Want to edit like the master of cinema? Look no further than this video masterclass.
Alfred Hitchcock is widely considered as one of the greatest film directors of the 20th Century and his filmmaking is still influencing directors today.
Luckily – thanks to an interview back in 1964 to CBC – we have some tips from the master himself about the three ways he edited his footage.
Whilst this is long before the days of Final Cut Pro and DaVinci Resolve, the seven-minute video provides some great tips of how to engineer shots to create different responses.
This expertise is invaluable to help the everyday filmmaker think about their close-ups and cutaways in different ways.
How to edit like Hitchcock: Cutting and the variety of shots
Hitchcock explains the first of his editing styles using the most famous scene in Psycho – the murder of the woman in the shower.
He said: “We call it cutting but it isn’t exactly that. Cutting implies severing something – it really should be called assembly.”
“A lot of people think that cutting, or we’ll say montage or assembly, is taking a man from place to another and jumping into a close-up of him, which [D. W.] Griffith invented it’s true. But, to me it goes much deeper,” he continued.
He explains how he put this into practise when piecing together the shots in this scene.
Hitchcock said: “You could not take the camera and just show a nude woman being stabbed to death – it had to be done impressionistically. So it was done with little pieces of film – the head, the feet, the hand, the parts of the torso.”
“I think in that scene there were 78 pieces of film in about 45 seconds,” he said.
How to edit like Hitchcock: Orchestration and the size of shots
In the second murder in Psycho, Hitchcock uses the sizes of shots and perspective to create suspense within the scene in different way to the iconic shower murder.
He explained: “So I have this man mounting the stairs in what I would call a medium shot – a waist shot – he gets to the top of the stairs then I take the camera and put it very very high, way way high above the ceiling – almost as though we’re looking down on the whole thing.”
“Then the next cut is a big head of the man as the knife goes across his face,” he added.
The variation between shot sizes and filming style is engineered by Hitchcock here to create suspense and shock.
“If it were music” Hitchcock adds, “it would be tremulous on the violin and suddenly a brass instrument – which is the big close-up.”
How to edit like Hitchcock: Pure cinematics and the assembly of film
Finally Hitchcock explains how to show and develop characters with the footage you cut. He gives the example of a close-up of a man, a cutaway to a mother and a baby and then the close-up of the same man smiling.
If the cutaway was changed to a woman in a bikini then the impression of the man’s character completely changes. Otherwise known as the Kuleshov Effect, this assembly of film plays on our own minds to derive more meaning from the footage we see.
As Hitchcock said: “That’s what film can do for you.”
Watch the full video above to see the shots in action and then get started injecting some Hitchcock inspired suspense into your own filmmaking.
For more behind the scenes directing insight, check out these tips from David Cronenberg about shooting with one lens.