"Birdemic" was the lowest rated film on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), with a 1.8 rating until it was overtaken by Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas with a rating of 1.5. [Wiki]JAMES NGUYEN, 2008
$10k budget; straight-to-DVD (touring single print, but no record of box office)
BASIC LINKS: Wiki; IMDB; Rottentomatoes; Official site;
|Critical reception was so bad it actually became a promotional device! It was for a time the lowest-rated movie on IMDB too!|
Sometimes, being very bad can be a good thing ... This is a film seen as so bad its actually entertaining, much like The Room (though that was a $6m budget disaster), and has taken on cult movie status. It has also led to a 2013 sequel!
Birdemic was made with no studio support, largely self-financed and produced through Nguyen's Moviehead Pictures company for a budget of less than $10,000. The film has gained notoriety for its poor quality, with many critics citing it as one of the worst films of all time. After a limited theatrical release, the film gained a cult following and was picked up for distribution by Severin Films in 2010. [Wiki]This video sets out its critique over 20mins (the same vloggers gave The Room their unique treatment) - NB: I haven't had time to pre-vet this for language, so exercise caution.
The official site is basic, but you can see how the director has spun an effective career (including an autiobiography and the sequel) out of the movie.
Why I'm looking forward to Birdemic: Shock and Terror
Birdemic is already being hailed as one of the worst films ever made: the acting, dialogue, special effects, pretty much everything about it has been held up to ridicule. But while I am sure I'll be giggling along with the rest of the audience at the movie's shortcomings, that's not why I'm looking forward to it. I like what it represents. It's a truly independent production in times when "indie film" means as much as "indie music" – a tag, a label far removed from its original meaning; all the major studios have long had their fake indie imprints. It's a film made from virtually nothing and for me that's truly the magic of the movies.
Birdemic's director, James Nguyen, financed the $10,000 production with cash he'd earned at his day job and several maxed-out credit cards. Looking at IMDb, almost all of the cast and crew have Birdemic as their sole credit. Excellent credentials as far as I'm concerned, much better than low-budget dross from studios, like The Asylum, an example of people making a career out of being substandard. Birdemic is more like a glorified home movie than your typical exploitation flick: works like this are far outside mainstream movie-making, outside even independent movie-making circles
. I can't help being impressed – there's a winning "let's put on the show right here!" spirit, from people who clearly want to make a movie.
At least with amateur films you don't get the feeling of them squandering anything in the way that, for instance, the recent Clash Of The Titans remake splurged $125m on shoddy CGI and 3D. Wastage like that leaves a bitter taste, but there's no such wastage in amateur films, generally because they have nothing to waste. There's nothing impressive about Clash, in fact it's depressing to see so much spent on delivering so little. Not to pick on it too much, but it has plenty of bad acting and substandard film-making and there's really no excuse for that with all the money spent. At least with Birdemic there are valid excuses. I stand more of a chance of being wowed by Birdemic's ingenuity than by Clash's inadequacies.
These are films made without such safety nets as money and competence. If you've ever been lucky enough to visit a movie set, then you'll know what a delicate house of cards film-making is; any number of things can go wrong and it's close to miraculous that any of them even get finished.
An amateur movie set looks sort of the same as a professional one. You have a director, actors, cameraman, someone on sound, etc, but the big differences are the lack of resources and the fact that no one is 100% sure of what they are doing, mostly due to it being the first time they've ever performed their movie jobs. Even 50% sure would be pushing it.
Watching these films can be as educational about the film-making process as any course. This is film-making laid bare, often at its simplest. You can see how it's done, what's missing, what can be achieved with the absolute minimum to make a scene work (or not). For the film-makers themselves it's a great training ground, since they are far more likely to learn about movie-making by, shock-horror, actually making a movie than they would making adverts or music videos, the two most popular current routes to the director's chair.
While Birdemic and Tommy Wiseau's more notorious The Room are being held up as wonderful examples of bad movies, not all amateur fare is as risible. The excellent, mind-bending time travel movie Primer was made super-such reduced circumstances – so precious was their film stock that scenes were mercilessly rehearsed over and over before rolling the cameras, so almost all of that film is comprised of first takes. Trey Parker roped in a bunch of friends and teachers (including, bafflingly, experimental film-maker Stan Brakhage) to make the entertaining Cannibal: The Musical in his university holidays. Former co-owner of the Onion, Scott Dikkers, made the amusing Spaceman, while Onion contributor Cory McAbee delivered the rather great The American Astronaut.
Let's not forget John Waters – pretty much everything he made up to Polyester was the result of rallying together all his misfit friends. Waters wasn't even the only prolific amateur in 1970s Baltimore; nearby Don Dohler was making The Alien Factor, The Fiend and other no-budget classics that eventually wormed their way onto the shelves of less discerning video stores. Dohler even produced a great magazine on amateur film-making, Cinemagic, where you could read nuts and bolts articles on special effects written by Super 8 film-makers who went on to win Oscars, such as sound designer/editor Ben Burtt and ILM legend Dennis Muren.
Looking through my own DVD shelves I can see plenty of amateur films; The Deadly Spawn, Coven, The Dead Next Door, films by Jim Van Bebber, John Waters and Nathan Schiff. All of them are films I'd gladly stick on before even considering rewatching one of the dreadful blockbusters of this year. They just seem more alive than those dead-eyed, slick experiments in burning cash that the majors release.
So, yes, I shall be attending Birdemic's UK premiere at the Curzon this Friday night (possible after catching the earlier screening of The Room). Sure, it's an easy target for mockery, but you really have to love a tryer.