Lessons Screenwriters and Filmmakers Can Take from Birdemic: Shock and Terror - Raindance

Often considered the Citizen Kane of bad movies, Birdemic: Shock and Terror became a cult hit due to  the level of so-bad-its-good it reached. Movies like Citizen Kane, The Godfather, and Pulp Fiction are  studied in film schools because those movies are considered masterpieces when it comes to filmmaking. 

However, in this article, we’ll be focusing on Birdemic: Shock and Terror and examine WHAT NOT TO DO  for any up-and-coming filmmakers who are tired of waiting for Hollywood to knock on their doors.  

Simply put, you can’t make a great movie out of a terrible script. You can have all the resources in the  world to make your high-budget action flick or indie rom-com, but if your script is in terrible shape then  your film is doomed from the start. Birdemic’s biggest issue is the script. Make sure to get your script  vetted by professionals in the business or a friend who understands screenplays. A writer’s group is also  very helpful. Avoid family and friends.  

Going back to Birdemic, Rod is an extremely boring character. Since the film doesn’t truly start until the  47-minute mark, there’s no clear ambition for the protagonist. Each scene drags on because there are  no stakes involved.  

Characters need growth, whether it’s external or internal. Your main protagonist needs a desire in every  scene and there needs to be an obstacle in his/her way to give your protagonist some dimension. It’s  through the face of adversity that reveals someone’s true character. 

By the time the Birdemic starts, we don’t care about Rod because he’s essentially a perfect character.  Rod doesn’t face any adversity throughout the first 47-minutes that gives his character any dimension. Rod remains exactly the same person that he was when the film started. Sure, he’s a millionaire with a  hot chick by his side at the end of Birdemic, but he still remains that bland salesman at heart. 

The same thing can be said about the supporting characters. Since Rod doesn’t have any internal goals,  the supporting players are unable to help Rod grow as a human being because he has nothing that he’s  trying to overcome. 

Another issue with the script is its lack of focus. There’s nothing wrong with Writer/Director James Nguyen trying to make a romantic thriller here. Movies like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca or Robert  Zemeckis’ Allied tackle the topic of love and challenges the characters in the midst of their dire  situations. Birdemic does not. In fact, Birdemic feels like two films. One that focuses on the romantic  aspect of Rod and Nathalie first and then the Birdemic second.  

If you’re going to mix two genres together then make sure it’s the overall focus from beginning to end.  Since the two genres never come together in Birdemic then the overall film feels disjointed, and  audiences are more so perplexed by the story due to the abrupt shift after the 47-minute mark. 

Of course, another troubling aspect of Birdemic is the dialogue. It’s filled with a lot of small talk (For  example, the waiter and Rod in the beginning) and there’s no subtlety to its muddled message, which is  also known as on-the-nose dialogue. Avoid having characters state the obvious or saying exactly what  they’re thinking.  

On the production side, the film is gigantic mess. I could pick apart the horrendous audio and sound  design. Or the flat cinematography that fails to truly help the overall atmosphere of the film. Let’s not 

forget the overall direction of Birdemic. For example, the decision to shoot a close-up medium shot of  both Rod and Nathalie talking outside of the diner is baffling, along with the medium shot of Rod staring  at Nathalie leaving like Michael Myers.  

Ultimately, I’m going with the production and costly mistake Nyugen made here. Birdemic was made on  a $10,000 budget. Here’s the thing, it’s not impossible to make a good feature for this amount of  money. Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi was made for $7,000. Christopher Nolan’s Following was made  for $6,000 and Paranormal Activity for $15,000. The difference between those films was that those  directors understood the limitations of their movies. 

From the horrific CGI birds (and all of the effects in general) to the locations that were clearly shot in  Gorilla (For Example, The Gas Station and The Beach), know your limitations. The scene where Rod,  Nathalie and the other supporting characters going to The Beach is bad for numerous reasons (seriously,  who goes to The Beach during a birdemic?), but it’s clear that this wasn’t a closed set due to background  of people having fun at the Beach during a bird attack. Moments like these take away from the overall  Birdemic film. 

I know, you desperately want to film that cool 15-car pile-up on the highway that ends with an  explosion, but scrap it from your script altogether. If you simply cannot scrap these types of scenes from  your script then move on to another script that allows you film on a cheap budget. Aim to shoot a film  with a low number of cast members, and one or two locations max.  

Speaking of cast, make sure that you get the right actors for your film. Obviously, you won’t get the likes  of Michael B. Jordan or Scarlett Johansson trying to audition for your roles, but there are still plenty of  talented actors who can pull off your characters.  

While Alan Bagh and Whitney Moore were fighting an uphill battle for Birdemic, they failed to make  their characters pop onscreen. Again, a lot of it has to do with the way they’re scripted, but a wooden  performance can bring down any movie, no matter how great the script is. 

Make sure to hold an audition. Get a good vibe of the actor auditioning for your role. Were they late or  on time? Does he/she take direction well? What’s their overall mood in the audition?  

An audition will give you a glimpse of the type of person you’ll be dealing with during filming. If an actor  is great, but is giving off too many red flags (they were late to the audition and didn’t take too kindly to  direction) then don’t hire them. If you do, this can greatly backfire and cause more stress on your film  set. 

All in all, movies like Birdemic and The Room are very crucial in the film world as well. Up-and-coming  filmmakers can learn and grow from the mistakes made from such movies. Who knows, maybe your film  can join the ranks of Pulp Fiction and The Godfather someday.

mm

About 

I've been screenwriting for nearly ten years with my films leaning into the weird and darker side of the world (akin of David Lynch or Quentin Tarantino), so I mainly write Dark Comedies, Thrillers, Action, Sci-fi, and Horror. For me, filmmaking is art and escapism.