SHARKNADO, as its title suggests, is a movie about a massive tornado that sweeps up an enormous quantity of sharks in its wake, then repeatedly dumps water and big toothy fish on an unprepared Los Angeles.
The film, produced by Asylum, premieres on Syfy Channel tonight at 9 PM, with a Blu-ray and DVD release on September 3.
Director Anthony C. Ferrante and leading lady Tara Reid participated in a conference call to discuss their work on the unusual creature feature.
Between creating a lot of tornado funnels, munching sharks, storm damage and raging waters, a lot of effects were required, without a lot of budget to pay for them. How were the effects achieved?
“I knew we had to set a number of visual effects shots,” Ferrante says, “and I new I wanted to do some practical effects, because I come from a practical [effects] background. I like having physical things and I think the actors like to have things they can touch and that are tangible, so we built sort of a partial shark. That was probably just as problematic as it was on JAWS. It was cool for certain things that we needed, but it had a lot of issues when we were trying to make it float in the water. The practical fins that we used I think were really good and helped the actors a lot, particularly when we were out on the ocean and we had the fin floating right alongside.
Ian Ziering, who plays the film’s bar-owning hero, had something of a reaction to the shark fin, Ferrante recalls. “Ian Ziering on a surfboard – the reaction there – it kind of freaked him out a little bit, even though he knew it was fake.”
Then there was the issue of the ‘nado part of the title.
“We tried to shoot a movie about a hurricane in Los Angeles, where literally, since the time we started shooting, there’s only been four days of rain,” Ferrante points out. “So there’s a lot of practical rain that we did for tight shots, and then a lot of times I was just yelling at the actors, saying, ‘Shark! Shark!’ and I lost my voice a couple times, as probably Tara can attest.”
Reid says most of her scenes involved CGI.
“There was so much green screen,” she says. “You just had to use your imagination and pretend that there were sharks everywhere. Sometimes it felt ridiculous, because you didn’t know what was going on. But I think we had a lot of fun doing it.”
Ferrante previously directed the Dee Wallace starrer HANSEL & GRETEL for production company Asylum. The earlier film was also done on a low budget, but it didn’t have flying sharks, tornadoes and the general destruction of Los Angeles as part of what had to be accomplished.
“Every movie I’ve ever made,” Ferrante says, “we’ve had budgetary limitations and time restraints and stuff like that. I think one of the reasons that you go into this is to see what you can do and how you can top the last thing you did. And one of the things with different production companies that you work with is to see what you can do and how you can top the last thing you did. You work with different production companies and different producers [because] you want to find people that you want to collaborate [with].
“The Asylum producers are great,” he adds. “They’re very supportive of allowing you to try to do [different] things, and if you give a compelling argument, they’ll listen and they’ll even toss extra things your way if you think you need it, like we needed some extra Steadicam days and we got that. You know, the hardest part about any of these kinds of movies is that you’re trying to do epic things with very little. I always say, this script was a hundred million dollar movie if you took it to a studio, and we did this probably for the equivalent of the craft service budget for two days on DARK KNIGHT. It was absolutely crazy, but I think that’s kind of the fun part, because I’d never done a big visual effects movie before and I really wanted to do one. And it was a chance to play. It was a chance to go, ‘How can we solve these problems?’ And any time you’re making a movie, whether you’re at a studio level or on a smaller level, it’s always about, ‘How do you make these things happen?’ We blindly went into this movie, which a lot of people said was impossible to do, [saying], ‘Let’s try to make this movie, let’s see if we can elevate things and go beyond what is possible.’
“They have an amazing group of people from pre-production to post-production and their visual effects team [headed] by Emile Edwin Smith, he was our visual effects supervisor on the show, he just kicked butt. We storyboarded a lot of the key sequences and we tried to integrate as many things as possible, so they had a lot of stuff to work with.”
“And even in post-production, one of the producers actually knows visual effects, he did a little bit of stuff,” Ferrante adds. “I said, ‘Can we get you to do a couple extra shots, can you add a little rain?’ and he said, ‘Sure.’ I don’t know [other] producers that will do that. That was completely awesome. So this movie is a collaboration from the actors to the crew. And we all really wanted to make something cool.
For Ferrante, he didn’t look at the low budget as a limitation.
“It was like, ‘Here’s an opportunity,’” he says. “I look at the first twenty minutes of this movie and I don’t think there’s anything quite like it at this budget level, and we just did it. A good friend of mine, [Robbie Rist] who plays the bus driver, says, ‘It’s a movie that doesn’t know it can’t do that.’ I think that describes the movie.”
Reid concurs. “I’ve never even seen a movie like that,” she adds. “This concept’s just so out there. But I really did enjoy making this film. Anthony, the director, was awesome to work with. He has a great sense of humor, he’s patient, he’s fun, he’s a team player and he’s just someone that is easy to work with. Every day I had a good day. I was happy with how everything went and it was one of those movies where the whole experience was just positive with everyone.”
Asked about Reid, Ferrante says, “Tara’s awesome. When she got hired, we started talking about the character and we were both on the same page as to how this had to play, and we just had a lot of fun with it. There were points where she was going, ‘You know, this line doesn’t work,’ and I said, ‘I agree with you,’ and she had something perfect to put in its place. It’s all about trying to make it real, because if the actors don’t believe in it, then you don’t have a movie. And I’ve got to say, putting these actors in these situations where we were covering them in water and rain, I couldn’t have had a better group of people.Tarawas in the midst of that with everybody, and she stuck it out and she was there to the bitter end. I see some of the takes and she’s just shivering. And [I want to tell her] thank you, because these are hard films to do, especially in the short amount of time that you have and the amount of stuff that you have to do. You need everybody on board. And that was what was so great about working with her; she was on board the entire time, as crazy as this movie was.”
What is Reid’s character April like? “She’s in her house,” Reid relates, “and her ex-husband, played by Ian Zeiring, comes in and says, ‘Look, there’s going to be a bad storm and there are sharks everywhere,’ and she thinks he’s out of his mind. She’s like, ‘Yes, okay, sharks are flying inBeverly Hills– are you joking me?’ And before you know it, boom, there’s a shark in the pool that jumps through [the window] and then there are sharks everywhere. It’s just so unreasonable. I mean, what are the chances that there’s really a shark coming out of the streets, through the pools and in the windows and in the sky? So it’s more shocking to her, I think, than anything else. So the only response is to try to get away from the sharks and save her son.”
Regarding SHARKNADO’s tone, Reid opines, “I think it is a comedy because it’s so crazy. You can’t take it so seriously when it’s absolutely sharks flying in the sky. It’s so out there that it’s actually really funny. The whole theme of it is so out there. There are moments of seriousness, but when you really look at it, I think it’s a case of, okay, you’re going to watch and have a good time and laugh.”
“There are two ways to go,” Ferrante elaborates. “One, where you’re very self-referential and you’re very aware and it’s very campy because everybody’s in on the joke. And then there’s what we approached SHARKNADO with, which is that the concept is so out there, if we ground a little bit of the story and the actors and the situations, the humor for me is the best humor in any kind of movie – whatever comes from the character situations and how they react and how they deal with it, versus suddenly someone’s telling a joke in the middle of this and saying, ‘Hey, we know this is funny.’ I think everybody did a great job walking that balance.
“I guess probably the most insane scene in the entire film is with Ian Ziering chainsaw-ing himself out of the shark,” adds Ferrante. “We had a practical [shark] belly we created, and Ian fully committed to that. I think when everybody commits to this kind of thing and accepts it, then we can all have fun as we’re making the movie, and I think the audience can have fun as well.”
Reid agrees. “I think committing to it is what makes it so funny. There’s no one going in a shark’s stomach and [cutting himself] out with a chainsaw, but because he does play it seriously, it comes off funnier. So I think people are really going to enjoy and laugh with it.”
Ferrante recalls production as a mixture of the enjoyable and the uncomfortable.
“For Tara, I remember when we were doing a scene in a pool that was actually a living room set in a pool, and it was freezing cold, and you guys were freezing cold in the water,” he says. “So you didn’t have to go too far to believe the pain that you guys were experiencing a lot of times.”
“It literally felt like I was in an ice storm,” Reid says. “I think I’ve never been that cold in my life. It was like you couldn’t even talk. So that was a pretty crazy experience there. You really were in pain and [as the character] you were trying to get the hell out of the house. So the circumstances and a lot of the situations did make it easier to play these parts and make them more serious, and I think that worked for us.”
What was Ferrante’s favorite moment in making SHARKNADO?
“I think there were a lot of fun moments,” the director replies. “These things are very hard to do and there’s a lot of stress involved, but the fact is, you get to play, and I don’t know anybody that could say they get to play every day on a set.
“There was one day when I was on a little Kodiak boat out [on the water] in San Pedro,” he adds. “We’re following a little fishing boat for the opening shot of the movie and I’m sitting with the camera guy, just out in the middle of nowhere. This is fun. Even though it was freezing cold while shooting that scene in that living room where we decided to build a set in the swimming pool and then submerge the set. That was crazy, because you’re getting to do these big-budget things on a little budget.”
Ferrante also cites the acting moments as some of his favorites.
“There was a bar scene, where we introduced the characters and we spent an hour-and-a-half watching and reversing that to make it feel natural,” he says. “I love those moments; I love when the actors suddenly do something in character that isn’t expected; it’s fun and it’s real. I think that’s kind of the neat part about doing these movies, too.”
“John Heard was great,” Ferrante adds. ” There was a little button that he added on the scene [where] they find him in the back seat. It was the last day of shooting, and I’m like, ‘I’m spent. I don’t have any other lines for you, John. Can you give me something?’ And he goes, ‘I just had the worst nightmare.’ It was so funny and it was perfect. He has great instincts.”
The other thing Ferrante admired about Heard was his level of commitment.
“John’s character loves his chair [from the bar],” he says. “And so when the bar is being destroyed, he grabs the [chair]. And we have him running down the Santa Monica Pier with his [chair], which is really, really heavy. And he did it every single time, never complained a single moment doing it, and I could barely lift that [chair].”
“I know it sounds like a love fest, but, when you get a group of people that want to be there, that’s what you want as a director, and that’s what we had on this movie,” he adds.
Any final thoughts on SHARKNADO? Ferrante says, “It’s sharks in a tornado. You’ve have to either embrace it – as we would say, you got to embrace the ‘nado – or you’re not with it. We were all with it.”
Related: TV Movie Review: SHARKNADO
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Article: Interview with SHARKNADO star Tara Reid