Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock may have left the building over 30 years ago but author Tony Lee Moral puts the legendary director/producer’s expertise at every reader’s fingertips in his new book, Alfred Hitchcock’s Moviemaking Master Class. Moral’s admiration for his subject matter is no secret; this is, after all, the third book he has penned about the iconic Master of Suspense.
The amount of detailed research he has done is well evidenced and covers a career that spanned an enviable six decades. (Even though the book doesn’t come with a soundtrack, I’ve been unable to shake the TV show’s theme music out of my head ever since I finished reading it; during the late 50’s, Alfred Hitchcock Presents was one of the few shows I was allowed to stay up late and watch.)
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: When did the writing bug first bite you?
A: From a very early age, I’ve been writing ever since I started reading. I loved adventure stories as a child, particularly the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series, such as The Three Investigators, and the Willard Price books. As a teenager, I wrote many short stories, and by the age of 16, had written my first novel (unpublished). Since then, I’ve written three non-fiction books and four novels.
Q: How about the desire to become a producer/director?
A: Along with my interest in writing, I’ve always been interested in film, and first discovered Alfred Hitchcock at the age of 10 when I saw I Confess. I loved the moral dilemma faced by Montgomery Clift in the lead role and even at that age could recognize Hitchcock’s craftsmanship in storytelling. At college, I really immersed myself in Hitchcock’s Films. My first job after college was working for the BBC where I spent many years working myself up to being a Producer/Director. I’ve now been working in television for half my life and all my professional life.
Q: In addition to Hitchcock (obviously), who were some of the filmmakers that you would say had the most influence on the development of your own vision and style?
A: I would say Ingmar Bergman, Anthony Minghella, Yasujuri Ozu and Quentin Tarantino have been inspirational to me after Hitchcock. Some of my favourite films are Persona, The English Patient, Tokyo Story and Pulp Fiction.
Q: Inquiring minds want to know: What inspired you to write not just one but three books about Alfred Hitchcock?
A: Hitchcock’s films span the history of cinema, so for me, Hitchcock is cinema. After I wrote my first book on the making of Marnie, it seemed natural to follow it up with a book on the making of The Birds for the 50th anniversary this year. The Masterclass book came as an idea from MWP to encompass all of Hitchcock’s films and it’s very timely because the last year really has been the year of Hitchcock with all the biopics and Vertigo being voted number 1.
Q: What do you feel distinguishes Alfred Hitchcock’s Moviemaking Master Class from other books on the market that have been written about him?
A: It’s like a manual or text book on how to make a movie in the style of Alfred Hitchcock, using his principles of suspense, mystery, counterpoint, contrast and putting the audience through it. It’s not a biography – though you learn a lot about Hitchcock the director along the way – and it’s not an academic book – but I think it’s insightful because it’s told through the voice of Hitchcock and his many collaborators, with some great anecdotes.
Q: What was your favorite chapter to write?
A: Interviewing the actors who worked with Hitchcock for Chapter 4, as I was able to interview screen legendaries such as Kim Novak, Doris Day, Eva Marie Saint and Norman Lloyd. All wonderful and gracious human beings.
Q: Conversely, what was the most challenging section for you to pen?
A: I would say the first two chapters because it’s essential to hook and engage the reader so they want to keep on reading. I spent more time and effort on the opening chapters and rewrote them continually.
Q: Who were your favorite people to interview in the course of doing research?
A: I went to interview Norman Lloyd twice at his home in LA. He’s 98 years old, but very sharp and quick witted with an amazing memory. He truly is a classic and classy gentleman and as well as being an actor in Saboteur and Spellbound, he was a producer on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series for 10 years.
Q: Hollywood has a propensity for cranking out prequels, sequels and remakes of successful films, and Hitchcock’s impressive body of work is no exception, In your opinion, what were the best and worst remakes of his most popular films? Which one has yet to be remade and who would comprise the dream cast to make it a success?
A: The worst remake was Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, because it’s foolhardy to replicate a classic even in the form of a homage, and the original cast is irreplaceable. I don’t think there is a best remake, but I’ll say Rear Window because of Christopher Reeves’ bravery to continue in film after his accident. I’d remake Strangers on a Train with Zachary Quinto and Henry Cavill in the lead roles.
Q: You’ve indicated that your appreciation of Hitchcock’s talent deepens every time you watch one of his films. What’s the latest thing you’ve discovered?
A: I recently interviewed the Assistant Director on Torn Curtain, one of Hitchcock’s lesser movies, who said that Hitchcock took great care to get realism in the reflection in the ship’s dining room window. I’ve never noticed that before which shows that even when working under less than full steam, Hitchcock paid attention to the smallest details.
Q: What’s your favorite Hitchcock movie?
A: I would say the definitive Hitchcock movie is North by Northwest because it has everything that you expect from his films, wit, polish, humour, panache, the wrongfully accused man, and Cary Grant’s star charisma and athleticism. My personal favourites are Vertigo and Marnie because of the psychology of the characters and what those films meant to Hitchcock.
Q: What’s your take on the way he was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins?
A: I enjoyed Hitchcock the movie, I thought it was a humorous and affectionate portrayal and I didn’t feel that the movie was mean spirited. Obviously there were dramatic licenses taken by the film, and Hitchcock is an enormously complicated character to define, but Hopkins brought sympathy and comedy to the role.
Q: If you could sit down for lunch with the late Master of Suspense, what question would you most like to ask him that could not have be answered by anyone who ever knew him?
A: I’m curious to why he was never able to repeat the success after Psycho. It seems that with that film’s monstrous success with the public and also financially, Hitchcock reached his creative peak and I’d like to know why he wasn’t able to top that.
Q: What’s your best advice to the next generation of screenwriters and filmmakers?
A: Know what the studios are looking for, watch a lot of films, develop your own voice, listen to people, work on distinctive dialogue. Nurture relationships as well as your talent. The best stories are out there and it’s all about finding them.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: My fourth (and probably final) Hitchcock book on his reputation and how he is perceived over 30 years since his death. This is going to be very interesting and revealing and I’ve already gathered many interviews from people who haven’t spoken out before.
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?
A: My steps to a Hitchcock education are watch The 39 Steps, Notorious, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho.
Tony Lee Moral is a writer and award winning documentary film maker who has written three books on Alfred Hitchcock: Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass, The Making of Hitchcock’s The Birds and Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie. He has produced and directed over a 100 hours of television for major broadcasters in the US and the UK, including behind the scenes documentaries on films and television.