Every year, television network Syfy premiers a few dozen cheap, largely unremarkable genre pictures. You’ve no doubt seen the names: Dinoshark, Sharktopus, Jersey Shore Shark Attack. You might notice a common theme running through those. Sharks are like the patron saints of terrible monster movies—if there was a family crest for mass-produced monster movies, it would be in the shape of a badly rendered CGI shark.
Another thing those films have in common is that none of them were truly significant in any sort of cultural way. The audience for something like Dinoshark is those people who watch Syfy on a regular basis and on some level enjoy the schlocky programming, myself certainly included. But in general, they come and they go, easily forgotten.
Sharknado, though, that was something different. Memorable in every way that most pictures from Syfy and The Asylum are not, it became an overnight sensation on social media. The film had an x-factor that Syfy would desperately love to mass-produce, if only they could fully understand it. The film’s director, Anthony C. Ferrante, believes he does understand that elusive element. His upcoming sequel, Sharknado 2: The Second One, will premiere July 30 on Syfy, and Ferrante recently sat down with Paste to discuss what goes into creating an instant cult classic.
Paste: First things first, where are you from? And more importantly, what kinds of movies did you love as a kid?
Ferrante: Northern California. I grew up in a small town, then moved to L.A. after graduating. I’ve really always been a horror guy. Prior to Sharknado, the stuff I did was mostly straight horror. I love scaring people, but I love comedies, too. Sharknado was this chance to do a big, crazy, fun action movie with a lot of humor and some gore.
Paste: So did you imagine yourself making movies as a kid, then? What sorts of flicks?
Ferrante: Totally. I can’t explain why or how, but it was always movies for me. I would see movies every Saturday, all day, just go to the theater and stay there. The owners of the theaters knew me and would let me in. I tried to learn as much about movies as possible, and I definitely wanted to make horror movies.
Paste: So when you’re starting out in the late 1990s, what would you have said if someone pitched you the following idea: “There’s a tornado, and there are sharks in the tornado”?
Ferrante: I always loved the concept. I actually put a reference to it in a script I wrote a few years before we made it. At the end of the day you want to make movies, and when someone comes to you with an idea, it’s best to just throw your enthusiasm into it. I don’t think it could have been pulled off in the ’90s though; the CGI never would have been able to make it look decent. But I still would have jumped at the concept.
Paste: Was 2013’s Hansel & Gretel your first movie for The Asylum? What is the Asylum experience like?
Ferrante: I supervised makeup effects and second unit directing on Scarecrow and Scarecrow Slayer, those were my first Asylum movies. Hansel was the first I directed for them. At the end of the day, there are a lot of companies in the vein of The Asylum; it’s just varying degrees. The difference is that they’re just very aware of the model they have and they have a great infrastructure. They keep filmmakers they like around. When we made Hansel & Gretel, I wasn’t sure how it was possible to make a movie for that budget. I was leery about it, but what I found was that it was one of the best crews I ever worked with. If you care as a director, they want to give you 150 percent.
Paste: What is the on-set experience like on an Asylum flick? How long was the Sharknado shoot?
Ferrante: It was 18 days, which is about average time for my past films, but 18 days to do Sharknado is insane. There were so many changes of location, and tons of little things after principal shooting was done. Sharknado 2 had even less time with principal cast and doing more in abbreviated time, although the total shoot length was about the same. It’s definitely expensive to shoot in New York, so we were really pushing ourselves.
Paste: Did the success of the first one make this shoot significantly different?
Ferrante: There’s been so much to do since the first one blew up that it feels like we never stopped making the first film, it just went straight into the sequel. There was never a break. The only difference is that this time we had paparazzi, it was like we were shooting The Avengers or something. That was kind of crazy.
Paste: All right, I’ve got to ask: What do you define as a “good film”? And is Sharknado an objectively good film in your eyes?
Ferrante: I have a film critic background, so I have a different perspective on this. Talking about low-budget “B movies” like this, I remember loving a film like The Brood or Videodrome that everybody and their mother hated because they were too weird. When I started working in this industry, it broadened my appreciation of all different kinds of films. I make movies to get a reaction out of people, to make them laugh or to scare them or anything, really. What I set out to do is make a crazy movie, and Sharknado is certainly crazy.
Paste: What do you say to anyone who thinks otherwise?
Ferrante: If I think if a movie is truly “bad,” I turn it off. But if I’m enjoying the ride, then the filmmaker did his job. The thing we took away from Sharknado is that there are so many people who got different things from it. There are people who hate it, people who love it, and kids who are obsessed with it because it’s such a ridiculous idea and an absurd film. There’s someone who came up to me at Comic-Con and said, “Thanks for making Sharknado. I watched it five times, and it made me happy.” That’s what it’s all about.
Paste: Have you ever been recognized somewhere as the director of Sharknado, and what do people say when they find that out?
Ferrante: I’ve only had one instance of that, putting on my shoes on at the airport. That was very flattering and very weird. When people find out I’ve done the movie, it’s strange because we made a cultural touchstone of last summer. There was no marketing budget on it. People just tuned in because it was so audacious, but everyone heard about it.
Paste: What was the night of the TV premiere like for you?
Ferrante: We were planning on tweeting with the audience. We figured there would be a few people talking about it, maybe a “you suck Ferrante” or two. And then suddenly each time you refreshed there were too many comments to read. Mia Farrow and Judah Friedlander and other people are tweeting, and it started getting really weird. Something was happening that didn’t make any sense. The moment it was over, I knew we did something unusual. My phone starts ringing with journalists who have found my number. CNN is calling, and then it just spirals.
Paste: How do you sequelize that phenomena? Do you believe people want more of the same? Is it really as simple as just kicking it up to the next notch of silliness?
Ferrante: When we were making the movie I was always joking, “Yeah, in the sequel the tornadoes take everyone back in time and suck up prehistoric sharks.” I never imagined we would possibly be making a sequel.
But once they announced the idea of New York, there were a million ideas immediately flooding in. There’s stuff in it that reflects what everyone went through on the first film, and that’s kind of reflected in the characters. My whole take is what happened to Ian (Ziering) at the end of the last movie is that the city is pissed at them, flying a helicopter around and throwing bombs into tornadoes. He’d be a pariah, this infamous guy. The difference is that in New York, everyone bands together and is united in combating this problem. In the first one, it was this one guy and his family against the world, but this time the city has his back.
Paste: Is there anything else that stands out as different?
Ferrante: Well, one of the mandates I had was “no military or scientists”—I don’t want it to be that kind of monster movie. As I see it, the Sharknado is our Freddy Krueger or Jason; it can do whatever we say it can do. Once you accept that, you can start having fun. It gets really crazy. There’s more stuff happening in the last 10 minutes of Sharknado 2 than there are in five typical B movies.
Paste: Down the line, what kinds of films do you want to make? What would you make on a $100 million budget?
Ferrante: You know, I love the Marvel films and would love to do a comic book movie. I love Moon Knight; he’s my favorite hero. Give me that movie—I would love that opportunity to apply what I’ve learned. Beyond that, I just want to make interesting movies that will excite people or are outside the box.
And hey, the Holy Grail? I want one of those new Star Wars movies!
Paste: The title of the next sequel has to be Sharknado 3: The Third One, right? I believe you’ve established precedent.
Ferrante: I’m pretty sure that joke is done. There are more goofy title suggestions than you can believe. I think my favorite for this one was Sharknados. It would be set in Mexico.
Jim Vorel is a Central Illinois-based entertainment reporter and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.