Tuesday night at the Arclight Theater in Hollywood, the Below the Line Screening Series hosted more than 400 industry professionals for a screening of Fox Searchlight’s Hitchcock, followed by a special Q&A session. The Q&A panelists included editor Pamela Martin, production designer Judy Becker, prosthetic makeup department head Howard Berger, hair department head Martin Samuel, director Sacha Gervasi and Stephen Rebello, who wrote the book upon which Hitchcock was based, “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.”
Gervasi explained that this relationship and collaboration between Hitchcock and wife was part of what drew him to this project. “I just loved the idea that for every great artist, there’s someone somewhere who, at midnight, had to listen to their shit,” Gervasi said.
Gervasi spoke of how his own life paralleled an aspect of the film. When he decided to make the documentary Anvil, he had numerous people telling him not to make it and that it would be a failure, but he did not allow himself to be deterred. In pursuit of making Anvil, Gervasi had to put up the same amount of money that Hitchcock did to make Psycho. Once Gervasi had been selected to direct the film, he was instructed to convince Sir Anthony Hopkins to come aboard. After a hugely successful lunch meeting with Hopkins, Gervasi was then able to gather his crew. “The best part was then I got to hire best crew in the entire world,” Gervasi said.
“The important thing to remember is that we weren’t trying to bring (Psycho) to life, we were trying to bring the making of the movie to life,” Becker said. “What we tried to do was to show the working world of a soundstage in 1959, and it was fascinating process to investigate the equipment that was used, the way sets were constructed, which is different from how they are now and what the sets of Psycho might have looked like when they were on the stage being shot.” Becker described the task of bringing the making of Psycho to life as a liberty; as opposed to the limiting experience it would have been if she were reviving Psycho itself. Becker and her team did, however, have the interesting challenge of developing a color palette for the film with highly limited access to the Hitchcock archives. “No one has ever seen production photos of Psycho that were in color,” Becker said. “No one that I could find knew what colors the sets were painted.” Becker and her team kept to a fairly contemporary palette for most of the film and on the Psycho sets, they used lurid colors that were also based on vintage color.
When it came to the Hitchcock residence, Becker and Gervasi decided that Alfred and Alma brought a little bit of England to Los Angeles. “In fact, they lived in a pretty L.A.-looking, contemporary house in Bel-Air, but Gervasi had the idea that they lived in a sort of Tudor-style house, a bit grander than where they actually lived,” Becker said. Hitchcock was a collector of modern art and also had an interest in architecture. He even designed his own kitchen, a detail to which the designers paid attention.
Another challenge overcome by the filmmakers was the degree of resemblance they wanted between Hopkins and Hitchcock. “The key word I keep using is, ‘portrait,’ and it’s not a caricature or a likeness or a disguise,” Berger said. “It’s an interpretation of Alfred Hitchcock transforming Anthony Hopkins.” It took numerous tests to find the sweet spot wherein Hopkins could channel the character of Hitchcock without looking too much or too little like himself. “Working together with Martin and also with Julie Weiss, our costume designer, and Peter Montagna who was my key on the show – we co-applied the makeup every day together – and we finally came upon the final makeup after six attempts of this and changing things,” Berger said. “And as Tony got more and more comfortable with the character, we were able to start removing things.” Hopkins ended up wearing what is called a “horseshoe piece” which is a prosthetic that covers the chin, cheeks and neck, as well as a full nose tip and nostrils, a hair piece and brown contact lenses.
One scene Berger was particularly proud of was the one in which Hopkins is in the bathtub wearing a full upper body silicone suit that gave the illusion that Hopkins was corpulent as Hitchcock was. What was particularly impressive is that the decision to make the suit was only made the night before, giving almost no time to make the suit.
Martin shared her experience of editing the film and weaving the story together while maintaining emotional momentum. “That’s what makes it interesting,” Martin said. “As a filmmaker, you want to know what fuels people’s art; what they are personally bringing to it.”
The film took a notably short amount of time to complete, taking six months from the beginning of principal photography to turning in the final cut. “We shot the movie in 35 days and basically, all of us here worked because we love the material, we love the actors and we wanted to get the movie made,” Gervasi said. “So the spirit of the movie was everyone threw in and gave up ‘paying jobs’ because we really love this film. And it went through the whole company, we were kind of in it together.”
Gervasi went on to describe the work of Danny Elfman, who not only composed the score for the film, but personally paid to keep the orchestra after the budget to pay them had run out.
Rebello explained what led him to write the book and where this story had started for him. “As a little boy, I called (Hitchcock) on the phone, because honestly, I didn’t know that you couldn’t,” Rebello recalled.
While taking a break from starting a doctorate at Harvard, Rebello attended a party in southern California where someone asked him what he would like to be doing if he could be doing anything else at that moment. He said, “I think I should interview Alfred Hitchcock,” and someone else at the party, having heard his response, gave Rebello Hitchcock’s phone number. It so happened this fellow partygoer worked for Cary Grant at that time. And so began Rebello’s journey toward conducting an unexpectedly significant interview; the last interview Hitchcock would give. When he and Rebello met, he was elderly and ill, but still remembered Rebello’s childhood phone calls.
“He was spectacular,” Rebello said. “He was everything you wanted him to be. He was witty and scary and playful and funny.”