What is “Sharknado”?
The concept of SyFy’s smash-hit original movie is simple: A rare West Coast hurricane gives birth to massive tornados that suck man-eating sharks from the ocean and spew them all over L.A.
But if you didn’t already know that, you missed out on last Thursday’s social media frenzy that saw 5,000 Twitter messages a minute discussing the campy film, which co-stars actors Ian Ziering (“90210”) and Tara Reid (“American Pie”) as L.A. residents fleeing the finned fiends.
As the world gears up for tonight’s “Sharknado” encore (as well as a new SyFy original, “Blast Vegas”), I caught up with “Sharknado” screenwriter Thunder Levin to chat about the movie’s unexpected success, where the outrageous plot came from and his ideas for the sequel. “Snailquake,” anyone?
David Onda: I imagine the creation of “Sharknado” was something similar to the creation of the peanut butter cup.
Thunder Levin: [laughs] Alright, look. I have been upfront in all my media that the idea of “Sharknado” was not mine. It was brought to me from SyFy through The Asylum, the production company that makes a lot of these movies. So, the title and the basic concept of sharks in a tornado was brought to me. I did not invent that. I had to craft the story around that idea.
Onda: So, you get this in your hands and do you say, “This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard”?
Levin: That was the word I used. That was literally what I said. I said, “This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen, and if you’ll let me write it that way, I would love to do it.” Because a lot of these B-movies take themselves way too seriously, and it was really important to me that we be able to have fun with it, without it turning into a parody. And I think that’s what has come through, and I think that’s why so many people are having fun with the idea.
As for the peanut butter cup metaphor, I don’t know how the title was arrived at, because there have been plenty of mash-up titles like this – “Arachnoquake” and “Sharktopus” and even SyFy’s first original movie, “Mansquito.” This has been going on for a long time, and I think it was just finally a case of these were the two perfect words to put together. It’s like chocolate and peanut butter. Sure, I’ll buy that.
Onda: And so how do you approach writing this movie?
Levin: Basically, I started with a sensible, realistic disaster movie. What would happen if a hurricane hit Los Angeles. And then I added sharks and tornados, and just sort of kept going. It started with the human story of, “What would I do?”
Onda: Part of the fun of this movie is the dialogue and the performances of the actors, and a lot of people have enjoyed poking fun at that. Does that bother you?
Levin: No. If I were one of the actors, maybe it would bother me, but I don’t think those comments are really legitimate. Personally, I thought Ian Ziering was a revelation. I only knew him from “90210,” and I think he reinvented himself as an action hero here. Yeah, it was all over the top, the dialogue was over the top. You’re not gonna win an Oscar doing “Sharknado,” you’re not gonna plumb the depths of the human soul – that wasn’t the point. I think the acting was perfectly right for the project.
Onda: Of all the celebrities who joined in on the “Sharknado” conversation on Twitter, were there any that blew your mind?
Levin: Well, there were two. The most famous one was Mia Farrow and Philip Roth, and that was just so out of left field that it was brilliant. And then the one for me that was particularly surreal as a working writer and director, was Damon Lindelof saying that he was writing a “Sharknado” sequel and would have it done before the movie was finished airing. And then we actually traded a couple tweets, which was just bizarre and wonderful.
Onda: There’s no wrong way to kill a shark in this movie. Was there anything so outrageous that you left it out of the movie?
Levin: No. There was one bit that I wrote that was outrageous that, for production reasons, they didn’t get in. When they’re bombing the tornados, I had one of the bombs sort of go askew and, instead of blowing up the sharks, it just set them on fire. And then we had a whole fleet of flaming sharks falling out of the sky. They never had the time or money to do that.
Onda: Have you talked to anyone about writing the sequel?
Levin: You know, this has all been such a flurry, there haven’t been any meetings yet, but I would imagine that will happen in the future. I hope so.
Onda: Do you have any sequel plot ideas?
Levin: Oh, sure. Once you know it’s gonna be set in New York City, there are all sorts of great ideas for what we could do there. I do have one particular image that just has to be in there, and it would involve a particularly tall, pointy building. Let’s leave it at that.
Onda: And, of course, there is a contest to name the sequel. Have you crafted any titles of your own?
Levin: Everybody’s been going for the mash-up title, and so I’d go in a different direction. I’m sure SyFy won’t actually do this, but the one I liked was “Sharknado 2: Live on Broadway.” My favorite one that I saw in tweets was actually “Snailquake,” but, you know, that would be moving along slowly, so there’d be plenty of time for character development.
Onda: Are there any other ’90s stars whose careers you’d like to resuscitate with the sequel?
Levin: Yeah, actually. Of course, as the writer – whether I am the writer or not – I have less than no input. In fact, if I were to suggest people, that would probably be reason enough to not put them in. But I’ve always wanted to see a comeback of the guys from the old “Mod Squad” TV series, Michael Cole and Clarence Williams III and Peggy Lipton. I’d love to see them doing stuff.
Onda: For people who are holding out on “Sharknado,” and haven’t watched a replay or DVRed it or checked it out with XFINITY On Demand, why should they watch it?
Levin: Because they wanna have fun. Obviously, there are a lot of people who want serious movies that change the world. For me, the idea of a movie is to walk out, or to turn it off on the TV, feeling better than when it started. And I think that’s what this is all about. It’s about having fun and sitting back and enjoying yourself for a couple hours.
Onda: Does it surprise you that – for as much as we hate when people talk during a movie – that “Sharknado” turned out to be a movie everybody wanted to talk during?
Levin: That’s an interesting phenomenon, because I absolutely hate when people talk during a movie. This is a social phenomenon, especially with young people now who have grown up with the internet, that they’re just always doing several things at once and they’re always connected and they’re always communicating. To me, a movie is a sacred thing, it’s a communal experience that you share, but you share it quietly. Having said that, there are exceptions to that rule. I went to an opening night showing of “Snakes on a Plane,” and the audience was yelling and they were screaming out lines and throwing popcorn at the screen and it was great fun. I think that’s sort of what we had last Thursday in the digital realm. If it’s appropriate for the material, that’s one thing. I guess, in a lot of ways, I’m sort of an old school purest when it comes to movies. You go and you sit in the dark and you experience something wonderful.
Onda: Sometimes you just want to experience an inside-out shark chainsawing with a group of people.
Levin: Yeah, that seems reasonable.
What’s all the fuss about? “Sharknado” is now available with XFINITY ON Demand. Click here to begin the process of ordering on your TV.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.