Nguyen (left) with his idol. Date unknown.
Happens every time: Just when you think everything's going right—making good money at your job, finally getting with the cute blonde from your old English class—Boom! that's when the eagles and vultures attack. Ok, so that hasn't actually happened—yet!—but
if when it does, we hope it will be as sexy/scary/funny as Birdemic: Shock and Terror, the new romantic thriller from writer/director/producer James Nguyen.
Birdemic tells the story of a young couple in Northern California who, while taking an idyllic road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway, encounter swarms of mean-as-shit eagles and vultures, hell bent on vengeance on the human race in retaliation for its disregard for the environment. It was filmed on weekends over four years and completely self-financed by Nguyen (he works days as a Silicon Valley software salesman), and its special effects show it—they make the effects in its obvious inspiration, Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 epic The Birds, look positively CGI in comparison. But its also one of the most consistently entertaining movies you'll see this year. After the most persistent and ambitious self-marketing campaigns in Sundance history, Birdemic was picked up by Severin Films last year, and will see wide release this spring, including a New York premiere tonight at the IFC Center (presented by videogum.com and co-presented by bloodydisgusting.com). Complex recently spoke with Nguyen about his influences, and both the sublime and mundane things that go into making a passion project. Check the interview and trailer of Birdemic below...
Complex: What were some of the films that influenced Birdemic?
James Nguyen: The first one would be The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock, in 1963. The Birds is one of my favorite Hitchcock films. Even though it's not my most favorite, which is Vertigo, The Birds is very prophetic. It was made in 1963, but it dealt with very prophetic issues, the environment and all that. So that was the main movie that inspired me to make Birdemic. Other movies are Apocalypse Now—in Apocalypse Now, the G.I. soldiers, they're in a boat cruising down the Mekong River and in Birdemic the protagonists, Nathalie and Rod, they're in a van driving down Highway 1 and they go through one journey—one scene to the next. Also An Inconvenient Truth. There's an environmental issue in Birdemic, and An Inconvenient Truth really inspired me to put that in there.
Complex: You call yourself the Master of the Romantic Thriller; you've actually trademarked the name for yourself. How did you come up with that?
James Nguyen: I was always obsessed with romantic thrillers. I think the first romantic movie I liked was Somewhere In Time with Christopter Reeve and Jane Seymour, and the Franco Zeffirelli 1968 Romeo and Juliet. But romance alone—a chick flick—is not just enough. I'm not interested in a chick flick. It's gotta be a mystery, suspense, a thriller. I found that in Hitchcock cinema. So I just became obsessed with watching Hitchcock cinema watching Vertigo, The Birds, Rear Window, To Catch A Thief, North By Northwest, all of these are examples of romantic thrillers, even Rebecca his first romantic thriller in America. Even though Mr. Hitchcock, he never referred to them as romantic thrillers, but I kind of changed it.
Complex: How does that come across in Birdemic?
James Nguyen: The first half of the movie is a romance between these protagonists. There is a foreshadowing and twist and turn 'cause there's something wrong, things are not alright. How we did the film with the Eagles and Vultures attack because in the film you understand why the eagles and vultures attack. It was the elements of romance, in a sneaky way. It started off as a joke, but I was so obsessed with it that the last 12 months became more serious. So it's kind of like being obsessed with a romantic thriller and I figured at least I'm a master of this genre I believe.
Complex: You completely financed the movie yourself. What were some of the things that kept you going?
James Nguyen: Having a good story. In the original script I couldn't afford an RV, I couldn't afford a nice fancy set, you know? So I had to adjust the scenes to make it work with my budget. I think that's one of the things that kept me going. So when you have a good story, it's there, it keeps everyone excited, and it keeps you motivated and hopefully you end up with a product that you can be happy with. I also think the bond between me and the cast. The lead cast—Alan who plays Rod, and Whitney Moore who plays Nathalie. The director/actor relationship was there, you know? It's about trust. When you make a low-budget indie film, it's very tough. People are going to show up every weekend to shoot it and there's trust and respect and if it's not there you probably won't finish the movie. So I think there's trust and respect and a liking of each other that kept us going.
Complex: Anything else?
James Nguyen: I had very limited money, so I think the lunch sandwich kept us going, right from 7-Eleven. We had those pre-made sandwiches, you know at the deli of 7-Eleven? So that was lunch and actually when you watch Birdemic there is a scene where they go into the convenience store and Nathalie picks up a sandwich out from the deli—that was an actor's lunch from the crew. So I think that the lunch really helped keep me going. The sandwich—you have to feed the cast and the crew well or they won't act right. It doesn't matter what kind of budget, low-budget movie or whatever, you always have to feed them so they act right. There will be mutiny on the set!
Complex: What should moviegoers expect when they go see Birdemic?
James Nguyen: Birdemic: Shock and Terror—it's about the eagle and vulture attack, who will survive? And I hope that when the audience watches this movie and they walk away...I know when they watch this movie and they're being entertained and they'll have a few good laughs and after all that they walk away, I hope they walk away thinking.
Birdemic: Shock and Terror Trailer
Future Birdemic: Shock and Terror screenings:
April 2 & 3: Phoenix, AZ: MADCAP Theater
April 9: Los Angeles: Cinefamily @ The Silent Movie Theater
April 16 & 17: Washington, DC: E Street Theater
April 23: Portland, OR: The Bridgetown Comedy Festival @ The Baghdad (Q&A with James Nguyen)
April 23 & 24: Denver, CO: Esquire Theater (James Nguyen in-person, 4/24)
April 23-25: Detroit, MI: The Burton Theater
TBD: Half Moon Bay, CA: Half Moon Bay Theater (Q&A with James Nguyen and cast)
May 8: Philadelphia, PA: Ritz East Theater
May 15: Milwaukee, WI: The Oriental
May 19: Austin, TX: Alamo Drafthouse Ritz
May 21 & 22: Minneapolis, MN: Uptown Theater
June 11 & 12: Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Cinematheque
June 16: Austin, TX: Alamo Drafthouse Ritz
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