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Influential American Filmmakers: Hitchcock to Spielberg

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

The most famous American filmmakers are also some of the most influential movie directors in the industry. Learn about these iconic filmmakers and their impact on the entire film industry such as: Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Walt Disney, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg. Updated: 11/02/2021

The People Who Tell the Stories

Filmmakers are some of America's most influential storytellers, and their task of translating a story into a film is complex and demanding. Before their movies ever reach an audience, filmmakers must collaborate with writers to get the script just right; help select the cast; approve locations, music, sets, and costumes; direct the daily activities of the cast and crew as they shoot the film; and work with cinematographers and editors to produce the final product. The greatest filmmakers do all of this so well that they produce a body of work that expresses their personal vision, passes the test of time, and changes movie history. In this lesson, we'll meet a few of these great filmmakers.

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  • 1:03 Hitchcock & Welles
  • 2:40 Walt Disney
  • 3:32 Ford & Hawks
  • 5:02 Francis Ford Coppola
  • 5:35 Lucas & Spielberg
  • 7:01 Lesson Summary
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Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock is often called the 'Master of Suspense' and with good reason. His movies explore the deep, dark recesses of the human mind in a manner that keeps audiences at the edge of their seats. In films like Psycho, Vertigo, The Birds, Rear Window, and The 39 Steps, Hitchcock brings tension and suspense to the big screen through a fast-paced style, plots full of twists and turns, clever camera angles, startling point-of-view shots, and abrupt sounds. Hitchcock made 65 movies in his career over 50 years.

Orson Welles

Like Hitchcock, Orson Welles knew how to keep an audience in suspense. His dramatic 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds terrified listeners who thought that the earth was really being attacked by Martians. The stunt earned Welles his first movie contract, and he made good in a hurry. His first film, Citizen Kane, has become a classic. With its unique use of the 'deep focus' lens, every aspect of this film stands out vividly, and meaning practically gushes out of each line and scene. Welles created other film masterpieces, too, including Touch of Evil, Chimes at Midnight, and The Magnificent Ambersons.

Walt Disney

Our next filmmaker has become a household name. Walt Disney's animated and live-action film creations have entertained children and adults alike for many decades. Disney's Mickey Mouse and Friends appeared on the scene in the late 1920s, and Disney has been going strong ever since. Film historians point to Bambi, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Fantasia as Disney classics, but nearly everyone has one, two, three, or more favorites from the more than 100 films produced by the Disney studios. Even though Walt Disney passed on in 1966, his legacy continues and flourishes today.

John Ford

John Ford is mostly known for his westerns, including the classic flicks Stagecoach and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. In these movies, the western landscape itself almost becomes a character, for Ford was an expert at using long shots that capture the power of the environment. Furthermore, Ford actually discovered and introduced the famous western actor John Wayne. Westerns weren't Ford's only film genre, however. His dramas The Grapes of Wrath, The Informer, and How Green Was My Valley have also become movie classics.

Howard Hawks

Filmmaker Howard Hawks was also comfortable crossing genres. His movies include comedies like Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday; westerns like Red River; war movies, including Sergeant York; film noir detective pieces like The Big Sleep; adaptations of literary works, including Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not; and gangster flicks like Scarface. Hawks created character types that became standard in the movie industry, including tough females and active male heroes.

Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola also knows a thing or two about creating powerful characters. Starting in the 1970s, he began reviving the genres and characters of Hollywood's earlier days. These results include war films like Patton and Apocalypse Now and gangster movies like The Godfather trilogy that made Coppola famous. Coppola's later works include The Outsiders and Bram Stoker's Dracula.

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