July 30, 2014 6:00am PT by Philiana Ng
'Sharknado 2' Writer on Embracing the 'Outlandish,' Skirting Around Logic (Q&A)
Last summer's pop-culture phenomenon, Sharknado, is back for more and this time, it's moving the action to New York City.
Syfy's campy, low-budget sequel, titled Sharknado 2: The Second One via a fan contest, returns stars Ian Ziering as Fin and Tara Reid as April, and introduces a well of recognizable names who enter the shark-infested universe — among them Vivica A. Fox, Mark McGrath, Judah Friedlander, Kelly Osbourne, Andy Dick, Judd Hirsch, Kurt Angle, Robert Klein, Billy Ray Cyrus, The Howard Stern Show's Benjy Bronk, Al Roker and Matt Lauer.
Ratings for the first Sharknado didn't match Twitter fervor (at one point, the telepic averaged 5,000 tweets per minute); the July 11, 2013 premiere telecast lured just 1.4 million viewers, but an encore roughly two weeks later surpassed that with 2.1 million. Syfy hasn't been shy about capitalizing on Sharknado fever, ordering a third in late April — not to mention numerous merchandising and supplemental endeavors (i.e. video games, books, T-shirts) to expand the new franchise. There's even "Sharknado Week."
Sharknado 2 screenwriter Thunder Levin, who also penned the original, describes the follow-up as "epic," "ridiculous" and "surprisingly heartfelt," but most importantly, "fun." Ahead of Wednesday's premiere, Levin talks to The Hollywood Reporter about the challenges of hitting all the beats for "a Sharknado movie," how he knows when he's gone too far into the "outlandish" and creating an unexpected franchise.
Why do you think the first Sharknado movie struck a chord?
What it really boils down to is the sense of fun in the movie. It was this bizarre mashup title that delivered on the fun of the title. There have been a lot of these movies with crazy titles where they'll either play it completely straight or play it obviously for laughs. Either way, it doesn't quite take off, it doesn't quite have that little wink. The characters in our movie were always grounded. They were never winking at the audience, but there was this sense of fun behind the whole thing. We're going to do some ridiculous stuff and hopefully you're going to enjoy the ride.
Knowing how big the response was for the first one, did that change your approach to the sequel?
Everything we did was informed by what had happened in the first. We couldn't just go off to left field, and Syfy had already announced that they wanted the story to take place in New York. But the biggest difference for me was the amount of attention and scrutiny the story process was getting. On the first one, it was "Write a movie about a tornado filled with sharks" and then I was pretty much left alone. On this one, everybody wanted to make sure it was everything it had to be. There was a sense of responsibility in that we had to do justice to the characters, had to keep them consistent, but we also had to provide the fans with what they would be looking for. That was the guiding principle — making sure we didn't go too far in the other direction and turn it into something slapstick, which it was never supposed to be and never was.
Was that added pressure for you, knowing that there is a sense of expectation for what "a Sharknado movie" is supposed to be?
Absolutely, that was always on my mind. The whole time there was the sense of expectation that needed to be lived up to and throughout the whole process, there was this ongoing question of "How are you going to top the moment where Fin chainsaws his way out of the shark?" What was interesting was for the first part of the story process, I wasn't sure. I had part of it but I knew it still needed something else, and basically people would keep asking, "How are you going to top that?" I would say, "I don't know but I'll figure it out." After I wrote the first 10 pages of the script, it came to me and I called up the director [Anthony C. Ferrante] and I told him what I wanted to do. He loved it and I made him promise not to tell anybody else. The Syfy executives wanted to know what this moment was, but I wanted them to come to it as they went through the script. Fortunately, once I delivered the script, they all seemed very happy with it. Hopefully the fans will be happy with it too because that was the biggest burden that I felt looming over it.
Did you find freedom in being able to have moments like that?
That's exactly the joy both of these films. In interviews that Anthony does he keeps saying that the script was written by an 11-year-old. I'd like to think that they were written by an experienced professional channeling his inner 11-year-old. (Laughs.) But it is very freeing. It still has to adhere to all the same rules of good screenwriting. It still has to have structure, a beginning, middle and end, characters who go from Point A to Point B, but when you get to a certain level of believability, where other scripts have to stop, I get to keep going. What's not fun about that?
There are a lot of cameos in this film. Were you seeking specific people to play certain parts or write to?
It started very organically from the Twitter response for the first one because there were celebrities tweeting. So we went into it thinking that a lot of these celebrities would want to do it. Then there were a lot of other celebrities who came out in the press who said they wanted to do it or contacted Syfy or The Asylum who said, "Hey I gotta be in this thing." That was something we were aware of going in, and I tried to write a few smaller one-scene roles knowing that somebody would fill those shoes. There was one role that I wrote specifically for an actor who ended up not being available, and the person we got instead was even better, even more appropriate. And then there was a role I wrote for a real-life person, who couldn't do it because he was out of the country. The actor who ended up playing the part was one of the great legends of film and TV.
Has there been a note you've received that was particularly entertaining?
There weren't any on this project because it is such an outlandish story that the only notes that I ever questioned were things that seemed like somebody would say, "Is this logical?" My response would always be "Put a quarter in the jar, you used the word logical." There is Sharknado logic and there is a consistent, internal logic to both these movies. They do play by their own rules, but at the same time if you're getting down to the the nitty gritty of how aerodynamics work, I think we're going to have words.
Is there a barometer for "Sharknado logic"?
It's 2.75 to 1. Sharknado logic is something I know when I see, it but I can't always tell you what it is. (Laughs.) The first one was all theoretically possible, though incredibly unlikely. There was even an article where a scientist at a jet propulsion lab was interviewed and the headline said, "Why Sharknado Is Impossible." But if you read the interview, what the scientist was saying was, "Well, it's incredibly unlikely but theoretically, under certain circumstances, it could conceivably exist and is possible."
All you need is that .001 percent of plausibility and you can justify putting it in the script?
Yeah, pretty much.
Any additional research you had to do for this movie?
Not really. I did a lot for the first one to figure out how the sharknados worked, but again, Sharknado logic. Those rules were already established for the second one, so it was a matter of knowing my characters and knowing where it was all happening. Since I grew up in New York, that was easy.
Syfy has used Sharknado to branch into other markets. What are your thoughts on how big the brand has gotten?
I wish I had a piece of the merchandise! It's great. I'm glad it's growing. I'm glad people are having fun with it. It wouldn't work if people didn't enjoy it. It's flattering that something I wrote has taken this whole second life of its own.
There's a third film coming. Are you deep in the throes of writing that?
We haven't had any official conversations about that yet. I'm waiting to see how they want to proceed.
Sharknado 2: The Second One airs at 9 p.m. on Wednesday on Syfy.