Elements of Suspense (2)

The Elements of Suspense also talked about editing in order to maximize tension, that when emotions are high, Hitchcock resorted to tight shots and close-ups, but when the tension is over, he’ll fall back on medium shots.

This is common. And editing is just as important when you write your script. Consider the way Tarantino used editing through his action lines to maximize the tension in the syringe scene in Pulp Fiction. Everything is on the line here, not just the life of Mia but Vincent’s as well. Notice the implied close ups and tight shots in his action lines and the way he dragged out this short moment:

Vincent lifts the needle up above his head in a stabbing motion. He looks down on Mia.

Mia is fading fast. Soon nothing will help her.

Vincent’s eyes narrow, ready to do this.


Count to three.

Lance on his knees right beside Vincent, does not know what to expect.



RED DOT on Mia’s body.

Needle poised ready to strike.



Jody’s face is alive in anticipation.

NEEDLE in the air, poised like a rattler ready to strike.



The needle leaves the frame, THRUSTING down hard.

Vincent brings the needle down hard, STABBING Mia in the chest.

Mia’s head is JOLTED from the impact.

The syringe plunger is pushed down, PUMPING the adrenalin out through the needle.

Mia’s eyes POP WIDE OPEN and lets out a HELLISH cry of the banshee.

She BOLTS UP in a sitting position, needle stuck in her chest---SCREAMING


And finally, one of the other elements of suspense discussed in the Hitchcock thesis is the framing of the shots. As I mentioned before, I’m a believer in writing the shots, and there are just some scenes and perspectives that get you no matter how many times you see it. Bordwell wrote, “the sight of Eve Kendall dangling from Mount Rushmore will elicit some degree of suspense no matter how many times you’ve seen North by Northwest, and that feeling will be amplified by the cutting, the close-ups, the music, and so on. Your sensory system can’t help but respond, just as it can’t help seeing equal-length lines in the pictorial illusion. For some part of you, every viewing of a movie is the first viewing.” Consider these images.

First, North by Northwest:

I love this. Here’s a shot from Saboteur:

And Vertigo:

Below, the camera famously zooms out (toward wide angle) while tracking in. Note Scotty’s (James Stewart) hands on the railing and how the railing changes shape as the focal length changes from the first photo to the second photo. Although you wouldn’t write camera angles, you can certainly write about a character’s changing perspective of his/her environment for whatever reason.

Not long ago, an artist did a practice exercise of storyboarding the opening sequence in Vertigo (below).

I wonder if it would be helpful for us to write out our favorite scenes and compare them to the finished scripts? Would we learn that we tend to over-write or under-write?

(continued from Part 1)

– Mystery Man

I’m famous yet anonymous, failed yet accomplished, brilliant yet semi-brilliant. I’m a homebody who jetsets around the world. I’m brash and daring yet chilled with a twist.

I also write for Script Magazine.

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