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5 Far-Reaching Cinematic Lessons of the Indie Hit 'Birdemic'

By Deadline Jodi | Think Pieces | April 1, 2014 |

By Deadline Jodi | Think Pieces | April 1, 2014 |

Think about the movies that were released in 2010*. Youth In Revolt. The Book of Eli. Legion. The Wolfman. Remember Me. The Bounty Hunter. Birdemic: Shock and Terror. When you look at these movies, you don’t see any hits. Maybe you even forgot that they existed. Except for Birdemic: Shock and Terror.

Even if you’ve never seen Birdemic: Shock and Terror, you know about it. Director James Nguyen’s love letter to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds sold out screenings in Los Angeles when it was released. Rifftrax took the romantic thriller to a larger audience when they riffed it through Fathom in 2011. Podcast How Did This Get Made did a live show where they talked about Birdemic: Shock and Terror and spoke with star Whitney Moore about the film. Why has a movie made by a software salesman for an estimated $10,000 been such an audience hit? What can we learn from Nguyen’s success?

1. Mix Genres

Writer and director Nguyen likes to think of himself as the master of the romantic thriller movie. Most thrillers have some romance built into the plot, but Birdemic: Shock and Terror builds up the romance before the birds attack our heroes Rod (Alan Bagh) and Nathalie (Moore). In fact, the birds of the birdemic don’t even arrive until after the pair consummate their relationship, giving us a solid relationship to follow through the events of the film. The creation of the relationship prior to the bird attacks ups the stakes and forces us to invest more emotional energy into the fate of our characters. This takes me to the next lesson:

2. Don’t Show Your Hand Too Early

Birdemic: Shock and Terror is a name that tells you exactly what you’re getting in a movie. That doesn’t mean that there should be a bird attack in the first ten minutes of the movie. In fact, the birds don’t show up until 47 minutes into the 92 minute film. When they do show up, their appearance is unexplained and Nathalie and Rod are terrified. The 2014 Godzilla also held off showing the title monster until one hour into the 123 minute run-time. Both films benefited from this tactic, creating more suspense and a sense of unease for viewers. Other horror films show the monster terrorizing the heroes too early and too often, making them less frightening and more mundane.

3. There Doesn’t Have To Be A Clear Explanation

Why do the birds decide to attack in Birdemic: Shock and Terror? As we follow Rod through his work, his commute, his experience of the film An Inconvenient Truth, we are led to believe that perhaps global warming and human destruction of habitats is the reason birds have targeted people. We meet a scientist that posits Bird Flu as the culprit.

If global warming is to blame, why do the birds seem to target Rod, a man that drives a hybrid and has solar panels installed on his home? You would think that a different person would become the target of the bird vengeance. At the end of the film, the birds leave. Again, we aren’t sure why. Did they feel that leaving the two orphaned children in the hands of Nathalie and Rod was the completion of their mission? Did they finally see that the couple were trying to reduce their consumption of Earth’s resources? We may never know.

There is no simple Google search, no ancient book, no exposition fairy in Birdemic: Shock and Terror. There are just the different angles presented by Nguyen and the theories of minor characters to assist us in reaching our own conclusion.

4. Big Stars Aren’t Required

Star Whitney Moore auditioned in a school parking lot by reading from Nguyen’s previous film Replica. Birdemic: Shock and Terror was her first film. It was also the first film of director Nguyen, star Alan Bagh, Colton Osborne, and most of the cast. The $10,000 budget wasn’t spent on famous faces and that allowed the film to do what Nguyen wanted it to do instead of falling short because of an actor’s paycheck.

5. Don’t Spend A Ton On Advertising

Nguyen drove a van covered in blood and feathers and emblazoned with “BIDEMIC” (he forgot the ‘r’) around Sundance Film Festival. He showed it in bars after he was unable to get it screened in the actual festival. Severin Films picked up the movie after watching one screening and soon the flick was the darling of midnight screenings around the country. Here we are, so many years later and still talking about it. That’s more than I can say for Legion.

*Birdemic: Shock and Terror was filmed in 2008, but it was not distributed until 2010.