On Set: “SHARKNADO 2,” Part Two—The Stars Speak, and the Origin of “SHARKNADO”
Ian Ziering has been having a great time saving the world from airborne great whites again when FANGORIA speaks to him on location for SHARKNADO 2: THE SECOND ONE (premiering tonight at 9 p.m./8 Central on Syfy; see the first part of our set visit here). But he reveals that there was a moment while making the original when he had doubts about being involved.
SHARKNADO was first announced in the trades as DARK SKIES, and that was the title when Ziering signed on. Then, “about a week and a half after we started shooting, Anthony [C. Ferrante, director of both movies] came on the set and said it was going to be SHARKNADO,” the actor recalls. “We were laughing, and were like, ‘Come on, seriously, you’re joking.’ He said, ‘No, we’re going to call this movie SHARKNADO.’ I said, ‘Wow, excuse me, I’m going to need a couple of minutes.’ And I went to my trailer, called my agent and said, ‘Oh my God, did you know they’re titling this movie SHARKNADO? And is there some way you can get me the hell out of this?’ I just felt this would be the end of my career. I never thought that movie would see the light of day to begin with, and then to title it SHARKNADO…what, was GREAT WHITE SKIES not available?”
Ziering soon came around to appreciating the project’s campy charm, which made the title and film a viral sensation last year, and his climactic, chainsaw-wielding tete-à-tete with a flying maneater became SHARKNADO’s signature moment. That set a pretty high bar when it came to whipping up the sequel: “You can’t top chainsawing your way out of a belly of a shark,” the actor admits. “We went for the most impactful thing we possibly could, and luckily, we were right on target for that.” For the follow-up, “You have to innovate and do things that can be equally impactful, but you can’t just go back and try to top something that’s already been done. Once you reach the zenith, the top is the top. So we’ve got other things in store for the audience that hopefully will be equally gross and surprising. I mean, the script reads like a $100-million blockbuster! The first one also read like that, but I didn’t have the confidence in it that I now do with SHARKNADO 2, because I know what they’re capable of. I know what the technology is going to be; maybe it’s not AVATAR technology, but it’s pretty darn good.”
Filming SHARKNADO 2: THE SECOND ONE on location in New York City—including Grand Central Terminal, the site Fango visits—has added plenty of production value and detail, Ziering notes. Filming in New York City in the middle of winter (late February, to be exact), on the other hand, has made for some tough exterior shoots. “When it’s 10 degrees out, it’s kind of hard to enunciate, when the camera’s on you and your lips freeze and you can’t say your lines. We’ve been standing in front of the heaters to keep our faces warm, to keep our cheeks pliable so we can move our jaws.” Still, he adds, “When we were filming out at Citi Field, yeah, it was cold, but that really lent itself to the scene, because when my character shows up and runs inside, it was just cold, but it wasn’t snowing. And then the sharknado happens, and there’s supposed to be this wild, crazy storm, and when everyone was running out of the stadium, it was snowing! Which was perfect—it was like Mother Nature wants this movie to succeed, you know?”
Before the interview wraps up and Ziering heads back to the set, he gives a shout-out to the creator of the shark-tooth necklace his character Fin Shepard wears. “I have a friend named Fileena Bahris out of Hawaii, who makes jewelry [for movies like Stuart Gordon’s STUCK; see her website here]. I asked her, ‘Can you make me a great white shark tooth necklace? Nothing too fancy, just something on a piece of leather that my character probably would have pulled out of one of those sharks.’ She sent some pictures of great white teeth, and they’re pretty big and serrated, so I said, ‘No—that’s gonna cut my neck open if I ever fall.’ So she said, ‘I can find a smaller one,’ and she sent me this, and it works perfectly for the character.”
Down on Grand Central’s S/shuttle platform, redressed to stand in for the 96th Street stop, Ferrante puts Ziering and co-stars Vivica A. Fox (as Skye, Fin’s high-school sweetheart), Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray (as Martin Brody—nudge nudge—who’s married to Fin’s sister Ellen—wink wink—played by Kari Wuhrer) and Dante Palminteri (as Martin’s son Vaughn—say no more) through their paces. The group flee from a subway car that’s being overtaken by the sharks, amidst a crowd of extras that includes Ferrante himself, toting a guitar; between takes, he sits in his director’s chair, strumming and crooning the SHARKNADO theme song. The finned attackers will, of course, be added later via CGI, with technicians affixing greenscreen boards over the train’s windows to allow for the digital FX work.
McGrath is one of the long string of celebrities from all areas of the entertainment field who turn up in SHARKNADO 2, but one of the few to have more than just a cameo. “I happened to be one of those people caught up in the SHARKNADO frenzy,” he says. “I was on a tour bus with a bunch of my bandmates, riding in the back, and I heard my guitar player go, ‘Mark, you’ve gotta come up front and see this. You’re not gonna believe it.’ I went up there and watched the second half with him, and I was just blown away by the movie. I was like, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ And then when [Fin] chainsawed his way out of the shark, I was like, ‘I am in forever! Where do I buy a T-shirt?’ I was involved in the whole mania. And when I got the call to be in this movie, I called some of my friends, and they acted like I had been cast in a Scorsese film.
“It has been a little difficult for me,” he admits, “because I’m not really an actor. I come from the [concert] stage where everything’s big and I’m always trying to hit the last row of the arena, and when you’re acting, it’s much more subtle. I might go, “Oh my God, a sharknado!”, but it has been a learning process for me. I’ve had to stretch my chops, to say the least, but the other actors like Ian have been so helpful, the director, Anthony, is wonderful, and Thunder Levin, the writer, comes up with such great stuff. And Kari Wuhrer, who plays my wife, has been my fantasy for 30 years, so it’s a win-win and such an enjoyable experience.”
Ziering, McGrath and the rest of SHARKNADO 2’s leads are playing their roles straight amidst the insanity swirling and swimming through Manhattan’s streets, which Ferrante says is key to the movie’s tone. “It can’t be winking-at-the-camera humor,” he notes. “It has to be grounded, so as long as your characters take it seriously, you can have the sharknados and all this other crazy stuff, and you’ll be fine. The humor comes from the circumstances, and it’s kind of a weird tone, because it’s skirting right on that edge. If you look at something like DIE HARD, it’s a serious action movie but it’s also very funny, and those lines work because they come from the character; they’re not just trying to force it in there.”
So where did this crazy idea come from in the first place? Ferrante reveals that it has it roots in one of his previous films for Syfy. “My friend Jacob Hair, who’s an amazing writer, and I were pitching a lot of concepts and came up with a couple of weird ideas, and one of them was SHARKNADO. They didn’t bite on it initially, and later I wrote a script called LEPRECHAUN’S REVENGE, which ultimately became RED CLOVER, and in that, because I loved the title so much, the characters are trying to a hide the fact that there’s a leprechaun in their town, and they’re like, ‘We can’t let this get out, because you know what happened with the sharknado in that other town—they never lived that down.’ Suddenly, Syfy became interested in doing it; they were going to do a movie called SHARK STORM, and then they said, ‘Hey, let’s call it SHARKNADO.’ I think they approached a few other directors with it, since they perceived me as a straight horror guy, but when they agreed to let me do it, it was awesome, because I’ve always wanted to make something like this.”
Levin, who penned both SHARKNADOs, adds, “I had written another film for [production entity] The Asylum called AMERICAN WARSHIPS, and they liked what I did and asked me to do this movie called SHARK STORM. And I said, ‘No, it sounds like we’ve seen a thousand of those.’ A month later, they came back and said, ‘Forget SHARK STORM, it’s gonna be SHARKNADO.’ And I said, ‘What do sharks have to do with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization?’ ‘No, no, no—SHARKNADO, a tornado full of sharks.’ And I said, ‘That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. If I can do it that way, I’m in!’ ”
Ferrante adds that, despite what the trades and the cast were initially told, DARK SKIES was never intended to be the movie’s moniker. “It was always going to be SHARKNADO. These films have to have different shooting titles, because you don’t want someone else to suddenly come up with something similar. But at the end of the day, we always knew that’s what it was going to be called.”