American Psycho Business Card Scene — What it Means [Directing Breakdown]November 4, 2021
A breakdown of the American Psycho business card scene, from the screenplay to the shot list.
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00:00 – Marry Harron and American Psycho Recap
02:10 – Business Card Scene Analysis
07:56 – Wrap Up
CORRECTION: Anatomy of a Scene was a New York Times production, not The Washington Post.
It’s been more than 20 years but the American Psycho business card scene is still on our minds. But why? For one, director Mary Harron approached the scene as a duel — instead of swords or pistols, we have business cards. In this American Psycho analysis, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of Mary Harron and how she took a great script and directed a fantastic scene.
The American Psycho business card scene isn’t really about business cards. The business cards are status symbols, a measurement for how superficial and competitive our ensemble of corporate clones really are. It is a battle fought with font types and card stock but that’s what makes it interesting. If anything, screenwriters and directors can take away from the American Psycho business card scene that subtext is powerful and a symbolic battle can be just as effective as a battle fought with actual weapons.
So, how does Mary Harron turn this boardroom brawl into an iconic and cinematic scene? Props, wardrobe, sound design, and cinematography are all working together to give us a pitch perfect satire. The business cards are designed to be nearly identical, which is what makes the characters’ in-depth comparisons so ironic. They all look and dress the same, down to the glasses, hairstyles and suits.
Mary Harron also chose to give the business cards an extra layer of symbolism in the sound design. Listen closely and you can hear the sound of a sword being drawn as Patrick Bateman’s business card holder is opened. Then, the moment of truth: Paul Allen’s business card. Unlike the other cards, which are photographed rather plainly, Allen’s card gets extra special treatment. The lighting is more dramatic, the framing is large and imposing, and the slight slow motion turns this into the moment that sends Bateman over the edge.
If you’re thinking about writing or directing a satire, the American Psycho business card scene is a masterclass.
“I Touch Roses” – Book of Love
“Walking on Sunshine” – Katrina and the Waves
“Sussudio” – Genesis
“American Psycho Main Theme” – John Cale (American Psycho Score)
Packing for Paul” – John Cale (American Psycho Score)
“American Psycho – John Cale (American Psycho Score)
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