James Nguyen, the writer and director of the unexpected cult hit Birdemic: Shock and Terror could very well be the real thing, or is he? 43 years old, a hobbyist director, working full time in silicon valley at tech start up PixLogic, and self-proclaimed master of his own genre: Romantic Thriller. Is Mr. Nguyen our generation’s Ed Wood whose “Plan 9 From Outer Space” became legendary for its defects?
I caught up with James after his New York premiere, “It was more than I expected, and I was mentioned on the front page of the New York Times” Mr. Nguyen said. “The majority of audience was laughing with the movie despite its imperfections – they loved the movie.”
For those who don’t know Birdemic is the cult hit craze hitting theaters all across the nation. The plot goes something like this: A platoon of eagles and vultures attack the residence of a small town. No one knows what caused them to attack, but two young lovers manage to fight back. Will they survive the Birdemic?
The story goes James never received a formal education in film, and instead graduated from the Hitchockian school of cinema. Which is to say that from a young age he liked watching Vertigo, North by Northwest, Rear Window, and Dial M for Murder. 10 years ago someone wanted to use his location for a movie shoot, he allowed it, and a crew from Hollywood showed up on his doorstep.
James found his calling from that watershed moment, and soon after invented his first romantic thriller, Julie & Jack (Seriously click on the link and watch the trailer). It was released in 2001 by Echelon Entertainment, and went silently into the night. James said of the sudden career shift, “I never picked up a camera until I was 30. I got into film by accident and it just evolved”. His next foray in 2005 with Replica didn’t quite hit the mark either.
Mr. Nguyen finally struck gold when Birdemic was discovered in 2009 at the Sundance Film Festival where he hosted late night screenings after the movie was rejected from the festival itself. He drove around that week in a truck with the word “Bidemic” emblazoned on its side, a giant eagle in the back, and loudspeakers fixed to the top. Was he desperate or did he know what he was doing the whole time? Either way, the film became a sensation on the midnight movie circuit, and just recently premiered this week in NYC.
For all the hub bub around the flick James hasn’t let it get to his head, “Until you get the multimillion dollar movie stick to your day job. The industry is unstable and you never know what it’s going to do. I’ve got a $1 million budget for my next film but that isn’t enough, the director’s fee is only $52k. What I would need to quit PixLogic.com would be a Hollywood studio 3 picture deal where I can demand $5 to $10 million – until then it’s not enough. Some people like to bowl as a hobby… I like to make indie movies on the weekend.”
This being his third feature film in the romantic thriller category James is no stranger to horror, “I’m not interested in just romance ~ chick flicks. There needs to be mystery and suspense. A romantic thriller is 90 minutes or longer, has a romance between its protagonists, and deception between one or both of them”. Hitchcock’s Vertigo is the quintessential example, although Alfred never made claim to the categorization himself. Mr. Nguyen says, “Hitchcock is the creator, the master of suspense. He is the 1st master and I am the 2nd. I probably know more or as much as most movie critics about Vertigo, even the scholars. In 2008 I went to a symposium in Stanford for its 50th anniversary, and all the critics were at the fancy university. I knew more about the movie than they did – at least as much or more. Historically and so on.”
At the moment Nguyen is in pre-production for a documentary about Hitchcock that discusses two vital questions: Is Vertigo his best movie? Is Vertigo a romantic thriller?
Personally, I have to believe there is some rhyme or reason taking place somewhere underneath it all. Whether it’s accidental or incidental remains to be understood.
1. ABC news did some of the most silly reporting on the film and bordered on rude.
2. The New York times destined him for the hallowed halls of B-movie greatness.
3. Viceland ran a serious interview with notes of suspicion
Nguyen says of all the interviews, “It comes with the territory. It’s all good because this was my first time on national television station and the news. I’m prepared for whatever question is coming.There is genuine storytelling to my film and people
Moviehead pictures, PixLogic, everything has some bizarrely janky quality, and yet there is an alluring mystery surrounding Mr. Nguyen’s bizarre rise to notoriety. We’ve met him in person. We’ve seen the videos. He’s met and hung out with people he only dreamed of. James is someone who fell into the limelight perhaps not by accident, and whether it seems like it or not, it’s well deserved. Here is to a charmingly off kilter man whom made me think about Hitchcock again a decade after film school.
(Special thanks to Scott Schachter for linking Popten up with Severin Films.)