Can a phenomenon be repeated?
“Sharknado” director Anthony C. Ferrante is about to find out.
No, we're not talking about tornadoes filled with man-eating fish. Ferrante has finished “Sharknado 2: The Second One,” and he's hoping to surprise critics again with his ridiculous sequel, which debuts on the Syfy network at 9 p.m. Wednesday. He believes “Sharknado 2” can become the social media monster the original TV movie was last summer.
After trending on Twitter following its average-rated initial airing last July, subsequent cablecasts of “Sharknado” went through the viewership roof — or at least did for this kind of nonsense. Traditional media jumped into the maelstrom, Burbank-based franchise producer The Asylum saw its revenues spike and Syfy ordered a sequel.
Ferrante, who with a friend had pitched the title of “Sharknado” to Syfy years before the network decided to actually make such a thing, was equal parts dumbfounded, pleased and utterly sanguine when the not-always-flattering tweets exploded.
“When the final sound and all the visual effects were put in, me and some friends and the editor watched it in the editing bay,” Ferrante recalls of that first landmark film. “We had a blast, made fun of it and laughed at it. After it was over, I was convinced that it was the weirdest movie that was ever made for the Syfy channel and that no one would get it. I figured maybe in five years it would be a cult movie.
“Then the trailer came out and started blowing up. We were tweeting the night it premiered, and I literally expected to get ‘You suck, Ferrante' and all that kind of stuff. But every time I'd refresh on Twitter, it would just zoom up. A friend would say ‘Mia Farrow just tweeted about ‘Sharknado!' Since I have a journalism background, I knew that this was not normal.”
So last winter, Ferrante and the survivors of the Los Angeles-set original's cast, Ian Ziering and Tara Reid, brought a second spate of meteorological mayhem to New York. But they weren't alone this time. While many people he approached to work on the first “Sharknado” laughed at Ferrante, celebrities contacted him about appearing in “The Second One.”
The sequel's cast includes Vivica A. Fox, Billy Ray Cyrus, Mark McGrath, Judd Hirsch, Perez Hilton, Kelly Osbourne, Matt Lauer, Al Roker and a number of surprise cameos that will simply blow the minds of movie and pop culture fans.
Produced with little more than the first “Sharknado's” $250,000 budget, the sequel, shot in 18 days, rained hungry predators on such iconic locations as Liberty Island, Wall Street, Times Square and Citi Field. Sharks even get into the subway, as did Ferrante's resourceful production crew. More than 500 visual-effects shots were generated in about two months, a fraction of the time it takes $200 million, CG-intensive blockbuster movies to get the job done.
Of course, none of this would have happened if Ferrante and scriptwriter Thunder Levin hadn't been in on the joke from the beginning. Ferrante had made low-budget fright films such as “Boo” and “Hansel & Gretel” before, but saw “Sharknado” as a chance to prove he could mix his dry sense of humor with gore, as well as develop VFX (visual effects) and action chops.
He figures that's a big reason why — whether they laughed with it or at it — people enjoyed watching “Sharknado.”
“ ‘Sharknado' was a ridiculous concept, but we put this trailer up that looked like a studio movie and, I think, dared people to watch us,” Ferrante says. “So there was that, and a lot of the summer movies last year, they were pretty depressing. ‘Man of Steel' was a good movie, but there was no joy in the film. ‘Sharknado' was free, looked like a big movie and it looked fun.”
Even children were able to enjoy the movie, including his own, Ferrante recalls.
“Then kids became obsessed with this movie. My daughter is 11 and this is my first movie I've ever shown her, and she had a blast with it,” he says. “We didn't set out to make a movie for kids — there's people getting arms ripped off — but then you think about it, and it's like the movie has that sort of wide-eyed, 12-year-old mentality. It's kind of an ADD movie. Hey, there's sharks in a tornado, and then this guy goes at 'em with a chain saw! It just has that kind of silliness.
“I think what it was, was that people couldn't reconcile the fact that they enjoyed a movie about sharks in a tornado,” Ferrante concludes. “They kept going, ‘This can't happen.' Well, robots can't destroy Los Angeles. Zombies don't go eating people 'cause they don't exist. Just accept that it's a sharknado. I always say, embrace the ‘nado.' ”
Ferrante started making amateur movies — and became the film critic for the local newspaper — as a teenager in his hometown of Antioch. After studying filmmaking at San Francisco State University, he moved to Los Angeles. Ferrante, who now lives in Valencia, wrote about movies for the horror fan magazine Fangoria and numerous other outlets while working his way up from production assistant to makeup effects supervisor to second-unit director on low-budget thrillers.
He's written and produced films and, since “Sharknado,” has become a hotter Hollywood commodity — or would be, if he hadn't had to jump right into “The Second One.”
Syfy already has announced a “Third One,” but Ferrante says no one has been hired for it yet. He'd be up for directing it, but points out that whoever gets that job has to not only live up to, but surpass, the high standards that he's established.
“Whatever the ultimate consensus is on another movie, you've got to make sure that there's a story there that you can do more things with,” Ferrante explains. “You just can't keep repeating things, and there is clearly more stuff that you can do but it has to be unexpected. Let's put the sharks into someplace that no one expects you're going to go. It's more than just a weather disaster thing. It's about the journey, and how do you make it interesting. And as long as you do that, these movies will survive.”
Ferrante admits he and his crew had to work overtime to make “The Second One” interesting, but to do another will present its own new challenges.
“Each time, you have to up the ante. So the first one was way ambitious for its budget. The second movie is twice as ambitious, with the same schedule. The third one will have to be three times as ambitious,” he says. “But the sky's the limit.”
Sharknado 2: The Second One
When: 9 and 11 p.m. Wednesday; 7 p.m. Aug. 2 and Aug. 30.
Follow Bob Strauss on Twitter: @bscritic