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Who Directed the PSYCHO Shower Scene?

On 15, Feb 2014 | 24 Comments | In Editing, Low Budget Filmmaking, Production | By vashi

The murder of Marion Crane is one of the most iconic and memorable scenes in film history. In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock shocked the viewers by killing the lead actress only 30 minutes into PSYCHO. The scene took 7 days to film in December of 1959. Of the 77 camera set-ups captured that week…only 51 shots were used in the final edit. The shower scene is a master class in filmmaking and displayed an advanced style in both editing and visual style.

It has been studied and analyzed ad infinitum by filmmakers, cinephiles and scholars…but what I find interesting about the shower scene is how ‘un-Hitchcockian’ the angles and editing are compared to almost all his other work. This is no doubt due to the contributions of legendary graphic artist Saul Bass who created the 48 storyboards for this scene.

What’s even more interesting is that both Alfred Hitchcock and Saul Bass claimed to have directed this scene. Let’s take a look at the evidence…

 

Hitchcock and Bass both claimed to direct the shower scene

Both Alfred Hitchcock and Saul Bass claim to have directed this scene

 

The collaboration between Saul Bass and Alfred Hitchcock started with the the famous title sequences for Vertigo and North by Northwest. Saul was then hired as the Pictorial Consultant (the first time that title was used in filmmaking) on Psycho. He created the title sequence and the 48 uber-stylized and specific storyboards for the shower scene. Saul was paid $17,000 for his work. By comparison, Bernard Herrmann was paid $17,500 for the score as was scriptwriter Joseph Stefano.

 

Saul Bass storyboards for Psycho

The 48 storyboards Saul Bass created for PSYCHO
(Click to Enlarge)

 

Most of the 48 storyboards were shot exactly as diagramed by Saul Bass. It’s uncanny how accurately they match the final shots.

On those 7 days in 1959…both Hitchcock and Bass claimed to have directed the shooting of the scene. Several of the key players and Hollywood Legends weighed in…

Janet Leigh: “Mr. Hitchcock showed Saul Bass’s storyboards to me quite proudly, telling me in exact detail how he was going to shoot the scene from Saul’s plans”

Billy Wilder: “Like most people in Hollywood you knew who did what if you were in the industry, especially if great stuff was involved. Everybody talked about that scene. Right from the beginning I understood that Saul did it. Everybody knew. Everybody knew Saul was brilliant. Who questioned it until those remarks of Hitchcock? You only have to look at the sequence and look at the film and think. Think for one minute. You see the shower scene and you see it is not at all like Mr. Hitchcock…King of the Long Shot.”

Saul Bass: “When the time came to shoot, I was on stage near Hitch, who was sitting in his elevated director’s chair in his Buddha mode, hands folded on his belly. He asked me to set up the first shot, as per my storyboard. After I checked it through the camera, I turned to him and said ‘Here it is.’ Then Hitch said ‘Go ahead, roll it.’ It was an amazing moment. On Hitch’s set, no one would issue orders other than Hitch. So I swallowed hard, gulped and said ‘Roll camera! . . . Action!’ He sat back in the chair, encouraging me, benignly nodding his head periodically, and giving me the ‘Roll’ signal as I matched each shot to the storyboard.”

Alfred Hitchcock: “He [Saul Bass] did only one scene, but I didn’t use his montage. He was supposed to do the titles, but since he was interested in the picture, I just let him lay out the sequence of the detective going up the stairs, just before he is stabbed.”

 

No matter what the the key players said…one point is quite clear. Film is a collaborative art. Everyone on a project wants to contribute their strengths and make the film the best it can be. The best intentions and points of view can clash…but ultimately the best ideas will rise to the surface and survive…no matter who proposed them. This is when attribution and ownership comes into play. Everyone wants their due credit. Everyone wants recognition for their hard work. It can be rewarded with money, film credit, acknowledgement or other creative ways that Hollywood finds in attributing the hard work of artists.

In the video below…I have edited the Saul Bass storyboards next to the final film version of Psycho. No matter who directed the 7 days of shooting in 1959…it’s quite clear that the Saul Bass storyboards were followed explicitly to create the indelible images that made this spectacular scene.

 

Because the editing in the scene is so fast and frenetic…I have made my video downloadable from Vimeo so you can go frame-by-frame to fully appreciate the intricacies of the storyboards and the final film imagery.

For more info and detailed references…I recommend reading:

Comprehensive article on the collaborations of Saul Bass and Alfred Hitchcock.

A solid analysis of the shower scene by @johnneyred

 

Until next time…

vashivisuals.com

@vashikoo

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Comments

  1. All of this discussion is nonsense. Hitchcock, the DIRECTOR, hired Bass to do storyboards and then DIRECTED him on the creation of the storyboards. He was the director. He directed. Are we to believe that Hitchcock didn’t go over the boards with Bass and then let him go on set with a naked woman and direct his picture???!?!?!?

    Everyone contributes to the film. Perkins certainly did but he didn’t direct the picture. By hiring Bass, Hitchcock sought out someone who could help him fulfill his vision. Just as you might hire a cinematographer to light a film a particular way. He hires Herrmann because his score will ADD to the vision.

    • vashi

      I appreciate the feedback but I think stating that “All of this discussion is nonsense” is rather unintelligent. I agree completely that Hitchcock was the director of Psycho. He was the Master of Suspense but also the Master of hiring the right people for each job. He hired Saul Bass as the Pictorial Consultant and paid him for his creative prowess that redefined the visual landscape.

      If Hitchcock simply “directed him on the creation of the storyboards” as you said…you are doing a disservice to the capabilities of Saul Bass and the wisdom of Hitchcock. He allowed Bass to create from scratch the visuals that ended up on the screen. Hitch was smart enough to capitalize on Bass’s vision and paid him $17,000 out of his own pocket to create the 48 storyboards. If the storyboards were solely Hitch’s visions then an art intern would have drawn them for free. He paid for the Saul Bass concepts…not for the privilege to direct Saul Bass.

      I agree that everyone contributed to Psycho and the best ideas made the final version. My whole point of the post was to stress that ‘FIlm is a collaborative art.” You mentioned that Hitchcock hired Herrmann to write the score to add to his vision. What you might not know is that Hitchcock wanted NO MUSIC for the shower scene murder. Hermmann talked with Bass and then wrote the famous music for the scene. He recorded it, edited it into the film and presented it to Hitchcock. Alfred loved it and kept in in as it was much more effective with the score that Herrmann wrote…even though Herrmann was not asked for this by the Director. That is why you hire the right people for the job. They will surprise and excite you. They will give you something you did not expect. That is why he hired Saul Bass to create the storyboards that were shot as drawn.

  2. Fantastic article! I think it’s clear that Saul’s storyboards were the blueprint, and if we go by his quote he did direct that particular scene. But you could also think of Saul as directing second unit, with Hitchcock on set, directing the director (or at least giving a thumbs up or down, which is sometimes the only thing a director has to do if he chooses great collaborators like Saul). Hitchcock did seem to rub his people the wrong way though. Bernard Herrmann seemed to have hated the guy towards the end. Maybe this ‘controversy’ over who directed the shower scene was caused by similar emotions. In either case, this iconic scene does not exist without the combination of these two geniuses (Three if you count Herrmann’s score!).

    • vashi

      Well said Jonathan and thank you for the kind words. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. Well, Hitchcock never took a writing credit on any of his films, but it can’t be said he let his writers work from scratch. Is there reason to think Hitchcock worked any differently with Bass than he did with his writers? How do you know Hitch “allowed Bass to create from scratch?”

    The quote from Wilder is funny. Yes, Hitchcock was the King of the Long Shot (or Take). But he was also King of Montage.

    • vashi

      “From scratch” refers to the fact that the initial images were not guided by Hitchcock. After their conversations…Bass was unleashed to visualize the imagery because Saul had the gift to design. Just as Hitchcock discussed with the writers before they went and wrote the first draft from scratch. Hitch wasn’t standing over their shoulder questioning or dictating every word…he made the right choices in collaborators and let them do their jobs. That was my meaning of “from scratch”. Hope that helps!

  4. Are you not just making my unintelligent point? If Hitch was smart enough to capitalize on Bass’s visuals and pay him out of his own pocket then wasn’t he being an awesome director? I do know that Hitchcock didn’t think he needed music for the shower scene. Herrmann said he would present something and Hitchock, the director, agreed. Then used it as a good director would when he discovers something better than what he thought. You’ve made my point and tried to say that I’m wrong. I don’t get it. You clearly don’t understand the role of the director. The don’t have to be the source of all good ideas but they need to be the editor of all ideas.

    You might need to change the title of your article. Like “Film is collaboration – the contribution of Saul Bass to Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’.” A clumsy title but more honest.

    • vashi

      You’re entitled to your anonymous opinion of course…but you’ve completely missed the point. Saul Bass stated he directed the scene. That is a fact. That is what HE said and that is the premise of the article I wrote and the video I created. No idea who you are trying to disprove or why.

      If you would like to continue calling Saul Bass a liar for something HE said…go ahead…but please not here. Your argument is moot.
      Hiding behind your own presupposed definitions of filmmaking roles and hypothetical assumptions of who did what back in 1959 adds nothing to the discussion.

      Over 5,000 people have viewed this article and video in the first 3 days and not one of them was rude or dismissive like you were. The first words of your response…”This entire conversation is nonsense.” Fucking weak sauce on your part. Who starts any dialog with something like that? Only a sad troll.

      Finally, if you don’t like the title of my article and have the gall to recommend what I should change it to on my own site…my only response is that you please start your own blog to post whatever you want and voice your ramblings there.

      • Nice article, and great comparison between the storyboards and the actual scene. I do think it is worth making one clarification. I don’t think that Saul Bass actually ever claimed that he “directed” the shower sequence. According to the Kirkham article your article links to, that claim can be traced to a 1973 London Sunday Times that stated that Bass “wound up directing” the scene. The Kirkham article makes it clear that when Bass was asked by Robello, herself, and others that he made it clear that Hitchcock, not him, directed the scene. Or as he put it, Hitchcock “was in charge whether or not he said ‘action’ or ‘cut’ or not”. I do think though that he thought of himself as responsible for designing the scene (via the story boards), and setting the pace for the fast cuts (via the test footage he shot on the set and edited to show to Hitchcock).

  5. Are you not just making my unintelligent point? If Hitch was smart enough to capitalize on Bass’s visuals and pay him out of his own pocket then wasn’t he being an awesome director? I do know that Hitchcock didn’t think he needed music for the shower scene. Herrmann said he would present something and Hitchock, the director, agreed. Then used it as a good director would when he discovers something better than what he thought. You’ve made my point and tried to say that I’m wrong. I don’t get it. You clearly don’t understand the role of the director. The don’t have to be the source of all good ideas but they need to be the editor of all ideas. You might need to change the title of your post if that is not what you were intending.

    You might need to change the title of your article. Like “Film is collaboration – the contribution of Saul Bass to Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’.” A clumsy title but more honest.

  6. Are we to believe that Hitchcock didn’t go over the boards with Bass and then let him go on set with a naked woman and direct his picture?

    Provide an answer to the obvious question. Preferably and intelligent answer.

  7. Hitchcock started as a designer and would certainly have looked up to many great talents. He also hired Dali to work on Spellbound. He was a director who sought people to fulfill his vision.

  8. Nice article, nice comparison edit.

    As a huge fan of hitch and a professional editor, I like to use this situation with Saul Bass and Hitch as an exemple of good directing in my conversations with producers and/or directors before I start a project, it sets the tone.

    Hitch wisely let his star players on his team “do what they do”. If you look at his direction of actors it is the same scenario, minimal direction maximum performance. A good director knows who he needs to micromanage and when to step aside to get the best results.

    I think that Saul bass as talented an artist he is, didn’t think it through, when he said he “directed it”. Directing is more of a maestro inferential of an orchestra. Your point is well taken, an some should not focus on the titling of the article but the main message.

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