Fantastic Fest 2022: Never Give Up, Never Surrender — Chatting with the Director and Cast of…

A candid deep dive into the latest installment of the romantic thriller franchise that almost didn’t happen

L to R -James Nguyen, Julia Culbert, Ryan Lord, Alan Bagh and Damien Carter(Photo Credit: Alison Narro)

As a long time fan of the Birdemic franchise, one of my most anticipated films at Fantastic Fest this year was the nearly decade-in production third installment, Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle. After checking it out I got to sit down and chat not only with the architect of the romantic thriller franchise — James Nguyen, but his new leads — Julia Culbert and Ryan Lord, as well as a familiar face to fans, Alan Bagh.

While some may watch this third film and think that it’s possibly disingenuous. I am here to say after spending a half hour talking with James, there isn’t an insincere bone in this man’s body. This was a film James needed to make for the purist reasons possible and did so by almost any means necessary, even shooting the majority of it twice?!? Digging into the production, methods and the lengths James went to make it happen, it almost sounds like the making Birdemic 3 could be a film unto itself and if you don’t belive me, take it from the James, Julia, Julia and Ryan!

James — Funny story, I actually interviewed you for the Philadelphia premiere of Birdemic 2 nearly a decade ago, what is it about the Sea Eagles that made you want to return and tell this story?

James: Well, I think it’s the story. I mean, it’s been 10 years. A lot of fans, they keep asking, you know, when am I gonna see Birdemic 3? When is it happening? Usually in a regular franchise, usually one to two years after that you get a sequel. But this is 10 year overdue. So I had to do something, just the right time, just the right moment. I had some financing behind it and I did it. Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle will premiere [here] at Fantastic Fest, it’s amazing and I’m very excited.

As for the Sea Eagles, that’s a very good question. It’s what’s going on in the world right now. We have a climate emergency, it’s called climate change, global warming. Ten years ago, it was there, you know the first Birdemic and Al Gore, he even knew it was true. They say, fifty years ago it wasn’t urgent yet, but now it’s here. You see the extreme weather, the storms, the wildfires, the floods, the temperatures rising, people are dying. The extreme heat wave, the endless wildfires. The last 12 years later, everything in the first Birdemic is real life right now and it’s a climate emergency.

We gotta do something to fix climate change. That’s part of the theme of Birdemic 3. We gotta do something to fix it, or we don’t, and it could mean extinction of civilization, caused by climate change. Since the industrial revolution over a hundred years ago, we have released over 1.6 trillion gigatons of CO2 up there and that’s why it’s heating up everything. So even Net Zero Now to zero emission, it’s not gonna fix it. The only way to fix it, really, we gotta remove 1.6 trillion gigatons of CO2 and we have the technology to do it — the carbon removal, you know, like technology like climate works and other in the movie was fictional. I don’t wanna give the story, but it’s fictional technology, but it’s based on real, real, real, real tech that exists.

We need to get all the governments, the policy, to mobilize to fix this. It’s gonna cost billions and trillions of dollars to do this and can be done within the next 10 years. It can be done, but we’re not doing any of that. So every year, just more research, more complaints, the planet just heats up and so Birdemic 3 shows it and perhaps when the audience sees that, maybe it would inspire people in power, in policy, to maybe try to really seriously fix it, not a Band-Aid. I think that maybe 3 can really send that message.

So Ryan and Julia, what was your casting process like? And were you aware of the Birdemic franchise before you were brought in?

Ryan: Ladies first.

Julia: So, I got the audition through my agency. There was originally another girl cast, but it kinda like fell through, so they were looking for someone else and so my agent reached out to me and he was like, ‘hey, this is kind of last minute, but there’s this kind of cult feature film, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it?’ I hadn’t watched it, but I definitely heard of it and my agent was like, ‘I think you should just give this a try, because it would be your first lead in a feature film.’ So I was super excited about that. So I just did a self tape, sent it to James and he gave me a call back. We did a Zoom interview, then we did an in-person interview and we met for lunch in Hollywood.

Ryan: For me, I’d say I got lucky. This is definitely my first lead. I usually was behind the camera before I did this. But I saw the opportunity and I jumped on it immediately. I had already heard of Birdemic and I was a pretty big fan of it. So when I got the opportunity to even just do a self tape for James, I was ecstatic. I ended up doing the self tape, sent it over to him, flew down to California, we met on a pier, had some drinks, talked some talk, and the rest was history. We just went right into it. It was a lot of work, but James has to be one of the most persistent, hardworking guys and if he wants something to happen, it happens. So it was an honor to work with everybody here.

The kids call that manifesting now. (Everyone Laughs) So Alan…

Alan: I didn’t audition.

But it’s great to have you back! When I saw you on the screen and I was just like, shit is about to get real! (Laughs) You just grab the clothes hanger and the toy gun and you get right to work. So how did you come back into this series, because it’s been a little while.

Alan: James reached out to me and was like, ‘Hey, you know, I’m shooting Birdemic 3, do you wanna be a part of it? Originally he wanted me to play the lead. I just didn’t want to do it, just because Whitney wasn’t with me. So I felt kind of weird. So I took a different role. I mean same role Rod, right, but like just a smaller part.

James: We shot all his scenes in four days, you know? So it worked out at the end, it was like near the end of production, the last four or five days we brought Alan. Whitney was supposed to reprise the role of Nathalie, but like Alan says in the movie, ‘the lady I used to know wanted to go her own way, but we parted as friends’.

How is James as a director? We see these films, but I want to know what its like working with him on set?

Alan: He’s definitely improved since we shot Birdemic 1. So now he’s a little bit quicker. He’s more prepared. Even for my scenes, I was even more prepared. I had the script in advance, so we did our scenes actually pretty quick.

Julia: I would say he’s definitely persistent. This movie had a lot of setbacks, like technically trying to get everything done and fit everything in the budget. He really takes that in stride and works with what he can and makes the best project he can out of like the resources available to him, and I definitely respect that. I obviously haven’t done any big projects yet in directing, but I definitely respect that because I know that can be a challenging aspect of it. I think it’s just kind of cool that there’ll be a setback and he’s like, ‘okay, we can work with this. We can’t use this location, let’s find another one. We can do this!’

Ryan: Yeah, the work ethic alone was unrivaled by anyone else I’ve met. Committed. Yeah, that’s one word that you can use for James is absolutely committed. Every time he would be on set, he’d be doing this and that, working the camera, working the sound. He’d be telling us what to do. He’d be doing everything, which was just astonishing. Like it blew my mind that he was able to keep just his head on straight, with everything going through his head all the time. But he just didn’t quit.

James: I never went to film school. I should if I had to relive it. But the movie is in my head. So I wrote something, it should be a 90 page script, like the first one, even the second one. But because it has been so long I just did it on the fly, every frame you’re gonna see in this film, we just improvised, we just made it as we went, even Coppola did that with Apocalypse Now. It was improv, you know. I’m very flexible, if I see what I like, I just let it be. If it’s not what I want I’ll tell them. I’m really an actor’s director in many ways and most of the time it works out.

Alan did you have any sage-like advice for Ryan with him coming into the Birdemic fold?

Alan: Not really, he was pretty aware of Birdemic, he even had me do an autograph after our first take.

Ryan: Yeah.

Alan: I didn’t really give him any advice. Just do your best, memorize your lines and if James needs to move you in any way, he’ll do it.

Ryan: Alan was definitely a huge help, but definitely Julia as well, we were kind of like a tag team, just always there for each other. I mean you’re working long hours on some of these shoots and it gets a little stressful.

How long was the shoot?

James: Actual production is three years, because we started out at the end of 2020, as post production began.

Ryan: Yeah, if we’re talking about the first time.

James: Then the pandemic came, okay, COVID so we had to cancel it. So they (Julia & Ryan) weren’t in play yet. I had met with Alan in Hollywood, with the producer David. There was a picture on Facebook and we said, we’re gonna start production. Then we started rolling slowly and all hell broke loose with the COVID thing. There’s just no way we could start this thing with COVID.

So we started in early 2021, then I had the first cast. It didn’t work out. I just don’t want to go into detail, but so we had to recast. So I had him (Ryan), but I had to recast the lead. So I brought you in (Julia).

Julia: It was about five months to cast.

Dan: Wait, so there’s a whole other version of Birdemic 3 with another lead?!?!

James: Yeah, we shot for like three or four months but it didn’t work out. Legally, I can’t say why.

Alan: That’s in a different Birdemic multiverse.

James: Julia came in, things began to click and I got additional funding.

So where do you see everything kind of going next James? Do you wanna do another entry or are you already writing Birdemic 4?

James: Yes, it’s in my head right now, I have bits and parts of Birdemic 4. It’s been in play really since Extinction. A lot of it has to do with what we were talking about with climate change and the solution to fix climate change. It’s in play now. Hopefully after tonight’s premiere, we will get more attention and the Hollywood studios will take it seriously and next time we will have 10 or 12 million and we can make a better Birdemic 4, with CGI that looks like a million dollars. That’s my hope.

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