Popular movie series takes one last bite
The Sharknado franchise will come to an end this month when the sixth film in the series, The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time, makes landfall on Syfy Aug. 19. The ludicrously awesome concept of airborne sharks decimating the population in fantastically gruesome ways is one of the most unlikely success stories in made-for-TV history—but for director Anthony C. Ferrante, the series’ triumphant swan song is no joke.
“When you make a film, you hope it has longevity and you hope people will like it,” said Ferrante, who has helmed all six films. “This ending was something I wanted to do two movies ago. There’s a speech at the end—that’s me writing to the actors and the crew, the characters talking to each other and me talking to the audience. It works on a lot of meta levels. This movie means a lot to me. It was a big part of my life. Every year of my life for the past six years, I’ve lived in a black hole of Sharknado.”
When the first Sharknado premiered on July 11, 2013, it was just another Saturday-night schlockfest on Syfy, a channel that had previously gifted viewers with high-concept movies like Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus, Mansquito and Piranhaconda. As with those movies, the marketing for Sharknado was grassroots at best, with a trailer and not much else in terms of promotion by Syfy.
But what happened on the night of the premiere was something that no one—not the actors or Ferrante himself—ever saw coming.
“It was Twitter that blew it up that night, live as it was airing,” said Ferrante. “People watching it as a live event.”
The so-bad-it’s-good first installment led to a sequel the very next year with Sharknado 2: The Second One, followed by a new film every summer for the next several years with Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, Sharknado: The 4th Awakens and Sharknado 5: Global Swarming (that one had the genius tagline “Make America Bait Again!”). It would be a massive undertaking for any film, no matter the genre, to roll out a new film every single year—and that is especially true for one that relies so heavily on visual effects and is beholden to a super-tight budget.
Ferrante said the movies generally start filming January and shoot for 18 days and after the movie magic process, it is delivered to the network in June or July. The breakneck speed of filming combined with the low budget can make for some breathless moments, but ultimately, Ferrante credits the crew and the actors for always getting the job done.
“We are scrappy,” Ferrante said in explaining how these movies get made. “We cram so much into these films in a short amount of time. In the first Sharknado, we had 200 visual effects shots. In this one, we have 1,200. On a normal movie set you have three or four days to get an action sequence right. Meanwhile, we’ll do three action sequences in 12 hours. That’s the magic of Sharknado. The movies are made out of the energy of desperation. We don’t have time, money or resources, but dammit we are going to make it work.”
Ferrante’s “we” includes himself and his crew, but also a handful of series regulars along with an ever-spinning Rolodex of cameos. The franchise’s lead actors, Ian Ziering and Tara Reid, have appeared in all six films—an anomaly for any long-running movie series.
Also, when the franchise started, most of the actors had never done visual effects work before, so it was up to Ferrante to stand behind the camera, manically miming a monster shark.
“These movies would have been a lot different if we had to replace actors. That’s been a really cool part,” said Ferrante, adding that the actors are all willing participants in the insanity of Sharknado. “The actors know their characters are going to be put through some crazy stuff. We ask them to take a giant leap of faith. Like Ian jumping chainsaw first into the mouth of a shark and then chainsawing his way out. That could have ended his career at that point, but instead it works because he went for it and committed to it.”
But now that franchise comes to an end in a way that, according to Ferrante, will be incredibly satisfying for fans. He said the sixth film will be a love letter to all of the previous films in the series. All of the questions, all of the loose ends, will all be tied up and answered.
“Fans are going to catch all of these echoes to the previous movies, especially toward the end,” he said. “We looked at this as the last episode of a TV series. No cliffhangers this time. In terms of this storyline, there is a definitive end. I hope there’s not a dry eye in the audience.”
When it’s all said and done, what makes Ferrante proudest about his time in the Sharknado universe is that beyond all the snarky commentary from film critics, he was able to create a collection of movies that knew exactly what it was—goofy, gnarly fun completely devoid of pretension.
“There are some people that hate-watch it and don’t get it, but there are a ton that really love it. That is why we do this. The way the climate is in the world, it’s something we need. It’s meant to be fun, it’s meant to be an escape,” he said. “As a filmmaker, you realize your responsibility when you see people tweeting that they have their food supply for a viewing party and it’s their summer thing. You have an obligation to deliver and a reason to keep going and that was special to me. It’s a momentary relief from the ridiculousness of what’s going on in the world.”