'The Dark Half' has the most birds since Hitchcock's 'Birds'


HOLLYWOOD -- Talk about flocks of would-be stars.

The filming of "The Dark Half," based on Stephen King's novel, required some 4,500 birds, possibly the biggest bird casting call since Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" (1963).

Directed and scripted by scare-meister George A. Romero, the Orion Pictures film stars Timothy Hutton as an author with a murderous subconscious. When it comes to the surface, so do the birds, who symbolize the writer's dark side.

One dramatic sequence has some 1,200 taking flight.

Bird coordinator Mark Harden of Animal Actors of Hollywood says the bulk of the feathered thespians were cutthroat finches, "with a few other little guys, like silver bills, thrown in for spice."

On location on the film's Pittsburgh set from September through January, they went through some 100 pounds of birdseed, assorted veggies and 12-15 gallons of water each day. Spritzing with an anti-bacterial soap kept them looking spiffy.

Purchased from wholesalers, they were returned to the pet trade at shooting's end.

Harden worked with six other bird trainers -- and, he adds, "a clean-up staff."

* "Mistress," shooting in Los Angeles, features Robert De Niro in a cameo role -- he's also executive producer -- in this dark tale of former Hollywood stars who try desperately to get a movie made. The comedy occurs when their meddlesome mistresses vie to get cast in the film. Director is Barry Primus.

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