One of the closing night films for the Cinedelphia Film Festival on April 27th is the sequel to the 2010 cult classic Birdemic: Shock and Terror – Birdemic 2: The Resurrection. If you haven’t seen the first Birdemic, it’s a bit like The Room, but with attacking CG eagles and vultures instead of the super awkward sex scenes. Also, where Birdemic fails in its technical prowess, it more than makes up for it with a sincerity you honestly can’t fake on screen.
A few weeks ago I got to chat via Skype with James Nguyen the director of the Birdemic films while he was in Vietnam working on pre-production for his next romantic thriller. We discussed not only Birdemic 2, but also his love for Hitchcock, Birdemic 3 and what he thinks of when he hears Philadelphia. Enjoy!
I know Hitchcock is a huge inspiration for you, what is it about his films that inspired you as a filmmaker?
I think it is the romantic thriller genre, which he invented. A romantic thriller is a feature film that has the elements of a romance and a thriller, plus a suspense twist and turn. Besides those two main elements, not all is well, or all is what it seems to be.
I never went to film school, but if there was a film school for me, it was watching a lot of Hitchcock films. About 12 or 13 years ago I picked up the camera and started shooting and I became a filmmaker by accident.
In 2006 you started production on Birdemic, did you think then, six years later you would be working on a sequel?
Birdemic when I started it was just a passion project. I had self-financed it from my day job, because I loved making movies as an indie filmmaker. Also part of it was an homage to Hitchcock’s The Birds.
I think part of what makes Birdemic such an amazing film is the sincerity of it, were you worried at all that making a bigger budget sequel you would loose that spark that made the first film so special to so many people?
Yes in a way. Birdemic was produced for less than $10,000, Birdemic 2 is many times that for budget. But I tried to keep some of the elements that worked in the first one, the humor and the most important the Hitchcockian romantic thriller structure.
You see Birdemic as the same as Birdemic 2, the first half of the movie there is a lot of romance between a struggling director Bill and a struggling actress named Gloria. But surrounding that romance in the first half there is foreboding and foreshadowing, an omen that all is not well.
Halfway through the film the birds attack and it’s disclosed later as to why the birds are attacking. That is the structure of the romantic thriller.
I read that one of the characters in Birdemic 2 is a director, is the film going to incorporate some of your experiences and thoughts on dealing with big Hollywood with the first Birdemic film?
Yes in a way. You know the old saying ‘write what you know’, so it’s partially based on my experiences in Hollywood as an indie filmmaker. The name Bill is actually in honor of the great director Billy Wilder, his greatest film is Sunset Boulevard.
I have a tiny office at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Le Brea Avenue. That corner they call Billy Wilder square and they even have a little sign that says ‘This is the Billy Wilder square name in honor of the Oscar winning director Billy Wilder and his greatest film Sunset Boulevard.’
Bill is based on a real director I know, the character won something at Sundace for a movie called Four Seasons back in 1999. I wont say his real name, but seasons was in the title. Well in Birdemic 2 he made that movie and had a chance to direct a 100 million dollar picture, but the movie bombed and the studio said it was because he was too auteur.
So his career ended of a while and he is trying to come back with an indie film.
Was it hard getting the funding for Birdemic 2?
I thought when Birdemic became a world wide cult hit producers would just come up to me and say here is money James, for 20 million lets just produce Birdemic 2, lets make it a huge franchise. But it was still a struggle. I was an inch away from a deal at Paramount, they were considering taking over the franchise, but they decided to pass and that was a total disappointment.
But I managed to find a producer Jeff Gross is the producer and he managed to come up with the money many times over the original Birdemic.
The first Birdemic film had a very environmentally friendly message will that be the same with Birdemic 2, from the trailer it seemed like you has raised the stakes quite a bit. There is a very sort of apocalyptic feel to it? I think I even saw zombies in there as well.
Well it doesn’t go into full apocalypse, because the sequel Birdemic 3 is in play, which I am hoping to shoot in Vietnam. I just came back from there, because I was in pre-production on The Sea is Rising my project outside of the Birdemic Franchise.
It just kind of evolved because I am a fan of The Walking Dead. One day I was just like ‘What if the same reason the birds are attacking is the same reason zombies are rising from the grave?’ In terms of production value Hollywood loves anything with zombies and it helped add to the time frame of 90 minutes.
I read you were going to shoot Birdemic 2 in 3D, what were some of the challenges you faced working with the format?
The original plan was in 3D, because I know how to shoot in 3D, but because of budget reasons we had to shoot in regular 2D.
So Birdemic 2 is in 2D, but Birdemic 3 is going to be Birdemic 3D, guaranteed.
How do you feel about the film premiering at the Cindelphia Film Fest in Philadelphia? I heard that you will be on hand for a Q&A session.
I am very excited about the Philadelphia Premier and I think it’s my first time in Philadelphia. Whenever I hear Philadelphia, I always think of David Lynch, because that is where he came from. I am excited to meet the Birdemic fans in Philadelphia.
So finally, what is next on your plate?
So my next film, which I am pre-production for is The Sea is Rising, which is a romantic thriller and it takes place in Vietnam. I have been going back and forth on pre-production for the last 2 years.
The story is about 3 friends, one guy named Tree a Vietnamese-American and his two Caucasian friends, Carl and David. They go to Vietnam for a partying vacation and by chance they find romance. But surrounding all this partying is environmental chaos.
Hurricane Trinity or in Vietnam they call it Typhoon Trinity is heading toward Southern Vietnam where they are trying to have their vacation and it changes their lives forever.