Sharknado‘s Screenwriter Discusses Penning The SyFy Film Phenomenon While Beginning Work On Sharknado 2: The Second One, His New Indie Film, And His Science Fiction Epic TV Series!
by Arlene R. Weiss
The SyFy Cable Television Network is well known for its deliciously campy cheese fest of so-bad-it’s-good, made for TV, science fiction, horror, and fantasy B-films. This past July, SyFy experienced an unprecedented pop culture phenomenon and some of the highest ratings in the channel’s history with the broadcast of Sharknado!
The witty, self aware, and deliriously exuberant tongue in cheek, low budget disaster film, depicts ocean formed water spout tornados scooping up man eating sharks and depositing them with flooding seawaters into the streets of Los Angeles. Chaos, pandemonium, and an intentionally fun, over the top blend of gore, mayhem, and humor, take center stage as an infectiously likable rag tag group of friends brave their way through L.A. to hopefully find a way to destroy the sharknadoes and ultimately find safety.
I caught up with the man behind Sharknado, screenwriter Thunder Levin – who wrote the amazing, clever, and riveting screenplay for the film – to discuss the movie and the myth!
Sharknado stars Beverly Hills, 90210’s Ian Ziering in a career-defining dynamic performance as the heroic Fin Shepard. Ziering performs all his own stunts in the film, including a thrilling scene in which he rappels off a bridge to save a school bus full of children. He saves the day while battling and dispatching bloodthirsty sharks and raging weather catastrophes. As Levin best puts it, Ziering literally “reinvents himself as an action movie hero!”
The film also stars American Pie’s Tara Reid as Fin’s ex-wife April, acclaimed stage and screen actor John Heard as Fin’s buddy George, Baywatch’s Jaason Simmons as Fin’s pal Baz, and a firecracker performance from newcomer Cassie Scerbo as badass heroine Nova Clarke. Director Anthony C. Ferrante deftly helmed the film, combining just the right mix of thrilling suspense, warm character development, and winking humor.
Sharknado captured the imagination of a nation when it seemingly took over Twitter upon its first broadcast, sending the Twitterverse into the stratosphere with celebrities and fans alike tweeting the film’s praises. Its original broadcast and subsequent two re-broadcasts in July 2013 scored viewers and ratings into the millions. The film garnered an August red carpet premiere at L.A.’s Regal L.A. Live Stadium 14 Theater with the cast and crew turning out to cheering fans in support of a subsequent midnight showing and theatrical release in 200 movie theaters nationwide. Ian Ziering and Tara Reid were special guests on The Discovery Channel’s hit Shark Week spin off Shark After Dark, and the cast members, Ferrante, and Levin have been invited to appear on numerous talk shows and media.
On August 8, 2013, the SyFy Channel officially announced the sequel to Sharknado, titled Sharknado 2: The Second One, (the title was submitted and chosen by fans via a contest on Twitter) to premiere July 2014 on SyFy. This second chapter will see the shark infested tornadoes wreck havoc on the citizens and streets of New York. Ian Ziering will be back to reprise his role as Fin and Thunder Levin is already in the beginning stages of writing the sequel’s screenplay.
Levin has forged a career as both a successful and talented director and writer mostly in the realm of low budget science fiction, fantasy, and horror films. He’s performed duel creative duties, directing and writing 2008’s outrageously fun cult classic Mutant Vampire Zombies From The ‘Hood! starring C. Thomas Howell, 2013’s American Warships starring Mario Van Peebles and Rocky’s Carl Weathers, and the 2013 science fiction epic AE: Apocalypse Earth starring Adrian Paul from TV’s Highlander and Richard Grieco from 21 Jump Street and Booker.
Levin also wrote 2011’s Fast And The Furious “mockbuster” riff, 200 M.P.H., as well as co-writing 2013’s delightfully humorous Atlantic Rim which riffs on Pacific Rim with wit, flair, and fun.
Just a day after Labor Day weekend 2013, Thunder Levin graciously took time from writing Sharknado 2: The Second One to discuss his creative process behind Sharknado, as well as his many writing and directing film and TV projects. Levin also exuberantly discusses the two upcoming projects he’s most excited about, his new indie film Shadows Of The Jungle and his new science fiction epic TV series 2176.
Hi Thunder, how are you? I want to wish you many congratulations on the phenomenal success of Sharknado! I had such a blast watching it! It’s so much fun! What do you think it is about Sharknado that so resonates with fans? Why do you think people feel such a strong connection to the film and to the concept of such an incredible and (comedic tongue in cheek) terrifying weather event?!
I think people have really tuned into the sense of fun we had with Sharknado. I had fun writing it. Anthony and the cast and crew had fun making it. Even the marketing department, with “Enough Said”, clearly had fun with it. I think, maybe, in this summer of prepackaged, bloated budget blockbusters, just the silly sense of fun of our little movie shone through. And, of course, who wouldn’t have fun with a tornado full of sharks?! It’s better than a barrel of monkeys!
Have you seen the photos on the web of fans at San Diego Comic-Con International 2013 who made their own amazing costumes and dressed up as Sharknadoes? There was one girl in particular who was an awesome Sharknado. What did you think?
Not only did I see the photos, but I was there and got my photo taken with her! That was great! And just this past Labor Day weekend at Dragon-Con 2013, at least two more people dressed up as sharknadoes.
Have you thought about putting something together at Halloween, just like Rocky Horror Picture Show?! You can have the midnight screenings at theaters with fans dressing up in Cosplay characters as Fin, Nova, Baz, George, and April….and of course the sharks, all while re-enacting the dialogue!
Personally, I’m hoping Sharknado becomes the next Rocky Horror and plays at midnight movies for all eternity!
Let’s talk about Sharknado’s origins. How did the film come about? How did you become involved with writing the screenplay, and how did you come up with such an awesome and surreal concept?
I didn’t come up with the concept. SyFy came up with the title Sharknado and I was hired to write it. (Author’s Note: After SyFy came up with the title, The Asylum film production company produced and made the film for SyFy and hired Levin to write the screenplay.)
What was your mindset and creative approach to writing Sharknado?
My approach was two-fold. First, it’s called Sharknado, so I had to have fun with it, and nothing would be too over the top. But even a movie this ridiculous needs to have a realistic foundation. So I started with the fairly straight-forward question, “What would happen if L.A. were hit by a hurricane?” This is a city that’s not designed for much rain at all. Our streets flood if it rains for an hour. So there’s no way it could handle the deluge of a hurricane. The whole city would fill up! So that’s where I started. And then I added sharks and tornadoes.
Were you on the Sharknado set during filming?
I wasn’t on set. I was actually in Costa Rica at the time, directing another film that I wrote, called AE: Apocalypse Earth (2013). It’s a fairly serious science fiction, action movie starring Adrian Paul and Richard Grieco. It’s out on DVD and streaming now.
Did you have any input on the casting choices and what did you think of the actors that took on the roles? I especially thought that Ian and Cassie are great and are so badass in their heroic roles saving the world and L.A.!
I had absolutely zero input on casting. But I thought Ian was a revelation. Like most people, I only knew him from Beverly Hills, 90210, but I think he reinvented himself as an action movie hero. Now he’s going to be known as Fin Shepard first, and Steve Sanders was that “other role” he played.
It’s scientifically documented that objects as big as freight train cars can be picked up many feet in the air and carried away long distances by tornadoes. Did you do any weather related research on tornadic phenomenon when writing the movie?
There are documented cases of fish falling from the sky miles inland after waterspouts, tornadoes, and other meteorological phenomena. I just took it to the perfectly logical extreme.
It’s apropos that a film as cool as Sharknado was written by someone with just as cool a name, and weather related too! How did you get the very awesome and badass name Thunder!?
It was the 1960’s. There were a lot of strange things happening!
The biggest and most positive reactions have been on Twitter with many celebrities catching Sharknado fever. Who were some of the celebrities that most surprised you that started tweeting about the movie? I heard you wound up in a Twitter conversation with Damon Lindelof!
Well the most surprising participation on Twitter had to be Mia Farrow. But the conversation with Lindelof was pretty surreal. He tweeted that he was going to write a sequel to Sharknado and have it done before Sharknado was finished airing. I said it should be a prequel, only not quite. And he responded “Touché”! That was fun.
The sharknado was the result of a hurricane that hit L.A. in the movie. So why was the title of the movie not, Sharkicane or Hurrishark?
Because those aren’t as good titles!