3 Views of North By Northwest:

Hitchcock, Newton and Streiber:

Part II: Cast, Crew and Technique

By Cliff Cheng

The Inspiring Fashion Photography History Blog


© 2014 Cliff Cheng



Copyright Disclaimer – None of the photographs in this article are owned or taken by myself.  They are the property of their respective owners.  Fair use is made of these photographs for non-commercial educational purposes.




In the first article, www.cliffchengcreates.com, we introduced this series based on one of the best known scenes in the cinematic history, the crop duster attack scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 movie – North By Northwest in which Cary Grant is being chased through a farm field by a bi-plane – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jETt9GQj6fs.

1959, North by Northwest Alfred Hitchcock (Dir.). Cary Grant (Actor)


Fashion and celebrity photographers have remade North By Northwest ‘s “Crop Duster Attack” scene over the decades.  In 1967, Helmut Newton, remade this scene for British Vogue.


(The rest of the spread is in our first article)

Art Streiber remade this scene twice for Vanity Fair.  The first time was with North by Northwest’s Academy Award nominated screenwriter Ernest Lehman for Vanity Fair’s April 1999 issue:


and again in March 2008 with comedian Seth Rogen


As noted in our first article, Martin Schoeller did a remake with actor Hugh Jackman for New Yorker in 2003.  He was non-responsive to attempts to reach and interview him through his agent and via Art Streiber.  We again attempted to reach him through his agent after Article 1 came out but there was no reply.

In this article we will discuss The Talent, The Crew and Technique.


The Talent


There are differences in the talent in these remakes.  Hitch’s original starred the second most popular actor in history, Cary Grant.[1]  Rear projection was used in that scene.  While Cary Grant is primarily thought of as a romantic leading man and comedic actor, we should not underestimate his athletic prowess.  Had Hitch shot in-camera, there is little doubt Cary Grant could have done this shot.

Helmut Newton booked a high fashion model for this shot, Dutch supermodel Willy van Rooy, his muse during this period in his career.[2]  Since Helmut’s shoot was a fashion shoot for British Vogue, Willy was in high-heeled boots, a fur coat and full make-up and hair.

For his 1999 remake, Art Streiber photographed North by Northwest’s screenwriter Ernest Lehman.  At the time, Lehman was 83 years old.[3]  He stood still and the plane flew in back of him.[4]

Vanity Fair featured comedic actor Seth Rogen for Streiber’s 2008 shot.[5]  Art was unsure how they selected Rogen, but said the spread was part of their annual Hollywood issue which comes out just before the Academy Award ceremony.  Celebs in that issue usually have movies coming out.

The bi-plane was only 20-30 feet off the ground in Streiber’s shot.  Seth Rogen is reportedly 5ft.11” tall.[6]  That would make the plane about 10-20ft. above him.  Rogen did not have to wear high heels and a fur but Art found Hitch’s tailor from North by Northwest and had him make Rogen a suit identical to the one Cary Grant wore.[7]

It is surprising to hear that in Streiber’s shoot, Seth Rogen did a dozen takes in which he was running.[8]  One sprint was about 20 yards.[9]  With all due respect to Mr. Rogen, he does not appear to be someone one would choose first to have to run in a suit in a farmer’s field with a airplane chasing him, few times, let alone a dozen times.  I asked Art if he had sized up Seth before the shoot and estimated how many sprints he was capable of doing so Art could accordingly set a pace for the shoot?[10]  Art said he had not, for he planned on doing as many takes as it took to get it right.[11]  The final shot was on the 4th sprint, 7th frame.[12]  Art shot a total of 32 frames during the 14 takes with his Phase One 645.  His Assistant shot 100 frames.[13]


The Crew


Hitch made his movie for a major Hollywood studio, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer (MGM), which was contracted to employ a full feature film crew.  He had the resources of MGM behind him as well as the resources of Hollywood behind him.

Newton’s shot was done with only himself and his Assistant, Willy, the Editor and the Pilot.[14]

In his 1998, remake of North by Northwest, Streiber had a cast and crew of 12 people:[15]

  • Ernest Lehman
  • (2) Client People
  • Art Streiber
  • (3) Photo Ass’ts
  • Men’s Groomer[16]
  • Wardrobe Stylist
  • Water Truck Operator
  • Pilot
  • Aviation Coordinator

We will discuss the Water Truck Operator and Aviation Coordinator in our next article.

Streiber’s 2008 shoot with Seth Rogen had a cast and crew of 14 people: [17]

  • Seth Rogen
  • Editor + 1 Ass’t
  • Art Streiber
  • Digital Tech, Photo Ass’t
  • Producer
  • Prop Stylist
  • Water Truck Operator
  • Wardrobe Stylist, Seamstress, Groomer
  • Pilot
  • Aviation Coordinator

There was also a representive of the location.


Technique: Rear Projection v. In-Camera


Hitch used rear projection to do his shot.[18]  It is doubtful MGM would allow a star as big as Cary Grant to be exposed to the danger of being injured or killed by being chased by a real low flying airplane by shooting this scene in camera.  Cary Grant/Thornhill was photographed on a sound stage with the plane projected behind him and a matte shot of the farm field added.[19],[20]


In Hitch’s scene, at least one of the shots of Thornhill running was double; replayed a second time.[21]  The plane was photographed in 70mm; while the rest of the film was photographed in 35mm.  Shooting a rear projection image that is shot at a higher resolution insures a better image.  The pilot cost $150 per day plus $100 per flying hour after the first hour.[22]  The field used in the shot was in Lost Hills, San Joaquin Valley, California, U.S.A.[23]  The second unit photography of the plane was shot during a 3-day period between October 6th to 8th in 1958 on the 30th to 32nd days of production.[24]  The location fee and cost of planting a cornfield was $5,200.[25]  The extras at the end of the scene – after the (fake) plane crashed cost $4,163.[26]


While Cary Grant was on the soundstage reacting to a bi-plane projected on a screen behind him, Newton and Streiber shot the plane and model/actor/writer in camera.

Newton was shooting for British Vogue using a 2 ¼ inch Rollei.  From the two behind-the-scenes production stills available, it appears that Helmut used available light; no fill flash.  (Another production still will be in the next article in the series).  They shot at a small airport not far from London.[27]


Helmut shot standing on a camera case on the runway with the airplane flying towards him and Willy in-between.[28] Willy told me – “It was a bit scary because of the incredible noise of the motor and when it was finished the pilot told me it was actually a bit dangerous because he could not see how low he was flying or if he was going to hit me, but all went well.”[29]

I showed Art Streiber’s Helmut shot and the production stills and asked him to comment.[30]   He noted that Helmut did not light the shot.[31] And that Helmut was in a fixed position.[32]  Then, Art reasoned, Willy was probably running in place and when the airplane got to the right position and became the desired size in frame, Helmut released the shutter.[33]

For his 1999, Vanity Fair remake with 82 year old screenwriter Ernest Lehman, Art needed to have the subject still and the plane fly behind him.  This technique was similar to Helmut’s shot.  Art used reflectors to light the shot.  Art used a Mamiya 645 loaded with Fuji NHG 220 rated at 640.[34],[35]  The film was processed normal.

Streiber is careful to explain both his 1999 and 2008 shots were 100% in camera.[36]  For the earlier shot, there were no behind-the-scenes stills or videos.  There is a behind-the-scenes still and a video made for the 208 shoot.  Amongst other things, they show the shot is in-camera[37].  The video is not available on the internet.[38]  I was granted special access for purposes of this article.  Art uses the behind-the-scenes video for presentations and teaching.[39]

Art Streiber’s Seth Rogen shoot for Vanity Fair used a Phase One 645 Medium Format DSLR with a 150mm lens, mounted on a tripod.[40]  He shot at ISO200, at 1/800th, f16.[41]  One of his Assistants shot coverage along side him with a Canon DSLR.   He lit the shot with fill-flash mounted on a flatbed truck.[42]

This shot’s lighting challenge was to balance the fill flash on the front of Seth’s body with the strong sunlight to camera left. Art uses two generators on the truck to power the two, 2400 watt packs.  Two Magnum reflectors at f11 (-1 stop) are staggered on one c-stand and set high, just to camera left. The sun is directly to camera left of Seth at f32 (+2 stops) and lends those gorgeous highlights. [43]

The fill-flash’s pack was not mounted on the truck.  An Assistant ran along side the truck to keep the cables from getting tangled.[44]

I asked Art – how he line-up the shot so well?[45]  He replied – “well informed guesswork.”[46]  He and his Assistant scouted the location near the Camarillo Airport, in Ventura County, the coastal county to the northwest of Los Angeles County.[47]  The shot was done in one day, Nov. 9, 2007.[48]


Photoshop and CGI


From a Producer’s perspective, Photoshop and CGI are economical.  For the same reason, MGM probably would have objected putting Cary Grant in harm’s way with an in-camera stunt shot of a low-flying aircraft, Photoshop and CGI are options to consider.  In the next article we will discuss how Streiber had to clear 500 yards last minute from where the shot was to take place and pay a farmer and his farm hands not to work so he could comply with safety regulations.  The shot could have easily called for a more expensive location in which people had to stop work and be compensated.


Please check back next week for our third and final article.  We will discuss producing a low-flying aircraft shot.


[1] Cary Grant ranks second on the American Film Institute’s most popular actors of all times list http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AFI’s_100_Years…100_Stars.  Humphery Bogart is first.

[2] Willy in a way was Helmut’s first important muse for in the late-60s we start to see the foreshadow of his brilliance.  In my opinion, Willy has an outstanding body of work as a model.  After modeling Willy went on to design shoes and become a painter http://willyvanrooy.com/.


[4] Streiber, Art. (2014). Personal communication. Los Angeles, CA. June 17.

[5] Seth Rogen, Canadian, comic, actor, Producer, Director, Writer, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seth_Rogen.

[6] http://www.celebritiesheight.com/seth-rogen-height-and-weight/

[7] Sabarese, Ted. (2012). Art Streiber gets all Hitchcock on us with his lighting of Seth Rogen. Guess the lighting. Sept. 21. http://guessthelighting.com/2012/09/21/art-streiber-gets-all-hitchcock-on-us-in-his-lighting-of-seth-rogen/

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Streiber, Art. (2014). Interview. Los Angeles, CA. May 24.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Van Rooy, Willy. (2013). Personal communication. Apr. 27.

[15] Streiber, Art. (1998). Call sheet. Aug. 12. (From the Author. Confidential. Not available for public viewing).

[16] Men’s Grooming refers to a Make-up Artist for men.

[17] Streiber, Art. (2008). Call sheet. (From the Author. Confidential. Not available for public viewing).

[18] Krohn, Bill. (2000). Hitchcock at work. London: Phaidon Press, pp. 213.

[19] Ibid.

[20] The rear projector was a VistaVision Triple Head Background Projection Unit which cost $900 a day to rent on MGM Purchase Order # 26150 (Memo from MGM Plant Mgr. Wm. P. Smith to Paramount Studios Production Frank Caffey, 9-11-1958, available from: Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Beverly Hills, CA).  This was apparently used for both Scene 115 and the climax scene on Mount Rushmore.

[21] Krohn, Bill. (2000). Hitchcock at work. London: Phaidon Press.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.  Krohn says the location is in Northern California.  When a websearch for “Lost Hills, in the San Joaquin Valley, California” was a location in Kern County pulled up.  Kern County is the county north of Los Angeles County.

[24] Hitchcock, Alfred. (1959). North by Northwest. Production Schedule. Pp. 13. Available from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Margaret Herrick Library, Special Collections.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Van Rooy, Willy. (2013). Personal communication. Apr. 27.

[28] Van Rooy, Willy. (2013). Personal communication. Apr. 27.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Streiber, Art. (2014). Interview. Los Angeles, CA. May 24.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Streiber, Art. (2014). Personal communication. Los Angeles, CA. June 17.

[35] Normal ISO is 800.

[36] Streiber, Art. (2014). Interview. Los Angeles, CA. May 24.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid. Streiber is generous with his time and does presentations for Photo Schools in the LA Area and the America Photographic Artists – LA Chapter.

[40] Sabarese, Ted. (2012). Art Streiber gets all Hitchcock on us with his lighting of Seth Rogen. Guess the lighting. Sept. 21. http://guessthelighting.com/2012/09/21/art-streiber-gets-all-hitchcock-on-us-in-his-lighting-of-seth-rogen/

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Streiber, Art. (2014). Interview. Los Angeles, CA. May 24.

[45] Streiber, Art. (2014). Interview. Los Angeles, CA. May 24.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.



Cliff Cheng has a unique set of qualifications to write the history of fashion photography by combining his backgrounds as a fashion photographer with 18 years’ experience and being a film historian.  Cliff is starting to re-emerge as a photographer after a time away.  Please visit his website www.cliffchengscreates.com.  While Cliff was away, he was a film historian.  He earned the Master of Arts degree (M.A.) from California State University Los Angeles with additional training at the University of Southern California Film School.  (He later earned a doctorate from USC in another field.)  He taught film history at the Los Angeles and Long Beach campuses of the California State University. He has studied the works of Writer-Directors Billy Wilder, Woody Allen, Yasujiro Ozu, Director Alfred Hitchcock, and Writer Paddy Chayefsky.  Cliff curates fashion photographer Lillian Bassman’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lillian-Bassman-A-Celebration-of-Her-Fashion-Photography/283164151701560 and the Facebook page of Wilhelmina Cooper, the model who holds the record for being on the cover of American Vogue most, 28 times https://www.facebook.com/pages/Wilhelmina-Cooper-A-Celebration/286939354681228



The Inspiring Fashion Photography History Blog

By Cliff Cheng


© 2014 Cliff Cheng