The Design of Hitchcock
The visual design of HITCHCOCK hinged on merging two very different
worlds: that of the closed PSYCHO film set, where the bones of
Hitchcock's trademark texture, anxiety and titillation were created, and
another world even less seen, Hitchcock's domestic home life with Alma.
Gervasi worked with a highly accomplished crew including director of
photography Jeff Cronenweth, production designer Judy Becker and costume
designer Julie Weiss, to bring both to life.
Gervasi was drawn to two-time Oscar nominee Cronenweth because of
his elegantly austere work with David Fincher on such films as SOCIAL
NETWORK and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. "You could learn
everything you learn in film school in just one week with Jeff," says
Gervasi. "He is that assured and innovative."
Becker, whose films include BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and THE FIGHTER, was
equally key as a collaborator. She and Gervasi talked a lot about how
to create a dynamic sense of period as well as a compelling reality for
Alfred and Alma.
"Sacha really wanted to show Hitchcock's home world, his domestic
life, as well as his Hollywood life, so we had to look for ways to tie
these together, which we did mainly through palette," she explains.
"For example, we picked a lot of 50s colors, like coral and aqua, but
then you might see touches of those in Hitchcock's very traditional
English home. It was quite an intensive process."
Since PSYCHO was shot in black and white, and there is no existing
color photography from the shoot, Becker researched what colors might
have been used to achieve the gray scale tones in the 1960 movie - but
also added electrifying pops of the colors that defined mid-Century
"Not having a visual record could be seen as a handicap but you
could also view it as enormously freeing, which I did," says Becker."
Sacha and I decided that we wanted to make our movie set vibrant and
colorful, in part to play against the viewer's expectations since PSYCHO
is so iconically black and white."
Creating the Hitchcock home - for which an exterior on Alpine Dr.
in Beverly Hills and interiors in Pasadena stood in - was more about
creating a sense of partnership over time, and Becker filled the rooms
with mementos from several decades, accumulated over years of working
and being together. "It was important to feel that Alma and Alfred have
already been married for 40 years when our film takes place, so the
house incorporates a feeling of all the stuff that came before," she
Once again, a primary principle was avoiding replication. Instead,
Becker set out to craft a believable, dynamic environment that would
bring audiences into Hitch and Alma's living spaces. "During PSYCHO,
the Hitchcocks actually lived in a ranch house in Bel Air, but Sacha
wanted their house to look more like the Tudor they had lived in in
England," Becker explains. "We researched their house in Bel Air quite
a bit, but we departed from reality when it worked well for the story.
There were also many things we were true to, including Hitchcock's love
of modern art, which is something that sort of plays against this old
English house and brings it to another level."
Becker also included subtle Hitchcock motifs in the house and in
Hitchcock's office, including birds, a species with which he was
fascinated long before he made THE BIRDS.
For Hitchcock's office, Becker had the advantage of being able to
work with the actual environs where he started developing PSYCHO. The
PSYCHO sets - including the iconic bathroom, the opening-scene motel
room and the parlor where Norman Bates peeks at Marian Crane though a
spyhole -- were then re-created on the stages at the Red Studios in
Hollywood, which were dressed to depict the Universal lot of 1960, where
PSYCHO was shot.
"You get a chance here to see these sets as you never saw them in
the movie," notes Becker. "And you get to see them in color for the
first time, so that is part of the fun."
Color was also a cornerstone of costume designer Julie Weiss' work.
Weiss, a two-time Oscar nominee for FRIDA and TWELVE MONKEYS, was
excited by the breadth of the costuming on HITCHCOCK. "To have both the
world of Alfred and Alma and the world of Ed Gein -- that's a gold
mine," she says. "I had the opportunity to go from plaid shirts to
The cast who would wear her costumes also excited her. "I was
extremely lucky to be able to work with this cast of originals," she
muses. "These are actors who make the camera dance and that camera has
to get past whatever costume I put on them, so it can never be armor."
Gervasi adored Weiss' creative energy. "Julie, like all great
artists, is obsessive, compulsive and absolutely focused on making her
work brilliant," says Gervasi. "She's an extraordinary character who
would have been right at home in the 16th century with the great painters
of the Renaissance."
Weiss took her inspiration from the archives but added her own
touches. "This was a period of time where grooming was extremely
important so there's a level of finish to all the characters," she
observes. "You start by asking yourself, why does this person get
dressed the way they do? The most important thing is that when the actor
looks in the mirror, they feel they've become that character. That's
what it's all about."
And that's exactly the gift the actors say they received from
Weiss. Anthony Hopkins, who has worked with Weiss five times, says of
her: "She's like a Stanislavsky Method costume designer. She goes into
the depths of the character through endless research and comes up with a
philosophy that you never even considered."
Toni Collette was also thrilled with her wardrobe. "I felt totally
spoiled because I love the way Peggy got to look in the movie. I don't
have a boy's body; I have curves and what Julie designed for me is
perfect. She's so great at what she does and she approaches the
character in very abstract ways so every fitting with her is an
The Makeup: Making Hopkins Hitchcock
To allow Hopkins to create Hitchcock, Weiss collaborated with
Howard Berger's KNB Effects Group (of which he is founder with Gregory
Nicotero), which oversaw the makeup. Berger, an Academy Award winner
for THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE,
created the intricate make-up design that helped Hopkins interpret
Hitchcock's persona. Following Hopkins' and Gervasi's lead, he too
shied away from imitation.
"From day one, our goal was not to design make-up that would make
Tony look exactly like Hitchcock," Berger explains. "Both Tony and Hitch
are very well known, so you look at the features that made Hitch who he
was and see how you can augment them onto Anthony Hopkins. So many
things are different: the shape of the head, the placement of the eyes.
Our aim was to come up with the perfect blend so Tony could work the
make-up and bring the character to life in his inimitable way."
Berger toiled for weeks to come up with a process that wouldn't be
too burdensome for Hopkins, but says the actor was gung-ho. "Tony was up
for almost anything, but we were all happy that we settled on a make-up
process that ultimately only took 90 minutes to apply," says Berger.
Hopkins donned facial prosthetics including a silicone "horseshoe"
piece that encompassed the character's neck, chin and cheeks. Pieces for
the earlobes and a nose tip were then added, and makeup applied over the
whole thing daily. Contact lenses covered Hopkins' bright blue eyes, his
teeth were painted to take his natural whiteness away and then a hair
piece was put on to emulate Hitch's hairline.
Berger put in intensive work, but he summarizes: "All we are doing
with this make-up is giving Tony a tool. It was just the first step in
allowing him to bring the character to life. When he walks on to set he
becomes Hitchcock. That's an amazing transformation to see."
Herrmann To Elfman: The Music
Hitchcock believed sound and image were inseparable -- and to
create an aural landscape that would match his films' intensity and sly
humor, he turned most often to New York-raised composer Bernard
Herrmann. It was Herrmann who shaped the transformed PSYCHO's score
into perhaps the most influential film music of all time; and it was
also Herrmann who defied Hitchcock's original idea that the film's
shower scene be unaccompanied, bringing in the slashing violins that
became a trademark of psychological terror for generations.
In HITCHCOCK, Sacha Gervasi wanted to pay tribute to Herrmann, who
is played by Paul Schackman, but even more so to give the film its own
distinct musical sensibility, one as droll, shadowy and unexpectedly
romantic as the story of Hitch and Alma. To do so, he approached Danny
Elfman, a four-time Academy Award nominated composer best known for an
eclectic and memorable array of films including EDWARD SCISSORHANDS,
DICK TRACY and BATMAN.
Gervasi had long been a fan - and was excited to see Elfman delve
into what is, within all the cinematic and psychological intrigue, at
its core, a romance. "Danny is a real rock musician but he also deeply
understands classical composition," says the director. "I think he's
one of the best composers of our times. His score for HITCHCOCK
enriches the experience of the film as a love story between these two
complicated people; and he's done something that's very from the heart
and feels very pure."
Elfman was intrigued right away, especially because he cut his
teeth on Hitchcock movies and considers Herrmann a major inspiration for
his own work. "I've been a Hitchcock fan my whole life," says Elfman,
"since childhood - although I remember I wasn't even allowed to see
PSYCHO when it came out. That was the only film my parents ever said no
He goes on: "PSYCHO is probably the greatest film score ever
written in my mind, and in some ways it is the inspiration that was
responsible for me becoming a film composer. So right away, the idea of
HITCHCOCK hit me on several personal levels."
Still, it wasn't until Gervasi invited Elfman to the set that the
composer was ready to dive in. "Sacha said 'why don't you come down and
check it out?'" recalls Elfman. "So I watched one day of shooting and I
was so hooked, I said 'can I come back tomorrow?' Watching Anthony
Hopkins and Helen Mirren was intoxicating for me."
Their heady chemistry became the jumping off point for Elfman,
taking him far beyond the more obvious territory of nostalgia or homage
to Hitchcock soundtracks. The composer knew going in the last thing he
wanted to do was to, in any way, try to parrot the perfection of
Herrmann's PSYCHO score. "Sacha and I talked in the beginning a lot
about the idea that we were never going to quote Herrmann or sound
directly like Herrmann," he explains.
And yet Herrmann haunted the creative process with a more ghostly
presence. "I realized at a certain point I was touching on Herrmann
here and there, not intentionally, but rather because he is so much a
part of my own musical DNA," Elfman explains. "So I was being conscious
of Herrmann, but never mimicking him, giving respectful nods here and
there to the master."
Elfman continues: "The film has its own unique musical identity -
the music is really very much about the internal point of view of
Hitchcock and Alma's characters, and that's what makes it interesting to
me. The music is never about Hitchcock's films, with the one exception
being that we played some of the theme to 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'
for the sheer pleasure of it. It is a dark score, but also playful, and
most of all, it is romantic because that is the heart of the picture."
That romantic heart beats not only through the music but also
through many of the more subtle touches in the film. One such lovingly
applied touch is a play on a famed Hitchcock trademark: the director's
cameo in every film. After much prodding from the crew, Gervasi waited
until the final day of production - when they were shooting the PSYCHO
premiere - to make his brief appearance.
As the movie lets out he is fittingly seen exiting in the crowd
with Hitch and Alma.
Next Production Note Section
Home | Theaters | Video | TV
Your Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome.
© 2015 23®, All Rights Reserved.