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Stupid Questions with 'Sharknado' Screenwriter Thunder Levin

Sharknado Syfy

Syfy's "Sharknado" took the world by storm (by sharknado?) last month when it debuted on an otherwise nondescript Thursday night. In particular, logging into Twitter turned into its own sharknado of sorts, with rapid-fire tweets encompassing the simultaneous bewilderment, fascination and amusement of viewers of the movie from around the world. 

Despite its unexpected phenomena, the film's humble writer, Thunder Levin, remains mostly out of the spotlight, though the fact that a sequel is already in production (supposedly taking place in New York City as opposed to the original film's Los Angeles) may just change that.

Levin spoke to NextMovie this week about Al Gore, the revelation that is Ian Ziering and Obama's lack of preparedness in the event of an actual sharknado attack.

Congrats on the movie. It's a phenomenon.
It's gotten completely out of control. It's actually very surreal. I mean, whoever could have expected this little SyFy movie would take over the world like this?

Sharknado Syfy

I had a blast watching it. I was wondering the origins of the story: Did you have an idea for a script about a shark tornado? Or was it one of those things where you came up with the word "sharknado" and kind of went from there?
I've been up front in all of my interviews — I did not come up with the title. I was actually asked to write it. It was brought to me by The Asylum, and it actually came from Syfy Channel. They wanted to make a movie called "Sharknado," about a tornado full of sharks. It was funny, because I had just made another film for The Asylum which actually aired on SyFy, and everyone had been pretty happy with it, and so they asked me to write a movie called "Shark Storm," which The Asylum had been developing — that's the production company that made the film. And it just sounded like a very straightforward "sharks attacking during a storm" kind of thing, and it wasn't really what I wanted to do at the time, so I passed on it.

And then like a month later, it came back to me, and they said, "Syfy wants to make this movie called 'Sharknado,' and we want you to write it." And I said, "What do sharks have to do with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization? Are they invading Europe? I don't get it." And they said, "No, no — not SharkN.A.T.O., 'Sharknado,' a tornado full of sharks." And they gave me like a half a page of notes, and I said, "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. As long as I can have fun with it, I'd love to write it." That's the way that they wanted to take it, so I signed on board and took it from there. And it was up to me to craft a story and create characters. But the idea of a tornado of sharks was not mine. I have to be honest. 

I was going to ask you if there were any other titles in mind —"Hurrishark," "Sharklone," etc. — but I guess that doesn't apply.
I don't know what the process is for coming up with these titles, but in this case they certainly knocked it out of the park.

Sharknado Syfy

When writing, did you always have Ian Ziering and Tara Reid in mind for the leads?
No, I wasn't involved in the casting process. I was actually off in Costa Rica directing another film at the same time they were shooting "Sharknado" here. I didn't even meet the director until the film had already been shot and we were both editing our own movies in the same editing suite. Every once in a while I'd look over my shoulder to see what he'd done with my words
[laughs]. But I wasn't involved in casting at all.

Are these genius sharks? Or are they regular sharks? Because they kind of seem like genius sharks.
I think they're perfectly regular sharks that have been pissed off because they've been pulled out of their nice, happy home in the ocean, where they're king of all predators, and thrown up in the air, and whirled about and made very dizzy, and I think they're just kind of annoyed. And so they're gonna lash out at anything that comes near them.
[laughs] It's just perfectly logical.

It is. I have to ask: Was that guy from Boston yelling at Ian Ziering for being afraid of the rain and then getting eaten alive an intentional shot across the bow at all the east coasters in Los Angeles?
Was he from Boston?

I think he was from Boston, wasn't he?
He wasn't specifically written that way. I'm a New Yorker living in Los Angeles. And I'm a little cynical about a lot of the elements of life here. And traffic has to be the worst of them. The way the city responds when it rains is always amusing to me. If we get a couple of hours of rain here, it's like getting two feet of snow in New York or Boston.

Sharknado Syfy

I know it well.
The city just shuts down, and it's the main thing on the news and it's just extraordinary. So there was an element of that, and I guess that character sort of voiced it. But as to whether he was specifically from Boston, I didn't pick up on that, and he was not written specifically to be a Bostonite. 

Perhaps I'm just defensive by nature.
[laughs]

On a scale of "very much" to "It's the biggest mistake of my life by far," how much do you regret killing off John Heard a half hour into the movie?
Well, when I killed him off early in the movie, I didn't know it was gonna be John Heard. And if I had, I probably would have rethought that. Because John Heard was great. I actually met him down at Comic-Con, and he's a great guy. If I had known they were going to cast him, I would have loved to have found a way to keep him around longer. And that's something that the director mentioned to me afterwards — he wished there was some way they could have used him more. But somebody had to die, and it needed to be somebody that we established, and was a real character, and that we cared about for it to have any impact. So he was the one to go.

Why do these people let the teenage girl carry around the shotgun throughout the movie?
Um, because she's a badass?

Incredible answer.
She was our modern-day Quint from "Jaws." She had a grudge against the sharks, and I don't know that you could have taken that shotgun away from her once it was in her hands.

Sharknado Syfy

Was "the teenage waitress blasts the shark with her shotgun" just the go-to in your script when you wanted to end a scene?
[laughs] I don't know that I thought of it that way. But I mean, a hot chick blasting sharks with a shotgun, I mean, there's nothing wrong with that.

Were you impressed as I was with Ian Ziering's anti-aging capabilities?
I gotta tell you that Ian Ziering was a revelation to me. I probably never would have thought of him. All I know him from is "90210." But I feel like he reinvented himself as an action hero. I thought he was terrific. And I could not be more pleased with him.

Do you think his character could just be Steve Sanders, post name-change?
No
[laughs]. From what I remember of Steve Sanders, he was not an incipient action hero. So no, I don't think so. I think in a few years, people are not going to think of Ian Ziering as Steve Sanders — they're going to think of him as Fin Shepherd.

I think you're absolutely right. Touching on that — the name "Fin" was intentional, right? Like there's no way you were gonna name him "Trevor" or something, right?
I mean, what else could the hero of a movie called "Sharknado" be named? Especially because I could have called him "SharkKiller Jones" or something, and that probably wouldn't have worked.

Sharknado Syfy

I bet Ian Ziering would have pulled it off. Switching gears, a recent Forbes article touched on the science behind a sharknado. Care to touch on that?
I mean, a lot of people have questioned the science, and I don't understand that. It seems perfectly logical to me
[laughs]. If global warming was indeed causing more extreme weather, it's entirely possible that a hurricane could come up the coast and strike Los Angeles. It almost happened once — there was a hurricane, or a tropical storm that hit San Diego. So it could theoretically happen. And there are all sorts of documented cases of water spouts and tornadoes picking up small marine life and tossing them far inland. So we just took it to the perfectly logical extreme. It makes perfect sense to me, and I don't understand why people have so much trouble with my science here. And what's more, in JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab), [they] basically admitted that while it's incredibly unlikely, it is theoretically possible because they said that an F5 tornado would be powerful enough to pick up a great white shark. So the article seemed to be debunking our science, but in the final analysis they were saying that we were right on target, and that we all need to prepare for sharknadoes. 

What do you think Al Gore would think about this movie? Do you think he'd consider it a warning?
I think we're the new poster child for Al Gore — or Al Gore is the new poster child for "Sharknado." I mean, let's not get too deep about a movie called "Sharknado," but yeah, global warming is blamed in the movie, and if we're going to have more extreme weather, maybe Los Angeles needs to prepare, because if it rains five minutes here, the whole city starts to flood. So if we were ever hit by a hurricane, it would be a disaster of biblical proportions, because the infrastructure is just not built for it.

The infrastructure of Los Angeles is not built for anything.
Fair enough. It's built for the traffic flow of the 1950s.

Sharknado Syfy

Do you think it's possible that you wrote the best film ending in history? Does that ever cross your mind?
First of all, thank you very much. That ending was something I was very attached to. And there was question of whether maybe it was too over the top. And I said, "It's called 'Sharknado' — we can't go too over the top." And I had a lot of fun with it. As for whether it's the best ending in film history? I don't know — blowing up the Death Star was pretty cool. And blowing up the shark in "Jaws" was pretty cool. Now, were those things chainsawing your way out of a shark and finding a fellow survivor inside? I don't know, that's not for me to say. My modesty would not allow me to say such a thing.

As a viewer, it's for me to say comfortably, and the answer is no.
[laughs]

Do you think the government is doing enough to be adequately prepared in the event of an actual sharknado?
No, I don't — and in fact, I tweeted to President Obama to find out what was being done to prepare, and protect us from sharknadoes. But he never got back to me, so I think that's something we should all be concerned about.

Sharknado Syfy

It's like he's busy or something. If a sharknado were to occur, would you say that society could learn a thing or two from your characters?
Well, of course, we should all be carrying chainsaws around, shouldn't we? At the risk of talking too seriously about this, my approach to writing it was, I started with a fairly realistic disaster scenario: What WOULD happen if L.A. were hit by a hurricane? And I'm all into disaster preparedness. I've been planning for a giant earthquake, or an asteroid to hit the earth, or what have you. I read a lot of books like that, and I'm very into that. Don't call me a survivalist, because I'm not that crazy, but I do like to think about this stuff.

And so the script from a central standpoint, if you forget about the tornadoes filled with sharks, the script was me putting myself in that position, saying, "Okay, what would I do if L.A. were to be hit by a hurricane?" And then, "Okay, what would I do if there were sharks swimming around?" So yeah, there's a certain level of, "This is practically the way to approach this. This is how you would go about surviving such a thing." I don't know exactly what the odds are of a tornado filled with sharks, but I think we should be prepared. 

Thunder Levin Getty Images

I agree. Strongly. So what's next for you? Are you going to write "Sharknado 2: The Sharquel?"
[laughs] I've heard people calling it "The Seaquel." 

I like "The Sharquel" better.
We are discussing that pretty much as we speak, so hopefully that will happen and that will be a lot of fun. What else is up for me? Obviously the success of "Sharknado" has opened up some doors for me and I'm taking a lot of meetings with various production companies around town. I'm trying to get a couple of T.V. series set up, I've got an independent feature called "Shadows of the Jungle," which is an action thriller with a supernatural element. I just had a really good meeting about that today. So yeah, there are several things brewing, and hopefully it won't be too long before we have something to announce.

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