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The Birds (1963) - quotes

Quotations relating to The Birds (1963)...


I think that "The Birds" was one of the hardest pictures for [my father] to make because it was so technical and he had to be so prepared for it that literally, as we know, when he decided a movie, he would draw the whole movie. Well, it took him a long time to draw all of this.

We had just finished working on "North by Northwest", and I saw Hitchcock on one of the soundstages. He stopped me and said, "I have a friend, Daphne Du Maurier, who has written a short novella." He said, "Would you read it and see if, physically, it creates too many problems." And I read it that night, and I was bowled over by its strength. But I saw it a little differently — I saw it as a mood piece. And I didn't see it as a narrative story. I spent the rest of the night — worked all night on it — and the image that came to me was [Edvard] Munch's Scream. I saw that as a kind of icon for the whole thing.

Robert F. Boyle (2000)

It was a sort of apocalyptic short story. It's about these birds inexplicably attacking this isolated little farmhouse in Cornwall. I read it, and I would've given my right arm to work with Alfred Hitchcock. I then spoke to him on the phone and he said, "Come on out with some ideas. We're throwing away everything but the title and the notion of birds attacking human beings. So come on out with some ideas." I remember Hitch showing me a lot of newspaper articles about unexplained bird attacks as a reminder that these things do happen, so we weren't dealing entirely with fantasy.

We searched for the turning point where it would get ominous. We recognized immediately that the audience wasn't gonna sit there for two hours waiting for a bird attack. So we very carefully measured out the lengths between the bird attacks so that the audience would sit there, we'd throw them a crumb, so to speak. So the first one was when the gull hits Melanie in the rowboat.

One of the ideas I brought to Hitch was a school teacher coming to a town and bird attacks start when she comes to the town to teach there. And the provincials think she must have something to do with it. There's an echo of that in the scene in the Tides Restaurant, from the mother — "You're responsible for this. They tell me this didn't happen before you got here", and the school teacher survived as Annie Hayworth.

Evan Hunter (2000)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds (1963), pre-production, and screenplay

Because of the difficult technical problems, we knew we were going to have to have continuity sketches. Well, Hitchcock loved to work that way anyway. His main thrust in all of his work was preparation. Matter of fact, he sometimes facetiously said he was bored with shooting the picture. The excitement came with the ideas that were generated in the preparatory portion of the film making process. He liked to have it all clear in his mind so that before he started to shoot, he saw the whole movie in his mind. There are very few people, directors or otherwise, that can hold this kind of a concept. Harold Michelson was the main production illustrator on "The Birds". He did, I think, almost all of the illustrations.

Robert F. Boyle (2000)

We were just trying to find a hook — a way to get into the movie. And on the lunch hour, while I was walking around, I came up with the notion of a screwball comedy — doing a couple who meet cute and go from there into comedy until it turns to terror. And I told him this after lunch that day, and he said, "Yeah, that sounds interesting." So then we tried to find characters who would be mismatched, who would strike sparks and, we hoped, comic sparks. And it seemed to me that a society woman, first of all, in the old screwball comedies of the '40s was your mainstay, that she always was a madcap society woman. And a lawyer is the very notion of solidity and stolidity. So it seemed that a lawyer would be a good type also.

Evan Hunter (2000)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds (1963), pre-production, and screenplay

I think northern California always reminded Hitch of England. There was something about the weather, which was very unpredictable. It was fog and rain and then sunshine and then fog and rain again. It was a moody, strange area — both forbidding and foreboding. I believe that's what intrigued him. It had a kind of mystical quality.

We had to get all of these various pieces and put them together to make one small community out of it. We built a schoolteacher's house in Bodega, which was a few miles from Bodega Bay. But Bodega Bay just was perfect. It was an almost completely enclosed bay, and there was what is called Bodega Head, which is where the house was.

There was an old house that had gone to wrack and ruin. So we could only use sort of almost the foundation. We rebuilt the house and we added a barn, and that could be reached by road and by boat, which suited the purpose of the film perfectly.

Robert F. Boyle (2000)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Bodega Bay, California, The Birds (1963), location filming, and pre-production

Hitch would say, "Do you think we should explain it?" And we decided that it would be science fiction if we explained why the birds were attacking, and that it would have a greater meaning if we never knew, if it were kind of this unsettling thing that these creatures we see in the park every minute can suddenly come at our heads, you know? If it was feeding, it can suddenly come at us with no reason.

I got a call from Hitch saying, "I think we need a scene where we don't explain what's happening but where the people involved are trying to understand what's happening so that we can proffer different things here." And this was the spur for the scene in the Tides Restaurant, which I thought was one of the better scenes in the movie.

Evan Hunter (2000)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds (1963), pre-production, and screenplay


I had been modelling in New York for a long time. It was about 11 years. And my career was sort of waning in that fashion business. I had done a number of commercials, and at one point I had about 12 of them going, and one of them ran on the "Today" show every morning for about a month. And apparently, a producer/director was watching the show and decided to find out who the girl was, where she was, and all of that. So I received a call on Friday, the 13th of October of 1961. It was, "Are you the girl in the Sego commercial?" — it was a diet product. And I said, "Yes." And they said, "Would you come over to Universal Studios?" I did, and I met with an executive there. I asked, who is the director, and he wouldn't tell me. And then he asked if I would leave my photographs and commercial film over the weekend. So I said, "Yes, but I will have to pick them up on Monday."

So Monday I was introduced to a number of other executives. Nobody would tell me who it was — who the producer/director was. They just said, "Would you go over to MCA tomorrow morning and meet with Herman Citron," who was an agent there. I went over and met with Mr. Citron, and I sat down and he said, "I suppose you're a little bit curious as to who this director is." I said, "Yes." He said, "Alfred Hitchcock wants to sign you to a contract if you will agree with the terms."

And I was stunned. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry or run up and down the halls or what to do. And he said, "If you are in agreeance to this, we will go over to Paramount Studios and meet with him." So Herman Citron and I went over to meet with Hitch, and we didn't talk about anything other than — Oh, we talked about food, we talked about travel, we talked about wines. We didn't mention movies at all. Not at all.

I heard that they were doing "The Birds", that Evan Hunter was working on the script and Hitch was working with him on it, and I thought, that's very interesting, this is very exciting and all that, but it never occurred to me that I would be involved in this movie at all. I thought I would do the television shows which he did every week. They talked about doing a screen test, and they chose three different roles for me to play in this screen test — one from "Rebecca", one from "Notorious" and one from "To Catch a Thief". Now, the se are three entirely different women. And Hitch was my drama coach, and I would go over to the Hitchcock home where Alma and Hitch would both go over the scenes with me, which was fantastic. Alma had a great deal to do with a lot of his work. So we eventually did the screen test. It took three days. And Robert Burks was the D.P. on it and Edith Head did all of the designs of the clothes and she did a personal wardrobe for me. It was an extraordinary time.

In order to do the screen test, we needed a leading man and Hitch flew Martin Balsam out from New York to be my leading man. He had just come out of Psycho.

The screen test was put together, and I guess everybody saw it, and Mr. and Mrs. Hitchcock invited me to dinner at Chasens. Lew Wasserman was sitting to my left and Alma and Hitch were to my right, and — he placed — Hitch placed a very, very beautifully wrapped package from Gumps in San Francisco. It was one of his favorite shops. And I opened the box and there was this beautiful pin of three birds in flight, with the seed pearls and gold, and I looked over at Hitch, and he said, "We want you to play Melanie in The Birds."

Well, I started to cry. These big tears welled up, because I didn't expect that. I really didn't expect that. And I looked at Hitch, and he was a little watery, and Alma and even Lew Wasserman, this big movie mogul, he had one little tear coming down here. It was a very exciting evening. It was just incredible. And then the whole — all of the work really began.

We didn't actually do any pre-rehearsals. I didn't meet Rod Taylor till we were — you know, till we were really ready to film.

Tippi Hedren (2000)

I got this call out of the blue from Mr. Hitchcock and was totally amazed. And I came out, and being a brash young brat, I guess I didn't show any kind of respect that I was supposed to, and I think he kind of liked it. And we got on extremely well. And I did the wrong thing — I called him Alfred!

I didn't say all the right things. I remember that. I said, "I hope the birds and things don't kind of totally out shadow the people." Of course, that's the story... they're supposed to. So that was number one. Wrong. But then we really talked about "making movies" and how I loved it, and how I was interested in his work. I brought that up and said the right thing. And we just got on extremely well. That was it. We didn't get into any deep discussions about the movie itself at all. No "What do you think of the character?" — none of that. It was taken for granted that I loved it and wanted to work with him and I was absolutely flattered and astonished that he wouldn't mind working with the kid... then.

Immediately, we became the best of friends — Tippi Hedren and I — and still are the best of friends. And so it was very easy. We'd rehearse together on our own, and it was extremely easy because we had a lovely chemistry without trying for it.

Rod Taylor (2000)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds (1963), Tippi Hedren, casting, and pre-production

Mr. Hitchcock saw Tippi in a commercial where ... someone whistled at her and she looked back and there was something about that moment when she did that that caught his attention. And he loved to put in little subtle jokes. There's a scene where she's whistled at and she does turn a lot like that commercial.

Hilton A. Green (2000)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds (1963), Tippi Hedren, casting, and pre-production

The Production Process

He hated location. Just hated it. He says, you don't get the right lights. You've got the noise. And you have to then come in and redub. If ever he could get away without location, he would.

Patricia talking about her father's preference of shooting in the studio rather than on location
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds (1963), location filming, production, and studio filming

Those dogs that were in his cameo in "The Birds" ... those dogs ate better than most people in the world. I mean, he would go to the store and get the finest cut of meat and have them ground it up for these dogs. They were wonderful! He would bring them to work. They would be in his office, and he loved them dearly.

Hilton A. Green (2000)
Green talks about Hitchcock's pet Sealyham Terriers
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Sealyham Terriers, The Birds (1963), production, and the Hitchcock cameo

One of the stories that Al [Whitlock] related to me was when he showed a test one of his background paintings of Bodega Bay to Hitchcock. It was a beautiful scene of Bodega Bay in the background. Hitch thought it looked very beautiful. Without Al being there, he showed it to Peggy Robertson, his assistant. And he said, "What do you think?" And she said, "Oh, that looks like a painting." And Hitch stiffened and thought, "Oh." Then he said, "You know, of course, it's real." And she said, "Oh, I know it's real, but it's so beautiful it could be a painting." And so it was a compliment to Al's extraordinary painting skills that it fooled everybody but was still bigger than life.

Syd Dutton (2000)

Hitch always felt that it was very important for close-ups to be done under controlled lighting. And he wanted almost all of the close-ups to be done at the studio, which was Universal. So they had this elaborate setup. Up in the rafters they had a wire that went from the rafters down to — almost over my head. And then they had a fake seagull, which was on top of the rafters.

Now. Okay. So then we have a prop man, and he has a tube and a plunger. And attached to that was the fake blood. So they put the tube up through my hair, and then Virginia Darcy, my hair dresser, did the French roll and the whole thing and she hairsprayed my hair — it was almost like a wig, I mean, a real solid helmet, except for one little lock of hair that was loose.

They let the bird go down the wire, and Bobby Boone, who was the prop man, had the plunger ready, and he watched the bird coming down, and when it got to the right place, he did the plunger, and the bird went over and the hair goes forward with the blast of air. It was incredible. Absolutely incredible.

Tippi Hedren (2000)
Hedren describing how the initial bird attack was filmed
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds (1963), production, special effects, and studio filming

The funniest people on the thing were the bird wranglers. 'Cause they were bad-tempered. They were great guys, and I had drinks with them in the evening, but you look after a bunch of seagulls and ravens and crows and pigeons and God knows what else, and you get very nervous!

But Ray Berwick — he was the head bird wrangler — and he was a wonderful guy. And he indeed had patience. He wasn't as bad tempered as his buddies. He knew his birds backwards. He was like a great old cowboy with horses, you know. He knew these silly-looking birds, and he understood them and liked them.

All these tricks were pretty horrifying and pretty exasperating. That's why these wranglers just were going through hell as well as us. We all had our trips to the nurses' station to get out tetanus shot.

With all these bird attacks, no computer tricks, nothing like that. These kids, they'd tie the birds to the back of their collars and they'd be flapping and carrying on, and it was quite terrifying, really. But how else could you do it? And there was no CGI with birds coming into the lens. You put meat in the lens.

There were very low tides at Bodega Bay, and these sand flats stretched for miles. And it was nothing to see one of these poor wranglers running after a seagull that was flopping along just six feet ahead of him for miles.

This one raven, Archie — There's a still of me looking terrified with a bandage on or something, and I'm looking at this bird. That's real terror. I hated that bird! That bird — every morning if I was on the set, we were on the set together, would come over and go "Ungg!" and bite me. And I hated him, and he hated me.

Even when we came back to the studio. And I think that shot on the veranda was taken in the studio. I'd walk in and say, "Is Archie working today?" And they'd say, "I don't think so, Rod. I think we're working with seagulls." And out of the rafters would come Archie. And, you know, hated me. And would lie in wait for me. And I'm sure that bird's still alive!

Rod Taylor (2000)

Working with the birds was very interesting. I love all animals. I always have. And it was very exciting for me to work with the birds. Ray Berwick, who was the bird trainer, taught flocks of birds. He taught them six at a time. He taught them individually. The ones that were taught individually basically could never be released because they were taught to do very bad things. Like, they'd be taught to dive bomb somebody or peck them or, you know, really go after people.

You know, we didn't really rehearse this. It was just because, using live animals, we wanted to take it right away. So everything was lined up and Ray took the little box of strawberry finches and let them go down the chimney, and we thought they'd be flying around and… Well, they sat on the hearth and a few of them jumped up on the coffee table and on the arms of the chairs, and they weren't doing anything. We're going, "Um, okay. What do we do now?"

So we thought about it and all the different things that we could do. Maybe using a fan would be good. You know, and then they'd fly around. Well, so would our hair, you know? So that wasn't going to work and our clothes would fly and everything.

So we finally decided that we would do the scene without the birds. So all of us are reacting to birds that aren't there. And then the film, once it was edited, was sent over to Disney.

There was one named Buddy — very beautiful raven — who I became friends with. In fact, he was so nice, he couldn't even be in the movie. He was so sweet. And he'd come hopping into my dressing room on the set. And he'd hop up on my dressing table, and… he was just fun. It was just… they're so smart. They're so smart.

There was another one that particularly had a reaction to Rod Taylor. And he want after Rod continuously. It was kind of funny, actually!

Tippi Hedren (2000)
keywords: Ray Berwick, Rod Taylor, The Birds (1963), Walt Disney, and production

We realized that, if we were working with seagulls, we could train them to go for food. They're greedy animals, and so you could put food just behind the camera, or right on top of the camera, and they'd fly into the lens.

I must say we tried to use mechanical birds, and we did use a few, but mechanical birds that moved didn't work out too well. So we finally decided to work with crows.

The reason we started with crows is obviously they have an intelligence that most birds don't have. You could train a crow. But because they were so intelligent, they were also hard to capture. But Ray Berwick — I think Ray had done Birdman of Alcatraz, which is only a couple of birds, and here we were dealing with thousands.

So we finally had to go with eggs — growing crows. That didn't take as long as it sounds, because they were very young. I think there is still some of the original crows flying around here. They live a long time!

Robert F. Boyle (2000)

The crows are gathering behind her on the jungle gym. And I have the kids singing a song. And I asked my kids, what's a... they were about that school age. And I said, "What's a song that you sing in school?" and they gave me "Rissle-dy Rossle-dy." And I looked it up and it was public domain. You know, it's an old folk tune that goes back forever. And I used it. And I gave them four or five stanzas, whatever, of the song, the actual song.

And I got a call, I think it was from Peggy Robertson, Hitch's assistant, and she said, "We need more lyrics for the song." I said, "Why?" She said, "It won't cover the scene on the jungle gym."

So I wrote I don't know how many more stanzas — enough to cover the whole bird kingdom arriving on that jungle gym. And they used whatever they needed, and the irony of it is that I still get royalties from ASCAP. I had to join the American Society of Composers and — whatever it's called — Publishers — ASCAP — to, uh, in order to allow me to use the lyrics in the film.

And I still get royalties from ASCAP on “The Birds” for the lyrics I wrote for that scene!

Evan Hunter (2000)
Hunter talking about the famous scene of the birds gathering on the jungle gym outside the school

They had, supposedly, shatter proof glass in there. And the seagull comes and hits the phone booth — they had the seagull on the wire, and it was a fake bird, of course. And the bird comes down, hits the glass, and the glass shattered and got all over my face. It was pretty scary. And we spent the afternoon taking little tiny bits of glass away from my skin.

But after that, Rod Taylor comes and gets me and we go into the restaurant. We don't even see anybody. And then we look around and there they are, all huddled, you know, almost into the kitchen. And silent. And one of the characters, the mother of the two children [played by actress Doreen Lang], looks at me, and she's crazed. And she comes after me, accusing me of being the cause of this. And she becomes hysterical.

And I, who have never slapped anybody in my life — I was told, you know, in the script that she slaps this woman. And I said to the actress, "Let's practice this — you know, do one of those fake things." She said, "No. I want you to hit me." I said, "I can't do that." She said, "No, you must. You must hit me. I want you to, because then the reaction will be right." So I really had to slap her and I could hardly handle it!

Tippi Hedren (2000)
Hedren talking about the scene where the birds attack the gas station outside the restaurant

A lot of those birds were cardboard cut outs and sort of stuffed birds that were put on the wires, and they just kept adding to them and adding to them. And I asked him... ever the curious child. I asked him. I said, "Well, isn't it going to look fake on camera?" And he says, "No." Because he interspersed real birds with them. And he says, "Your eye — it's the illusion. You see movement from one, you assume they're all moving." And it's absolutely true. You sit there and you watch that movie, and you could swear that they're all moving just by interspersing live ones here and there. I mean, he had so many things. I just kept asking questions, and he never seemed to mind answering them either.

When you're doing a movie, you know you're doing a movie. "It's a movie," as Hitchcock would always say. And people so often say, "Were you frightened when you were doing that movie?" Well, you know what's going on.

However, there are times when you're making films that, um, it can become dangerous, it can become exhausting, unexpected. And the scene where I go up into the bedroom upstairs is one of those scenes. They told me — Hitch always told me for the entire filming — that we were going to use mechanical birds for that scene. I said, "Fine. Don't have anything to worry about."

It was on a Monday morning that we were going to start the scene, and Jim Brown, the assistant director, came into my dressing room on the set. And we'd known each other for a long time. And he couldn't look at me. He looked at the floor, he looked at the walls, he looked at the ceiling. I said, "What's the matter with you?" And he said, "We can't use the mechanical birds. They don't work." And out the door he went. And I just blanched white because I had seen the bird trainers with their leather gauntlets up to their shoulders, and scratches that they had from the birds. And I walked out onto the set, and there was never an intention of using mechanical birds.

They had a cage built around the set so the birds wouldn't be up in the rafters for the remainder of the shoot. And there were three boxes, great big cartons, of ravens and seagulls. And prop men, with their leather gauntlets, hurled birds at me for five days. Maybe I put myself in sort of a Zen state because it was so — it was really grisly. 'Cause I literally had to fight them off. And, uh, they didn't attack. Birds... don't do that. It was just, you know, them coming at me that I would have to, you know, get away from.

That Wednesday, Cary Grant came onto the set to see Hitch, and he walked over to me and he said, "I think you're the bravest lady I've ever met." And I said, "Well, I don't know if that's the word for it." But it was pretty horrific.

By Friday they had me on the floor. You know, 'cause I'd just crumpled from sheer exhaustion as the character is being hurt. And Rita Riggs, who was my dresser — who became a wonderful designer — she had put cloth bands around my body with little elastics — two little elastics — sticking out everywhere. Then we put the dress on, and with the holes in the dress, she would pull the elastics through, and then they would tie the foot of the bird to me, and ... I was that way all day, and one of the birds decided to move from my shoulder up on to my — it just jumped, and scratched me very close to my eye, and I said, "That's enough!"

And I got them all off of me. And I just sat in the middle of the stage and cried. I mean, I was just totally exhausted. And everybody left. Sort of left me there! I don't remember the weekend, and, um, I don't remember driving to the studio the following Monday. I got into my dressing room — beautiful dressing room — and laid down on the couch, and my makeup man, Howard Smit, came, uh, to get me, you know, for makeup, and, uh, he couldn't wake me. I was just out. I mean, just out. Just totally exhausted. And I was under doctor's care for a week, which made it very, very difficult, because there were no other scenes to film. It was sort of at the ending of the shoot.

After that scene, you know, I was... I was really a bloody mess. And of course they're — the makeup people — are so good at that. And Howard Smit had put scars all over me. But it was so much fun to do ... Everything is scary, and, you know, it's fun. It's great fun to do it.

Tippi Hedren (2000)
Hedren describing the scene where the birds attack her in the attic of the Brenner house

That was a surprise for me, when I saw the end of the film at the Museum of Modern Art, at this special, uh, invitational opening. Uh, I was really enormously surprised. I was surprised when some scenes were not in the film, but when I saw the ending, I was shocked because the way I had the film end, uh, they come out of the house and they get in the car and they start driving away from the house. And we see them coming through town, now, and we the see the havoc that has been wreaked in the town so it becomes not just a personal thing that's directed against Melanie, that wherever she is, the birds are attacking.

We now see that this is a universal thing, where we see disaster all through the town, as we see an overturned school bus. We see a farmer with a shotgun, lying across a front porch. We see windows shattered all over town. Dead birds on the road. Police patrol cars, uh, in flames. It's almost as if a war has been waged against the town by the birds. And they come to a roadblock in the road covered with birds and they manage to get through that, they creep along through that, and they start gradually accelerating the car and moving away, and the birds all go up in the air and come at the car.

And now they're going out of town on that same winding road, and the birds, now, are coming on a straight line for the car. And the birds descend on the car. And the convertible was also set up at the very beginning of the film, it's a convertible with a canvas top. And now the birds land on the top of the car, and they're in the car, and we see the top starting to shred, and it goes back suddenly, and all the birds are hovering over the car.

And we go back and we see that the road, now, is... it curves around, and he hits the gas, and the cargoes ahead and the birds fallback. We see the birds falling back. And they're in the clear. And that was the end of the movie. And certainly the car chase survived to whatever draft was in the production script. And it was gone, and ... I don't know what happened. I know that — I know for sure that that sequence would have taken them a month to shoot. Overhead shots, special effects with the birds over ... Cutting away from the winding road to helicopter shots — all this stuff would have been just impossible to shoot. Just impossible. And I think maybe he figured he had the same effect by showing the birds having taken over the screen, and by association, the world.

Evan Hunter (2000)
Hunter describing how the film originally ended in the screenplay
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds (1963), production, and screenplay

[Hitchcock and I] had a long discussion about music and a score. Using a score, you know? And I felt that it would really make the movie almost unbearable if we had music in it and, you know, underscoring the terror and adding to the screaming of the birds. I think the audience would have jumped out of their seats. And he said no, he felt it would be more effective the other way.

Evan Hunter (2000)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds (1963), music scores, production, and screenplay


The blue screen process, while it had been essentially perfected in 1958, was still not quite to the level that Hitchcock wanted. And the best examples of travelling matte work in general that Hitchcock had seen was the sodium travelling matte shot process that was used primarily at the Disney studio.

The sodium process was a method of combining foregrounds and backgrounds that were photographed at different times in an optical printer in post production. At some point, you have to create a matte, or a silhouette, that enables you to distinguish photographically between the foreground, which is usually an actor against a screen, and the background. In the sodium process, the background was illuminated by yellow sodium light. Of course, the actors in the foreground were illuminated by white light. There were two films in a special camera, an old Technicolor camera. One film was sensitive only to the sodium light on the backing. The second film in the camera was sensitive only to the white light falling on the actors. As a result, there was absolutely no contamination of the foreground actors by the lighting from the background.

Typical of blue screen shots of the period was a sort of blue fire in hair and on the edges of objects. And the sodium light, because there literally was no light from the backing on the actors at any time, the sodium system could produce a higher-quality composite that didn't exhibit the sort of blue flare and blue halos that were sometimes seen on blue screen composites of the day. Disney had brought the sodium process to a high level of perfection, and Ub Iwerks, who was the head of the Disney special processes department, was hired as a consultant, and the Disney sodium equipment was used to create the travelling matte shots on "The Birds".

Bill Taylor (2000)
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Technicolor, The Birds (1963), Ub Iwerks, Walt Disney, post-production, special effects, and the sodium process

That was also a matte shot. You won't believe this, but the two eyes were painted as a matte. The makeup man would put black where the eye was and then Albert would get the print and the black part is not processed — is not developed. And he would paint whatever he had to paint for the eyes — leave holes or what ever it is — painted them on glass and then put that together, and that would be the result.

Harold Michelson (2000)
Michelson describing how the visual effect of seeing Dan Fawcett's empty eye sockets was achieved
keywords: Albert Whitlock, The Birds (1963), matte paintings, post-production, and special effects

One of the most interesting scenes, I think, that we did was in the Tides Restaurant and working with Ethel Griffies, who was in her 80s. And yet she had all of these ornithological words that she had to perform! And it was stunning to hear her do this.

George Tomasini was Hitch's editor on a number of films. And I was able to watch a lot of the editing. Of course, that in itself is just such a fantastic part of the film. I mean, it really is everything. Everything.

George would assemble the piece to what he thought it should be — or close. And then Hitch would come in and do the final editing. And he would edit almost... he would say, "Cut one frame out of here. Cut three frames out of this scene. Cut it at the beginning, three frames." It was technically... he was such a perfectionist.

Probably one of the most indicative scenes about George Tomasini's and Hitch's editing was when the man throws the match down and everybody screams at him. And the way they filmed me watching it was inseparate... almost, like still photographs, the way they edited it, the whole thing. It was incredibly effective.

Tippi Hedren (2000)
keywords: Ethel Griffies, George Tomasini, The Birds (1963), film editing, and post-production

It would appear that Hitchcock first became interested in using electronic sounds in place of a score for the Birds in, uh, April of 1962, when he received a letter from a man in Germany named Remi Gassmann. Gassmann was the co-designer of something called the studio tratonium. This was a device created by another man — I believe his name was Dr. Frederick Trautwein.

And it basically was the forerunner of many modern keyboard instruments, in that it was able to take sounds — commonplace, ordinary sounds — and by playing the keyboard, or playing the instrument, you could manipulate the sounds. Gassmann contacted Hitchcock and alerted him to the fact that there was this creation, it had been used by the New York City Ballet, and it would allow Hitchcock to manipulate sounds in a way that could be very musical in effect. This was intriguing to Hitchcock, and he brought it to Bernard Herrmann's attention.

One might think that Bernard Herrmann would be angry that he would not be writing music for the film, but Herrmann was intrigued by this invention and its application on the Birds. So Hitchcock and Herrmann travelled together in 1962 to West Berlin to meet Remi Gassmann and to explore the possibility of using the studio tratonium in the film.

It was a very happy trip, and later Herrmann regarded it as one of the most pleasant times that he ever spent with Alfred Hitchcock. They got along very well, and they were both very impressed by the results of this machine. So from that point on, Herrmann became basically an advisor on the film — a consultant — to work with both Hitchcock and Remi Gassmann and decide where they wanted to use this effect in the place of where they would have used a conventional score.

Throughout the Birds, during the various attack sequences, sound plays a very important part. The sequence, however, that probably employed the most subjective use of sound is the attack on the Brenner house. First, of course, the characters are inside, just waiting. And very gradually, you begin to hear the sounds — the various sounds — from the fluttering to the chirping and then the cawing, until, of course, it turned into a full-blown attack.

Hitchcock, wherever possible, eliminated dialogue from his films, and the attack on the Brenner house is a sequence that could virtually be a silent movie with the exception of the fact that he uses the bird sounds so brilliantly and dramatically, so that you have these bursts of sound with visual shocks, like the darkness that they're engulfed in.

Throughout "The Birds", Alfred Hitchcock experiments very interestingly with silence. There is the sequence in which Tippi Hedren is attacked in the attic. Hitchcock said that he wanted to create a silent murder. In the shower sequence in "Psycho", he originally wanted to just have the sound of the water running and Janet Leigh's screams and the sounds of the knife. They ultimately decided music would be more effective. But in "The Birds", Hitchcock creates a very sinister sound of flapping bird wings and creates one of the most intense sequences of violence but without any music.

Hitchcock wanted to communicate the sense that the birds were thinking at the end of the movie when, uh, when everybody is leaving the Brenner house. They created this tremendously unsettling effect that is very quiet but does give these creatures much more of a personality... of a far more sinister quality.

Secondly, he creates a, uh, a kind of almost final note by increasing the sound of those birds under the final shot, and it's very ambiguous as to whether they're on the verge of another major attack, or if this is just a sort of, you know, almost psychological effect. So this very experimental technique that they used did, in fact, turn out to be very successful, and Herrmann and Hitchcock were both apparently very pleased with the result.

Steven C. Smith (2000)
Herrmann biographer Smith describing how the soundtrack of the film was created

Other Quotes about The Birds (1963)

Hitch was not only my director, he was my drama coach, which was fantastic. I couldn't have had a better teacher. He not only helped me with developing the character of Melanie Daniels, he had me sit in on meetings with Evan Hunter; with Robert Burks, the D.P.; with Bobby Boyle, the set director; with, of course, Edith Head, who I worked very closely with on designing not only the clothes for "The Birds" and "Marnie" but my own private wardrobe. But in every phase of making that motion picture, he was sure that I was educated in it. And it was stunning. It was an amazing education that I received.

Tippi Hedren (2000)

It's a movie about the dangers of complacency, I think is what he said. We all take things for granted, and we take birds for granted. What if they suddenly turned, you know? This is what would happen. That's a theme that runs through a lot of Hitchcock's pictures — that people take things for granted, people go through their life unthinkingly. And then something happens and they have to think.

I think the scene where Lydia discovers the [farmer's] body is typical Hitchcock in the sense that he shows you from a distance what's happening, and then when it gets to the key moment he cuts in, and he does it in an unusual way, with kind of a triple cut — bop, bop, bop, where it gets closer and closer each time, like somebody doing a triple take. I asked him about it, he said, "Well, that's the way you might see it — Look, look, look." Kind of unusual, subjective use of the camera.

It also basically says that, you know, it's all gonna go back to mother Earth. She will prevail.

The birds represent the eruption of chaos, of unpredictability, and which can be taken to be everything that we don't understand and can't control about our world — not only the physical world but also the world inside us. Underneath all the protective coverings that we use to get through life and which, at the same time, seal us off from other people.

What would have happened if the seagull had not attacked Melanie at that moment? It seems very unlikely at that point that her relationship with Mitch would've developed beyond what it is — Sort of mutual hostility, mutual provocation, all the time. Each of them wants to provoke the other.

It's the bird that destroys all that — the gull attack. And that happens progressively all the way through the film.

Robin Wood (2000)

You know, because birds are so common — I mean, you see them all the time — you think of them as basically being your friends. But after doing the Birds, yes, you did start looking at birds a lot differently. I've never seen so many crows on our front yard. I never knew there were that many of them until after doing this movie, and you! You started looking at them a lot differently.

Oh, when I first saw the movie, I loved the movie. I still do. It's still one of — It's one of my favorites to watch. It scared me when I saw it, and I'd been on the set and I knew all the different things. But, uh, it was a great movie. I think it's one of his best.