Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Screenplay Review - Alfred Hitchcock And The Making Of Psycho

Taking a break from Amateur Week because it's HALLLOOOOWEEEEEEN and that means Scriptshadow must be spoooooooooky for 24 hours and that means a horror script review but since I don't have any good horror scripts, I'm reviewing a script that is ABOUT a horror film.  Sound fun?  I hope so cause I ain't giving you another choice here.

Genre: Biopic'ish
Premise: The struggles behind the making of Psycho, the project that would become director Alfred Hitchcock's most famous film.
About:  Anthony Hopkins will star as Alfred Hitchcock.  Helen Mirren will star as his wife, Alma.  Scarlett Johansen will star as Janet Leigh.  Sacha Gervachi will direct.  I believe this is Sacha's first feature film as a director (he's made a documentary).  He's best known as the writer of Steven Spielberg's wackadoozy film, "The Terminal."  John J. McLaughlin adapted the book into a screenplay.  You probably recognize him as the writer of Black Swan.
Writer: John J. McLaughlin (based on the book "Alfred Hitchcock and The Making Of Psycho" by Stephen Rebello.
Details: 104 pages, fourth revision, Oct. 19, 2011 draft

First of all, WTF!!!???

Disney bought Lucasfilm yesterday.  Disney just BOUGHT Lucas.  Lucas doesn't get bought.  He buys other people!  And now we're getting another Star Wars trilogy.  And you know what I say to that?  WOOOO-HOOOO!  I love it.  I've been dying to get Star Wars into real writers' hands forever now, and it's finally going to happen!

How does this tie into today?  Well, George Lucas was a bit of a pudgy filmmaker.  And so was Alfred Hitchock!  Actually, to be serious, I was not looking forward to this script.  I don't like when entities try and mine a famous event when there isn't a story there.  Like, oooh, it's Psycho!  Let's make a movie about the making of it!  Err, but the making of the movie wasn't any different from the making of any other  movie.  So what, let's do it anyway!

I hoped I was wrong.  That there was some fascinating story behind the making of Psycho that I'd never heard about.  But something told me this wasn't the making of Citizen Kane.

So here's the story.  Hitchcock is coming off of North By Northwest, which is a monster hit.  But he's bored.  Everyone wants him to make another North By Northwest but Hitchcock, like his movies, wants to do the unexpected.  Something unlike anything he's done before.  And when he reads Pyscho, he knows that's it.  That's his next movie.

But this is a strange move.  Hitchcock doesn't do horror.  Only schlocky talentless directors do horror in 1960.  On top of that, it's not something the studios are interested in.  They think this flick is dead before the end of opening weekend.  But Hitchcock has plans to do something a little different with it. He particularly sets his sights on a shower scene, which he believes he can immortalize.  You see, there wasn't much nudity in films those days, and definitely not from movie stars.  Yet Hitchock had a plan to imply a ton of nudity without actually showing any.  It was going to be unprecedented.

If only the studios agreed.  They tell Hitchcock there's a reason everyone in town passed on Psycho and they're not funding it.  I have to admit, I was a little unclear about this.  Hitchcock makes mega-hit North By Northwest and the studio won't fund his next movie, which he's doing for 800,000 bucks?  But whatever.  The movie business was different back then so I'm probably missing something.  Anyway, Hitchcock pulls a Passion Of The Christ and funds the movie himself.

In the meantime, Hitchcock starts fighting all sorts of battles.  He's the master of suspense, but he's 60 years old, and the establishment wants to know when he's going to retire.  Hitch doesn't like getting old, and he feels that this movie is going to make him young again.  Then there's his weight problem.  The dude cannot stop eating.  And he hates himself for it.  He sees a monster whenever he looks in the mirror, and that kills him.  But the biggest battle of all is his wife, who becomes the almost-star of the movie.

Alma was Hitch's right-hand woman throughout his career and, if you believe this script, someone he wouldn't have been nearly as successful without.  But Alma's getting sick of Hitch's lack of attention so starts paying attention to a dashing but not very talented writer named Whitfield Cook.  They start writing a script together while Hitchcock films Psycho and it starts to weigh on Hitch, who realizes that if he doesn't rekindle his relationship with Alma, she might run off with the hack and Psycho will turn out a disaster.

So what do I think about "Alfred Hitchcock and The Making Of Psycho?"  Well, it's a good enough script.  It includes some interesting tidbits about the making of.  But after I read it, I found myself asking, "Why did this movie need to be made?"  "What new does it bring to the table?"  I suppose the story of Alma is entertaining, but the script chooses to focus on Hitchcock as the main character even though her story is probably more interesting (mainly because it's less known).

At times, the writer seems just as unsure as we are about the point of the story.  I mean, we start with two tightly focused scenes regarding Hitchcock's age.  So naturally, Hitchcock's inner conflict will be his inability to accept getting older.  However, after those scenes, the age thing is never brought up again.

Instead, we seem to focus on Hitchcock's food obsession (in particular his foie gras craving), which is unfortunately quite thin.  When things don't go right, he eats.  There's really nothing deeper to it than that.

Finally, we move to Hitchcock's issues with his wife.  He rarely pays attention to her, despite all she's done for him.  This is what leads her on this quasi emotional affair (one which she never physically acts on) and while I guess it's kind of interesting, it's also kinda not.  Nothing really scandalous happens.  It's just a bunch of stares and devilish thoughts, leaving the storyline without a satisfying climax.  And that summarizes my feelings about the script.  It just kind of stands there with little to say.

What saves it are the few behind-the-scenes looks at Psycho's famous scenes and stars.  A heavy emphasis is put on the shower scene, which had never been done before in Hollywood.  The most interesting thing about that storyline was the Censors Board.  I guess before you even shot your movie back then, you had to go to a "Censors Board" and get approval from this dreadful stickler who decided whether everything was okay to shoot or not.  For example, toilets weren't shot back then. So you couldn't shoot a toilet!  Wtf???

And with the shower scene, every freaking angle had to be approved of.  And it wasn't.  They wanted Hitch to shoot Janet Leigh from the neck up.  How boring would that have been?  So Hitchcock ignores the censors and shoots the scene the way he wants it, because he knew that scene was going to be the one everyone talked about.

I have to admit, there is something cool about being behind the scenes of one of the most famous films of all time, and it is enough for me to give this script a pass.  But I'm left with the very same question I had at the beginning of this review.  Is there a compelling enough story here to build a movie around?    I'd probably say no.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn't for me
[x] barely worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: This is mentioned in the script as one of Hitchcocks' staples and a scene that always works - A character needs to get someplace but is held up by someone who wants to chat (Marion Crane just wants to buy that car but the salesman keeps talking to her).  Write this scene into your script.  It always works!