Anthony C. Ferrante's two worlds are colliding at the moment.
An entertainment journalist who's covering the Television Critics Association summer meetings in Beverly Hills, Calif., he's also on the receiving end of questions from other reporters as the director of “Sharknado,” the Syfy disaster movie starring Ian Ziering and Tara Reid that became an overnight sensation when its July 11 premiere blew up on Twitter, generating nearly 5,000 tweets per minute.
I, too, was sucked into the story of a storm that sucked sharks out of the Pacific and into Los Angeles (though the following morning it all felt like a bad dream -- or a mass hallucination). And I still had questions, which Ferrante was kind enough to answer while we both waited for a press conference to start during a Hub network event Friday night.
Here, with a little condensing, is what the "Sharknado" director had to say (and if you haven't been able to catch a repeat of "Sharknado" on Syfy, it'll be playing at 12:05 a.m. on Aug. 2 in about 200 theaters nationwide, including two in our area, and you can find information here):
What were the sharks made of that were falling from the sky? Because some of them looked stuffed.
It was all digital, except we had practical fins in the water on a few of the shots, so on the beach, we built shark fins that were attached to a wire and you could pull them along. And then in the house, there’s a practical shark fin. And then we had a great white [shark] head that we used on the beach, so then we used a little bit inside the house. And then after that, everything else is digital sharks.
So I'll ask you the question that we ask everybody else, which is, of course, how did you come to this project?
I’ve been making movies for a long time. This is my fourth movie. I had directed a film for the [‘Sharknado'] production company last fall, and when this came up, they wanted me for it. Syfy said, cool. And it’s also [that] the ‘Sharknado’ title had been around for a while. I had made reference to it in a script that I wrote for a Syfy movie last year, called "Leprechaun’s Revenge," so there’s some line in there like, "It’s nothing like that sharknado that hit this town over there. They’ve never been able to live it down," it’s something like that. It kind of stuck and everybody wanted to do something with it.
There are a lot of strange but similar Syfy movies, but I’ve never seen one of them catch on on Twitter like this one. Why were people so interested?
We’ve had a lot of time to sit here and try to figure out what happened. I don’t think you can. There isn’t any clear thing, there’s only theories. But I can tell you [that] two months ago, I was sitting in editing, with my editor, and I looked at him — and we had just put some of the visual effects in and we were starting to see the movie for the first time — and I said, "This is a weird movie. It’s really, really weird. And I don’t know what people are going to think about it, because it’s not normal." And it’s not normal for a Syfy channel movie, because we crammed so much into the film. Because Syfy, you’re lucky if you get a couple of set pieces, because of the budget, and the schedule. But we kept pounding, and throwing tons of stuff into it. And so I knew we made a weird movie, I knew that the horror fans would like it because [of the end with] the shark and the chainsaw. I knew we had a small group of people who would appreciate that. But the mainstream? Not in a million years.
I think it was a ridiculous concept. It looked huge, but I think everybody wanted to be dared to not like it. And when they saw it they were like, "Well, they’re at least trying to do something interesting here," whether they hated it or liked it.
And also the combination of Ian Ziering and Tara Reid probably helped.
I think that helped, because a lot of people [thought], "Tara Reid’s in this, there’s got to be something more to it than that."
Had you ever directed a movie with actors people would be curious to see together?
Last movie I did [‘Hansel & Gretel’] was with Dee Wallace, who I love to death. She’s been in stuff before [including, of course, “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.”] But this is probably the biggest cast I’ve ever had, the biggest names.
Is it the biggest budget you've had to work with?
Yeah. Not by much. We had about a million dollars, and we had about 18 days to shoot the movie. We finished wrapping at the end of February, so we had three months to do this. The visual-effects guys had less than two months to do 251 visual effects. The editing, the post-[production] process was painful, because if you did this at a studio level, you would have two years from start to finish. We had less than six months, and it was a lot of work, a lot of late nights in editing, trying to put it together.
Did you have to tweak the script at all?
I tweaked the script, yeah. The whole first act, I think it originally took place at a hospital instead of the [Santa Monica] Pier. I moved it to the pier because it had a Ferris wheel and I wanted to do something with that. The whole boat sequence was like two sentences in the original script, and production-wise, if you’re going to shoot on a boat, you need to have more than a third of a page. So I basically wrote about five pages. And I wanted to do a shootout on a boat.
Cutting someone out of a shark was always in it?
That part was in it. The jumping up and doing that was added. Basically, in the [original] script, the shark hit the ground and then it chomped at Ian and that was that. I wanted to do the martial arts moment, so we storyboarded that out. That almost didn’t make it in there, because at some point they were a little nervous that it went too far.
It went way too far. And then some.
I said, "Trust me. We’ve gotta do this." It worked out perfectly, too, and we got all the right pieces to make that happen. So these movies are interesting, because they’re living, breathing things and very quickly put together, so if something goes wrong, you don’t have the luxury of saying, "Well, we’ll come back tomorrow."
Like the living room set? We built that in a swimming pool in Van Nuys. [He whips out his cellphone to show me pictures.] But the people that our production designer hired bolted and left everything unfinished. So basically, when we shot, we had to be very creative with our angles.
The production designer, in two hours, made this thing work. It wasn’t even painted and he did an amazing job with his assistant and I ended up spending an hour and a half rewriting the script to fit the limitations of this.
So which is your day job, reporting or directing?
It’s both. I do journalism. I work for a magazine called Geek, I own this website [Assignment X]. I’ve been doing both these things tandem because they ebb and flow, you know. Movies, sometimes they’re happening and sometimes they’re not. Now it’s kind of going in the other direction. Film is kind of my day job.
You always try to keep a separation of church and state. I go off and do my things and I don’t draw any attention to them. This thing happened and now I’m going to have to send other reporters to [cover] these things from now on.
“Sharknado 2.” Are you doing it?
They’ve approached me. They’ve just announced it. It’s all very, very preliminary. I’d like to see a lot of the cast come back. It’s going to be New York
Those who survived, you mean?
Well, I want Baz to come back. Jaason Simmons? Because all he did was get sucked up in a tornado. We never saw him die. And I love him to death. I think he’s a great actor and very funny. We keep joking that he ended up in Kansas.
The thing is — how do you top this? That’s the big thing.
Maybe with Henry Winkler, cutting himself out of a shark?
We already jumped the shark. We made a movie where we jumped the shark. It’s already been done. I still feel like tonally, you want to keep the characters grounded and have the humor come from the situations and them reacting to it. That way you can go outlandish. If everybody is winking and stuff, then it’s camp, it’s true camp. It completely goes over into crossing that line where it’s not as fun as if the actors are taking it seriously. Ian cutting himself out of that shark, he committed to it. He let us dump stuff on it. He wasn’t being self-conscious. When he did it, he was awesome. It’s like "Airplane."
It’s like “Airplane” if we’d all watched “Airplane” together on Twitter.
You know what it was? It was a nationwide moviegoing experience.
And they’re doing it in theaters on Aug. 2. Did you ever imagine any kind of theatrical release for this?
No, but [a couple of months ago] we did say, "If no one likes this and no one pays attention to it, it could be a midnight movie." Because when we were watching it — this is the three of us in the editing bay — we were joking, we were making fun of it. Because that’s what you do.
So you're not worried that people are making fun of “Sharknado”?
Have you ever sat in an editing room with an editor and a filmmaker for four months? We’ve probably said worse things than anybody could ever say. We pick it apart, down to the minutiae.
Well, in that case, the No. 1 question that people ask me was why there were only sharks being sucked from the ocean? Why not tuna and dolphins, for instance?
I’m a big story person, and I kind of had to throw that out the window when I got this and just accept that it’s sharks in a tornado. I think that makes it a clean disaster thing. If you start adding all that other stuff [it complicates it]. My main thing is horror films, but when you do horror, you can’t go, ‘I have a banshee in the movie and I have a ghost.’ You can only pick one, because otherwise the audience will get confused.
So no tuna-nadoes?
No tuna-nadoes. Just make it simple.
Any final thoughts on why viewers embraced “Sharknado”?
I think audiences really love disaster movies and really enjoy them, except that everything has gotten so serious that you can’t do disasters because there are so many bad disasters in the world. So I think there’s something cathartic that we had sharks destroying buildings. It was safe to laugh at it and embrace it without going, "Oh, next week there’s really going to be sharks destroying Kentucky."