Syfy returns to the goofball well Wednesday with Sharknado 3, the annual summer tradition that finds stars Ian Ziering and Tara Reid — along with a number of celebrity guest stars — defending the “Feast Coast” from the latest unlikely attack. The sequel — Sharknado 3: Oh, Hell, No! — features the meteorologically unlikely phenomenon hitting not only Washington, D.C., but Orlando, Fla., as well.
Ahead of the it’s-so-bad-it’s-good TV movie, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Chris Regina, senior vp program strategy at Syfy and Sharknado 3 associate producer, about the process of putting together a sequel, the increased opportunities to score big names for the cast and the scientific legitimacy of the whole affair.
You guys don’t kid around when it comes to trying to make each Sharknado sequel bigger than its predecessor.
We always challenge ourselves and ask, “How can we make it bigger and better than the last one?” And that is a challenge because as we keep one-upping ourselves, we have to come up with new, creative ways to shock, awe and surprise.
Now that you’ve done it more than once, have you streamlined the Sharknado sequel process? Do you have a corkboard filled with ridiculous ideas that you want to try to make seem at least vaguely scientifically plausible?
In a way, it is sort of like that! It starts out with things that we might have missed out on doing in the last movie, so it could be individual gags that we want or it could be a location that comes up when we’re asking, “Where do we go next?” And then we go, “OK, we had this amazing scene in Sharknado 2, so we’ve got to do something that’s better than that, and we’ve got to take advantage of the locations that we’re in.” So if we’re in an Orlando theme park, we’re, like, “Well, we have to do something with a roller coaster! How can you not have sharks on a roller coaster?” (Laughs.) So you take a look around at your existing locations as well as just challenging yourself to push the limit.
There’s obviously some serious corporate synergy going on by having a portion of the movie set at Universal Studios — as well as a Jaws homage involving Jerry Springer.
It was. It was just a terrific, perfect synergy. We got the necessary approvals to do [Jaws], so we went with it, which was great.
With the casting process, presumably it’s easier now than it used to be to find celebrities to make cameos in the films. This time, you have everyone! Rick Fox, Penn and Teller, Mark Cuban — who is playing the president with Ann Coulter as the VP — Michael Bolton, Bo Derek, Frankie Muniz, David Hasselhoff and more.
Oh, no question. We have people reaching out to us who want to be in the movie, and then of course there’s the selling on the awareness of what it is. … It’s a much easier sell now. In the past, when you had a crazy, over-the-top title, you often would hide that title and have a working title, something very simple. I think Dark Skies was the working title for the first Sharknado movie. But now if you just go in full-force and say it’s Sharknado 3, that’s actually an upside.
Is there anyone in the new movie that actually came to you and asked if they could appear?
When Michelle Beadle from ESPN found out that one of her co-stars was going to be having a cameo, she was, like, “But I’m a huge fan of Sharknado! You’re not even as much of a fan as I am!” (Laughs.) She was actually campaigning on her show to be in the movie! So we let her play out that pitch to get herself in the movie so we could take advantage of all the awareness and press that she was drumming up for us, and then we finally convinced the casting director to put her on. It’s exciting to have as many cameos as we have this time around. It just keeps getting bigger, and we look to really utilize those cameos in smart ways that make reference to who they were in previous roles or what people know them for, so it’s entertaining and fun.
So you’re past the point, then, of pitching people and having them ask, “What’s a sharknado?”
(Laughs.) Yeah. On Sharknado 2 there were a couple of instances where they didn’t question what it was but they were hesitant to do it. And a lot of times it was other members of their family — their kids, cousins or other relatives – who said, “What?! You’re not going to do Sharknado?! Are you kidding me?” And then they realized it was a bigger thing, because it wasn’t really hitting their radar as significant, and then they circled back to us. I’m not sure, but I think Robert Klein had that issue, where he was, like, “I don’t know, they asked me to do Sharknado,” and then family members were, like, “You have to do it!” And he was, like, “OK! I guess I have to do it!” So he showed up and did it.
Judd Hirsch has said that he was sold on Sharknado 2 when he found out he was going to be eaten by a shark. Has anyone had it written into their contract that they’re guaranteed to be eaten?
No, not as far as I know. (Laughs.) That’s not something we can guarantee. And quite often most of them say that they want to survive, because they’re, like, “I want to get a couple of Sharknados out of this. I don’t just want to be one and done!”
Hasselhoff — who plays Ziering’s father in the movie — has made much of his recent career out of poking fun at his persona. Did he have fun with the material?
He did. He’s exceptional in this movie and really chews the scenery, but he also gives a really great performance. He plays it pretty straight. He doesn’t ham it up too much, just enough so that he hits that perfect line, which is really in step with what Ian has sort of set as the precedent for the movie. We’re not making a comedy, but there are obviously comedic elements to it. These characters are playing it straight. They’re not in on the joke. They’re taking it seriously — there are sharks attacking, and they need to save America — and embracing it from that point of view is the key to its success.
When it comes to the gore quotient of the films, have you ever hit a wall where a scene was deemed to be just too much for TV?
No, not with the Sharknado movies. I mean, they’re all in good fun and good spirit. In some ways, the gore isn’t as critical to the movies as the intense and clever ways that the sharks can consume humans. So we try to find new and interesting ways to do that. But even though we do have some fun with some over-the-top blood and guts, it’s not really much of a gore-fest.
Have you enjoyed having actual scientists discussing the scientific legitimacy of the films or the lack thereof?
Oh, it’s brilliant. And I always argue that it is legitimate! That’s kind of what we’ve hung our hat on: a sense of legitimacy for Sharknado. Surreal as it might be, there are those real events where storms pass over rivers and pick up fish and frogs, and then you see towns where it rains fish and frogs. So that’s a real event. This obviously takes that to an extreme with sharks. (Laughs.) But there’s some true science behind it. Scientists say it probably won’t happen, but the fact that they can’t definitively say it won’t happen is something that we take pride in.
At one point, there’s a reference to a “sharkicane.” That seems almost like an attempt to make sure that you’ve gotten the term out there, lest someone else rip it off.
Yeah, we’ve got a sharkicane, we’ve got a “fognado.” I think we’re always looking at new ways to enhance the shark storm. We’re like, “How can we make this sharknado not just an average sharknado, where it repeats itself? Let’s have a fognado, let’s have a sharkicane.” We’ve got some more things in store for the next movie — if we do one. We’ll continue to evolve.
Lastly, there’s a moment in the film where it’s announced that Charleston has been devastated by a sharknado. Did you ever worry that you might have a fringe element saying, “Hasn’t South Carolina suffered enough?”
(Laughs.) No, I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s ever come up as a concern.
Sharknado 3 airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Syfy. Stay tuned to The Live Feed for more coverage.