SHARKNADO SCREENWRITER OPENS UP
by Robin E. Simmons
SHARKNADO has captured our attention with its unashamedly over-the-top title and poster. What makes it all the more entertaining; the self-aware movie is devoid of irony or tongue-in-cheek moments. It goes full-throttle for maximum delivery of the absurdist but frankly unsettling “what if” concept with utter seriousness. This week I caught up with screenwriter Thunder Levin. I started our conversation with the most obvious question:
ROBIN: OK, first of all, is Levin your real name?
THUNDER: Okay, that’s a first! Thank you very much!
ROBIN: Have you always wanted to write and make movies?
THUNDER: When I was four I wanted to be the guy who drives the back of the hook ‘n ladder fire truck.
ROBIN: What is your all time favorite film?
THUNDER: The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of The Lost Ark, Aliens, and Jaws. Oh wait, just one?
ROBIN: Are there directors you admire above all others?
THUNDER: Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Ridley Scott.
ROBIN: What was the inspiration for SHARKNADO (other than to sell a screenplay and make a few bucks)?
THUNDER: I can’t take credit for the title. It had been floating around for a while. Syfy Channel decided they wanted to make a movie called SHARKNADO and The Asylum — the company that produces many of the movies for Syfy — asked me to write it.
When I saw the poster and realized the marketing dept. was going to have as much fun with the film as I had writing it, then I thought we just might have something here.
ROBIN: Were there any other potential titles you toyed with?
THUNDER: GONWE WITH THE WIND. But it was taken.
ROBIN: What if any kind of research did you do? Have you seen a real tornado or a live shark in the wild?
THUNDER: I think it’s pretty obvious SHARKNADO required extensive research into marine biology, meteorology, and disaster preparedness. I consulted the most prestigious experts available, spent years analyzing shark and tornado behavior and testing out my own theories about survival in crisis situations. SHARKNADO is the ultimate in scientific authenticity.
Actually, yes, I have seen a shark in the wild. I’m a lifelong sailor and on a cruise to Catalina Island we sailed right past a fairly big shark just basking on the surface. Oh, and I’ve snorkeled with Leopard Sharks!
ROBIN: How long did it take to write a finished screenplay?
THUNDER: The first draft took about a month, and then there were some minor rewrites.
ROBIN: Did you write for a specific budget?
THUNDER: Yes. Unfortunately it seemed to be a $100 million! Haha! Throughout the development process it was referred to as the “elephant in the room”, that I’d written this huge disaster film that would require flooding Los Angeles and rain in every scene. When I finally met director Anthony Ferrante, after the film was shot, his very first words to me were “I want to punch you!”
ROBIN: So, what was the actual working budget?
THUNDER: About $1 million.
ROBIN: How much of total budget was set-aside for FX?
THUNDER: I really don’t have that information. I wasn’t involved in the post-production process as I was editing my own film, AE: APOCALYPSE EARTH.
ROBIN: Who did the gaudy but surprisingly effective FX?
THUNDER: The Asylum has its own in-house visual effects department department run by Joseph Lawson, who’s also directed several of their films.
ROBIN: Did you have to modify the script to accommodate the budget?
THUNDER: I did try to do some final revisions to make it a bit more manageable, but really they went into production with a script that should have cost infinitely more than it did.
ROBIN: How do you like the finished film?
THUNDER: I think it’s a lot of fun, which is exactly what I was hoping for.
ROBIN: Are there scenes you had to cut? If so, can you say what and why?
THUNDER: There was a scene with a Hollywood agent being eaten by a shark that didn’t make it into the final cut of the film. And there was a scene where some of the sharks blown out of the tornado caught fire, so we had flaming flying sharks. That never happened. Unfortunately.
ROBIN: Is the final film what you imagined?
THUNDER: One of the dangers inherent in writing a film but not directing it is that the finished version never looks just the way you imagined it. You just have to accept the film the way it is.
ROBIN: What has been the response to the midnight screenings?
The theatrical screenings are coming up, so I don’t know yet. But I’m looking forward to it. It should be fun!
ROBIN: Professionally, how has this film hurt or helped your career as a filmmaker or screenwriter?
THUNDER: Well there’s no such thing as bad publicity! The attention from SHARKNADO helped me sign with a prestigious agency and they’re generating a lot of meetings for me. So it’s helped hugely.
ROBIN: But do people take you less seriously if you have an idea for a more “serious” film?
THUNDER: Well, we’re just starting to explore those possibilities so I’ll have to let you know a bit down the road.
ROBIN: Are you writing SHARKNADO 2?
We’re talking about that now. It would certainly be fun.
ROBIN: Do you have a title?
THUNDER: Syfy has opened it up to a Twitter contest to pick the title. Personally, I think all the various mash-up titles I’ve seen are funny but ultimately no one is better than the others, so I’d go in a different direction. Since we know it will take place in New York City, I’d call it Sharknado 2: Live On Broadway!
ROBIN: So it’s a musical!