‘Birdemic 3’ Director James Nguyen On His Alfred Hitchcock Connection
In 2010, director James Nguyen struck viral film gold with Birdemic, a micro-budget take on Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic The Birds. Now, over a decade later, Nguyen is on the third film in the series, and he’s back with a more serious message about confronting the current climate crisis. Don’t worry, there are still CGI birds aplenty flitting around the screen.
In Birdemic 3:
While slowly sauntering down the Santa Cruz pier, gerontologist (a scientist studying the biological aspects of aging) and Tesla Model 3 driver Evan (Ryan Lord) happens to spot marine biologist Kim (Julia Culbert) collecting ocean water samples for her climate change research. It doesn’t look good. Kim carefully explains to Evan that the water is too acidic because there is too much CO2 in the water caused by global warming, and that in turn is causing the sea lions and whales to contract cancer, die and wash up on shore. It isn’t collisions with cargo ships, like the media is reporting, it’s global warming. But that is not where the story ends. Climate change, it turns out, is really bad.
Dread Central spoke with Nguyen about Hitchcock, climate change, saving the world, and the next installment in the Birdemic series.
Dread Central: You made the first Birdemic movie in 2010, and now you have made the third one. Did you ever expect to be making multiple of these films and did you expect it to resonate and become as popular as it did when you first started out with the series?
James Nguyen: No, no. I just made the first one out of a passion for film and Hitchcock, specifically The Birds. I didn’t have a thought or dream of becoming a franchise, you know. Truly, it was never my intent. I just made the first one and I got lucky. You know, I became a cult sensation hit, a flying cult sensation, according to the New York Times.
DC: <laugh>. And so in making Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle, was your approach any different from how you’ve approached the films previously?
JN: Yes. I think it was a little different in the sense that I had an idea of what I wanted and the location: beautiful Santa Cruz. It was beautiful until the storm, the bomb cyclone, which was caused by climate change. Even the colorful houses you see in the film are a wreck now. Actually, President Biden will be there in a few hours just to visit the wreck.
But going back to you answering your question, the right way to do [start a film] is to write the script, you know, the typical 85 to 90 pages. But on this one, I just got lazy. I just had an idea of what I wanted. <laugh> So I just started to write by chapters. Production started in 2020, but it got delayed by COVID. So we really started in early 2021. [The script] was written on the fly, week to week. I made it up as we went. There were a few things I knew I wanted, but they were add-ons.
It’s very similar to Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola which was written on the fly. You know, they had a script, but he changed it [often].
DC: Wow. You were mentioning the climate change message. This is very much an environmental horror tale about the dangers of climate change. You briefly touched on that, but what inspired you to keep talking about this to the point of even you had a whole song written about climate change in the film?
JN: There were three reasons why I decided to make the third. One is that it’s been over 10 years [since the last Birdemic].
The second one is the fans wanted it. The reason for the delay is really the funding. I really want a million-dollar production budget or even $10, $20 million Hollywood-style. I even pitched it to Hollywood. But it didn’t work, I failed to get the funding. So there comes a point where I say, we just do it, you know? Money or no money, just like the first one. I did have some support, about $100,000 altogether. About $30,000 on my credit card, and $70,000 from the distributor, Severin Films
And the third reason, which is the most important, is climate change. It’s here, it’s in your face. I mean, 12 years ago when we did the first one, in 2008, there was Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, yes. But [climate change] wasn’t in your face yet.
It’s something to think about. But since then, in the last 12 years, the extreme weather things every year just get worse. The extreme weather in the summer, and especially in California, it’s the heat, it’s out of control endless wildfires. It’s no longer just the state of California, but nationwide, worldwide. Now, even to this point now, we’re talking about the bomb cyclone, caused by the melting of the ice in the north and the south. When it gets to the warm sea, it mixes up and disrupts weather patterns. That’s how you get the extreme rain and flooding we just went through.
It’s probably the most rain ever in all the time I’ve been [in California]. So what I’m saying is that’s the third reason [why I’m making a third Birdemic]. I have to send a message. It’s not just to point out that it’s here, but to basically offer a solution. Something’s gotta be fixed. And I try to offer that, as you see with Mr. Green, with a space elevator. So that’s, that’s the main thing because it’s a much more serious film than before.
DC: You’ve talked about The Birds, obviously and you talk a lot about Vertigo in [Birdemic 3]. I wanted to hear more about your relationship with Hitchcock. When did you fall in love with Alfred Hitchcock’s films?
JN: I think the first time I ever saw a Hitchcock film was when I was in high school in the early 80s. I saw both The Birds and Vertigo, but the film that hits me really is Vertigo. It’s the beauty of the picture, the romantic thriller that Mr. Hitchcock invented.
I never thought of myself as a filmmaker, I was just a fan of movies. But I became a filmmaker by accident. I have a computer science degree and was a web developer in the 90s during the dot com era. But I was too much of a sales marketing guy, so I went into high-tech sales, selling technology instead of sitting there in code. Then we started to see the beginning of streaming online, even with dial-up. So I started this little company, moviehead.com. We were the first Netflix-like set streaming online. These days everybody’s online streaming, but we were the first. Netflix was just mailing DVDs in those days.
So that’s how I started watching Hitchcock’s early films in the public domain. You know, so we were the, like movie head.com. The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Lady Vanishes, all that. And I fell in love with the movie business. But then moviehead.com went belly up and it failed.
The positive of the whole thing is that I fell in love with the movie business. So I picked up a camera and started filming. I never went to film school. My first two films were my film school. It’s self-taught. I was influenced by Hitchcock. In Julie and Jack, my first film I managed to get Miss Tippi Hedren to do a cameo.
DC: Oh, that is so cool. Well, that’s a dream come true.
JN: True. Yeah. So that was my Hitchcock connection. Miss Hedren told me a lot of stories about Mr. Hitchcock during the production of The Birds and all that. I actually offered the role initially to Kim Novak, but she turned it down. And so then I offered the role to Miss Hedren who accepted the cameo. So that’s my whole Hitchcock connection. I feel very lucky and appreciative.
DC: Hell yeah. Is there another Birdemic on the horizon?
JN: Yes. There is! Birdemic 4: Garden of Eden.
DC: Ooh. Can you tell us anything else about it? Or do you have to keep it under wraps?
JN: It’s the fix to climate change. There are always documentaries about the problem and there’s mitigation, maybe adaptation, but there’s no solution, no fix. So if you watch Birdemic 3 with Mr. Green, talking about the space elevator sending people into space, it’s also a tube that can suck the CO2 [out of the atmosphere]. That’s based on real technology. So Birdemic 4 is basically offering a solution to fix climate change.
Right now, there’s mitigation, you know, renewable energy, green cars, solar, the panel, all that. There’s adaptation, using less water, buildings that prevent water from coming into your house, ways to lessen your footprint. Then there’s reparation, like helping countries harmed by CO2 emissions. But there’s no climate fix.
We can’t sustain, we cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet. So Birdemic 4 will offer two fixes. First, fix the immediate CO2 issue. Second is we gotta send people up to space. I don’t wanna give away the story, but that’s Birdemic 4: Garden of Eden.
Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle is available now on VOD.