Director Phil Abraham discusses working with ‘Bates Motel’ superfan Rihanna and his high-wire inversion of Hitchcock’s most famous scene.
These are the moments that fans of A&E’s Bates Motel have been waiting more than four seasons for. …
… The man in charge of flipping the script and teasing audience expectations was director Phil Abraham, once an Emmy-winning cinematographer, and now the helmer responsible for the epic one-shot Daredevil hallway fight, classic Mad Men episodes including “The Other Woman” and two previous Bates Motel installments.
On the eve of production on the NatGeo military miniseries The Long Road Home, which he’s executive producing and directing five of eight installments, Abraham spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the high-wire act of reproducing Hitchcock, the enthusiasm of Bates Motel superfan Rihanna and the detail this critic thought was a cliff-hanger, but really isn’t. (Read THR‘s interview with co-showrunners Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin about the episode here.)
‘Bates Motel’ Bosses Explain That Bloody ‘Psycho’ Twist
It’s a pretty fun, high-wire act that you’re performing in this episode. Does an experience like this gave you new appreciation for Gus Van Sant’s Psycho experiment?
Sure. To sort of break down what Hitchcock did by-the-numbers is really a very interesting exercise, especially as you’re executing them. You’re right about the high-wire act, because you’re dealing with a piece of cinema history here and that shower scene is a scene that is ingrained in almost any filmgoer’s psyche, so playing with it and copying it and referencing it is a high-wire act. It’s very tricky. Of course we had our own twist on it, which I think wasn’t a real shock, but we played with it a little. I grabbed frames and stills from Hitchcock from that scene that I thought I would use and then there are other things that we did our own version of, but it was a lot of fun, actually. It was an endless amount of fun.
You’d worked on Bates before, so you knew the drill, but what’s your reaction when you’re given this opportunity and you see you’re directing not one, but two Psycho shower scenes?
I loved it! Are you kidding? It was the plum assignment of the year for me. It really was and I was very grateful to Carlton and Kerry for even having me on this episode. It was great fun and it’s also nerve-wracking, because you’re thinking, “How am I going to do this and what am I going to do?” I didn’t want to just copy it, but yet it’s such a specific piece of celluloid history that you’ve got to be very careful with it. You’ve got to honor it and you’ve got to deviate from it and it’s got to be specific. People are priming themselves. The minute they see and hear about a character named Marion Crane and she’s checking into the hotel and everyone is saying, “OK, here we go!” It’s really a very purposeful thing for Bates to lean as heavily into that storyline as they did, it being a prequel of sorts. We finally are catching up to where the movie was and then to deviate from it again, beyond it, so it’s an interesting thing that the show did in terms of having its identity with Psycho and yet a separate identity as well.
And that, of course, makes it a total inversion of the original Psychoshower scene, which was designed so that the audience had absolutely no way of anticipating it.
Absolutely. It’s completely the inversion of it, because you just know. The minute she checks into the room, we’re using similar set-ups and you know what’s coming. I think the “surprise” is that it’s not Marion who meets her end, but nonetheless, you’re building up to that.
Instead, that first shower scene plays almost as a joke. You’re building to a laugh line or a punchline, rather than to horror and a murder. How does that factor into the construction?
I think to have murdered her would have been, “Then, this pallid imitation of Hitchcock,” which I don’t think anyone wanted to do. To re-create that with her? That seemed like the wrong idea. So we’re playing with expectations and then we’re twisting it. While the show intersects with the movie, we’re also our own show and we’re not the movie and we’re playing with those expectations of what the movie was and how the movie went forward. It’s much better to do it that way, for me. If they were just saying, “OK, and now Norman comes in and brutally murders Marion in the shower,” then I’d be in a quandary like, “Gee, now what do I do?” Because then we’re actually re-creating the scene. Instead, we’re just re-creating the build-up and we’re playing with expectations.
With two shower scenes to work with, was there any math for which shots or moments from the Psycho scene were going to be in the first scene and which you needed to save for the second?
In a way, I kind of wanted to do them the same. When Sam is in the shower at the end, I don’t think anyone has any doubt what’s going to happen. It’s one of those things, again, where we’re playing with audience expectations. You toy with them in the first shower. She says, “Screw this,” and there’s a punchline, but then when Sam gets in the shower and Norman and Norma are having their scene at the reception desk, you know what’s coming. It’s building to that inevitability. I felt like I didn’t really have to tease it anymore. And yet you still want to build some tension and some suspense to it. Having deceived the audience the first time, are we going to toy with them a second time? You are dealing with hot coals a little bit. It’s truly a high-wire act. … (read more)
Source: Hollywood Reporter