Alfred Hitchcock
The Birds 1963 interview


date: 1963

interviewer: Dutch, unknown

main topics: dealing with birds on set

link to video: Youtube

Unknown: Mr Hitchcock, do you like birds?

Alfred Hitchcock: I'm quite indifferent to them. They serve their purpose on occasion.

Which purpose would that have been for you?

Well, it was the matter of making a little movie about them, a modest little affair, if I may say so.

Are you really modest about this picture, or do you like it particularly?

Well, it's different. One always tries to meet a challenge. I think, just doing an ordinary picture, what I call: photographs of people talking, is rather dull. So the challenge was to take this subject and see if it could be made to work.

I think that was a rather particular challenge about this picture, which was working with birds, really. Was it very difficult?

That was a technical challenge. Of course, it's a very involved technical process and the mere fact that I'm able to photograph a picture, with the cutting in mind, we were able to train the birds for each individual cuts. In other words, we couldn't take the necessary whole long scenes and expect the birds to behave for about 4 or 5 minutes. But the manner of the montage permitted the bird to be trained for a very short period such as flying after a child, or landing on a shoulder. Then I would be able to make a close-up of it biting and so forth.

The birds rook rather terrible. Were they, actually?

The seagulls are vicious, they are scavenger birds, and the trainers who were handling them had to wear very heavy gloves, because instinctively they bite, because they're always catching fish and so forth. The crows, they were to be trained. They varied. Some were vicious, some were very friendly.

Now, that was the technical challenge. What were other challenges?

Well, the challenge of the whole analogy of the film... the theme is that man must be responsible to nature. He cannot assume that nature is always beneficial. The beautiful scenery, the sea, the sky, the trees, everything he enjoys. In the opening of the film, we show how he treats birds, animals. He thinks that they should be in nice cages and very happy and so forth. The film shows that man can't take nature for granted, because if it turns on him, he's in trouble. For example, he digs uranium from the ground and now look at the trouble he's in for that.

Is that the whole theme of the picture, or are there other themes?

There's a general film that in disrespect of men's, shall we say, taking nature for granted, makes him complacent. He thinks he's the master of everything, but a man in a thunderstorm, if he's afraid at all, or if you see a woman in a thunderstorm, she immediately goes under the table in fear. Nature is there and it's most fiercest. I don't think they've ever been able to make an atom bomb with anything like the power of the thunderstorm.

Unknown: Mrs Hedren, The Birds is your first picture and it's a picture with Alfred Hitchcock. Now I'd like you very much to tell us your very first contact with Hitchcock. How was it?

Tippi Hedren: Well, you know, mr Hitchcock put me through a suspense thriller for about three days. I received a phone call saying that a producer had seen me in a television commercial and the gentleman asked if I would bring over pictures and any film that I had. So I did, and while we were talking, I said: won't you tell me who this producer is? And he just got a grin on his face and wouldn't say, you know? And this was on Friday thr 13th, so this is all of a sudden my lucky day. And then Monday morning, I had to meet somebody else, and Monday afternoon I met someone else and they still wouldn't tell me who the producer was! So Tuesday morning, I met mr Hitchcock's agent and he told me that Mr Hitchcock wanted to sign me to a contract.

What was the feeling of that at that moment?

Well, you know, I was so stunned that I didn't know whether to laugh, or cry, or run up and down the halls.

Was the first contact good? Did he put you at ease...

Oh, very much so, yes. We had lunch in his office and we discussed all variety of subjects.

Then you came in contact with that subject. Didn't it seem very horrible to you?

At this point, I didn't know that this was about the birds. This was simply a test to find out what potential I might have to see if I could act. Until then, I had only done television commercials.

What are The Birds to you, exactly?

What are the birds? You mean the meaning of the picture?

No no, the picture itself. What does it mean to you? Was it a terrifying experience?

For about two weeks, I was terrified. Other than that, I went through the picture without being frightened, or scared, or anything. Where I'm in the attic and the birds attack me, it took seven days to shoot this scene, and it's on the screen approximately two minutes. They built a cage for me, so they put me in the cage this time, and in the cage there was a cameraman and five propmen with cartoons of crows and ravens and seagulls, which they ultimately flew at me for these seven days!

Live birds?

Yes, live birds. And I was scratched many times and bitten, I had a good one right at the cheek right there [points at her cheek] under my eye, very close to my eye. So at the end of this scene, I just collapsed and was sent to bed under doctor's orders for five days.

Do you like birds still after making this picture?

I do, yes. I have no real fear of them. They never deliberately attacked me. The seagulls are dangerous. They're extremely dangerous.

You've been living with The Birds and birds for such a long time. Now, how do you react to the picture afterwards when you see it?

I'm absolutely thrilled with it!