‘Birder’ Director Nate Dushku On Crafting A Different Look At Queer Intimacy


In their feature film debut Birder, director Nate Dushku and writer Amnon Lourie tackle the world of kink and consent through the eyes of a manipulative sociopath. But it isn’t just a horror film. It’s an erotic thriller that addresses queer intimacy in all of its different forms. Birder is a breath of fresh air in a world where expressing sexuality is becoming more and more taboo.

In Birder:

A bird watcher, Kristian Brooks (Michael Emery), invades a nude queer campground on a remote lake in New Hampshire. He wears whatever cover he needs to ensnare the locals in his dark fetish in this nightmarish erotic thriller. Consent has never been more deadly.

We spoke with Dushku, Lourie, and star Michael Emery about casual intimacy, not being afraid of nudity, and the massive importance of intimacy coordinators.

Dread Central: Nate and Ami wanted to hear about where this story started. I love the specificity of it and then the fluidity of it.

Amnon Lourie: Nate and I are partners and have been for 20 years. Part of our joy in life is traveling to beautiful places and hanging out with other queer folk doing queer things. One of the places where we spent some time is on a stretch of the Green River in Vermont. A few years ago we were there with some friends and we were staying in this awesome house that had this old ballroom, and we were like, “Wouldn’t it be terrible and horrifying if someone was murdered here?”

So we had to go through the Clue of it all, and people started to get nasty with each other. We’re like, “Let’s make a gay Clue and base it here.” But then we thought, “No, that’s not necessarily going to work” because by then the pandemic happened, and shooting indoors on a very low budget was very difficult at that time. So we decided to kind of change the nature of the project and we ended up landing on Birder, which had many different names and iterations. For me as a writer, I based it on old fables, and it’s a cautionary tale. It’s like an ancient Greek psychopath story kind of thing.

Nate Dushku: This is the first movie that I directed as well, and we decided we were going to do something together. When you embark on that, and you’re a huge fan of movies, we wanted to keep the sense of joy and the sense of really telling a story about something we really know. This story is authentic to us because I think it shows when people don’t do that.

I never said to myself, “I want to be a horror film director.” I never said to myself that I wanted to do comedy, but throughout my career and my training in theater and all this stuff, and as an actor I just tell stories I like to tell. There’s humor, there’s darkness. I like dark stuff. I like twisted stuff. And I think that this story just came naturally to us.

When we found Michael, it was huge because of his ability to have a lightness to him, but also have this darkness to him. It started to come together and the tone of it all started to come together and the script finally got locked. I loved the script. And people would read it and be like, “I love it”. And I said, “We’ve got something here. Let’s just roll with this. Let’s just go.” It was just fast, like lightning. All of a sudden we were shooting.

DC: I’m so glad you could find money for a film like this because it is so queer. There’s also so much nudity, from mostly men, but also women. In the state of the world that we live in, people are very prudish. Was there ever any concern about having this much nudity in the film?

ND: 100%. We knew we were up against that and it became apparent very quickly. I mean, you just get a lot of resistance right away, especially on a low budget, because we got some people saying they will not take their clothes off for that much money. And it’s like, alright, you’re not right for this project. I’ve done it, too. Back in the day, I was on Undressed, remember that show on MTV? That was my first job

I wanted to make an erotic thriller for queers. Women have been taking their clothes off in TV and film for decades. And it’s like this thing with men, it’s just not as accepted and it’s almost taboo. And I thought, let’s just do it. Let’s find the people that want to do it and let’s do it. It’s just clothing, it’s skin. We all have it. And so finding the people and finding the team was amazing because then we knew that we had, that we were doing something that we didn’t have to feel bad or ashamed about.

AL: I think one of the driving forces of Birder is that it’s very rare that you get to see someone get naked and do something sexual on screen and not have to pay. They’ve done something wrong, so they pay the price. And this is a community of people that do that. They’re not being murdered because they’re having sex. Because if you watch the character Kristian, not everyone dies. Not everyone is a victim of his pathology.

We didn’t want the victims, these queer characters, to suffer because they did something wrong. The violence that visits them is more chaotic and random and unexplainable. And that’s terrifying. You might be the one that day.

DC: Michael, when you first read this script, were you nervous, stoked, all of the above? You have so much presence in this movie, and not just because you’re naked What was that like for you to approach this as an actor?

Michael Emery: It was terrifying, scary, a challenge, but exhilarating. The story itself was the biggest turn-on for me. I knew what I could do with the character. I mean, once I read the breakdown before I even read the script for Kristian, I knew who this person was, where his mind was, and where I could go with it.

Then it was such a luxury to work with Nate because he’s an amazing actor. He gets actors, he understands, and he knows how to communicate with actors, which really made everybody on set feel safe and made them feel like they could communicate and talk. So, this script was beautiful, yet terrifying at the same time. And I just wanted to make Kristian human. I just wanted to tell the truth. I wanted him to be someone who had a heart, yet had this side to him that was dark and misunderstood and evil, but had that lust for life and had that love and passion in his body.

DC: Well, and I think one of my favorite things about Birder is that all of this feels so natural. There’s such a casual intimacy to this movie. Michael, there are parts where you do these beautiful caresses and kisses to people that are just like hellos and I love this intimacy of this entire movie. So I was just curious, for you as an actor, what was that like to work with the other actors, to develop that intimacy?

ME: The casting was beautiful in this film. That’s a testament to Nate and Ami. I mean, they put together this team of people who really wanted to be there because you have to want to be there. Your heart has to be in it. And I think that bleeds over into the film itself. The people who were constructed into this piece wanted to be there, and they loved the story.

And they were those people. They were those characters. So I remember one of the scenes that I thought was really heavy sexually was with Corban, Uki [Pavlovic’s] character. And he was the sweetest, most professional actor I’ve worked with in a long time. And even beforehand, we would talk about what’s OK, where could we go with this, and what works for you. So there was always communication with Nate and the intimacy coordinator on set. Brooke Haney,

DC: I wanted to ask if you had an intimacy coordinator. I know on low-budget movies, it can be hard, but you had three intimacy coordinators. That’s amazing.

ME: There were two on set. But yeah, they were my lifeline and always there if I had a question. They were there to choreograph certain things, like a dance almost.

DC: Nate, casting and creating this intimacy, was that just luck of the cast?

ND: Well, I think part of it was that I knew what I wanted it to feel like because I’ve been in that scenario. You know what I mean? When you’re able to disrobe and just sunbathe naked with a friend, it means there’s an intimacy there. I know what that feels like, and it’s a great feeling. And to have physicality with your friends. I think today there are a lot of people who take advantage of that in Hollywood. So when we wanted to do this, it was scary. But I love actors, and I know that when actors are comfortable, and if I know what I want and it’s real to me, and I can find an actor who’s a great actor, then we can make it work.

So we found Michael, we found all the actors, they came together. They were reading and they couldn’t touch. We couldn’t have the chemistry reads and all that stuff, but I did insist on going to New York and meeting people in person. I just felt like if I could meet the person and feel them out, I could really assess their willingness to dive in.

I also really used these intimacy coordinators who are trained and who have a method. It all worked, the intimacy, the comfort that the actors felt on set with me, with each other, and with the intimacy coordinators, that’s what you’re seeing. You’re just seeing these great performances, these very real actors that are so comfortable with each other that literally showed up and would give me one or two or three takes, and it’s done. Watching it afterward, it’s really shocking. Even to me. These actors came together and you could just see that they felt like they had this history together even though they had actually just met that day.

DC: It’s almost like having queer people who’ve had these experiences directing these movies is a really good idea. Weird, guys. [Laughs]

ND: I didn’t want to just touch on that though, because also Kristian is not necessarily queer. It wasn’t really what we had in the character description, but we found an actor who’s open and who’s able to inhabit this crazy creature that takes advantage of these queer people. So I think that that wasn’t a mandate of our production. Like, oh, everybody has to be queer. It was more like meeting people and feeling their vibe. Kristian was a very hard role to cast. And I think Michael just had all these qualities about him as an actor, which allowed him to, surprise the fuck out of us.

AL: Thank you for saying that. The comment that I would have to further that is it is unfortunate that we live in a world that has different views about things, which makes certain things taboo and certain other things not taboo, things that don’t necessarily cause harm to anyone. And I think that when you talk about sex positivity, it’s a catchphrase. You’ve got to figure out what it is you want to say about yourself and the world that can help some young person come along and watch your film and be like, oh, I don’t have to be ashamed if I like to get a little rough, or I don’t have to be ashamed if I like roleplaying with the word daddy. Whatever turns you on, turns you on, and you shouldn’t be ashamed.

In fact, you should be encouraged to explore with other people so that you can negotiate a way to get to the finish line where everybody comes and everybody has a good time or they get whatever they want out of it. A driving force in Birder was to be able to talk about sex without shame, and I’m glad you noticed that because you have to have a conversation about sex every single time you engage in it. It’s always a negotiation. If you want to do something today, it isn’t necessarily something you want to do tomorrow. The fun of sex is when you get to the place where everybody is being fulfilled in a way that makes them want to do it again. We wanted to do something that was positive and without shame because we live our lives without unnecessary shame.

Birder is out now on digital and VOD.


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