James Nguyen, director of "Birdemic," poses in front of his film's poster on April 24 at the Esquire Theatre in Denver. (Photo by Joe Nguyen/AsiaXpress.com)
Director James Nguyen's 'Birdemic' is gaining cult status
Low-budgeted 'romantic thriller' gains growing cult following and national, international attention
By Joe Nguyen, AsiaXpress.com
April 27, 2010
DENVER – When James Nguyen completed "Birdemic: Shock and Terror" in 2008, he, like many independent filmmakers, submitted his movie to different festivals across the country in hopes that his work would be shown to a wider audience.
Every single one rejected him.
But Nguyen was not about to accept no as an answer. Having spent three years of his life working on the project – a 90-minute "romantic thriller," as he described it, about love and murderous birds that explode – he decided it was time to make a drastic move.
"What I did was what you would call a 'cinematic Hail Mary,'" he said.
Drawing from a playbook completely his own, Nguyen became a one-man marketing machine in January 2009 in Park City, Utah. He covered his van with posters, fake blood and a eagle, and drove up and down Main Street for eight days during the Sundance Film Festival to promote the movie.
"It got a lot of notice from a lot of film distributors and especially the policemen," he said. "Three policemen pulled me over."
The tactic proved successful as executives from Severin Films picked up the rights for "Birdemic." Since then, the movie has caught mainstream attention and developed a cult following with people bringing coat hangers – a weapon of choice for the film's protagonists – to midnight showings across the country. Nguyen made a stop in town this past weekend, answering questions after a show on April 25 at the Esquire Theatre.
The movie follows the story of blossoming love in a small town near San Francisco between a software salesman named Rod (played by Alan Bagh) and an aspiring model named Nathalie (played by Whitney Moore). As their romance progresses, a flock of birds unleash their wrath on the town's population.
The 43-year-old writer and director said part of the inspiration for "Birdemic" stemmed from his own love of Alfred Hitchcock's movies, particularly the 1963 classic "The Birds." In fact, Nguyen's main character was named after its lead actor Rod Taylor.
"I never went to film school. Everything I've learned is self taught," he said. " ... If there's a film school I went to, it's the film school of Hitchcock cinema."
Nguyen said he's a fan of Hitchcock's ability to weave a romantic tale with thrill and suspense. While he enjoys romantic films – "Somewhere in Time" and the 1968 version of "Romeo and Juliet" being among his favorites – he said he wanted to do something more than just a "chick flick" with his creation.
James Nguyen, director of "Birdemic: Shock and Terror," answers questions after a midnight screening on April 25 at the Esquire Theatre in Denver.
"Civilization – that's great for man and his machine, but what does it do to other species?" he said. "You know, by the time you get in your car and drive and release CO2, what is the human race at this second doing to other species? To planet Earth? That's what I'm trying to show, yet at the same time have the romance."
Nguyen said he partially based the main character of Rod off of himself – both are software salesmen in the Silicon Valley area. It is something he has also done with the male protagonists in his previous two efforts, "Replica" and "Julie and Jack."
"The main thing is write what you know," he said. "That's the first rule of writing."
"Birdemic" cost less than $10,000 – all of which was funded by Nguyen – and was shot during the weekends over the course of nine months in 2008.
"I love making movies," he said. "I didn't pursue it for the publicity, it just happened by accident."
But Nguyen's world changed after signing the deal in 2009.
"When I signed the deal with Severin Films, i thought that we would have a DVD release and a little article mentioned in the local newspaper," he said. "The last three months, it's like we've been on the world stage."
And what a stage it has been. "Birdemic" has been featured in Entertainment Weekly, ABC World News, BBC and even The New York Times. Screenings of the film have played or are scheduled for 25 cities across the U.S. and it will make its London premiere at the end of May.
Many have panned the movie for its lack of basic filmmaking qualities, from its soundtrack to its acting. Variety's Ronnie Schieb wrote that the special effects "must be seen to be believed: birds dive-bombing and exploding in red-and-yellow poofs of smoke, and clip-art eagles, crudely pasted on the screen, with only their wing tips mechanically flapping." Richard Metzger of the Los Angeles Times wrote it is a film that is "so bad that it's good." Users on IMDb give the film an average of 2.1 out of 10.
However Nguyen said he believes the reason why "Birdemic" is gaining popularity is that moviegoers are able to look beyond its flaws and see that "there's a genuine sincerity and honesty to the film."
"People who about write about this movie and call it 'the worst' or whatever, I think that they're the few who are not willing to forgive its imperfections," Nguyen said. "The majority of people who are laughing or enjoying with this movie, it is because they are willing to look the other way or forgive all its imperfections – the animation and so on – and look at the heart of the story."
With the film's ever-rising popularity, Severin Films is financing his next movie, a Hollywood-based serial-killer film called "Peephole: The Perverted" that is tentatively scheduled for 2011. But if there are bigger opportunities for "Birdemic," that date may change.
"Paramount Pictures contacted me directly for consideration of acquiring 'Birdemic: Shock and Terror,' the current version, and taking it wide like 'Paranormal Activity,'" he said. "If that happens, I guarantee they are going to finance the sequel ('Birdemic: The Resurrection') – $20 million in 3-D.
"Can you imagine those eagles coming at you in 3-D? It's going to be more shocking and terrifying."