How Hitchcock Got People to See Psycho


Alfred Hitchcock acquired rights to the novel Psycho for $9,500] and reportedly bought copies of the book to preserve the novel’s surprises.

Psycho is based on Robert Bloch‘s 1959 novel of the same name, loosely based on the case of convicted Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein. Both Gein, who lived just 40 miles from Bloch, and the story’s protagonist, Norman Bates, were solitary murderers in isolated rural locations. Each had deceased domineering mothers, sealed off a room in their home as a shrine to her, and dressed in women’s clothes. However, unlike Bates, Gein is not strictly considered a serial killer, having been charged with murder only twice.

Paramount executives balked at Hitchcock’s proposal and refused to provide his usual budget. In response, Hitchcock offered to film Psycho quickly and inexpensively in black and white using his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series crew. Paramount executives rejected this cost-conscious approach, claiming their sound stages were booked even though the industry was in a slump. Hitchcock countered he would personally finance the project and film it at Universal-International using his Shamley Productions crew if Paramount would merely distribute. In lieu of his usual $250,000 director’s fee he proposed a 60% stake in the film negative. This combined offer was accepted and Hitchcock went ahead in spite of naysaying from producer Herbert Coleman and Shamley Productions executive Joan Harrison.

Paramount, whose contract guaranteed another film by Hitchcock, did not want Hitchcock to make Psycho. Paramount was expecting No Bail for the Judge starring Audrey Hepburn, who became pregnant and had to bow out, leading Hitchcock to scrap the production.

Their official stance was that the book was “too repulsive” and “impossible for films”, and nothing but another of his star-studded mystery thrillers would suffice. They did not like “anything about it at all” and denied him his usual budget. In response Hitchcock financed the film’s creation through his own Shamley Productions, shooting at Universal Studios under the Revue television unit.

The original Bates Motel and Bates house set buildings, which were constructed on the same stage as Lon Chaney Sr.‘s The Phantom of the Opera, are still standing at Universal Studios in Universal City near Hollywood and are a regular attraction on the studio’s tour. As a further result of cost cutting, Hitchcock chose to film Psycho in black and white, keeping the budget under $1,000,000.   Other reasons for shooting in black and white were his desire to prevent the shower scene from being too gory and his admiration for Les Diaboliques’s use of black and white.

To keep costs down, and because he was most comfortable around them, Hitchcock took most of his crew from his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including the cinematographer, set designer, script supervisor, and first assistant director.  He hired regular collaborators Bernard Herrmann as music composer, George Tomasini as editor, and Saul Bass for the title design and storyboarding of the shower scene. In all, his crew cost $62,000.

Through the strength of his reputation, Hitchcock cast Leigh for a quarter of her usual fee, paying only $25,000 (in the 1967 book Hitchcock/Truffaut, Hitchcock said that Leigh owed Paramount one final film on her seven-year contract which she had signed in 1953).[His first choice, Leigh agreed after having only read the novel and making no inquiry into her salary.[ Her co-star, Anthony Perkins, agreed to $40,000. Both stars were experienced and proven box-office draws.

Paramount did distribute the film, but four years later Hitchcock sold his stock in Shamley to Universal’s parent company and his next six films were made at and distributed byUniversal Pictures.   After another four years, Paramount sold all rights to Universal.

The film, independently produced and financed by Hitchcock, was shot at Revue Studios, the same location as his television show. Psycho was shot on a tight budget of $806,947.55,beginning on November 11, 1959 and ending on February 1, 1960. Filming started in the morning and finished by six or earlier on Thursdays (when Hitchcock and his wife would dine at Chasen’s).[46] Nearly the whole film was shot with 50 mm lenses on 35 mm cameras. This trick closely mimicked normal human vision, which helped to further involve the audience.[

Before shooting began in November, Hitchcock dispatched assistant director Hilton A. Green to Phoenix to scout locations and shoot the opening scene. The shot was supposed to be an aerial shot of Phoenix that slowly zoomed into the hotel window of a passionate Marion and Sam. Ultimately, the helicopter footage proved too shaky and had to be spliced with footage from the studio. Another crew filmed day and night footage on Highway 99 between Fresno and Bakersfield, California for projection when Marion drives from Phoenix. They also provided the location shots for the scene in which she is discovered sleeping in her car by the highway patrolman. In one street scene shot in downtown Phoenix, Christmas decorations were discovered to be visible; rather than re-shoot the footage, Hitchcock chose to add a graphic to the opening scene marking the date as “Friday, December the Eleventh”.

The public loved the film, with lines stretching outside of theaters as people had to wait for the next showing. This, along with box office numbers, led to a reconsideration of the film by critics, and it eventually received a very large amount of praise. It broke box-office records in Japan and the rest of Asia, France, Britain, South America, the United States, and Canada, and was a moderate success in Australia for a brief period. It was the most profitable black-and-white sound film ever made,[citation needed] and Hitchcock personally realized well in excess of $15 million (about $120m today). He then swapped his rights to Psycho and his TV anthology for 150,000 shares of MCA, making him the third largest shareholder in MCA Inc. and his own boss at Universal, in theory; however, this did not stop them from interfering with his later films.[Psycho was, by a large margin, the most profitable film of Hitchcock’s career, earning over $12 million for the studio on release, and $15 million by the end of the year.

Wikipedia

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