Extract from draft screenplay of North by Northwest (1959), written by Ernest Lehman and directed by Alfred Hitchcock
HITCHCOCK: Now, the choir on the left and singing, and they seat themselves just as he gets to the—say, there are four rows of choir singing—just as he gets level with the end row. Now we CUT to the DOWN SHOT on the congregation and they sit, you see. And they look up and there’s nobody in the pulpit. And yet, last time we saw him, although there was a man in surplice under the stairs, he was about to put his foot on the first step to go into the pulpit. But we CUT AWAY before he gets his foot on the step.
LEHMAN: As a member of the audience here, I feel slightly cheated, Hitch, right there.
HITCHCOCK: He hasn’t put his foot on the steps—this is my point. That you now go to the congregation and they look up—the front row looking up. Now you CUT to what they see and there’s the pulpit. Now you HOLD your camera on that empty pulpit. Now you CUT BACK to your people: “Well, what’s happened?”—now you come back behind the column and the pulpit…
What a gem I just found, Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Lehman plan Hitch’s final film:
In this audio clip we hear director Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman developing the storyline for what would be Hitchcock’s last film, Family Plot (1976). The screenplay for what turned out to be Alfred Hitchcock’s last film, Family Plot, was written by Ernest Lehman who had previously worked with the director on North by Northwest (1959). On both films, the writer and director collaborated closely, but on Family Plot Lehman recorded their story conferences, providing unprecedented insight into their working methods. An estimated 80 hours of their conversations are preserved at the Ransom Center.
Now, in the process of writing the film, it seems that you began with a list of disparate ideas that Hitchcock mentioned as possible scenes for the movie. Could you discuss them?
Yes. They were all wonderful, and I took them all down, and I never used most of them. For some reason, Hitch wanted to do the longest dolly shot in cinema history. The idea was that the shot would begin with an assembly line, and then you’d gradually see the parts of the car added and assembled, and, all the while, the camera’s dollying for miles along with the assembly line, and then eventually there’s a completed car, all built, and it’s driven off the assembly line, and there’s a dead body in the backseat.
Did you try to work that one into the script?
Not really. It was intriguing, but it had no place in the picture. Then Hitch told me another one: there’s a speech being made at the General Assembly of the United Nations, and the speaker suddenly stops. He’s irritated, and he says he’s not going to continue until the delegate from Brazil wakes up. So a UN page goes over to the man, taps him on the shoulder, and the delegate falls over dead. But he’d been doodling — and that’s the only clue to the murder — and his doodling is a sketch of the antlers of moose. So I said, “Well, that’s intriguing — now we’ve got the United Nations, and Detroit, and what might seem like a reference to northern Canada.” And Hitch said that he’d always wanted to do a scene at Lake Louise where a family is having a reunion — a get-together — and a twelve-year-old girl takes a gun out of a baby carriage and shoots someone. I realize that all these ideas sound very peculiar and unrelated, but I took them all down and thought about them. —Creative Screenwriting (2000), “North by Northwest”: An Interview with Ernest Lehman
In this 1965 interview, Hitchcock discusses — partly in French — “La Mort aux Trousses” (French title for “North by Northwest”), and in particular the famous “that’s funny — he’s dusting crops where there ain’t no crops” scene.
Previously on Cinephilia and Beyond:
- North By Northwest screenplay 1958 shooting draft for your reading pleasure (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
- Ernest Lehman’s notes
- North by Northwest, the Hitchcock classic, as you’ve never seen it before
Alfred Hitchcock and his favorite cinematographer, Robert Burks, frame a shot of North by Northwest.
In this 1965 interview, Hitchcock discusses - partly in French - “La Mort aux Trousses” (French title for “North by Northwest”), and in particular the famous “that’s funny - he’s dusting crops where there ain’t no crops” scene.
North By Northwest Script – 1958 shooting draft for reading pleasure.
Classic American Films: Conversations with the Screenwriters available from Amazon.
North by Northwest (1959): A Conversation with Ernest Lehman
North By Northwest Script – august 12, 1958 shooting draft for your downloading and reading pleasure: