Birdemic: Shock and Terror is the kind of rare success that no Hollywood hotshot could create no matter how much money they threw at it. In fact, that’s really what makes it such a challenge. Birdemic was made on a modest budget that could make most indie movies look like James Cameron’s next special effects epic, even though the special effects as well as the acting, dialogue and editing aren’t all that special either.
It became a massive hit. Birdemic found a ravenous audience as the latest darling of the cult classic circuit, earning it a spot on the list of the best “best-worst movies,” a term spawned by a recent documentary about another best-worst classic, Troll 2. A large part of its success comes from its director James Nguyen who led a legendary Sundance campaign for the film and provided the enthusiastic spirit and soul that makes movies of Birdemic’s caliber so endearing.
“Initially, I didn’t understand what it meant to be a cult classic but I learned to accept it and like it,” Nguyen said. “One reporter from the horror channel Chiller, he compared my movie Birdemic: Shock and Terror to the bird version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I kind of agree with that, even though I initially didn’t understand what he meant by that until I sat in a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Show and watched all the fans pantomiming scenes from the film.
“You don’t go out and intend to make a cult movie,” he said. “It happens by accident.”
Birdemic’s success has become something of a happy accident for Nguyen, not just financially but also for his film career. He has two more films in development including a vacation comedy set in his native Vietnam called The Sea is Rising and a sequel to Birdemic with an equally awesome title, Birdemic 2: The Resurrection.
An Idea Takes Flight
Nguyen said he got the initial idea for the Birdemic franchise during a stressful day at his Silicon Valley sales job that sent him to seek serenity at Half Moon Bay.
“I looked out at the beach and saw a flock of seagulls flying and it reminded me of seeing Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds,” Nguyen said. “So I thought what if I made a movie about a bird pandemic and compress it to Birdemic. I would update it, make it more modern.”
Nguyen, a die-hard Hitchcock fan, also drew inspiration from an unlikely sounding source for a romantic horror movie: Al Gore’s global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
“There is a scene in An Inconvenient Truth where Al Gore is mentioning that the bird cycle of the mating season is being disrupted and they’re dying out because of global warming,” Nguyen said. “I thought, what if the birds attacked Half Moon Bay because global warming has caused them to turn crazy and mutate?”
Nguyen is a bit tight-lipped about the upcoming Birdemic 2 except to confirm that the birds do indeed come back to unleash more shock and terror on the unsuspecting populace. This time, it’s on a town that deserves it: Hollywood. The trailer also leaked a few subplots about an aspiring film director, a beautiful starlet and (why the hell not?) human zombies.
He had the initial idea for the sequel on another outing away from his office, this time to the famous La Brea Tar Pits.
“I was visiting this museum, the La Brea Tar Pit Museum on Wilshire [Boulevard] and they have this exhibit where they have all these…I don’t want to give away the story, but I got this idea from the museum and as a hint to this film, do you know what the Spanish word ‘La Brea’ means in English? It means ‘The Tar.’ That’s the hint to the whole sequel.”
Everything’s Bigger in Birdemic 2
This time, he has a bigger budget thanks to producer Jeff Gross and the playground that is Los Angeles to shoot around his cast. Some familiar faces from the first film are also back for the sequel including Alan Bagh, Stephen “Tree Hugger” Gustavson and the beautiful Whitney Moore who Nguyen gives a big bulk of credit for the first film’s success.
“The biggest set we shot on was the Jaws set on the Universal Studios’ backlot with the birds attacking the Jaws set,” he said. “That was fun. Here we are, a little movie production shooting a movie with an indie budget, which is small compared to the $100 million picture next door.”
Of course, the challenge for the sequel is being able to capture the intrinsic spirit of the first film but with slightly bigger sets, budgets and birds.
“They appreciate its sincerity and they can relate to the movie,” he said. “You can watch a $200-300 million movie like The Day After Tomorrow where you are dazzled by the visual effects but they don’t entertain. I’ve sensed sitting with the audience that they really enjoy it and get the message that global warming is harming the Earth but it’s almost like an educational (film) or a documentary by being entertaining. I wrote a romantic thriller, a love story and the global warming part is just an element of the story as well as the sincerity to the story and the characters. That’s what made the movie a hit.”
Danny Gallagher is a writer, reporter, humorist and angry bird griller (Surprise! They taste like chicken). He can be found on the web at www.dannygallagher.net, his Facebook page and Twitter @thisisdannyg.