Book Interview: The Young Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass

TYAHMMC - Book Cover

Publisher: Sabana

Release Date: October 31, 2022

“Today’s modern audiences may be more familiar with contemporary directors such as Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Sam Mendes, Kathryn Bigelow, Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Paul Schrader, David Lynch, Bong Joon-ho, Park Chan-wook, Steven Spielberg, and Peter Jackson. All these filmmakers routinely have big budgets at their disposal, and their films are often driven by action sequences, special effects and CGI, often planned using previsualization. But they were all inspired by Hitchcock and his methods of meticulous planning which has been emulated in the years since his death. There is no director whose films are taught more than Hitchcock’s, and whole courses are built around him at schools and universities across the country. Hitchcock believed that film schools should teach the history of cinema as much as anything from the beginning. ‘I’m a puritan and believer in the visual,’ said Hitchcock. ‘And that’s what I think schools should teach. So often you hear of schools, which send out a student with an 8mm camera and see what he observes. That’s only a part of it.’” —Tony Lee Moral (The Young Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass, 2022)

A Conversation with Tony Lee Moral

Tony Lee Moral has given Hitchcock scholarship several priceless gifts. He is responsible for writing “Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie,” “The Making of Hitchcock’s The Birds,” and “Alfred Hitchcock’s Moviemaking Master Class: Learning about Film from The Master of Suspense.” The latter of these volumes has just received a substantial upgrade and has been retitled, “The Young Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass.”

There have been countless books devoted to Alfred Hitchcock. Nearly every theoretic angle has been covered in meticulous detail. However, Tony Lee Moral had something very different in mind for “The Young Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass.” This book is not intended for scholars. It does not delve into theory, biography, or detail any film’s creation. Moral prefers to offer future filmmakers a text for using the films of Alfred Hitchcock as a tool for learning the filmmaking process. It is really a superb idea. Could there be a better tool for teaching young filmmakers the craft of filmmaking? It is certainly difficult to think of one. The book covers the entire filmmaking process (writing, planning, shooting, editing, and marketing) using easy to understand anecdotes. Moral brings his knowledge and research to practical use in “The Young Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass” giving the text a level of credibility that might have been lacking if another writer had written the book. This is required reading for anyone interested in making movies.

We were privileged with the opportunity to talk to Moral about this new edition of “Masterclass” and his essential texts on the making of The Birds and Marnie.

Alfred Hitchcock 1943

AHP: First of all, I’d just like to thank you for making yourself available for this conversation. I’m sure that our readers will be excited to hear about your new book.

TLM: Thank you, it’s great to talk about Hitchcock’s films with a fellow Hitchcockian and I’ve been a fan of your website since it started.

AHP: Thank you so much for saying that! Let’s start at the beginning. How did you first become interested in Alfred Hitchcock’s work, and what incited that interest? 

TLM: I saw my first Alfred Hitchcock movie at the age of 11 with I Confess starring Montgomery Clift and Anne Baxter. I immediately recognized the genius storytelling and was impressed by the moral ambiguity presented by the characters.

Tony Lee Moral Books

AHP: You graced the world with “Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie” in 2002, and it is one of the most essential “making of” volumes that I ever read. Later, you gave us “The Making of Hitchcock’s The Birds,” and that book was just as wonderful.

I’m wondering why you decided on writing about these two films in particular. Was there something about the actual movies at the heart of these books, or did something about the events that happened “behind the scenes” make you want to tell those stories?

TLM: I was studying zoology at the time at University, which coincided with a major retrospective that Channel 4 in the UK was running on Alfred Hitchcock. I saw The Birds and Marnie and that incited my interest. At the same time, I was reading Robin Wood’s seminal book “Hitchcock’s Films,” so a combination of those events made a lasting impression on me.

AHP: Were you surprised by any of the discoveries that you made while researching these two books?

TLM: I was surprised how different the perception of Hitchcock was by his colleagues to that presented by the media, the press, and some biographers. Almost singularly everyone who worked with Hitchcock loved the man and heaped exceptional praise upon his work ethic and storytelling genius.

My favorite aspect was interviewing the writers, particularly Winston Graham, Evan Hunter and Jay Presson Allen, and it was very interesting to uncover what they brought to the film, which is too numerous to elaborate here, but can be read in my revised edition of “Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie.” It was to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Marnie in 2014. A number of important collaborators like the writers I mention had all passed away, but I was able to interview their children and gained more fascinating insights into their characters. I also wanted to include a chapter on “Mary Rose” because it was so essential to the production of “Marnie.” Jay Presson Allen wrote the script and was going to be involved before the film was scrapped by Lew Wasserman at Universal.

AHP: It is too bad that so many of his late career passion projects were scrapped in favor of spy films by Wasserman and the other Universal suits (not that there is anything at all wrong with spy films). I feel like there is evidence to suggest that this was a major factor in the perceived slump in his work at that time. I’ve read that “Mary Rose” script, and it would have been an interesting movie.

I believe this new book is an expanded version of “Alfred Hitchcock’s Moviemaking Master Class” which was released in 2013. What gave you the idea to write a book like this for up-and-coming filmmakers?

TLM: I had accumulated a lot of interviews and research materials other than The Birds and Marnie, so I wanted to expand the scope to all of Hitchcock’s films. If you ask the person on the street what their favorite Hitchcock is, you’re likely to get a different response because Hitch made 50 feature films. Some say Rebecca, others will quote Psycho. As Hitchcock was a master storyteller, the book is a practical how to guide for up-and-coming filmmakers.

AHP: How was writing this book different from the work that you had to do for the previous two books?

TLM: It was much wider in scope, encompassing the entire body of Hitchcock’s work. I was able to interview the crew and cast of Frenzy such as Gilbert Taylor the DP, and Alec McCowen who plays the inspector. Hitchcock’s working methods were similar throughout his films with storyboarding and intensive script preparation.

AHP: Did the research that you underwent for the books on Marnie and The Birds inform “Master Class” at all, or did you mostly rely entirely on new research?

TLM: I conducted many interviews from actors and actresses who were available. My biggest success was interviewing Kim Novak who I met at the Cannes Film Festival. She gave me wonderful memories of filming Vertigo which is one of my favorite Hitchcock’s along with many others. I also wanted the emphasis to be on the Young Alfred Hitchcock so focused more on the British period.

AHP: Was there a specific reason that you wanted to go back and expand that volume? What differences can those who have read that earlier version expect to find in this new edition?

TLM: It’s ten years since “Masterclass” was published and of course cinema has moved on considerably. We’ve had our first foreign language film win an academy award with Parasite, and the director Bong Joon-Ho is very much influenced by Hitchcock, especially Psycho. And Matt Reeves the director of The Batman was also influence especially through the voyeuristic storytelling. So, there is a new generation of really talented filmmakers who learnt their trademarks through watching Hitchcock’s films.

AHP: What mistakes do you see recent newcomers making with their movie projects, and how do you think this book might correct these problems?

TLM: Hitchcock always said the three most important things were the script, the script, the script. He also said that the success of the film, almost 75%, depended upon casting, so securing good actors for your film is essential.

AHP: How did Hitchcock’s filmmaking evolve throughout his career, and what can filmmakers learn from this evolution?

TLM: Hitchcock was primarily a master storyteller and entertainer, but as he became very successful, he also wanted to be taken seriously as an artist and gain respectability. So, we have my favorite period of Hitchcock from Vertigo to Marnie. We’re very familiar of directors such as Brian de Palma and Martin Scorsese who love Hitchcock, but todays’ emulators include Park Chan-Wook, David Fincher, and Bong Joon-Ho who really bring art house and mainstream to their work. It’s fun to watch these modern-day filmmakers and look out for the easter eggs and homages to Hitchcock films which run through their films.

AHP: I always ask this question simply because I’m always very curious about the answer. Do you have a favorite Hitchcock film?

TLM: That’s difficult to answer. I believe Hitchcock’s films are life experiences just like a painting or other works of art. Your perception may change over time, depending on your age, outlook, and position in life. If you had asked me when I was 19, I would have said Vertigo or Marnie. Today I’m more inclined to favor North by Northwest because for me it’s the quintessential Hitchcock film which is very entertaining and highly accessible to everyone.

AHP: I remember you mentioning once that you are fond of The 39 Steps (1936).

TLM: The 39 Steps is one of my favorite Hitchcock films and my favorite from his British period.  Its largely due to the casting of Robert Donat. I interviewed Norman Lloyd who told me that Donat was Hitchcock’s favorite leading man. The great shame was that Donat and Hitchcock didn’t work on any more films together, though Hitch wanted him as the lead for Sabotage and Secret Agent. When Hitchcock went to America, their relations ceased as Donat didn’t enjoy working in Hollywood.

AHP: I understand that you have another book coming out next year. Could you talk a little about that project?

TLM: Yes, it’s based on Hitchcock’s storyboards and will be published in September 2023 by Titan Publishers in the UK and Penguin Random House in the US. It’s been wonderful to research the storyboard artists and production designers associated with Hitchcock from films from The 39 Steps to Torn Curtain and there are many fascinating new insights in the book.

Alfred Hitchcock Storyboards - Book Cover

AHP: Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us!


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