The brains behind ‘The Birds’
Tony Lee Moral is the author of the new book “The Making of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds,’” out just in time for the 50th anniversary release of the iconic horror movie. Bodega, where the movie was shot, will celebrate the film on Sept. 1 and Sept. 2.
Moral, 42, makes his home in London and Los Angeles. This is his third book on Hitchcock’s work, and he is widely recognized expert on the film master.
The book recounts the special effects used in the film and, of course, those famous birds.
Moral answered some questions about the new book via email.
Q: What do you think makes “The Birds” such a classic, enduring film?
A: I think “The Birds” is a classic because it was really ahead of its time in so many ways. It started the trend for man vs. nature and disaster movies and Hitchcock was very careful that we cared about the characters before catastrophe strikes.
Q: What part of film making intrigued you most?
A: I think capturing and training the birds was the most interesting. Aside from Ray Berwick (the chief bird trainer), I interviewed John Bud Cardos who was a bird trainer for the smaller birds who gave me wonderful stories. It took incredible skill and patience to train the birds and get all the shots they needed. Script supervisor Lois Thurman told me that Hitchcock accidentally sat on a couple of sparrows when they were filming the sparrow attack in the living room, and unfortunately squashed them.
Q: Was it hard to track down the relatives of the people who made the movie so many years later? How did you find them? How long did it take you to gather all the information you used in the book?
A: It took a year to write, although the movie has fascinated me for the last 25 years of my life, so I’ve always been thinking about it. Many of the crew who worked on “Marnie”, worked on “The Birds”, so I was able to interview Robert Boyle, Jim Brown, Virginia Darcy, Rita Riggs and Harold Michelson. Ray Berwick’s daughter Tamara helped me with background info on her dad. My training as a television researcher at the BBC taught me to be very tenacious and follow up every lead, and I relied on the Director’s Guild and Academy of Motion Pictures to track people down, all over California, Nevada and Arizona.
Q: Did you interview Tippi Hedren?
A: I interviewed Tippi at her Shambala Preserve for my “Marnie” book and spoke to her about “The Birds” also. She says “Marnie” is her favorite movie out of the two. I last saw her in 2012 at the British Film Institute season on Hitchcock.
Q: With all the computer graphics available now, if Hitchcock was still alive what do you imagine he would be doing now?
A: Hitchcock loved matte shots and process shots, so would have welcomed all the latest CGI to make the audience wonder how they achieved the shots and angles. He never forgot the importance of a good story or yarn, so I’m sure he would be combining that with the latest technological developments. In the Revised edition of my new Marnie book, I write a whole chapter on “Mary Rose”, a ghost story Hitchcock always wanted to film. With today’s CGI he could make Mary Rose a ghost which he couldn’t do in 1964
Q: Are you planning on any more moviemaking books? What you want readers to take away from this book – especially those in this area who are so familiar with the geography and the movie already?
A: I’m currently writing a fourth book on Hitchcock and his reputation and legacy since his death in 1980. This is going to take me a couple of years and I’m interviewing people who worked with Hitch who have never spoken out before so it’s going to be very revealing. For those familiar with Bodega Bay, I’d like them to take away how much pre-planning was involved by Hitchcock and his team, why they chose Bodega Bay as the ideal setting. Robert Boyle the production designer did a fantastic job and there are unpublished sketches and notes from the Academy archives in the book.
Q: Are you coming to the festival in Bodega? Maybe holding a book signing?
A: I’m not sure yet, it depends on work commitments.
Q: What fascinated you about the movie as a teen?
A: I first saw “The Birds” 25 years ago, when I was 17 or 18. I had just started college and was studying zoology, so of course I loved the man vs. nature theme. What impressed me most about the film was the eerie atmosphere that Hitchcock created and the beauty of Bodega and Bodega Bay. I have always loved California, and Hitchcock and his creative team, especially Boyle and Albert Whitlock, really created a beautiful yet sinister backdrop for the film. This is reflected in the matte paintings and cloudy skies, which Al Whitlock created and I illustrate and talk about in the making of book.
Q: Can you comment on the unique special effects?
A: I love the sequence of Melanie smoking in front of the jungle gym, whilst one by one the crows gather silently behind her. Hitchcock planned this scene for maximum suspense, “until the audience can’t stand it,” and that’s a direct quote from him.
The village of Bodega will celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Birds Monday Sept. 2 starting at 10 a.m. in the center of town. Tours inside the Potter Schoolhouse, church and cemetery; Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock look-alikes parade at noon; wine and cheese tasting; music; bird rescue exhibit and more. Free except tours which are $25. On Sunday night, Sept. 1 – docent-led tours, dinner, living history performance and “The Birds” memorabilia.