it's all Red Riding Hood. That what frightens audiences is the same as always, and it's what frightened us as kids... but specifically he says Red riding Hood - a tale which very much comes out in this scene.

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