It was a crazy idea: Make a movie about sharks that get swept up in a tornado and conveniently dumped over populated areas where they can gorge in a feeding frenzy – all on a very small budget and in just 18 days.
What they created was a social media phenomenon called “Sharknado” that blew up Twitter when it premiered on the Syfy channel in July 2013, earned its own week on the network (the second annual “Sharknado Week” is currently underway) and will unleash its third film, “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!” on Wednesday – the same day the comic book “Archie vs. Sharknado” is released.
“Our goal was to make craziest, most insane movie possible on a very small budget,” director Anthony C. Ferrante said in a telephone interview of the original film. “We made it in earnest and I think people just enjoyed it because it was so unabashedly silly and giddy.”
“Sharknado,” written by Thunder Levin, followed a small band of people led by a surfer/bar owner named Fin (Ian Ziering) fleeing a freak storm of flying sharks in Los Angeles. Fin’s attempt to rescue his estranged wife, April (Tara Reid) and family, is one of the reasons Ferrante said “Sharknado” stood out.
“The core of the film is that it’s a family guy trying to take care of his family. It’s not military or scientists trying to solve the problem. It’s an everyday guy and you relate more to that,” he said.
In the brilliantly titled “Sharknado 2: The Second One,” the now-reconciled Fin and April are visiting New York City on their book tour (“How to Survive a Sharknado”) when – wouldn’t you know it – a sharknado touches down. The film is interspersed with deadpanned “live coverage” of the event by the “Today” show’s Matt Lauer and Al Roker.
For “Sharknado 3,” though, one location wasn’t enough. This time, multiple sharknados attack the entire East Coast – and beyond. As with any good disaster movie, landmarks will come under attack.
“We wanted to do ‘White House Down’ with sharks,” Ferrante said. “We wanted to do ‘Die Hard.’ Let’s do John McClane in a tuxedo and do crazy stuff like that. We never got a movie like that before. And I got to do it. I didn’t have terrorists with guns in the movie taking over the White House; it was sharks with teeth. I think that’s fun.”
Fun and crazy are two words Ferrante repeats throughout the interview to describe the “Sharknado” trilogy.
“People ask me, why would I want to do ‘2’ and ‘3’? I’m enjoying myself,” he said. “In two-and-a-half years, I made a trilogy. It’s hard enough to just make a movie. But if you’re surrounded by people you generally like and you get to have a party every time you make a movie, it shows in the film.”
Ferrante is entrenched in “Sharknado” beyond directing, again co-writing songs with his band Quint (named for the “Jaws” character, playing a small role (“out of necessity”) and writing the “Archie vs. Sharknado” comic book.
The first film was shot mostly at the Van Nuys, Calif., airport and “a bunch of parking lots” relying on visual effects to finish the job. The second film was made in New York City with a day in the Buffalo area.
“I was a kid in the candy store. I got to shoot at all these iconic locations. It was fresh for me. It wasn’t like we’re going through the motions again,” he said. “Suddenly now the movie looks bigger and more authentic and that is kind of awesome as a filmmaker.”
Ferrante said he enjoyed his brief time in Western New York.
“The people of Buffalo were fantastic. I love that city. It was really nice on how accommodating they were,” he said. “There are a lot of talented people. It was fun, but way too short a time.”
As a fan of Buffalo wings, his only regret was that he didn’t get any. “We went to the Anchor Bar, but it was a 45-minute wait and we couldn’t wait.”
Even today, Ferrante only has theories as to why the original movie took off the way it did, starting with the mind-boggling 5,000 tweets a minute from such famous names as Damon Lindelof, Shawn Ryan and Patton Oswalt.
That title, for instance, couldn’t help but draw attention. “We knew it was a cool title. It makes you smile – ‘Sharknado.’ It’s so ridiculous,” he said.
Other factors included the cast led by Ziering and Reid (“She gave us street cred.”) and the movie’s “just go for it” attitude that included the infamous scene of Ziering bursting out – yes out – of a shark.
“That’s something that as a horror movie fan, I’m gonna love 100 percent,” Ferrante laughed. “There’s a little horror guy inside of me that loved this stuff growing up. So I knew horror fans would like it. I didn’t think the rest of the world was going to embrace it because it was just such a weird idea.”
Perhaps the most important piece of the “magic combination,” as Ferrante calls it, is that “the audience found us.”
“It looked like a studio film on a smaller budget. It looked like fun,” he said. “People got together and decided to have a moviegoing experience at home. It was the first communal experience where people were tweeting, interacting. It was fantastic. That never happened. It wasn’t $200 million worth of marketing that got people to us two years ago. It was just people finding us. In this fractured media landscape, that’s even harder to accomplish than you realize.”
Ferrante is flattered that the trilogy has its own week on the network. “We’re this little movie that keeps on going,” he laughed. “You get lightning in a bottle only once, so you want to have as much fun with it as possible. And the thing is, if people didn’t care, they wouldn’t be doing it. People really care about the characters and about our sharks in the tornadoes. Hopefully they will show up and have another crazy experience.”
“Sharknado Week” continues on Syfy with a “Sharknado” triple on Wednesday featuring “Sharknado” at 5 p.m., “Sharknado 2: The Second One” at 7 p.m. and the premiere of “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!” at 9 p.m.