It’s a rainy Saturday night in Tampa, Fla., and a collection of shark scientists and conservationists are sitting around a table, knocking back hurricanes after the first night of Shark-Con, discussing the events of the day, current research, and future plans. At the middle of the table (or eye of the storm, if you prefer), is director Anthony C. Ferrante, who, between bites of Cajun food, is relaying anecdotes from filming movies and responding to texts from his phone. Sharknado 5 will be released less than a month from now, and there’s still work to be done.
You might think that the director of a film where in-universe sharks are regularly sliced apart by chainsaws and the chance of a shark attack is damn near 1:1 might be shunned by the scientific community, but everyone at the table seems to love the movies, and, indeed, some of the science crew trade seats just so they can pick the director’s brain, or to see if he’d be willing to lend a hand on a conservation project.
And it’s not just the scientists. “At Shark-Con, people come up and say they’re planning a Sharknado party. It’s nice to bring people together,” Ferrante says. And for the last five years, Sharknado has been doing just that, uniting people with both the love of sharks and for having fun. “There’s no agenda, we are there to make people smile. Their goal, no matter who you are, is to have a good time.”
But that good time takes a hell of a lot of work. Whereas most of the other films are centered around the studio, a single city or at least in the United States, Sharknado 5: Global Swarming was a far-flung production that took place across four continents, jumping from the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Bulgaria, Japan, Australia and back again, Ferrante says. “We were shooting abroad for two and a half months, starting in January and finishing in March, and in places like Italy and Japan we went right from the airport to go scouting locations. It inspires you to see what you can do.” Using a small core team that went from country to country, they were able to pull off shots that larger production crew might not have been able to get.
“When we were in Italy for a few days. We wanted to shoot at the Trevi Fountain. We kind of wrote (it) off, because we were told it was too crowded, but the morning we shot at Trevi, we started at 6 a.m. and it was empty. To have an empty Trevi fountain is pretty incredible.” And then from there they went straight to shooting a Pope scene because “we need to put a Pope in this movie.”
The Pope had not yet been cast, so the director stepped from behind the camera to take on yet another of his many roles in the Nado-verse: stand-in actor. (Fabio, the long-tressed heartthrob was later cast in the role.)
Is there a problem translating the idea of a Sharknado from the United States to the rest of the world? Not really, Ferrante says.
“When we were filming in Parliament Square, we were getting mobbed. Wherever we went, people for the most part understood. When we went to new places in Europe you have a new perspective — you feel the weight of the cities.”
Japan was different: “People avoided us. They were polite, and the Starbucks from across from where we were shooting had these Cherry Blossom Frappuccinos. In America, it’d be ‘What are you doing? What’s going on? Can I get an autograph?”
With casting like Pope Fabio the First and a returning Gilbert Gottfried playing an intrepid, storm-chasing journalist (“Gilbert Gottfried is just so much fun, he had to come back”), I asked Ferrante: With a title like Global Swarming, did he try to get Al Gore to make an appearance? He says: “the title happened after we were done shooting, so it wasn’t part of their plan”, but he notes that on the day the title was announced, Donald Trump announced the United States was pulling out of the Paris Accords. “Weird things like that… they never happen to anyone else.”
Eight months from start of filming to the movie’s release, “It’s crazy.” There will be more visual effects that any of the previous movies, close to 1,000. They’re working in cameos from The Asylum’s (the studio behind Sharknado) other long-running hit, Z Nation (“after the sharks took over the world, the zombies came,” he laughs). Lots of stuff was left on the cutting-room floor. “There’s an embarrassment of riches on that floor.”
Ferrante notes that they can do things that other larger studios take $200 million to do, and “having Ian (Ziering – “Fin Shepherd”) and Tara (Reid – “April Wexler”), the same director, the same studio, it allows for people and crew to know exactly how they integrate in the franchise. There’s consistency to the movies.”
We struggle to think how many movie franchises can stake the same claim over five movies. Only Steven Speilberg’s Indiana Jones series and Michael Bay’s Transformers, we think.
Lest you think Anthony C. Ferrante is simply just a director, actor, and keeper of the Sharknado flame, you’re wrong. His band, Quint, which has provided music for previous movies (including the Ramones-esque Ballad of Sharknado and Queen-homage Sharknado Rhapsody) is providing music for Global Swarming as well. One of the songs is Good Morning London, “a cool rock song for London, how London doesn’t take any crap,” having seen the people react in the aftermath of the recent terror attacks in London. He teases another song, not wanting to give away too much, inspired by Olivia Newton John – it has an “early ’80s/Xanadu vibe.”
I fan-boy a little here, asking if it will be available on iTunes. “Later this August!”
But it’s not just Ferrante who is making music. Geno Leonardo from the band Filter wanted to do a song, with Ryan T. Hope singing. “It’s an amazing song,” says Ferrante.
At the end of the dinner in Tampa, Spencer, the organizer of Shark-Con, is a little surprised when Ferrante says he’ll back at the Con the next morning to sign autographs before he leaves for his flight back to Los Angeles. He’s tired — work to do — but ultimately he knows this is about the fans and shows the commitment that he has to the franchise, but more importantly, the fans.
“I get to play, its hard work, but I get to play”, he says later. “People are watching your movie and that’s a privilege. Sharknado has become the Super Bowl of SyFy. They plan a whole week around it. It’s utterly fantastic” and everyone, from shark scientists to families getting together around the tube, agree.
So batten down the hatches, people. Sharknado 5: Global Swarming is coming to your screen, Sunday, Aug. 6.