Alfred Hitchcock – Five Tips from the Master


Samuel Johnson, the 18th century English author, once said: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”. Now whether you agree with that statement or not, similar could be said of a certain Mr Hitchcock: “If you’re tired of Hitchcock, you’re tired of film”.

Such is the well stocked arsenal of cinematic techniques employed by Alfred Hitchcock, there really is something for every viewer to enjoy, and plenty of innovative techniques for filmmakers to learn from. In this article we’ll take a closer look at five of Hitchcock’s best loved techniques that can help to turn your damp squid into a Hitchcockian thriller.

The theory of proximity

Emotion is one of the most powerful tools at the filmmaker’s disposal. Hitchcock used the theory of proximity to map out each scene and evoke emotion (whether it’s joy, laughter, anger or surprise).

Emotion is generated chiefly by the actor’s eyes, and Hitchcock used this knowledge to control the intensity of the emotions of his audience.

Much like a composer writing a film score, Hitchcock would use close-ups of the actors to intensify the emotions, then pull back to a wide angle shot to allow the intensity to dissipate.

Some things are better left unsaid

Hitchcock was a firm believer that the focus of a scene should never be the spoken dialogue, but always what was left unsaid. “People don’t always express their inner thoughts to one another”, Hitchcock said. Instead, there should always be something else going on in the scene to allude to the character’s secretive world. Something as simple as a pre-occupation or an actor’s distracted eyes will instantly add intrigue.

The power of understatement

Hitchcock was a firm believer in the use of humour to heighten suspense. He once said: “For me, suspense doesn’t have any value unless it’s balanced by humour”. Hitchcock would use humour to divert the audience’s attention to the more trivial aspects of a character. This dramatic contrast would add emphasis to a moment of suspense.

The first person point-of-view

A first person point-of-view shot sequence tells the story through the eyes of the main character, without the need for dialogue. The simple act of searching a room for objects of interest can become much more engaging using this technique. This additional human element gives the audience the impression they are uncovering the story in real time.

Show less to do more

Hitchcock wasn’t the first filmmaker to use this technique and nor will he be the last. By carefully choosing a handful of shots and tying them together to tell a story, you can portray an event without giving the audience the full story. The purpose of montages in Hitchcock’s films was to: “transfer the menace from the screen into the mind of the audience”. Take a look at the shower scene in Psycho and you’ll see there was no shot of the killer stabbing his victim.