In the Syfy original movie “Sharknado 2: The Second One,” a freak weather system turns its deadly fury on New York City, unleashing a Sharknado on the population and its most cherished iconic sites – and only Fin (Ian Ziering) and April (Tara Reid) can save the Big Apple.
Ziering, Reid, Vivica A. Fox and director Anthiny C. Ferrante recently spoke by phone about the movie, which premieres on Syfy on Wednesday, July 30th, 2014.
Q: So what’s it like working on a movie where you’re reacting to sharks that are basically just CGI?
Tara Reid: I think definitely it wasn’t – I think when people see the sharks they think there’s a lot more green screen than there really was. There really wasn’t too much green screen at all in the film. It’s more of a – you know, CGI different special effects but not really green screen.
So if you were acting with sharks that were coming at you but nothing was coming at you but you were still, like, outside in the city and – you know, it wasn’t like you were acting behind a green screen.
So it was just, you know, filling in the blanks and kind of believing in the director that he promises sharks, so you react to the sharks as well as you’re imagination could make them.
Vivica Fox: And I also like to give credit to our director, Anthony, because he was very descriptive in what was happening and what kind of sharks were coming at us.
Anthony C. Ferrante: Well, and Ian had some green screen stuff, but Tara’s right; most of it’s practical. When we get into the green screen it gets into the more complicated stuff like when Ian’s flying to the sky and everything. Man, Ian is an action star. You put him in that harness and he’s there for, like, I think an hour just doing acrobatic things.
I had to do some pick up stuff last year where I was a double and I was in the harness for, like, 20 minutes and I was, like, in pain. So a lot of kudos to Ian for managing those harness rigs.
Ian Ziering: Thanks, Anthony. You know, working in a virtual environment where at first as an actor you’re really doing something that in the instant feels like an action but once you see the completed movie it’s actually a reaction.
So what’s nice is when you have a director who can help tell the story, help illuminate what’s happening around you so you can have trust in the fact that whatever you’re doing is not going to be ridiculous, your actions are going to be substantiated because it all gets filled in afterwards. It’s all about having the trust.
Anthony C. Ferrante: And there were some instances that too – on this movie, like, the first movie was a big learning curve for everybody and while everything worked out and while it all looked great, you know, we learned a lot off of that first movie.
And then you watch everybody in this one, you know, Ian was just doing things, you know, like I’m going to move my foot here and then they can put a shark jumping up at me when I’m on top of the taxi cab. And that’s what we did—we put a shark there.
So it’s – after going through the motions of this stuff you really start understanding, you know, what can be done. And we have a pretty amazing visual effects team. We shot late February and we just delivered it a few weeks ago. They did over 700 visual effects shots and that was in less than two months.
And there’s some pretty damn impressive shots in this film. So you know, they do a lot of work to make this stuff happen and to payoff all the hard word the actors did on set.
Q: When you went in to do the first Sharknado movie did you have any idea it was going to become this massive pop culture event? And why do you think it has resonated with so many people?
Tara Reid: I mean we definitely didn’t know it was going to become what happened. It was definitely shocking for all of us. We had no clue signing on to the movie that this would be this phenomenon. So you know, it was – a great and kind of shocking experience.
And it turned into something wonderful. Now to be a part of the franchise has been incredible. But yes, we definitely, we didn’t know – we got real lucky.
Anthony C. Ferrante: It’s hard with these things. You never – you know, you just try to make the best project possible and, you know, what happened on this thing – you know, it’s lightening in a bottle. We didn’t tell people to show up and make it a Twitter phenomenon. It just happened. And that’s kind of cool.
You know, you get those – you very rarely get those opportunities like that where people just want to embrace you just because you’re there. And that was kind of – it was kind of special. And helped because now we got to make a second movie and we got to make a bigger and better movie after that. So it’s fun.
Q: What can viewers expect from the second movie?
Vivica Fox: A lot of cameos, a lot of cameos. I mean I was really pleasantly surprised how many people wanted to be a part of this film when they saw it. It’s like, famous faces just keep popping up. And it’s just an awesome surprise.
Anthony C. Ferrante: I think the key with the second movie is we want them to – we wanted to kind of amp up what we did – we already did a lot in the first movie for the budget and the schedule. I mean that’s the – I think one of the reasons why it stood out just because we were pushing the budget and the schedule the maximum.
And so we pretty much had the same kind of schedule in this one and we were trying to do twice as much as pushing as we did on the first one. So it – it’s a lot of heavy lifting to kind of make these things look fantastic and don’t have a – you know, we don’t have a $200 million budget to pull it off.
But we have a lot of the imagination from our writers under Levin, from our cast and from our crew and producers and Syfy to let us play in this playground.
One of the best things that Syfy said – there were actually two great things they said when we were developing. One, they started saying, well, we’re set it in summer but any weird weather when you’re shooting in February make it part of the story, which liberated us. So we didn’t have to go, we have to hide the snow. And that really adds to the look and feel of the movie.
The second thing is – is that, they said we want you to shoot this movie in New York, shoot it in New York. We don’t want you to go to Canada. We don’t want you shoot in the back lots in LA. We want to shoot in New York. And I think that – that makes this movie look gargantuan and it feels authentic. And I think that’s what makes this one really special because we’re right there in the thick of New York.
Tara Reid: And I think New York City has its own personality itself. So adding the personality of New York into this film really added a magical, you know, element into the film.
Q: A couple minutes ago you mentioned the celebrity cameos that are in this film. Can you name a few of them?
Vivica Fox: Sure, we had Matt Lauer, gosh, Kelly Ripa, Michael Strahan, and lots more that you have to stay tuned to see.
Anthony C. Ferrante: Judah Friedlander was one of the people that did the – was one of the big Twitter followers that night who’s from 30 Rock and he was writing some really funny stuff.
We kind of became friends with him and he really wanted to be in the second movie and he’s one of – he actually was only hired for one line in Sharknado 2 and I called Judah up and going, I don’t want to waste you with one line. If we can give you a bigger part would you do it? He’s like, of course.
So we actually – we combined three characters at the ballpark into one character so we could keep him around a little longer in the movie. But a lot of the film was we would get calls, like, the night before going, this actor’s available, let’s put him in the movie. And like, okay. And then suddenly you’re writing something for that actor.
And so it – I keep calling these movies living organisms because, you know, you have a script but you go on the set and it’s, like, you know, things are changing or you don’t have this truck or you don’t have that and you have to kind of make it work.
You don’t have – you can’t pawn off not getting what you did that day on Day 70 because you don’t have a Day 70. So it’s always – here we are, this is what we got, let’s make some magic.
And that includes we have a new actor that showed up and we don’t have a part, let’s write a part for them because I always wanted the cameos to be integrated into the film, not just be somebody random that gets killed. Not that we don’t do that, but I wanted as much as possible to give all these people characters.
Q: This is for all of you guys, let me ask you, in the first film you put a shark pretty much everywhere you could think of. So for this film, where else can you put a shark?
Tara Reid: I mean they could go anywhere. Sharknado is, you know, wherever it comes. So they could go anywhere from inside hospitals to the Met Stadiums to subways to the street to you name it, a shark could be there. The Empire State Building.
Anthony C. Ferrante: I think the misnomer about Sharknado is people get hung up on the fact that sharks can’t exist in a tornado and tornados can’t do what they do and all that stuff. And the simple explanation on our end is that it’s a Sharknado; it’s like our Frankenstein, our Freddy Krueger, our Jason.
You know, you don’t question Jason getting his, you know, neck chopped off half a million times and then getting shot and getting back up again and all that stuff, that’s part of the mythology. And so I think the thing that we’ve expected is that the Sharknado is our villain and it does what we tell it to do.
So you know, if it shoots through a car window, yes, a shark can’t do that but a Sharknado can. So it gives – that opens up the imagination of what you can do and we were able to do a lot of crazy stuff because we were freed by the fact that we could do anything.
Q: I was wondering if you each could talk about if you added anything to your characters that may not have originally been scripted for you.
Tara Reid: I think that everyone added a certain aspect to their character. I mean that’s what makes characters good, an actor kind of adds their thing on top of it. But we all had a very good rapport with Anthony and there was something that we thought was missing, a character, something that we could add on to the character we found that place, which was exciting. So I think every character got to go farther and took risks and, you know, you’ll see it. It worked.
Anthony C. Ferrante: We also softened your character, didn’t we? We softened Tara’s character in this a lot too because we wanted to see the relationship between you and Fin.
Tara Reid: Yes, that’s true.
Q: And Vivica, what was it that – about the film that made you want to be a part of it?
Vivica Fox: Well, you know, I was saying, wow, I need a little bit of Syfy in my life and action. And wham, there came Sharknado 2. I was really presently surprised when I got the offer to play Skye. I hadn’t worked with Ian since back in the day with 90210 and Tara, we had known each other for many, many years.
So the opportunity to work with both of them and hearing the major success of the first Sharknado it just seemed like a win-win situation for me.
Anthony C. Ferrante: We also changed the character a lot when you came on board and I was so thrilled when you came on board because we were allowed to do an idea that we had early on of making the Skye character Fin’s high school sweetheart.
Because we were trying to show this reuniting of Fin and April but we wanted an obstacle and, man, you guys sold that as such a – it was really – it was a blessing to have you on that film because it just gave us so much more depth.
And those little moments and the things that you guys did – you know, in the middle of the Sharknado – doing things that you don’t expect someone to do in Sharknado 2.
I just love that, I love that dynamic because at the heart at it if you don’t care about these characters everything starts falling apart. So we had a really nice mix with everybody.
Q: Anthony, can you talk about what do you think it is about Sharknado that’s made it such a popular franchise?
Anthony C. Ferrante: You know, there’s a lot of theories about it but I think that a lot of genre movies – and I’ve done a lot of them as a director, writer, you know, they’re just horror films you have, you have a base audience. You know there’s a certain amount of people that are going to watch them whether it’s DVD, on Syfy, BluRay, on demand, whatever. There’s that core audience that will seek this stuff out.
We had a core audience for this movie but somehow the mainstream became attracted to it. We had the sports community embracing us and we really didn’t have any sports elements in the first movie. We had families getting together, watching it with their kids. We did not set out to make a kid movie but there are a lot of kids that love this film because it had sort of that 11-year-old spirit.
So I think what happened was that it’s just – there was something silly about the title and it seemed ridiculous but when you saw the trailer it was – it looks like the big studio movie or trying to be. And so I think people were – wanted – we were daring them to watch it to see if we could fail and yet we kept delivering every ten minutes with some big action set piece.
So I think it was – I think it was a lot of different things. We just got a lot of different people. It’s a bipartisan movie, the left and right both embraced movie. There is nothing that anybody could pick apart in it and they just liked it.
So you can’t – it’s so hard to get something like this and you can’t really take it apart and say it was this or that. It’s just, you know, we somehow – we were this fun little film that people didn’t have to spend $50 million – $50 at a movie theater to go take their family to.
They get to watch it in the privacy of their home and they had a blast. They made fun of it. They loved it. They hated it. I mean it was just – it was great.
Q: My question is for Ian and for Tara. And Ian, maybe you can start. When you have a movie that is successful, special like Sharknado was, sometimes actors will be, you know, reluctant to do a sequel. Did you guys have any second thoughts or were you on board from the get go?
Ian Ziering: I was on board right from the get go. You know, what’s so nice about Sharknado is that it really is not competing with itself and the bar that it set initially is not – you know, one of – you know, that’s unattainable. This was a low budget independent film, you know, a very campy nature.
So really the only way to screw it up would be to change it. And the brilliance of Sharknado 2 is the fact that it’s more of the same. It’s a similar formula but it’s a different experience, similar situation in a new environment. And if people liked one they’re going to love two.
Tara Reid: I agree with Ian exactly. I mean I – he couldn’t have said it better. You know, when I read the first one and went out to dinner that night with my friends, I told them I thought the script was hilarious. I was – yes, sharks are flying in Beverly Hills and maiming people and jumping out of pools.
And my friends are laughing so hard. They’re like, are you kidding me? This is amazing, you’ll have to do this. So it’s so funny, you have to do it. So the next day I called my agent and I’m like, all right, let’s do it.
And never knowing it would become the phenomenon it did but, you know, it worked. You know, people really enjoyed it. And then we learned from the first one and I think made it even better.
Q: What did the two of you like about working with one another?
Tara Reid: I love working with Ian. He’s very giving actor. You know, if something’s not working he makes it work. I like him as a person and as an actor.
Ian Ziering: I was very lucky to work with just a talented group. Tara, you know, everyday showed up. We got all the shots we needed to have and had all the fun that was possible working in the constraints. Vivica, another consummate professional.
You know, we knew we had to get our shots everyday and we did but, you know, because everyone knew what we were up against everyone came very prepared and very, you know, ready to do the work.
And that left us at the end of some days with some extra time that it would allow Anthony to get some bonus footage, to get some shots that really were gifts. So it’s great. You know, when you’re working with people that understand that, you know, time is money and this film we didn’t have a lot of time.
So because everyone is very professional, everyone came prepared, and we actually – you know, made it happen.
Q: Ian, what has the experience like being part of a movie that is this big pop culture event?
Ian Ziering: It’s kind of a surreal experience and keep in mind that this is a TV movie. And the rollout has been in the same fashion that, you know, hundred million dollar blockbusters are brought to market.
The fan response – not just here in the United States but globally has been so overwhelming that this movie is doing something that – you know, the major motion picture studios try to accomplish. But we caught lightening in a bottle and that premier was the first time I saw the entire movie cut together.
So because I’m a fan of the genre, because I’m a fan of the movie, you know, I enjoyed it too. I laughed at it as much as everyone else did. I was surprised and shocked just like everyone else was and then at the end of the film I was really happy because it’s a really good movie.
Q: My question for Anthony, what was the genesis of Sharknado for you to begin with? Did it start with the title? Does it start somewhere else and you stumbled on to the title?
Anthony C. Ferrante: It – actually I’ve written a – I directed previously for Syfy and I’ve written a bunch of scripts and there’s a process for writing – for pitching ideas. And (Jacob Haren) and I, my occasional writing partner, we had pitched a whole bunch of titles to them many years ago, one of them was Sharknado. Nothing happened with it but I – you know, we both loved the title so much, just kind of tickled us.
So when I wrote a leprechaun script for Syfy, it was called Leprechaun’s Revenge and now I think on DVD it’s called Red Clover, I put a reference to a Sharknado in there. They were trying to cover up the leprechaun stuff and they go, we don’t want to have what’s happened that town over, remember, Sharknado, they never lived that down.
And the Syfy team, like – they just – it just popped out at that point to them and they wanted to make a Sharknado movie and they paired up with the Asylum and I had just done a film for Asylum called Hansel and Gretel and then it came full circle where I was doing Sharknado.
I mean I always believed in this concept. I thought – you know, I liked the title a lot because it just – it was silly but, you know, you would tell people the title and they would just start laughing. You just start coming up with ridiculous things. And so that was the genesis. And then Thunder came in and wrote a really great screen play and then the rest is history.
So though – just so you know, we started shooting the movie – what’s called Dark Skies because when they tried to go out to cast film and everything, when they put Sharknado on it nobody wanted to do it. You couldn’t get anybody interested in this film because it was just – no one – no one could embrace what it was initially.
And then of course, the actors were about ready to kill me when they found out that it might be called Sharknado. But they love me now, right?
Ian Ziering: Exactly.
Tara Reid: Yes, now it’s all good.
Q: Ian, I barely remembered this, you’re telling a story about signing up for the original movie. You got a feeling about it but because your wife said you needed to work to be sure that you had insurance coverage. Is this a true story? And if so…
Ian Ziering: That’s an absolutely true story. You know, you really – you always look for opportunities that will propel your career and, you know what, I didn’t have the vision and foresight to see what the potential of this movie could be. I was reading words on a page that had – you know, several holes in it that were left to be filled by visual effects.
And typically what you’re working with within a low budget environment are very rudimentary visual effects. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be dealing with a high level of visual effects. Was I going to be battling (Sigmund) the sea monster? Is this going to be closer to the Avatar level of quality?
And you know, I really just didn’t think that it was going to be what it had turned out to be. But my – at my wife’s behest she said, look, you know, it’s January, you’ve got to make your insurance quota. I get my insurance from the union and having babies are very expensive.
And of course, I want to protect my family, I’m a provider now. So I realized, well, you know what, she’s right. And I thought I was taking one for the team. But then I also thought, well, what the heck, no one’s ever going to see this movie. Boy was I wrong. And my wife doesn’t hesitate to say I told you so now. It’s great.
Q: Sharknado 2 was shot in New York and the city plays a big role in the film? What was it like shooting there as opposed to somewhere in Canada that’s just supposed to look like New York City?
Tara Reid: I mean it was great. It was like a really fun feeling to shoot at home basically. Like, for me, all my friends still live there. I have so many memories on each one of the streets because I still walked going to school.
So for me shooting that was just – it was such an awesome feeling. It was great. The power of shooting in New York City is like – it’s such a strong city and it does have such a personality of its own.
And I really think that it adds such an element to this film and I think when you watch the movie you’ll really see the power of New York City and what the city’s about and how the people really come together when something goes wrong in the city to come together to save it. And I think that shows across the film.
Anthony C. Ferrante: I think that was kind of one of the things in the first movie – at least in my head was that Los Angeles everybody kind of is in it for themselves and, you know, disaster strikes, we got to get our cars and get out of here.
In New York, it’s like when the crap hits the fan it’s like everybody – you know, we’re brothers in arms. I don’t like my neighbor but, you know, together we’re going to fight whatever this thing is.
Thunder’s from New York so he had brought a lot of iconic graphic stuff but as we were there we started going, you know what, we got to do this. Like, there was never a pizza place in the movie. There was never a bodega and I had never heard the word bodega until I ended up in New York.
I go – we got to put a pizza place, we got to put a bodega in. So the sequence that was a hardware store, we split it between those two places. We ended up shooting at my favorite pizza place that – when I was there in New York for two months. I just loved this place. It’s called Famous Amadeus Pizza. And we shot there.
And that whole scene was – with getting the shark into the oven came from just standing in that restaurant going, we got to do this. So there was a lot of stuff informing us as we were there and it started evolving, you know, utilizing, you know, the various aspects of New York.
Q: I was wondering, from an acting perspective, obviously the film has a lot of humor in it. Do you guys sort of play it seriously in your mind and trying to sort of be this character or do you sort of – are very conscious of some of the lines that are sort of coming out that sort of – definitely will get some laughs from the audience? Do you sort of play it serious or take a laugh with it?
Vivica Fox: I definitely played my character serious and then I think, like, in the moments and what were fighting against and the elements, then the comedy ensued. So I took it very serious that, you know, a Sharknado was coming and we were there to stop it.
Tara Reid: Yes, I mean I think we all had to take, you know – even though the situation seems so crazy. But you had to play it serious because if you didn’t – if we were playing it laughing the whole time then the storyline wouldn’t even make sense. It’s by taking it serious in such an absurd crazy, you know, environment and that’s where the jokes come in, that’s where it gets funny.
So I think you really do have to commit to your character, you know, and also know what you’re playing and being in that situation that you’re in and playing it serious then there comes the humor. So I think that’s really what you – you know, a lot of people did.
Anthony C. Ferrante: And I think one of the other tricks with this movie and there’s a lot of horror films that will be just purposely campy and over the top but, you know, every – I think the key actually to this whole franchise is having everybody playing it straight.
I mean Ian has some very funny moments in the movie and lines but they’re character driven, they’re reactionary. The only people that are allowed to be funny are your comic relief characters, which are like, Judah Friedland. But even then they ground it. It’s not, ‘I’m making a joke.’
We still – that was one of the things when we’d get new people coming in for cameos. A couple times they would come in and they’d be over the top when we were rehearsing. And we’d be like, no, no, no, it has to be played straight.
You can be as funny as you want but you have to be in character and take the situation seriously. And I think that’s part of the charm. I mean Ian, you kind of agree, right, with…
Ian Ziering: Absolutely, even though the situations are absurd, you know, in the reality of the imaginary circumstances if you will, you know, you say and do things that – you know, are appropriate for the actions or the scenario.
But as a spectator, as an observer, you realize how funny they are within that situation. But when you’re dealing with it, you know, you have to act naturally in imaginary circumstances.
But as a spectator you realize that, you know, you get to enjoy the fun of it because you’re a witness. You’re not there experiencing it. So in that dichotomy, that’s where really the joy of the movie exists because you have to suspend this believe to buy into what you’re doing but yet you still have you foot in the real world so it gives you perspective of how absurd this movie really is.
Anthony C. Ferrante: I think a perfect example of what Ian did in the first movie when he chainsawed his way out of the shark there’s two ways that could have went. You could have went the Jim Carey route where it’s like, I’m laughing it up. Or you do what he did which was literally committing that he just was inside of a shark and that inherently makes it funnier because it’s so earnest that it’s – and it’s so in the moment.
And I think that’s one of the charms about why people remember that sequence because – you know, Ian – it was the coldest day of the year in LA, which is hard to believe that we had a cold day. And a lot of – we dumped, like, 20 gallons of water on him. He’s freezing to death. He did. It was great. It was awesome.