My undergraduate film professor, Jeanine Basinger, had a theory that Hitchcock was an experimental filmmaker.
It's agreed that Hitchcock was a master stylist and famous for the subjective camera that with editing made viewers feel suspense.
His style was based on the audience aligning with the motivations of his characters. When obstacles get in the way - the audience more times than not- becomes a helpless voyeur. Viewers of Hitchcock are constantly feeling suspense because they are trapped when they know more than the characters. We constantly want to say, "Hey, watch out!" to the lead characters.
I was just watching a famous scene from Marnie on TV. Tippi Hedren plays Marnie who is stealing money from her office and she's tip-toeing out the office. She takes off her shoes because she realizes a cleaning woman is working outside the office in the hallway.
Marnie puts the shoes in her coat pocket upon exiting. With the stolen money in her purse, she tip toes out. The camera keeps focusing on a loose shoe in her coat. It's going to fall down. It's going to make a noise and Marnie is going to be found out. "Marnie, look at your shoe!"
However, Marnie doesn't know that her shoe is falling out of her coat. Only we do.The shoe falls. Makes a sound.
The cleaning woman doesn't notice. Everyone is surprised and relieved once more. Marnie and the audience. When Marnie exits the office we learn the cleaning woman is hard of hearing.
In Psycho, seeing Anthony Perkins' shadowy figure enter Janet Leigh's bathroom when she's taking a shower is another example of knowing more than the characters.
Well, that was a bit of a tangent! Sometimes I need to talk Film 101.
But getting back to my point, Basinger asserted that the master stylist, Hitchcock, went out of his way to experiment. Some examples:
- Lifeboat. It's as if Hitchcock said one day, "I want to tell a story where the action never leaves a tiny row boat." Basinger called this a "limited space" movie. Das Boot is another famous one.
- Rope. Hitchcock makes an experimental movie where there is not one edit (except when he changes film stock canisters).
- Psycho. Hitchcock makes an experimental movie where the beautiful star is killed off in the first 1/3 of the movie. Unheard of.
- The Parradine Case. Hitchcock eschews all of his past subjective techniques and with long takes instead of point of view cuts makes a film where we don't naturally align with anyone.
It's a good lesson to remember. In your own video, sneak in an experiment. You'll stretch yourself and probably more important tweak your winning formula to keep it fresh.
Here are some examples:
- If you've always shot interviews with the subject looking at an off camera interviewer. Use an eye-direct system (or make your own with a teleprompter) to have the interviewee look directly in the camera. There is a subtle difference.
- Mix up the expectations. Start your video in one genre and then turn it upside down. Here are two examples of this technique.
- Figure out ways to use the latest technology by building them into the budget. Use an octocopter. Shoot super slow mo with a Sony FS700. Check out a DJI Ronin -- a new way to achieve that smooth steadicam look. Be safe and partner with experts who use these toys day in and day out.
- If you've never done stop motion, figure out how stop motion could enhance your b-roll. I saw an Errol Morris film and then tried the same technique here (see the apple at 1:08).
Experimenting is the key to learning and keeping you at the top of your field. You may be surprised that the result will be clients wanting more.
Photo Credit: Thompson Rivers University CC BY-NC-SA 2.0