Although the Syfy channel has been producing original movies since 2001 (when it was known as the Sci-Fi channel), it’s safe to say that none of them have made an impact like the original Sharknado. When it first aired in the summer of 2013, the movie drew 1.4 Million viewers but its social presence was almost too large to calculate. The squall of attention launched three hashtags, #sharknado, #tarareid and #syfy up into the national top three for the evening and over 370,000 tweets on the subject.
All of that meant a sequel was a no-brainer, and on July 30 at 9/8c, Sharknado 2: The Second One will premiere. This time, the setting has shifted from Los Angeles over to New York, where stars Ian Ziering and Tara Reid will once again be in a fight for their lives as they find a city preparing to deal with a shark infested tornado.
We talked with director Anthony C. Ferrante about the differences between this movie and the first one, some of the creative and technical challenges he experienced during production and why he’s just as happy with the people who say they hate his movies as he is with the people who say they can’t get enough of them.
ProVideo Coalition: The original Sharknado has become a cultural phenomenon. Is that something you ever envisioned happening when you were working on the film?
Anthony C. Ferrante: We were just trying to make a fun little movie and it blew up in a way we never expected. You can never predict this kind of stuff and it’s great when it happens. And we were grateful that it happened with Sharknado.
The success of the original was really a combination of things though. We had these actors who fully committed to their roles and we tried to do a lot of different things that were difficult to achieve with a low budget. I think that showcased an earnestness, and that’s something people really appreciated. It’s kind of like that old Mickey Rooney line, “let’s go put on a show”. We put on a show and I think the audience really responded to that.
Movies like Snakes on a Plane and even Sharktopus caught the attention of the Internet, but interest in each fizzled out fairly quickly. What is it about Sharknado that's kept audiences buzzing?
Usually with these movies there’s a base. You know there’s a certain subset of people that are going to show up, and those were the people who showed up for Snakes on a Plane or Sharktopus. But there was something special about Sharknado that pulled in people from everywhere. It wasn’t just a certain amount of people that latched onto the movie. It wasn’t just a genre crowd. For whatever reason we got a mainstream audience, and even a lot of kids. Kids were never really the intended audience but they really embraced the film. I don’t know exactly what it was, but I know it worked, and that’s why we’re talking about a second one.
I also think a big part of the appeal is that it’s a fun movie. It didn’t take itself too seriously and didn’t get bogged down with pathology or scientific explanations of everything. It was just the story of this family trying to survive a really insane concept. It was a TV movie that basically overextended itself, because we tried to do things we shouldn’t have been able to do. And again, I think that made the movie feel genuine in a way some other genre movies never do.
There were also people that couldn’t understand why they were pulled in by a movie about sharks and a tornado, so they had to watch it. And there were of course people who hated it, but they still tuned in.
That’s obviously a good segue to talk about the sequel, “Sharknado 2: The Second One“, that you’re working on right now. It's obvious you're embracing a similar tone and feel in this follow-up, but what else can audiences expect from the movie?
This one is going to be a lot bigger. We’re in New York and we don’t have to hide from the weather like we did when we shot in Los Angeles. When we shot the last movie we pretty much had to hide from the sun because we were trying to avoid shooting the sky at all costs to avoid having to do visual effects on that sky. So we ended up with a lot of tight shots, but those limitations aren’t there for us on this one.
In the first movie, there were so many times where we got to the set and just said, “okay, what can’t we do today?” And I’m not trying to be negative about it; it’s just that we were limited by locations and logistics. So many times we were setup for a shot, but if you moved the camera too much in one direction or another, you were going to see something that the audience wasn’t supposed to see. So we had to be very strategic and careful which made it very hard to put together in the editing.
For Sharknado 2, we had wonderfully horrible weather. It was raining, it was snowy and it was cold, and we were able to use all of that in the movie. We could shoot up and feature the sky in our shots, and it was fantastic.
What’s really exciting is that we don’t have to establish much backstory or rehash what happened in the first movie. We can just start the film and just go crazy, and that’s exactly what we do. With everything we have going on in the first 12 minutes of Sharknado 2, it really feels like the end of a movie. And of course we up the ante when we wrap up the film, so it’s a wild ride from start to finish.
It sounds like the casting went all out for the sequel. Tara Reid and Ian Ziering are back of course but Vivica Fox, Kelly Osbourne and Mark McGrath are just a few of the people set to appear in the film as well. We're guessing this is the first time Andy Dick and Judd Hirsch have appeared in the same project, no?
Yes, but not together of course. I think if they were together in the same scene the world might collapse into itself. We kept just enough distance between them to make sure the universe remained intact.
Seriously though, Judd Hirsch is great, I loved working with him. He’s such a pro that you can throw just about anything at him and he just runs with it. But that’s how it was with pretty much all of the actors you mentioned. Everyday was like Christmas because we got to work with another person that so many of us have respected and admired. Being able to work with so many different talented and amazing people brought an incredible amount energy to the production.
We definitely didn’t have a lack of people who wanted to be part of this movie, and that’s something you’ll be able to see from all of the performances and cameos.
The Blackmagic Cinema Camera is a camera that our audience is always interested to learn more about. Can you tell us what it was like to use this camera as your “B camera” for pick up shots?
We used the camera in a number of specific instances, and the great thing about it is that it’s a light and compact camera, so if you need to do something quickly you can just pull it out and make it work. In particular, we used it for a couple green screen shots and it was very helpful for us. We didn’t have a huge lighting setup for a couple things that we needed on the green screen, and it picked all of that up really nice.
In one instance we were wrapping up and had turned the lights off and realized we forgot to get a change shot. But instead of putting the lights back up we just used the natural lights coming into the stage with the Blackmagic camera, took it over to the editors, and it was perfect. We said, “let’s try it without the lights and see if it works”, and it worked.
It’s a great little camera. There are a lot of compact cameras out there that do a lot, but I think there’s really something unique about this one.
What sort of advantages did the camera bring to the production?
The flexibility that you can take advantage of with this camera is key, especially with visual effects shots. You want to try and have the best image possible but sometimes it’s not cost effective to grab a RED to do a handful of pickups, so having the BMCC available for emergency situations was really helpful. We didn’t use it a ton, but it was definitely nice to have.
How did you approach the workflow?
We shot the movie in 18 days, and when you’re on that kind of schedule it’s intense. We’ve got to be organized but at the same time know that you need to pull out all the stops. We only had a few months to get everything ready and make those 18 days happen.
Not only that, but when you have over 500 visual effects shots that need to be turned around everything has to be virtually seamless. Asylum has been doing a lot of those shots, but they know what they’re doing. When we did the first Sharknado I think they were also working on two or three movies while we were doing ours, so they’ve definitely got a system. They have an amazing visual effects department. In two months they put together all these shots, and that’s unheard of, especially after you see how amazing some of these shots look.
What do you tell people you encounter who aren't willing to see or embrace the kind of film you're making in Sharknado and Sharknado 2?
As a filmmaker, you want people to see your movie. There are always going to be people that hate your movie, people that like your movie and people who just don’t get it, but people have been talking about these films regardless of what category they fall into. And to me, that’s the most important thing. At the end of the day, I’d rather have people challenging the work or not understand what we’re doing than make something that’s going to be ignored or that no one is going to ever see.
Look at every single major film from the highest grossing film list. Poll ten of your friends and you’ll find five who loved those films and five who hate them. That’s just the nature of film.
When we made Sharknado, we knew we were making a weird little movie and it kind of came together in an interesting way, and people embraced it. And I’d take that over anything. I love that I’m inciting such huge hate and huge love all at once.
These movies have helped you take the next step in your career, so what's one piece of advice you can give to filmmakers who are looking to break through in a similar way?
If you’re working on a movie, no matter what role it is, you have to be fully invested in it. Even if it’s something crazy like Sharknado, you can’t just go through the motions and think it’s going to be a worthwhile experience or lead to anything more for you. If you’re going to do it, do it and give 150%. That’s what I do with every movie. I look at everything as a learning experience, and that’s the case whether I was the director or the writer or one of the crewmembers. I always feel like there’s something more to learn, and I learned a lot on the first Sharknado that I applied to this second one. And that’s an important mentality to have. You’re never going to be 100% perfect, but you have to remember everything you do on a set teaches you how to make better movies.
The other thing to remember is that this stuff is permanent. I think actors, writers and directors sometimes forget that this isn’t something that you just do and it goes away. This stuff stays around. Even if only one person sees it in the next fifty years, it’s still out there and available, so you always need to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.