Alfred Hitchcock, director of over 60 films, said, “When an actor comes to me and wants to discuss his character, I say, ‘It’s in the script.’ If he says, ‘But what’s my motivation?, I say, ‘Your salary.’”
His no-nonsense leadership style, while not endearing to actors, propelled Hitchcock from his position as an assistant director in an English studio to one of the biggest names in Hollywood in fewer than five years.
Hitchcock was born in England, the son of a greengrocer, and got his start in the film business by drawing sets and title cards. He quickly and passionately absorbed the processes involved in making films and started to write scripts for practice.
His dedication paid off and he was eventually allowed to direct his own full-length movies in England. His success brought him to Hollywood where he searched for bigger and better opportunities.
The rest is history. Hitchcock became a household name, synonymous with murder, intrigue, and espionage.
On the set Hitchcock was a notoriously low-key, hands-off leader who expected his crew and actors to do the job they were responsible for. According to one anecdote Doris Day eventually approached Hitchcock on the set of the The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and wondered if she was doing a good job. He said he didn’t think she was doing a bad job and that was the end of it. He wasn’t prone to emotional flare-ups or tense dramatic moments. He simply wanted to get the job done.
In a more dramatic incident, Hitchcock called actors “cattle,” but later recanted his original statement and said, “My actor friends know I would never be capable of such a thoughtless, rude and unfeeling remark, that I would never call them cattle . . . What I probably said was that actors should be treated like cattle.”
Hitchcock believed in an authoritarian system that required his actors and crew to be autonomous while being responsive to commands.
Before Hitchcock set about making any film he would have most components planned before he began shooting. He was detail orientated, had no room for improvisations, and didn’t have kind feelings for ideas outside the boundaries he set. Each film was mapped out and rarely subjected to tinkering after it had been finalized.
Hitchcock blended a highly organized authoritative leadership structure with his laid-back, everyone-can-do-their-jobs attitude. His peculiar mix of leadership styles worked and it created tight story lines, fostered consistent productivity, and earned numerous industry accolades while letting the people he worked with flourish naturally.
Hitchcock was a champion of common sense (he once said, “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder”) and a creative powerhouse. His ability to get things done while still being able to express himself consistently was a true skill and one that informs his dichotomous leadership style. A leadership method that combined practicality with a sharp focus on individual imagination and ingenuity.
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