Thunder Levin: Talking ‘Sharknado’ with the man who wrote it
If you have a television and a Twitter account, and you’re not aware of the bizarre phenomenon that is Sharknado then we can only imagine that you were in a temporary coma when the movie premiered on Syfy last week.
For those of you who have only recently re-joined the waking world (welcome back!) here’s a quick primer: Sharknado is a movie about a freak tropical storm that somehow sucks man-eating sharks out of the ocean, whipping them into a cyclone of dead eyes and sharp teeth, and depositing them in downtown Los Angeles. Sharks, in a tornado. That’s about the extent of it — it is somewhat brilliant in its absurd (so absurd) simplicity — except for, at one point, a man jumps into a shark’s mouth and then cuts his way out with a chainsaw. That’s a highlight.
When Sharknado premiered, people lost their freaking minds. Twitter almost imploded, with #Sharknado generating about 5,000 tweets per minute over the course of a few hours. Because, dudes, Sharknado. We caught up with the man who wrote the damn thing, Thunder Levin, to ask, a few pertinent questions (like, is there any animal-freak-storm he can think of that would be worse than a sharknado?).
OK, how the hell did you come up with the idea for a movie…about sharks…in a tornado. Take me through the process.
I’m sorry to say the initial idea didn’t come from me. I had been involved with a couple of films for The Asylum (the company that produces a lot of the Syfy movies) and they came to me and asked me to write a movie for them called Shark Storm, but it was going to be a fairly straight disaster movie and it didn’t really interest me. Then, about a month later, they came back and asked me to write something called Sharknato. At least that’s what I thought they said. I couldn’t understand why the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would be battling sharks. But they explained, “No, Sharknado. As in a tornado filled with sharks!” They gave me a half page of notes and I said “This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of and, as long as I can write it that way, I’m in!” The concept came to them from Syfy who apparently had received a pitch with that title from Anthony Ferrante. So the whole thing came full circle when I (in perhaps my dumbest career move ever!) withdrew from directing the film and Anthony was hired to make it.
Did you have any idea the kind of phenomenon this thing would be?
Of course not. Who could have imagined all this?! I thought it would be a fun movie that people would have fun with. And once I saw the poster and tagline last November, and realized that the marketing of the film would tap into the same sense of fun I’d tried to put in the script, I thought we had a good chance to do fairly well. But I don’t think anyone could have predicted the explosion that occurred. It’s just been unbelievable.
Did you see Snakes on a Plane? All the Sharknado buzz reminds me of when that movie first came out.
EXACTLY! I was at opening night of “Snakes On A Plane” and it was like a party in the theater. People were yelling out lines of dialogue and talking to the characters and throwing popcorn at the screen! It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a movie theater (even though I usually hate it when people talk during a movie!). And I think what happened last Thursday night with Sharknado was the internet equivalent of that.
The casting for this movie was phenomenal — Tara Reid and Ian Ziering! — did you have them in mind right from the start? I didn’t even know Ian Ziering was still acting.
I wasn’t involved in the casting process. I was actually directing another movie I’d written, AE Apocalypse Earth, in the jungles of Costa Rica, while “Sharknado” was being made. But I agree that the casting choices were inspired.
Were you following #Sharknado on Twitter when the movie premiered? People were losing it.
Yes, I was part of the live tweet that the Asylum had scheduled with some of the people behind the movie. The organized tweetcast got completely overwhelmed by the huge public response. I’d look down to type a tweet and by the time I looked back up at the screen a couple of seconds later another 200 tweets would have come in. It was crazy.
If the freak natural disaster that is a sharknado ever happened in real life, how would you defend yourself?
Well, actually, the way I frequently write is to put myself in the place of the hero and think, “OK, what would I do if this happened to me?” And I’m always concerned about the threat of a giant earthquake or zombie apocalypse or a comet hitting the Earth, so I try to be semper paratus. So what you see in the movie is what I would do if sharknado hit L.A.! Shotgun and chainsaw and a sturdy 4 X 4. Absolutely.
You’ve already announced a sequel. There’s going to be another sharknado… in New York City? Seems like something that couldn’t happen twice — like lightning striking twice, but…with sharks.
Lightning… Sharks… I think you’ve got something there!
Did you have a sequel in mind before this, or just did you just whip one up after people went ballistic for the first one?
Syfy only just announced there would be a sequel and it would take place in New York, but there haven’t been any discussions yet about what it will be. Remember all of this has been happening awfully fast.
Can you think of anything that would be scarier in a tornado than sharks? I think a PossomNado could be pretty horrible.
A Skunknado would be pretty bad…
Do you think that, from here on out, you will always be known as the guy responsible for Sharknado?
I guess that will be both my blessing and my curse.