Breakdown: "Birdemic: Shock and Terror"
The Worst Movie Ever Made? - Vice
The Conversation: 'Birdemic: Shock and Terror'
Everything Wrong With Birdemic - Cinema Sins
The Search For The Worst - I Hate Everything
Birdemic. Birdemic. Bidemic? We’ll talk about that in a bit… Some love it for the raw, untapped, unaltered passion, and drive that a single man put into making this work of fiction. Others love to shit on it for being one of the worst films ever made. Either way, we’re here to break it down for you. Hi, I’m Greg Chamberlain from Slacker and this is our breakdown of Birdemic.
James Nguyen is the director of Birdemic. He first came to America at the end of the Vietnam war. He has received no formal training in film, he considers himself a student of the “Hitchcock film school” where I guess the curriculum is just sitting on your couch and watching Hitchcock’s films. James has also cited that Hitchcock’s “The Birds” was one of Birdemic’s bigger influences. Because you know, these two cinematic masterpieces are identical. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, but I don’t know if that's the case here.
James bought his first camera in nineteen ninety nine (1999) where he proceeded to create his first low budget romantic comedy film, “Julie and Jack” released in two thousand and three (2003). He moved on to create his second film, “Replica” in two thousand and five (2005). He got the budget of seven thousand dollars for that movie by selling his own car. Most of the films James has directed were written and produced by himself.
James told ABC that Birdemic had a budget of about $10,000, again, all self funded. That money went to all the “gear”, all the “actors”, all the “effects”. James bought most of the cars for the film, he bought the van that the cast drives for $300, while actor Alan Bagh rented the car the his character Rod drives.
If you’ve never seen the movie, I’ll let “I Hate Everything” Describe it for you. It’s awful. Right off the bat, this film loves to waste time. It feels like a lot of the scenes’ sole purpose is to extend the runtime to meet that “feature film” status. Which I could be wrong, because without the four minutes of driving/title sequence in the beginning, the awkward 5 second thumbs up, and the forty seconds of whatever the fuck this sequence is, the film probably could’ve hit that eighty minute mark that has been set by SAG as the official minimum for a feature film.
Dude, like I don’t know, there’s a lot of instances of time wasting. It’s either just bad editing or time wasting. I would love to see an actual cut of the film where the editor doesn’t waste time or actually knows what he’s doing. If there’s an editor out there who wants to cut the film down to prove that the film could be sub-feature film status, I’ll feature your demo reel on my website!
While we’re on the topic of editing, Nguyen originally told the cast that he was hiring a professional editor to make the bird effects, but eventually, he discovered that the cost was going to be too expensive. He ended up doing it himself on his personal computer. The film was edited on Adobe Premiere Pro James has been telling people that he did end up hiring a student from the Academy of Art University in San Fransisco, but who knows where he actually got them from. I found some very similar green-screen CG eagles on a stock footage site, VICE touched a bit on James’ process, and his weren’t green screen so I’m not sure where he got them from.
The film is shot on a Sony HVR-Z1U… That’s a camcorder. The camera sports a Zeiss 4.5-54mm, f/1.6-2.4 lens with 12x optical zoom. The Sony is a 3CCD camera, which means that it uses three CCD sensors to create an image. It’s kind of like technicolor where each sensor is behind a red, green, or blue filter, well, actually a beam splitter like this one. In this camera, they’re 1/3rds sensors, which is the same size sensor that exists in most smartphones. Now, this is a very capable camera. I’m not saying it’s the reason the film looks bad, I’m a firm believer in the notion that you don’t need expensive gear to make your project look good. It was just in bad hands. The film took four years to produce. With no permits for the filming locations, everything had to be discussed prior with owners or just filmed using guerrilla tactics. Because of this, lighting continuity is almost non-existent.
Some people say that good cinematographers and DPs paint a picture with every frame. So, if you can pause the movie randomly, look at the frame and think, "I'd hang that up on the wall.” Then the Cinematographer of DP has done a good job. Let's try that with Birdemic. I’m going to let you guys be the judge of these, do you think there’s any thought into this frame? No. What about this one? Background is blown out, subjects under exposed, hey, rule of thirds though! The horizon isn’t straight. Fuck it, I’d hang this one on my wall.... I’m being nice here, but a lot of the movie has a lot of parts where places are blown out and overexposed, there is no purposeful framing, the 180 rule is broken in some spots, It’s bad. It looks bad.
The acting is bad too, right? Like it’s awful, its forced, the dialogue sucks. No, everyone is quick to blame the actors. Fuck that, there’s no such thing as bad actors, only bad directors. Firstly, the script is clunky. If you watch the Vice’s piece about the movie, about 13 minutes in, Whitney Moore gives an honest interview about her experience playing the role of Natalie. I honestly feel bad for them. Like their performances suck, because James basically told them to suck, he wouldn't let them adapt their lines, then he ruined the pacing, unintentionally added awkward pauses, destroyed any flow that the actors may have actually had on set.
The sound... Okay look, if your audio is bad, your film is bad. Many filmmakers (including myself) when starting out neglect the audio of their films. Don’t forget, audio is 50% of your film. There’s a ton of ways to fix bad audio. I know a lot of other people love to point this scene out, but take a listen. That scene looks like a Grand Theft Auto San Andreas Cutscene… But listen, that could easily be fixed with ADR, ambient sounds and wala.. Now let’s listen to this. Holy shit, that’s hilarious. The plane sounds. Genuinely funny. If it wasn’t the high pitched cricket noises, and the sound cuts, I would’ve thought that the sound designer, John Cregan was self-aware of how bad the film was. Ohh yeah, and theres also the little fact that James made up some of the credits to make the movie seem more official, so who the hell knows who actually did what in this movie.
Let’s analyze the rest of that shot from an audio standpoint. If we isolate the main sounds using a spectral analyzer, you hear that there is actually cricket noises. I was just kidding when I said that it was crickets earlier but it looks like I was spot on. This is pitched down crickets, and this is even more pitched down crickets. To prove that, I isolated the sound of the crickets, and did exactly what I thought he did. Yeah! I thought that was birds with cricket noises, but no, just crickets! I’m actually impressed that that worked. You know, it sounds far, far worse and probably took slightly more time to achieve than just finding a stock sound effect of birds or lord forbid maybe even recording a wild track somewhere, but you know! It did its job!
The score isn’t awful but certainly doesn’t fit. From what I found, some of it came from a stock music library and also from Richard Band who is a composer who probably just licensed out his music. I’m pretty tired of talking about this film now, so let’s move on.
After submitting the film to multiple festivals, James was unable to get the film entered into anything, wonder why? So, two-thousand and nine (2009) he rented out a local bar near the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah to show his film. He then handed out fliers from his van, that was covered fake blood and stuffed birds. He had paper signs marked taped on to his car, misspelling the name of the film.
The movie became wildly popular after Severin films picked it up, and the rest is history, Vice covered this part of the story pretty well so I’m not going to repeat too much of it.
Birdemic received a sequel, Birdemic Two, The Resurrection, in twenty thirteen (2013). It was funded by fans of the original. Several of the original cast members returned to replay there roll, many newcomers were on board, just to be apart of the filming. The plot is aimed more at self-references to the first film and making fun of its reviews and reception. Many of the complaints about the film is that it becomes more intentionally bad, almost selling out, vs the originals unintended badness. A second sequel was on the way, Birdemic three, Sea Eagle. However, that film was unable to find funding, with it getting less than six-hundred dollars of its asking five-hundred-thousand.
Birdemic lives on as a cult hit. Some view it as pure artistic intent, what one man can do with no training and no skill but pure dedication, while others see it as the worst film ever made. And so yeah, that’s our break down. A lot of this is subjective so please take everything with a grain of salt. What are you thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts, like legit, I’m one man, I miss details… If you have any suggestions for future breakdowns, let us know, we just might do it! That’s all I have to say though so I’ll see you later.