At 2:30 p.m. last Thursday, writer-director Sacha Gervasi called up Howard Suber to invite his former UCLA professor and current students to visit the set of Hitchcock that same night. For the production’s final day of shooting, the setting was a downtown LA theater gussied up to look like the 1960 location of Psycho’s New York City premiere.
“In the UCLA Film and Television Producers Program, which I chaired, we have 300-400 hotshots from the industry in to speak every year, so there’s enormous interchange about what’s going on today in the business,” Suber (pictured) tells FishbowlLA. “But, curiously, this is the first set visit of a class that I recall in 30 or 40 years. Seeing the students’ excitement, I wrote the chair afterwards that we should try to arrange set visits much more regularly.”
Gervasi, who scripted Steven Spielberg’s 2004 drama The Terminal and directed the great 2008 documentary about heavy metal band Anvil, took Suber’s class a decade ago. Students came and went from the set all night through to 2:00 a.m. wrap, getting to meet Anthony Hopkins as well as watch him interact on set with co-stars Helen Mirren and Toni Collette.
Suber himself met Hitchcock once or twice at screenings and says that Gervasi-Hopkins have chosen wisely in terms of how they are channeling the Master of Suspense. “Hitchcock’s nose was thinner and longer than Hopkins, so they just put a tip on him, and they didn’t give him the jowls and neck fat of Hitchcock,” he notes. “But I think makeup and performance captured the essence of Hitchcock, and that Hopkins really nailed Hitchcock’s cadence and inflection, although not to the point where it might be considered parody.”
Gervasi has been a regular speaker at Suber’s classes and is one of the industry luminaries happy to offer a testimonial fr the professor’s latest book Letters to Young Filmmakers released in February. ‘Suber’s in-depth knowledge of film is simply unmatched. This is 50 years of cinematic wisdom expressed with wit, precision and philosophical elegance,’ the pupil-made-good writes. ‘An indispensable, inspiring piece of work from a truly legendary teacher who has somehow still managed to remain one of Hollywood’s best kept secrets. Not anymore!’
Suber says he has never seen things as bad as they are now, both for people in the film industry and newcomers trying to gain access. “The students continue to be terrific – it is statistically as hard to get into UCLA’s directing and writing program as into Harvard and Yale’s med school and law school,” says Suber. “But fewer films are being made, in both studio and indie fields, and yet there are many more people trying to find a place. So the competition has become insane.”
Gervasi, whose first feature assignment (The Big Tease) came about before he graduated, will move on from Hitchcock to another fascinating Hollywood subject – Hervé Villechaize. “Sacha told me of his personal interaction with Hervé when he was a student, and it was perhaps the first story he ever wanted to turn into a film,” Suber explains. “Sacha was the last person to interview him before he committed suicide, so all the time Hervé was talking to him he was planning to kill himself.”
“Sacha is one of the most sensitive and compassionate people I know, so this story has haunted him ever since,” he adds. “He walked away from being an A-list writer (Spielberg, a script for Dallas, etc) to mortgaging his house and putting his own money into Anvil, which absolutely no one had any interest in backing. He’s one of those rare director-writers who will do a story just because he loves it, even if nobody else does.”
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