On Set: “SHARKNADO 2,” Part One—The Filmmakers, Perez Hilton and Judah Friedlander!
When SHARKNADO 2: THE SECOND ONE makes its much-anticipated premiere tomorrow, July 30 at 9 p.m./8 Central on Syfy, fans who witnessed the destruction of LA in the original will see plenty of authentic New York locations laid waste by airborne killer fish. FANGORIA visited one of those landmarks, Grand Central Terminal, during production last February to get the lowdown from the filmmakers, the cast and a couple of cameo-ing celebrities.
SHARKNADO 2: THE SECOND ONE finds director/former Fango scribe Anthony C. Ferrante reteaming with screenwriter Thunder Levin to assault the Big Apple with storm-borne maneaters. Caught up in the action are previous stars Ian Ziering as Fin Shepard and Tara Reid as April Wexler, joined by newcomers including Vivica A. Fox, Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath, Dante Palminteri (son of Chazz) and genre regulars Kari Wuhrer and Tiffany Shepis. In addition, a whole slew of New York and Hollywood celebrities make cameo appearances, and one of them, gossip blogger Perez Hilton, is shooting his, ahem, bit part as Fango watches.
On the S/shuttle subway platform below Grand Central Terminal (where Nancy Allen had her memorable cat-and-mouse with a street gang in Brian De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL), Hilton stands waiting impatiently for the next train. At Ferrante’s yell of “Shark!”, he freaks out and falls backwards, landing on a large mat. Like pretty much all of SHARKNADO 2’s great whites and other species, Hilton’s attacker will be added to the shot later via the miracle of CGI.
Considering how the previous SHARKNADO took over the Internet last year, “It was inescapable” that Hilton turn up in the sequel, “especially for someone like myself, who works on-line. It was a trending topic for days.” Once the sequel started rolling, “I saw a casting release announcing all of these celeb cameos, and I was like, ‘I should get one too!’ I work with a manager who helps me with TV opportunities, and he made it happen. It was surprisingly easy, and I’m incredibly excited and grateful.”
Hilton, who started as an actor himself (Fun Fact #1: He had a small role in the 2001 horror flick CAMPFIRE STORIES, using his real name Mario Lavandeira) before turning to dishing dirt on others, admits that there’s one SHARKNADO 2 co-star he’s happy not to share his scene with: frequent gossip target Reid. “Not that I dislike her, but I was a little nervous about running into her on set. Luckily, she isn’t filming tonight.”
Also hanging out on the platform is actor/comedian Judah Friedlander, who plays a guy named Bryan and figures into a major setpiece shot the previous day at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. Friedlander is sporting a knit cap with the team’s logo, and word is his character might take a few swings with the giant bat prop that was carried past Fango earlier in the evening. Nonetheless, he says, “I’m playing against type in this movie. You know me as the World Champion, the greatest karate hero/athlete in the world. I could kill a shark, no problem at all, in real life with my bare hands. But in this movie I’m playing just a normal, regular New York City guy. Probably a Queens guy.”
Like Hilton, Friedlander pursued a part in SHARKNADO 2, having been a longtime fan of shark movies; he live-tweeted during the first SHARKNADO and a couple of other similarly themed flicks. “Mainstream Hollywood in general has gotten so dull, so boring, so beyond formulaic,” he says. “These movies are exciting, you know? Whether you think they’re bad or good, you can’t deny their entertainment value, and a movie is supposed to be entertaining and fun. And these films are the most fun to make. How can you not have a good time doing this? Yesterday we filmed outside all day in the snow and the cold, pretending it was spring or summer. Awesome! What a great time we had.”
SHARKNADO 2 is indeed shooting in the midst of one of the meanest New York winters in memory—under the code name VORTEX, which is appropriate given that the polar kind has descended on the city recently. The chill in the air has led to shivery moments for the cast and extras, who have been dressing for warmer weather, but everyone has been powering on through this (pardon the expression) whirlwind production, which allowed for only one day to shoot the major sequence at the aforementioned Citi Field.
“We had it mapped out to a T, on an hourly basis,” Ferrante recalls. “Hour one, we did an exterior of Fin getting out of a cab and running into the rotunda. Then we went into the rotunda itself. Then they broke for press while we did some stunts in there for the next hour. When they were done with press, we ran over to the MTA subway platform and did about six or seven setups, including a dialogue sequence, where they were running up the platform, pretending to get on a train. Then we broke for lunch, and when we came back we had to do the grandstand shots where all these extras are cheering, and two or three big dialogue scenes. Once we got out of that, we were in the concourse, and we had three scenes there that we had to do within two and a half hours. And then we had to go downstairs and do a plate shot of the tunnel. That was one day, and it had to be like military precision to hit those marks.”
Adding to the excitement have been all the famous faces jumping aboard SHARKNADO 2, in some cases at the last minute. “Every night, I get a call saying, ‘You’ve got to write a part for Robert Klein,’ and I’m like, ‘Really? OK,’ ” Ferrante says. “So we’re constantly coming up with things for people to do, and also working with them to help them make the scenes their own. It’s just kind of thrilling, because every day we’ve got an A-lister on set, or a pro who has been doing it for so long, and they’re sucked into the SHARKNADO process, which is fast, fast, fast, fast. We’ve got to keep moving, and I’m very loose in terms of making things real for the actors. If a line doesn’t work, we’ll come up with something better. We knew we wanted Judah Friedlander to play Bryan, and he did everything that was scripted, but he’s naturally funny and these other things would just come out, like, ‘Bummer, dude.’ When he says stuff like that, it’s awesome.”
That process has been made easier by having screenwriter Levin on the set, a situation that didn’t occur on the first SHARKNADO. “I had written two scripts right around the same time: SHARKNADO and AE: APOCALYPSE EARTH, which was a straight science fiction film; it wasn’t campy or anything,” he explains. “Basically, I had to decide which one I was going to direct, and since I had already done a campy movie called MUTANT VAMPIRE ZOMBIES IN THE HOOD a few years ago, I wanted to do the straight film. So I was in Costa Rica shooting that while Anthony was in LA making SHARKNADO. We never met until we were editing our movies in the same space a couple of months later.”
When the sequel came up, Levin and Ferrante worked closely together from the beginning, hashing out ideas to make it bigger and better than its predecessor. The writer also tailored the script to more specific, well-known locations than he had on the original, though what he and Ferrante wanted hasn’t always been what they’ve gotten. “We’ve been changing stuff constantly,” Levin says. “We don’t get a location that we wanted, so then I rewrite it for someplace else. In fact, just two nights ago, I completely rewrote a whole sequence for Tara Reid that they’re gonna shoot when they’re back in LA. Fortunately, that was set to film toward the end of the schedule, so I had time to change it.”
The sharks are going to be added back in LA as well, courtesy of on-set visual FX supervisor Sasha Burrow and the rest of his digital team. Among the makeup FX artists providing the practical prosthetic representations of the damage the big fish inflict is Anthony Pepe, whose long résumé ranges from indie horrors like SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER and GIRLS AGAINST BOYS to the first season of Syfy’s competition series FACE OFF. (Fun Fact #2: One of the other contestants on that show, Megan Areford, handled the makeup FX on the first SHARKNADO.) The fast-paced, ever-evolving production has resulted in some unique challenges for Pepe. “It’s the first union job I’ve ever had where it feels like an old-style indie,” he says. “It reminds me of when I did movies with [the late] Michael J. Hein, like DEAD SERIOUS or SPIKER—all those low-budget projects where it was just shoot, shoot, shoot.
“For the first time in 19 years, I have no definite set plan for the makeup effects,” he continues. “I’m basically running and gunning it. I have stuff ready to go, and the way Anthony likes to shoot is that we might throw in some blood here and some blood there. We have prosthetics like a severed arm and a big bite with the ribcage showing ready to go, it’s just that there’s nothing set in the script for every bloody effect. It’s basically ‘Shark bites this guy, shark eats that guy.’ ”
TO BE CONTINUED