'Sharknado' Director on Secrets, Sequels and Success of the Social Media Sensation

"We wouldn't have had our lead character swallowed whole by a shark and then chainsaw his way out of it if we weren't in on the joke," Anthony C. Ferrante tells THR.
"Sharknado" (Inset: director Anthony C. Ferrante)

Syfy captured the cultural zeitgeist in a massive way Thursday with Sharknado, its low-budget campfest about yes, a tornado of sharks. Generating millions of tweets from people including Mia Farrow, Damon Lindelof and more, the TV movie starring Tara Reid and Ian Ziering catapulted director Anthony C. Ferrante into the cultural conversation after a long career writing and directing fare including Haunted High, Leprechaun's Revenge and the simply titled Boo.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with the director early Friday to discuss the cultural phenomenon of Sharknado, sequels and whether he'd ever go swimming with sharks after this.

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The Hollywood Reporter: When's the sequel? Would you come back to do a follow-up?

Anthony C. Ferrante: We always joked about sequels and what would it take to top this one, but nothing ever official. This being so successful, I can't imagine they wouldn't do another one — and if we could find a way to top ourselves, I'd love to come back.

THR: What kind of budget did the project have? How long did it take to shoot?

Ferrante: It was an 18-day shoot. I was never told what the budget was, but IMDb lists the budget as "estimated at $1 million" and that sounds about right.

THR: What attracted you to the project?

Ferrante: Sharks in a tornado. It's pretty easy to get aboard that concept. For a while there, I was the "horror guy." When someone needed suspense-driven material or scary stuff, I was called in — and I love that — but I also wanted a chance to do something with more humor and action. Plus, I wanted to dig into a big visual effects movie and really experience how they're put together, and I got all of that with Sharknado.

THR: How many fake sharks did you guys use for Sharknado?

Ferrante: We had one partial practical shark and three fins. The practical shark was a great white. It was a really nice shark, but you really could only use it for the land-based stuff — the beach and the living room set. After that, we really needed the VFX sharks to help tell the story.

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THR: You wrote on Twitter that sharks have been caught up in storms and landed in people's backyards. Scientifically, do you think a Sharknado could ever realistically happen?

Ferrante: It was an out-there concept from the start, but someone sent me a link of a shark in someone's backyard after a storm, so it's possible. Maybe it's not possible on this large scale and definitely not in Los Angeles, but with real-life weather-related craziness, I wouldn't rule anything out. That said, if there was a Sharknado or something like it there would be more than sharks floating around inside of it, which, honestly, would probably make it even more dangerous.

THR: You tweeted that you were inspired by the early tone of Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi. Which of their work most inspired you and how?

Ferrante: Both Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson's earlier films were these unabashed, crazy, gory and often times funny horror films. They relished in the craziness even if most critics didn't take what they were doing too seriously. However, these were films where they were able to perfect their style and craft, and that's what I wanted to do with this movie. No one would have ever thought they would be making big tentpole movies like Spider-Man or Lord of the Rings, but they brought that same passion to those bigger projects. I think you have to go into directing Sharknado with a sense of fun and be unapologetic for it. We had limitations and a script that probably would cost a studio at least $50 million to do, and we went for it. We weren't afraid to go big and be more ambitious than what the resources allowed, and I think that's why people responded so well to the film.

THR: Were you surprised to see Sharknado, among other trends related to the movie, trending worldwide? 

Ferrante: I knew the concept would get people's interest. I never thought it would be this cultural event. I'm in awe of what just happened because, if the ratings end up being huge, we just witnessed the first massive communal moviegoing experience online. Everyone sat down around the U.S. to watch a movie on TV and to experience it simultaneously via social media along with the filmmakers. It's been done on a smaller scale, but nothing quite like this. I'm not sure what this means and if it can be replicated, but we did something very unique and none of it was planned. There wasn't a $20 million marketing budget designed to make this; it just happened. The audience took the movie for its own and decided to make it an event, and that's pretty awesome. And by the way, there were people who liked the movie so much they were defending the film against people who were thrashing it. Completely mind-blowing. I've never had that happen, either.

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THR: You had showrunners like Damon Lindelof, Shawn Ryan and actors including Mia Farrow and Patton Oswalt tweeting about the movie for its total camp factor. Does it bother you to gain recognition from something that is intentionally campy?

Ferrante: Before last night, none of these people — whom I have immense respect for — knew who I was. Now I'm the guy who directed Sharknado — something that turned into a cultural event. I'm proud of the film. It's over the top and pushes things right to the edge. We wouldn't have had our lead character swallowed whole by a shark and then chainsaw his way out of it if we weren't in on the joke. The thing is, all four movies I've directed have been very successful for the producers, and we've made them look much bigger and more ambitious than the budgets allowed for. I think I'm an asset to a producer or studio that needs someone to spearhead a potential franchise and be able to do it successfully for less money, and a director that also understands how social media works in creating attention for a film. So maybe my dream of directing a Moon Knight adaptation of the Marvel comic book isn't as far-fetched as I thought.

THR: Why do you think Sharknado was such a social-media hit when other original programming this summer hasn't caught on the way this did?

Ferrante: We made something fun and unapologetic. It's not dark. It's not foreboding. We're not trying to save the world. We had fun making the movie and it translated into fun for the audience.

THR: What was the most bizarre part of the production process for Sharknado? 

Ferrante: Trying to shoot a storm in Los Angeles without rain. It was painful. The weather mocked us every day. At one point after we wrapped, we needed to get our hero's car driving through rain, and we finally got a day that we were supposed to have rain. So we get the equipment and there's no rain in Burbank. So we ran around Los Angeles like we were in the movie Twister chasing storm clouds. We maybe got 10 minutes worth of usable footage of rain — in Sunland — but we were living inside a movie that day. Curse you, Southland weather!

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THR: After doing this, would you ever go swimming with sharks? 

Ferrante: No. Sharks probably aren't going to be very happy with me after this movie. They're coming for me. I know it.

THR: What's your dream shark mash-up movie after Sharknado?

Ferrante:I think we did it with Sharknado. What I would love to do is make a scary shark movie. I don't like remakes, but it's about time someone did a new Jaws movie, but make one that harkens back to the simplicity of the original one. Again, don't remake the book or the movie, keep it simple, create some great characters, have a lot of humor, use practical sharks with slight CGI assist and scare the hell out of audiences. It's doable, and that would be my dream shark movie, because after Sharknado, we've pretty much said the final word on shark disaster movies.

THR: It felt like there were a few homages to Jaws in Sharknado. Was that Steven Spielberg's handprint next to the shark near Grauman's? What else? 

Ferrante: Yes, we moved Spielberg's handprints to be in front of the imprint. It was our little homage to the most important shark filmmaker ever. There are a few lines our writer, Thunder Levin, also snuck in. You have to be sparing with the references because you also want the movie to stand on its own, and we definitely have moments that people won't forget that are original to this movie.

THR: You've been making low-budget horror movies for a long time. What's been the craziest thing you've done

Ferrante: Sharknado, definitely. The one thing that's nice though with this getting attention is hopefully people will go back and check out my first film Boo, which is really a scary little horror movie. It's completely different than Sharknado. That's the beauty of filmmaking. You get to do many different things, and it's never boring. That's the most exciting part about this business, and I'm thrilled something I did has made it into the cultural zeitgeist.

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit