As I was hosting a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Birds yesterday (April 26th, 2015 in case you want to remember where YOU were when reading this article) at Alamo Drafthouse, I could not help but think, “yeah, these birds are pretty creepy, but it’s not like they are able to poop acid or explode upon impact or anything.” Nope, for aviary abilities like those, one must seek out 2008’s Birdemic: Shock and Terror. Written and directed by James Nguyen, Birdemic is a nanar unlike any you've ever seen (unless you've seen absolutely ANY other bad movie). Nguyen combined evil birds, environmental concerns, and villains seemingly lifted directly from a Windows ’95 screensaver into a film that needs to be seen to be believed (you may STILL not believe it). Piercing their way through a smoke screen of pretty terrible sound editing, miscued music, dialogue as clumsy as the film’s title, and I’s that have been G’d by the worst C you could imagine, are a couple of lead performances that show promise beyond that of the material they were given. More importantly, Alan Bagh and Whitney Moore have since displayed that, at the very least, they have both a sense of humor and complete self-awareness about, if not what they were getting into, what they were coming out of. I had a chance to speak with Bagh about his experience making the movie and the reactions it has gotten…
Jason Howard: Has acting always been the dream for you?
Alan Bagh: Yes, always, ever since I did my first play in 2nd grade: The Sword in the Stone.
JH: What was the casting process like for Birdemic?
AB: Well, James called me out of the blue one day because he saw my acting profile on nowcasting.com and invited me out for an audition to try out for the lead in the film. So, I was currently living in Sacramento at the time and the audition was in San Jose, which was two hours away. But, I decided to drive and give it a try. James instructed me to meet him at a high school, which I thought was peculiar, but at the same time comforting because I didn't know him and it was a public place. So, I met up with James and he was wearing a black suit with a red tie. I introduced myself and he did the same. Then, he asked me to do a monologue. So I chose to do a monologue from the movie Boiler Room (the Ben Affleck scene). After I finished, he just stood there in silence and then he said “you got the role.” He invited me across the street to his house to celebrate. At first, I didn't want to because I didn't know him, but then I went. He poured me a Budweiser into a cup with ice and we just beer toasted.
JH: In the case of Birdemic, were you fully aware of what it was that you were getting into?
AB: That’s a great question. I didn't really know what I was getting into because in the beginning of production, we had a crew and it was very professional. Then things started to fall apart. The director fired the crew. So, I had to become the actor, crew member, and driver. It was very exhausting, but I never gave up. Good thing, because now we have Birdemic and Birdemic 2.
JH: It seems that you and your fellow cast are able to have a sense of humor about it all – was that immediate, or did it develop over a bit of time?
AB: I’m sure it developed over time because when we saw the first cut of the film, we were a bit shocked. We didn't expect the birds to be animated. We really thought that this film was gonna be put onto James’ shelf and never seen but it wasn't and it became a hit globally.
JH: When watching the film, it would appear that James Nguyen certainly had some loftier goals in mind with messages about the role of man vs. nature. Was that his original intent, or was it always meant to be a crowd-pleasing movie?
AB: Yes, the global warming messages were his original intent.
JH: Do you have any insight into James’ thoughts on audience reactions to the film?
AB: I think a psychiatrist would be better at answering that.
JH: Birdemic is a film that absolutely thrives from a communal audience experience. You have attended your share of screenings with fellow cast and crew – do you have a particular good experience that stands out from those screenings?
AB: Really, all the screenings were good but the one that sticks in my mind is the first one in L.A. I was a bit nervous because I didn't know how people were going to react to Birdemic. I was surprised to see the audience enjoying the film. Some people even got up and started dancing during the dance scene which I have never experienced before. Also, some people brought hangers to the screening and I got to autograph them. Plus, the producers set up fake birds above the audience and out of the three only two fell and the other one got stuck and it was hilarious, but I thought it worked out with the film.
JH: Were you surprised at how popular the movie has become?
AB: Yes, but it’s very entertaining. Each time you watch it, you find something new that you missed.
JH: A bit about your experience making the movie – before the birds were inserted into the film during post, what were you actually reacting to on set?
AB: I was swinging at nothing. Just the molecules in the air. (laughs)
JH: How much room was there for you, Whitney, and the rest of the cast to improvise?
AB: None. James was very strict about sticking to the script even though we thought some lines needed some adjustments.
JH: What was the acid made out of in the bus scene?
AB: (laughs) The acid was made of Sunny D orange juice and dry ice. We poured it into a bucket and I got to throw it onto my fellow cast members. It was a lot of fun.
JH: I’m no longer allowed to sing “Just Hanging Out” in my house for fear of divorce. Do you find yourself singing it as often as I do? How many times was it heard on set in order to get that scene down?
AB: I don’t sing it anymore, but the tune is always in my head. They did it at least 15 times to get it right.
JH: It’s been said that it took about four years for the film to be made – as the film’s lead, were you having to be involved for the entire time, or was a portion of it spent on pre and post production?
AB: No, I was only involved for 7 months, every other weekend. I think the writing process... pre-production, and post-production took the rest of the time.
JH: Birdemic has been tagged with the label of “cult classic”, along the lines of The Room and Troll 2. These films can be hugely popular – do you think that the label of “cult classic” is appropriate for Birdemic?
AB: It is, but it isn't. I think Birdemic is in its own category. It has the ingredients for a cult classic, but at the same time, James included some insights on relevant current issues in today's world about global warming which the others didn’t. (Jason’s Note: It appears that Alan has not yet seen Neil Breen’s Fateful Findings, quite possibly the most environmentally conscious cult film ever made – my interview with Breen can be found HERE)
JH: Were you ever expecting to get the call that there was going to be a sequel?
AB: No, I wasn't, but I’m glad I did. I got to shoot at the Jaws location at Universal Studios as well as other great places. Also, I got to do a Birdemic 2 tour, attending 19 cities, meeting with fans, and signing posters and t-shirts. Furthermore, I got to go to London and Paris. Also, I got to watch Birdemic 2 with French subtitles, which is pretty interesting watching yourself speak in English but with French subtitles. So, overall I was happy shooting the second one.
JH: Is it going to be a trilogy?
AB: Possibly. I heard that James is working on it, but it may take a few years to make because masterpieces usually do.
JH: Do you think that such a notorious first film is a boost to a young actor’s career, or do you worry about having to break filmmakers’ pre-conceived notions about you?
AB: I believe it will boost any actor’s career. I mean, most big famous actors were involved in B-movies before they made it big. Actors like George Clooney. I think it’s better to keep shooting films and get better than to wait for one to come to you.
JH: One of the advantages, I would think, of doing a film like Birdemic as a first film, would be that you’re working with a director that doesn't necessarily do things “by the book.” Do you think that Hollywood and the film industry sticks too closely to “the rules” sometimes and we could maybe do well by having more maverick directors like Nguyen who take chances?
AB: I understand why Hollywood sticks to the rules, because they are spending more money on their films and they treat it as a business and no one in Hollywood wants to lose millions by taking a risk. I mean, they have been shooting films since the 50s and I’m sure they have a good grip on what makes money and what doesn’t, so why change the formula?
JH: Any interest in writing/directing/producing in the future?
AB: I do have an interest in all of three those. I believe these days, actors have to be knowledgeable in all three areas. Currently, I am writing my own action/drama script. Also, I’m working on making my first short film.
JH: What projects do you have coming up that you’d like to let our readers know about?
AB: I have a few projects I’m involved in this year. If you’re interested in finding out what they are, you can look me up on IMDB. "Alan Bagh". Also, if you want to keep updated on what projects I’m currently working on or to just say hi, then you can add me on Twitter @alanbagh, Facebook: Alan Bagh, and Instagram: alanbagh.