Ten years after blowing onto our television screens — and blowing up on social media — the Force is still strong with Sharknado. The first entry in what became a six-movie franchise touched down on the Syfy network on July 11, 2013, and became a viral sensation at a time when that was still something of a novelty. A decade later, the original Sharknado is swimming back into theaters on Aug. 15 and 16 with its very own George Lucas-style special edition, featuring bonus scenes and new special effects that weren’t in the original cut.
Franchise mastermind Anthony C. Ferrante welcomes those Star Wars comparisons. “If you think you’re going to see the same Sharknado — well, you’re not,” the director tells Yahoo Entertainment in an exclusive interview about his multiplex-bound special-edition cut, which has been completely remastered in 4K. “After we’re done with this movie, people are gonna know that that the shark shot first.” (Tickets for the Sharknado 10th anniversary extravaganza will be available at the official website on Friday following a star-studded panel at the San Diego Comic-Con.)
At the same time, Ferrante notes that there’s a different motivation behind his special edition and what Lucas was up to in the ’90s. “George Lucas made a masterpiece with Star Wars, but he’s an artist and decided that he wanted to go in and play around with the movie, opening it up to a new generation who maybe needed to see new visual effects,” he explains. “But in the case of Sharknado, this is us finishing the movie! I always say that these movies were abandoned and not finished, because we didn’t have the time. So one of the things I wanted to do with this cut was go in and fix those areas that weren’t done.”
Case in point: one of Ferrante’s dream shots heading into Sharkando was impaling a shark on the pointy spire of the famed Capitol Records building in Los Angeles — the first city to bear the brunt of a devastating shark-filled storm that bedevils our hero, Fin Shepard (Ian Ziering), and his estranged wife, April Wexler (Tara Reid). But that particular moment never came to pass due to time and budget constraints. Looking back through the Sharknado archives in preparation for the 10th anniversary, though, the filmmaker discovered several preexisting plate shots of the skyscraper, which meant he could finally fulfill his original creative vision for a spectacular shark-icide.
Other restorations include a longer version of the opening sequence, where the Sharknado touches down on a boat filled with shark fin smugglers. “We had done this great stunt where the captain of the boat fell in the water, the sharks surround him and he gets sucked into the tornado,” Ferrante says. “But we didn’t have time to finish it, so I was able to go back and rebuild it based off my original edit.” There’s also a new moment with the late John Heard, who played doomed barfly George — a cheeky reference to Cheers favorite George Wendt.
“I dug into our John Heard material and found a take where he tells Fin, ‘That would have scared the s*** out of me,'” the director teases. “We couldn’t say ‘s***’ on television at that time, but we added it to this theatrical version. It was one last gift from John, who I loved dearly. He was the one person on set who knew this thing was going to become something.”
While he may have channeled George Lucas in his approach to Sharknado‘s special edition, Ferrante confirms that he didn’t pull a Zack Snyder and shoot new scenes with stars Ziering and Reid in his backyard. “I didn’t want to do anything else to the film except what we would have done had he had another month to finish it,” he notes. “Both of these cuts can exist alongside each other, because they’re the same movie — there’s the original experience and now this theatrical experience. You’ll actually be able to see the movie the way we shot it.”
Never forget that Sharknado was shot The Asylum way. Founded in 1997, the studio specializes in ultra-low-budget creature features and horror movies intended for the DVD market or cable outlets like Syfy. Ferrante was a go-to horror director for both Syfy and The Asylum much of the early 2000s, helming movies like Headless Horseman and Hansel & Gretel. Eager to break out of that specific genre space, he started pitching bonkers ideas for bigger-canvas action movies — ideas that sported eye-catching titles like Lava Birds and Sharknado. “We fell in love with that title, Sharknado” Ferrante remembers now. “We pitched it to both of those companies and nothing happened.”
But Syfy came around to the idea after Ferrante slipped a Sharknado reference into his 2012 leprechaun-themed horror movie Red Clover. At the same time, The Asylum was developing a movie called tentatively titled Shark Storm for the network. Ferrnate seemed like the natural choice, but he says that Syfy balked at giving him the movie. “They said, ‘He’s our horror guy,'” the director recalls. “They were convinced I was the wrong person for it.”
But every other director that Syfy approached turned the movie down flat, convinced that helming a movie called Sharknado would result in near-instant forced retirement. And that’s a fear that Ferrante himself admits to having after the network reluctantly gave him the OK to make the movie. “Everybody was like, ‘This is going to destroy your career!'” he says with a laugh. “And I always said, ‘If I’m going to destroy my career, I’m gonna go down with flaming sharks. I didn’t give up on the movie. I wanted to make the best thing I could with what I had.”
Made in a mere 18 days, Sharknado was one of The Asylum’s most intensive movies, requiring hundreds of visual effects shots and other post-production work. “There was a lot of chewing gum and duct tape piecing this movie together,” Ferrante admits, remembering how he’d often have to take his own GoPro camera out to grab additional shots when necessary. “Asylum would be like, ‘Do whatever else you want Anthony — just as long as you’re not costing us more money!'”
Meanwhile, Syfy was in the process of winding down its once-lucrative line of Saturday night original movies, where so many Asylum productions made their debuts. In fact, Sharknado premiered on a Wednesday night in the middle of a blockbuster-heavy summer because the network had so little faith that anyone would tune in. And the initial ratings seemed to bear that suspicion out. “We did well, but not great,” Ferrante says of Sharknado‘s July 11 premiere. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh my god, we broke Syfy.'”
But then the Twitter bump kicked in big time. Sharknado buzz was already building on social media prior to the movie’s debut, and clips proliferated online afterwards driving fresh eyeballs to subsequent re-airings. “That never happens in television,” Ferrante marvels. “The audience increased with each airing as people discovered it.” With that, the Sharknado franchise was born: Ferrante made five sequels over the next five years, culminating in 2018’s time travel-themed finale, The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time.
Even as his vision for the series grew grander — and his budgets (slightly) larger — the original Sharknado always held a special place in Ferrante’s heart, in large part because of the way it accidentally on purpose turned into a phenomenon. “This movie was not supposed to be what it became,” he admits. “I wanted it to be fun, and I wanted it to be cool, but I didn’t want it to be a ‘so bad, it’s good’ thing. I hate that term. We were always fully aware of what we were doing.”
Ferrante specifically credits fans for grokking the kind of weird and wild audience-pleasing spectacle he wanted Sharknado to be. And that’s why he’s using San Diego Comic-Con as the launching pad for the 10th anniversary publicity blitz. As an independent production, Sharknado will be one of the few theatrical films to have a panel at the annual event, due to the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. “We’re in solidarity with the writers and actors,” the director emphasizes. “We’re promoting a ten-year old movie, and it’s not something for a major studio. What they’re fighting for is important to the future of our industry.”
“But we never forget the fans,” Ferrante continues. “It was the fans on Twitter that found us, and we’ve never forgotten that. When I went to Comic-Con in 2013 a week or so after the movie had blown up online, one woman came up to me and said, ‘Thank you for making Sharknado — I’ve seen it three times.’ And fans kept paying attention to the movies because we never stopped having fun with them.”
Not for nothing, but Ferrante is also keenly aware that Sharknado could get an infusion of fresh fan blood from viewers who were too young to watch it a decade ago. Still, that doesn’t mean he’s already planning Sharknado 7. “As a franchise, that story is over,” he says of Fin’s six-movie journey towards becoming a shark-free family man. “It’s rare that a filmmaker starts a franchise and then kills it. I got to tell a complete story, and I want to honor that.”
At the same time, he’s nursing ideas for how to take Sharknado to the next level after this special edition rerelease, including a “side-quel” that could tell the wild backstory of Petunia, a stuffed possum who found her way into the first movie and became a franchise mascot. Failing that, there’s always — wait for it — Sharknado: The Musical.
“We already have all the songs,” Ferrante says, referring to the deep catalogue of tracks he wrote and recorded as Quint — his two-man band with former Brady Bunch star, Robbie “Cousin Oliver” Rist. “We’d take the first couple of movies, smush them into a musical and go crazy with it. It would be great to have a bunch of people on a beach singing, ‘Go, go, go, run away from the Sharknado.’ But we’re gonna need a bigger budget for that.” Make that a bigger budget… and a bigger boat.
Sharknado blows into theaters on Aug. 15 and 16; visit the official site for more information.
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