Back in 2013 a certain made-for-television disaster film took the world by storm. Sharknado, a film about a tornado packed to the rafters with killer sharks tore across Los Angeles and set Twitter ablaze soon after the premiere aired on American television. Its cult success was replicated the world over thanks to its unique blend of genres and light-hearted comedy so it was only natural that its devoted fan base would cry out for further sequels.
Fast forward to 2015 and the third instalment of the popular disaster horror franchise, SHARKNADO 3: OH HELL NO will be soon unleashed on the world. Starring Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, David Hasselhoff and Bo Derek, the upcoming film will see the Sharknado cause ultimate destruction as it descends on the White House and Orlando, Florida.
Ahead of the UK’s July 23rd release SCREAM’s Jon Dickinson caught up with director Anthony C. Ferrante to talk about the success of the film and how it has taken the world by storm as well as what dedicated Sharknado fans can expect from the upcoming sequel.
SCREAM: Hi Anthony. Thanks for taking the time to talk to SCREAM, we’re big fans of the franchise. Did you ever expect the world to react to the first film in the way it did?
Anthony C. Ferrante: Not really. It was very strange. We were making a low budget movie so it shouldn’t have happened. It has a chance of like one in a million of something happening like that. Usually you make these movies, they come out and they have their audience or they don’t. They hit big or they go away. SyFy has some success with their shark stuff so there are the people who were aware of that but there is nothing on a mainstream level. We knew we made a weird movie and we knew it was fun and even I said, “What if in a few years we were lucky enough for it to become a cult film because of how odd and quirky it is?” Then it happened overnight and you are left standing there dumbfounded. We were working on the DVD when the movie blew up when suddenly I was made aware that everyone in the world knew about the movie at that time and it didn’t make any sense, it was an out-of-body experience. It was fantastic and great and I loved the fact that we got all this attention. So yeah, no one expected it and what I think makes it even better is that it wasn’t something that was bought or we forced people to see it, the general public found us and made us what we were and not by anything else. So instead of spending twenty million dollars on marketing to get someone to know the product we put the movie out and for three or four weeks the movie is all that people could talk about. I think movies like The Lone Ranger came out that summer and after a week no one was talking about it. So we were being talked about more than most studio films at the 20 million dollars mark and we were just a TV movie.
Yeah, the film literally took Twitter by storm with fans and celebrities didn’t it?
Yes. The whole Twitter thing was neat. If you think about it there is a lot of buzz about things that are popular at one time. So when Sharknado came out there was this whole communal experience where everyone was making jokes and having fun. Then the celebrities got involved and the buzz got bigger. We earned our fans, not demanded it, and that is what is so neat about it.
When Sharknado 2: The Second One was released last summer there was a lot of buzz around the celebrity cameos that you had in it. Can you tell me more about this?
The cameo thing was a weird thing. There were a lot of people when it blew up who said, “Hey, I wanna be in two,” but you know we’re talking huge celebrities but there was no way in hell that they would be in a low budget movie. It was never gonna happen. So when we made part two we decided to fit in as many cameos as we could because there was enough interest from people. There were things that we were targeting originally like in the opening of the movie we wanted somebody to be playing the pilot in particular as we were riffing off The Twilight Zone’s Terror at 20,000 feet. I thought it would be great to see if we could get William Shatner or John Lithgow. So the name of the pilot was the same from the original episode from the 1983 movie. We tried going for them but things just didn’t quite work out so I had seen Airplane and then thought Robert Hayes would be great. There were hesitations, I promised that we wouldn’t make any Airplane references and thankfully it all worked out. We had a target on our back for number two as people were thinking there was no way that we could top one, it was going to be awful and what are they going to do. So people who are aware of Robert Hayes’ films sat back and thought to themselves “there is no way we can hate this…”. This bought us a lot of good will much like all the other cameos. If we had had a normal schedule and more time to plan for more cameos we would have. We had 18 days to shoot so we had to work quickly so there was no extra time to book people to come to set. A lot of the time it was, “Okay, we are shooting this today so who is available?” Then we would go down the list and they would tell us if they could come and then we would put them in there and we would change parts to fit them into the movie. There are parts that are specific to the script and then there are moments when you can cater that to the person to make it interesting. A good example of this was Biz Markie. Originally the character was meant to be a traditional New York mobster – The Soprano’s type character – so we went completely the other way and having Biz Markie do it made it just made it even more funnier. I couldn’t believe we got Vivica A. Fox for the movie and she was meant to be a cameo but she stuck around as we liked her character. Even Judd Hirsch was such a cool person. We had a lot of ideas but what we liked best was the Taxi connection so that gave us plenty to think about. That said, it became easier to pinpoint when we needed people but we still found ourselves trying to shoehorn people into the movie and it was a fun game at times but then we had to make sure their parts had something important to add to the movie.
Was the demand the same for people to appear in Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No?
Yes. That happened a lot on three. There were so many people who wanted to be in the movie and we weren’t going to say they couldn’t be in the film. Instead we said that we would make sure they would be in the film.
So now we are three films in what does Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No have in store for your fans?
The interesting thing about three, which will become more clear when you see the movie… there is always a way you could shoot these movies and be safe and rehash things in a safe way. I don’t want to give too much away. Most TV movies have only a two to three minute opening scene, like the mandate is that you can’t go over that. We had a script that had a long opening and we knew it was going to get cut down to three minutes. Ours clocks in at around twelve minutes and thankfully SyFy didn’t cut it down. They let us have the full twelve minutes which is unheard of. When people watch that opening of two, people couldn’t have been as mad because that could have been the ending of Sharknado 2 so to surprise them we put something like that at the beginning of the movie. So for three we have so much in there that you could have made at least four more Sharknado movies from what we have done. First of all, as we all know from the trailer, the first part takes place in Washington D.C. and things get taken over by a Sharknado. So one of the things that we first pitched was that we should do White House Down with Sharks. We should do a terrorist movie where Sharks are trying to take down the White House. So with it under siege we would have guns and then you think about how we could make it work and surprisingly it does so easily. We’re not making a parody and I don’t even know if it is a satire but one thing is that the mandate from day one that we make the rules of the Sharknado we make it what they are and whatever we want them to do they do. We’re never going to explain it. You can have your theories like global warming etcetera. We treat it like an earthquake, it just happens. It’s not a shark and it’s not a tornado but a Sharknado, a force. That’s how we get away with doing the things we do. That is why in three we can have it do crazy things in the White House so from there we just picked what we wanted to do. Another thing we did, and one that I can reveal, is that we do an amusement park. We visited Universal Orlando and that was great because the park was so amazing letting us do things that you would never expect a park to allow a movie to do because people don’t want to see a disaster happening at your park. We were given guidelines but they were so liberal about it that we could do some really great things. So in this part of the movie you have an amusement park and sharks so that was great to do.
A part of the Sharknado charm is that aside from being an entertaining disaster movie, Thunder Levin’s script tells a story of a man trying to win back his family. Do you think this helps the audience to accept the more crazy aspects of the film?
What is the great thing about these movies is the work done by Ian Ziering and Tara Reid as the main characters who are fantastic as Fin and April. We do away with the military and scientists and what we have left is this guy who is basically an everyman. Fin is kinda like John McClane from the Die Hard movies except he is not a cop. He’s just a normal dude trying his best to save his family and he does things like we would do despite all the collateral damage. He’s just trying to save the day. At the end of it all he is just trying to save his family after he had screwed it up. The second movie is about reconciling with his wife and the theme continues as the third one is all about his family. Ultimately these are ridiculous movies and have a bizarre chain of events but at its core it tells a story about what is going on between Fin and April and it becomes a reason why you want to watch the movie. You still want to see the sharks and the Sharknado but you also want something to carry you through. There’s a different movie in the Sharknado universe where the military and the scientists are working hard to solve the problem but we never see that world. We see that there is just one guy who doesn’t really know what he’s doing but causing a lot of damage trying to figure out how to solve the problem. We never go to the larger universe as we wanted to keep it grounded and I know people will laugh at me for saying that but we kept it grounded by using someone that we all can relate to and that is why we get away with the crazy concept.
Well we brought in Bo Derek as April’s mom so we get to see a mother dynamic which will be interesting. Then where the dad thing comes in we thought who would be the dad to Ian Ziering and instantly we thought of David Hasselhoff. It is an opportunity where we can do things and ham it up. As a dad he has to do things the right way and that proved to be interesting and it provided a contrast of dynamic. David Hasselhoff likes to play with his image so he had a lot of fun on this movie playing a rendition of his iconic character. When we talked about the movie I said that I wanted him to play it straight in the same context that the first two films take it seriously unless a character is specifically there for comedy relief. Hasselhoff ran with it and I was pleased that in every scene he is in he just nailed it as this disapproving father thing and he played it so well.
I have to ask, how did you get Universal Orlando on board?
If you think about it our budget was perhaps enough money to pay for one day craft service on a Batman movie. We had eighteen days and we were trying to do what the bigger budget studio films do. We do it because we have to and that becomes part of the fun about making these movies. Even when we go for such a big ending we don’t think, “Well that’s not possible to do.” We just embraced it and just had to go for it but even then it didn’t feel big enough so I reached out and said we needed to shoot there and open up the movie. When we shot the first one we thought it would be cool to shoot at Universal Hollywood but we couldn’t afford that but by the time we wanted to shoot the third movie Universal Orlando were like “What do you wanna do?”. They said we could bring an eight people crew and we did it. It was at that moment while shooting that I couldn’t believe we pulled this off. We’re like Rocky, we’re the underdog. We were surprised and asked if we could actually do something with a coaster and they were like, “Yeah!” and we were like, “Alright! Thank you.”
Due to the popularity of the first two films did you ever consider releasing Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No in 3D across cinemas as a cheeky nod to Jaws 3D?
Could Sharknado be a theatrical release? I think it could but part of the charm is that on television we are giving the audience a blockbuster mentality. Even though we do not have the budget we are treating it like it is and even if we fall short sometimes I think there is a charm in it as much in our failures as in our triumphs too. This is why people come back to watch. We did talk about 3D and even one of our subtitles we were considering was Sharknado: Not in 3D but it didn’t quite work. I love Oh Hell No for a title but one of the alternative titles that we had pitched was Sharknado 3, People 0 but in marketing there was just no way we could do it.
I hear there’s a Sharknado comic coming. Is that right?
Yes. It started off with me sitting down with the illustrator to design the cover for a friend but as time went on I just kept thinking that we had to do it for real and after relentlessly pitching the idea they gave up and asked what it was. Turns out there is a similar audience and as we are approaching the third movie there was this space so whilst we were doing Sharknado 3 I was writing the comic book at the same time. It was then that I began to realise some really cool things that would have looked great in the movie. There’s no character stuff as it’s all Archie but it was still fun to design it for the Sharknado universe. There were no limits as to what we could do, there was no budget or schedule restrictions and no over five hundred visual effects to do and you can’t do it. It felt like I was storyboarding a whole other movie and the only limitation was my imagination.
Archie comics themselves were incredible. They let us do what we wanted to do with it. They let us kill off characters and they were okay with a lot of stuff. There was one scene where I was unsure if it would cross the line of the comic book because it was too sexy or whatever and they were, “No, that’s fine.” The best thing about it is that I could make Betty and Veronica total badasses. If you haven’t read the comic it’s crazy because Archie has three girlfriends so I wanted to make Betty and Veronica feel empowered. They still like Archie and want to be with him but I wanted them to know how kickass they were on their own. I had lots of fun with that and I wanted to give everyone the chance to be the hero. So that comes out the same day as the movie and we’re very excited about it.
So after three Sharknado films do you think there is still the same demand for further sequels?
Well everybody was excited for two and we were like, “Let’s wait to see how it plays and if the audience likes it or not.” You can’t be presumptuous. I know that we have made a fun movie and we know the audience will tell us that before we can decide to do more movies. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter as everything will be determined by audience interest. This could go on for the next ten years but only if the audience wants it. The first trilogy, if you want to call it that, told a story but there are other stories to be told for the family and other people in the Sharknado universe. So if we can keep it fresh there is every reason to keep doing it. It’s so weird as I never thought I’d end up directing three of them but there’s an audience for them. So if the audience likes three and they want us back again then why wouldn’t we do it? So we still have a few weeks to go so we will leave it up to the public to decide but hopefully they will want more.
So after Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No is released what’s next for you?
I will continue to make movies. I love horror and my first movie, Boo, had a special place in my heart as it was my first professional film. I really wanted to do a scary movie and even though it was low budget it has become a timeless ghost story which is continually being found. I also love comedy and by doing Sharknado people were able to see me in a very different way and I did this again in the commercial for an app that I shot after making the film and it was very funny. I would not have been offered that if I had not directed Sharknado. I’d love to do a fourth but it depends entirely on the audience. If there is one then that’s great, otherwise I plan on continuing to make more movies for sure.
We would like to thank director Anthony C. Ferrante for taking time to speak with us about the film. Be sure to check it out when it premieres in the US on 22nd July and here in the UK on DVD on the 9th of November.
In the meantime we’ll leave you with the latest trailer for the film:
Words: Jon Dickinson (@marvelguy)