April 16th, 2001
Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick
Procedures for Teachers

Activity One

1. Hollywood Studio System

Start with providing some background information on the Hollywood
studio system in the 1930s and 40s. Some options include:

  • Have the students watch the American Masters film on David
    O. Selznick and Alfred Hitchcock. Lead a discussion on the film,
    focusing on the studio system.
  • Assign a research paper on the topic. Students may use library
    and Internet sources for information, and should include a bibliography
    and footnotes in the report.
  • Make this lesson part of a larger unit on film history.

2. Posterboard Project Assignment

Have students break up into small groups of 3-4. The assignment is
to compare Hollywood in the 30s and 40s to Hollywood today. Students
choose one of the following categories:

  • movies
  • famous actors or actresses
  • film directors

Within the chosen category, they will do research to select a specific
film, actor, or director of the 30s or 40s. They will also select
a matching film, actor, or director of today, and compare the two.
See the student organizer,
which suggests some questions they can explore.


  • Who directed and acted in the movie? (Enhance posterboard with
  • What studio produced distributed the movie?
  • How much did the movie cost to make?
  • What genre was the movie?
  • What did reviewers say about the movie? Write a capsule review
    of the movie, or use excerpts from real reviews of the period.

Actor or Actress

  • What other movies did this person star in? (Enhance posterboard
    with pictures.)
  • When did this person’s career start and end?
  • Did this person work for a single movie company during his or
    her career, or many? Which ones?
  • What did this person get paid to act in movies? Or what was
    the average pay of a movie actor at the time?
  • Did this person specialize in a particular genre of movie?
  • How did this person’s career change over time?


  • What other films did this person direct? (Enhance posterboard
    with pictures.)
  • Did this person work for a movie studio, or were they independent?
  • Would you describe this director as an "auteur"? Why?
  • Was this director famous for a particular genre or style of
  • Did this person specialize in a particular genre of movie?
  • Did this director have any special style or technique that was
  • How did this person’s career change over time?

The students can demonstrate the comparison creatively on the posterboard,
using pictures of movie posters, stars, and directors, capsule movie
reviews they write themselves, director’s filmographies, and newspaper
clippings. These things can be copied from books and period magazines,
available at the library, and from newspapers and magazines they have
at home.

Finally, it would be a good idea to go over some basic film vocabulary,
or you can make this part of the research assignment.

Auteur (auteur theory): according to auteur theory, the
director of a film is its author, because the director creates and
executes a unique vision, marking the film with a signature style.
Others disagree with this theory, because films are complex to produce
and could not be made without the collaboration of a large team.
In the Hollywood studio system, the director was considered to be
just part of the team, while the producer was supposed to provide
the unique signature.

Capsule review: a short movie review.

Continuity editing (or continuity cutting): part of the
basics of "film language", continuity cutting was developed
early in the 20th century. A system of editing movies that provides
clear and continuous movement.

Filmography: a complete list of films by a particular actor
or director, usually organized by year.

Genre: a way of categorizing films according to styles and
themes (westerns, sci-fi, etc.)

Independent film: films not produced by a major movie studio.
An independent film has to find funding and distribution that would
otherwise be provide by the studio.

3. Film History Gallery

Set up the posterboards all around the classroom and let students
circulate and see them all. You could also invite other classes and
even parents to the event.

4. Final Discussion

Lead a discussion of Hollywood then and now. Based on their research,
what has changed and what has stayed the same?

Some ideas:

  • Cost of movies then and now – what are budgets spent on (stars,
    special effects)?
  • Women in the movies: what are the differences in standards for
    women and men in the movies, then and now?
  • What kinds of things are/were scandalous or forbidden in movies?
  • What genres are/were popular? Are there new genres now?
  • Have existing genres changed? (For instance, how has the "western"
    genre changed?)
  • For a class that has previously studied film: How have film styles
    changed? (Cinematography, editing…)
  • How has the role of the director changed?


Students will be assessed on the quality of their participation
in class discussions, and on the group posterboard activity. Students
can also assess one another.

Extension Activities

  1. Connect this lesson plan to other American Masters lessons to
    develop the theme of "what makes an American Master."

  2. For older students, you might require an individual research paper
    rather than a group posterboard presentation.

  3. This could be part of a larger media studies unit. Combine it
    with other lesson plans about film history.

  4. If possible, screen a famous movie from the 1930s and 40s with
    the class. 

  • lilian

    LOVED the site!!!
    planning to use it in my classroom :)


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