Monday, August 20, 2012

HBP Presents: An Open Letter To Christopher Guest

TPAD Dan does not believe in overdocumenting birds. Photo by Matt Brady.

We here at the Human Birdwatcher Project ("Birders Are People Too!") don't take movies very seriously...we don't even refer to them as "films", so that should tell you a lot right there. However, the HBP cast and crew have been watching Christopher Guest movies for years...if the name doesn't ring a bell, he has written/directed/acted in classic "mockumentaries" like This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show and A Mighty Wind. I think it was after watching Best In Show for the first time that I realized how perfect birdwatchers would be as the subject of a Guest movie...birders are, after all, ridiculous people doing ostensibly ridiculous things. 

And now for our plea...

Dear Mr. Guest,

You are probably continuously besieged by terrible ideas for movies, but I urge you to hear me out. I write you today to pitch a movie idea that I believe you cannot refuse.

As reigning master of the mockumentary, I urge you to shift your satirical gaze to one of the largest and most ridiculous pastimes north of the Mexican border: Birdwatching.

You may have seen The Big Year. You may not have. Either way, we could both probably agree that it is not a very good movie (although, speaking as a birder, it could have been worse). While it does accurately portray the high degree of obsession birders have with (gasp) birds, and it is entertaining to watch birders practically piss themselves when they spot a rare bird, it almost completely ignores an obvious and highly entertaining aspect of birding...the contorted and confusing personalities birders themselves.

As a friend of mine accurately pointed out many years ago, to put it simply, birders are weird. Really weird. There is a reason people get into birding; aside from an acute passion for birds and the outdoors (although not always the latter), people turn to the sometimes escapist world of birding because it is a haven for bizarre people who are often lacking in the social graces in everyday life that would otherwise render them "normal". A typical birder may take himself extremely seriously (which always makes for good humor), can be extremely anal retentive about bird identification, thinks himself a superior person compared to less experienced birders, gossips about other birders to no end, has not had sex in about 9 years, has a shitty corporate job and has absolutely no other life outside birding.

This not-so-imaginary birder does not represent everyone however; he is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many quirky personalities out there, I couldn't possibly do them all justice. These are genuinely strange people. Some of them suffer from birder shame (a la Jonathan Franzen), some delude themselves into thinking they find rare birds (at great expense to their reputations), some speak and act like Gilligan's Island's Mr. and Mrs. Howell, some get off on attacking other birders online, some (against all odds) are promiscuous, some are so terrified of interacting with other people they can hardly speak. And I haven't even touched on the straight-up, hardcore, sniveling and sniffling NERDS...but that is probably all of us, to some degree.

Also worth mentioning is the wardrobe of the stereotypical birder. I can't forget that. Khaki outfits, quick-dry cargo pants, and floppy hats galore.

Finally, there is the competitive aspect. Many birders are competitive, as The Big Year did demonstrate quite well. A plot with a focus on something like The World Series of Birding would be perfect.

Bob Babalan, Eugene Levy, Jane Lynch, Michael KcKean, and Catherine O'Hara would all make great birders. Hell, we would all love to see Fred Willard again, despite what he may or may not have done in that movie theatre. Practically everyone famous has been accused of that by now, amirite???

As you can see, birders need a mockumentary. It will keep us honest. It also has the ingredients to not only be a great movie, but to be a great film.

Do what you think is best.


  1. 1. delightful. totally true. (so I assume they'd ignore "normal" birders, those who are merely professional wildlife biologists/ornithologists?? Kinda normal? Sort of?? =) ) SO much material, SO little time.
    2. unless you're talking about a very cold little village, it's "iceberg" vs. "iceburg." (sorry, thought it might help your pitch?)
    3. I might take to calling my home iceburg in the winter when the wood stove is not gettin' it DONE.
    4. Who in the WORLD would not know Christopher Guest? A shocking proposal.

    1. I am a disappointment to icebergs everywhere!

      I think it would be almost realistic if the movie was to completely ignore the well-adjusted members of our clan. They are considerably hard to find, after all.

  2. this is kinda awkward, but I also sent in a proposal to Christopher Guest a few months ago. I didn't hear back, so I haven't publicized this snub. I also haven't heard back from Bruce Campbell and I think I might have been blacklisted by some others.

    Anyway this proposal is really great; you hit all the stereotypes on the head, so to speak. It'd be nice to see John Goodman insert the Walter Sobchak character as a birder too, but that loses its subtlety I guess. Seems like blind birder hasn't been done yet, and now there's the growing subset of birders who are covered in bird tattoos and wear their hair similar to Pileated Woodpeckers.
    Also, if it's going to be a team-birding movie, there should be at least one group of angry Germans.

    Do you have some hotspots in mind for scenes too? Showdown at the Salton Sea, etc.

    Let us know how it turns out.

  3. I'm glad I'm not the only person who has though of this.

    A German birding team would be a cliche I could really get behind.

    Some good scenes would be a sewage treatment plant, a birding festival (real or imagined) or any sort of vagrant chase. There are a lot of possibilities. Oh, there would be a lot of childhood flashbacks where birders are shown as a variety of dorks, dweebs, and maybe even a bully or two.

    1. Very nice. And the villain is someone so dastardly that he purposefully flushes birds away--after calling them in-- so others waste time in transit and then can't find them!

      Somewhere in there the slogan, "Bird or Die." should bounce around, perhaps later one-uped by, "Bird or feed the Vultures."

      Lastly, I find the idea that Australia has/had no indigenous Woodpeckers to be very funny. Maybe some expert hotspot Aussie birder who licked in the outback without internet gets into the competition and has no idea what a Woodpecker is.

      On second thought, none of these ideas are very good, but you keep doing your thing!

  4. Wish you had just a plain old "like" button sometimes.

    Also, are you and Laurence going to have a Salton Sea showdown? I hope there will be photographic documentation of this.

    1. We might need a big bankroll for this to happen...Flycatcher Jen???

    2. Awww, FJ! You like me!

      @Laurence my thoughts exactly.