Alfred Hitchcock: the First Director to Brand Himself (Part 2)

Beyond name or image recognition, there is more that Hitchcock did to build his brand. Before anything else was intentionally accomplished, it was important for Hitchcock to specialize quickly and stick to it. Other than Psycho and The Birds, the rest of Hitch’s films are suspense. And even Psycho and The Birds are suspenseful as well (but skew more towards the horror genre than suspense-thriller. Hitchcock specialized in the art of suspense. And you can learn more about this specific subject by reading the book Suspense with a Camera by Jeffrey Michael “the Hitchcock Whisperer” Bays. Having grown up in the silent film days, Hitchcock took the visual storytelling techniques used in those films and adapted them to “talkies.” Interestingly, while so many were turning visual films (a bit redundant since films should be visual) and including expansive dialogue (on the verge of sounding like a stage play), Hitch embraced the power of silence and minimalist dialogue that was truly an extension of the plot itself. The camera was the unspoken star of the movie.

Hitchcock was not only a master of suspense but was also a master at surrounding himself with talent. A quick glance over his prolific filmography (approx. 50 feature films plus many TV shows) reveals that he almost exclusively worked with the best talent on screen and behind the camera. Princess Grace Kelly, Janet Leigh, Jimmy Stewart, Carry Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Kim Novak, Tippi Hedron, Gregory Peck, and more. Hitchcock worked to forge relationships with the actors he wanted to work with. He made himself out to be someone they wanted to work with too. Of course, his reputation preceded him so many were predisposed to wanting to work with him even before meeting Hitch. This concept is referred to as branding by association. And you and I engage in this practice everyday on social media by following, commenting on, and tagging other users. We hope to be noticed, or we make ourselves someone that other influencers want to engage with. If you do all these actions under your name, then you are building your brand.

Creating engaging content, in which you are specialized, without knowing your audience can end in a lackluster performance. As a former marketing and sales professional, Hitch knew that he needed to identify his target audience to craft a story that would instantly resonate in a call to action (i.e. buying tickets). Through his studies and experience in marketing research and development, he knew how the human imagination worked and what cinematic elements would impact the audience most. Hitch started with the end result he wanted and worked backwards. Researchers call this inductive reasoning. By approaching his films this way, Hitch knew that the elements he chose to use and the method by which to execute them, he would achieve the desired result. The end result points us back to the “specialization’ step in the branding process because Hitch mastered the art of suspense with a camera evident in his ability to achieve it consistently. No one knew his audience better than Hitchcock did.

Although all the steps in Hitch’s branding process are vitally important, one step stands out in particular as perhaps the most important element. Take credit for your work. In no director today–or ever, really–have I witnessed a better and more entertaining example of taking credit for one’s work than Hitchcock. Between his famous cameo appearances and his show running of his title television program, which is largely what is responsible for making him a household name outside of cinephiles and film buffs, Hitchcock injected himself into our theatres and living rooms. And it’s that TV show’s opening that made the nine stroke profile sketch of Hitch world famous. In addition to taking credit for ones own work, there is also a need to allow others to promote you. And that’s where the critics and television hosts come in. Because of Hitch’s sense of humor and his mastery of cinematic storytelling, he was always a crowd favorite. Even though he never won an Academy Award (though, nominated several times), he was bestowed other awards in the US and UK. In fact, he was knighted by the Queen! So, we really should address him as Sir Alfred Hitchcock.

When many writers and directors were going full-talkie after Warner Bros. The Jazz Singer, in order to stand out from the crowd, Hitch made the decision to hold back on dialogue. Sometimes, Hitch would even have extended periods of near silence to place emphasis on the visual aspects of the conflict. Hitch described this practice of holding back on the dialogue, as holding back your cards. Using a poker game analogy, don’t lay all your cards on the table. Hitch desired to add multiple layers of conflict or dramatic irony to each scene. This process layers the story by adding new dimension to the conflict and dramatic irony. Hitchcock made it a point to guide the audience through the story versus telling them what was happening. Practices like this reinforce the idea of the Hitchcock brand.

Hitchcock’s mastery of suspenseful cinematic storytelling is demonstrated through his lack of detail-giving throughout his stories, whether we are talking his films or television shows. This action contributes to just why his films and shows are brilliant! In many ways, Hitch provides opportunities for the audience to figuratively contribute to the dialogue in the films. There is a high degree of anticipation as the audience does throughout the story; and it’s this heightened sense of anticipation that contributes to to engagement factor. Again, it may seem that there are other directors who have also done this, but Hitchcock was the first. And this is part of his brand.

What sets Hitchcock apart from his contemporaries as the first director to brand himself, is the important step of the branding process that requires the content, service, or product creator to elevate the product or service to an art form. We have plenty of examples of this today such as Apple, Lego, Disney, and yes even Michael Bay. Think about it. As soon as I mention Michael Bay, you instantly form an image of his style of motion pictures to mind. Furthermore, you know precisely what you are going to get (and not get) and you’re guaranteed to get more than two hours of explosions, homophobia, over-sexualization of women, lack of coherent plot, car chases and more. In fact, the concept of an explosion is synonymous with Michael Bay; it is his brand, so to speak. Hitchcock accomplished creating his brand decades before Bay. Whether talking about Hitchcock films today or back when they were first-run movies, the general public knew precisely what they were going to get with a Hitchcock film. Interestingly, this is why Psycho was such a big deal because Hitch broke some of his own rules to redefine the American horror film. And it’s this breaking of cinematic rules that made the film a success then and now.

Just because you have a logo, a recognizable name, and a record of successes, that does not mean that you are a brand. It’s like this: just because you have all the ingredients to make that fancy dish you had at that exclusive restaurant, that does not mean you can replicate the dish. You need the recipe that details the order and amounts. That is not unlike becoming a brand in the art and science of motion pictures. Part of being a brand goes beyond the product or service in which you have demonstrated specialization; you have to take all the respective elements of brand building, and then create an experience for the audience. Motion picture director branding is experiential. More than a couple hours of exceptional entertainment, the audience desires greatly to experience the director’s vision. Through his understanding of audience, Hitchcock knew how to activate movie goers and create an emotional connection between his name and image and what they desire for the best cinematic experience possible.

While the knowledge for motion picture producers and directors to use logos, color pallet, typography, iconography, design, and imagery strategically was not new with Hitchcock, he was the first director in Hollywood to combine the power of all those elements and the others that have been mentioned in this essay. Separately, each of the aforementioned elements can be influential tools; but combined, they are extremely powerful for developing a brand.

PART 1

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol.2” movie review

Par for the course and predictable. This movie review was written by R.L. Terry ReelView contributor and writer/producer Leon Z. Coming to you all the way from Germany where Guardians of the Galaxy Vo.2  was released last week, I thought you would be interested to hear from someone other than me this week–think of it as a fresh perspective. Meanwhile, I will be watching it in Tampa tomorrow evening at 7.

“Set to the backdrop of ‘Awesome Mixtape #2,’ Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the team’s adventures as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel cinematic universe continues to expand.“
-Marvel Studios

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a bit of a disappointment when compared to the first one. This might be because the novelty factor the first one had for being a funny superhero movie is gone, or because it’s just very predictable and lacks excitement and emotional engagement. Pretty much all of the CGI action extravaganzas fall flat because there is never any real danger for the characters so the viewer does not care about them. There were times in this movie where the action was pretty much all CG, which I didn’t care much about since nowadays pretty much everything can be done with a computer but audiences don’t seem to get enough of it. But fortunately, the filmmakers are not overly reliant on those scenes. The movies strong points are its humor and character development. Although most of the setup and payoff jokes are very predictable, there are still many jokes that hit. Since the movie is primarily about Peter “Starlord” Quill meeting his father, there is actually some character development; and not just for him, but also for the other guardians–well except for Groot, Rocket and Drax so basically just Gamora, but some secondary characters from the first one like Yondu and Gamora’s sister, Nebula an although some of it is clichéd it still works, mostly.

Most of the emotional moments are genuine, but some of them are a little to on the nose.

The movie also introduces new secondary characters like Peters appropriately named father Ego and his companion Mantis, which are moderately interesting, Mantis probably more so than Ego because her interactions with Drax, which cause a lot of laughter.

What drags the movie’s quality down significantly is that it is just so predictable and cliché, which makes you care a lot less because you already know what will happen most of the time.

Overall, I would recommend this movie to Marvel fans and casual moviegoers; but for more hardcore cinephiles, this movie–if at all–is a one time watch.

Written by Leon

“A Cure for Wellness” movie review

acureforwellnessAn intriguing, provocative psychological thriller that’s an innovative example of neo-noir avant-garde cinema with a touch of mystery. Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness is a thought-provoking film that hooks you from the very beginning and continues to draw you into the narrative with its labyrinth of subplots and incredibly beautiful cinematography. Although it certainly borrows turning points and plot devices from past films, A Cure for Wellness provides audiences with an experience that is unique and protects the film from being pigeonholed into any one sub-genre of horror or directly compared to other movies that have similar attributes. With impeccable production designs and serene landscapes juxtaposed against cringe-worthy disturbing imagery, Verbinski’s ambitious film is one that cinephiles will appreciate and find enjoyment in discussing the various themes, symbols, and visual storytelling elements that seamlessly work together to create a cinematic experience that stands out against the homogeneous horror/mystery-thriller past films. Justin Haythe’s screenplay sets him up for continued success as he demonstrates, with this film, that he can cross into new genres and hook the audience early on. Despite the occasional slow-burning periods in the narrative, you will not likely feel the nearly 2.5hr runtime.

After he receives a corner office in a high rise building, a stock broker finds himself involved in an investigation that requires the presence of the entire board. Mr. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is forced by his fellow directors, on the board, to fly to Switzerland to retrieve the CEO in order to complete a proposed merger to save the company from closure. Little does he know that those who voluntarily check in to the mysterious wellness center seldom desire to leave the prestigious mountaintop retreat-like spa and its famous water. When the CEO of his company refuses to leave the comfort of the retreat, Lockhart decides to wait it out in the village below the hilltop. After a bizarre car accident on his way back into town from the institution, Lockhart finds himself a patient due to his broken leg. Under the guidance of Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs), Lockhart experiences all the wellness center has to offer to the patients and guests. However, he cannot help but feel that there is a darkness surrounding the cult-like daily operations at the spa and begins to dig into the history of the prestigious wellness institution. After meeting a rather unusual patient at the institution named Hannah (Mia Goth), Lockhart is determined to unravel the mystery of how so many people, including himself, are diagnosed with the same bizarre ailment that keeps them there for the cure.

Beautiful. The first cinematic element that will jump out at you will be the incredible cinematography and picturesque landscapes of the Swiss Alps. From the moment the film opens, there is a tone that inspires you to look at and listen for details throughout the film. The fact that the teasers and trailers reveal very little about the plot is beneficial to the overall experience of the film. Just when you think you have the plot figured out, you will be thrown for a loop and question what you thought was predictable. In all fairness, I figured out a very important aspect to the plot midway through after a particular line delivered by one of the central characters prompted me to have one of those aha moments. However, I was still continually intrigued by the film’s diegetic delivery and visual storytelling. The fact that I figured some rather crucial information did not detract from the experience. Early on, it is clear that there is something not right with the spa, and gathering information and piecing together the puzzle will draw you in closer to the film. Without giving anything away, there are definitely clues along the way that reveal the dark mystery and history behind the exclusive mountain retreat wellness institution.

Dane DeHaan delivers an excellent performance as Lockhart, and provides the perfect balance of entitled Wall Street prick, detective, and humanitarian on a rescue mission. Jason Isaacs, no stranger to playing a creepy villain, delivers a disturbingly convincing performance as the strange doctor overseeing the almost clandestine treatments for an unknown sickness. Mia Goth’s performance adds a great deal of uneasiness to the film by coming across as innocent, child-like, all the while hiding something creepy and peculiar about her very pretense at the facility. Bojan Bazelli’s cinematography is breathtaking and is successful at completely immersing the audience into the mountain top world of the Swiss Alps. Whether following a train or an extreme close-up of the human eye (a staple in horror films), the visual art he paints with the camera serves to provide solid visual storytelling. Directing such a complex film requires great patience, organization, and effective guidance. Verbinski channels his success with The Ring (2002) by integrating some similar stylistic techniques in A Cure for Wellness. Speaking of the title itself, the irony in the title isn’t realized until the third act; but, delivers an outstanding payoff that will prompt many discussions in a film studies class. Stylistically, the film sits at a crossroads between avant-garde horror and neo-noir with some science-fiction and mystery thrown in for good measure and intrigue.

Despite many reviews slamming the film for a complex system of subplots and not enough traditional terror in the narrative, this film is a fine example of an outstanding vision that is seldom seen on the silver screen due to the fact that it will not likely make a lot of money, but it adds critical value to the art of motion pictures. Instead of creating a film that would have included many of the more typical tropes in this hybrid science-fiction mystery/thriller, Verbinski chooses to meticulously craft art for the screen. For the squeamish, there are definitely some scenes that will churn your stomach and even some disturbing imagery that many will like to unsee. If you enjoy avant-garde cinema or even innovative neo-noir storytelling, then you will likely enjoy this film and appreciate the vision of the director as well as the beautifully complex themes, subplots, and symbolism.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead