We all create our own realities. Whether we’re daydreaming on the job (speaking of – GET BACK TO WORK HENDERSON!), or admiring ourselves in the mirror after that 10 minute workout, or getting your better half to wear the outfit (you know the one), people exist in two universes – the tangible one we have to live in, and the intangible one we want to live in.
For the most part we’re happy, but we accept that we’re not gods. This is where artists have a leg up on everyone else – those dreams and ideas take flight for everyone to experience. A painting exists as the painter wants it to, the poet can create or destroy what they want in 60 lines, and the movie director – well, they take words and pictures and sound and blend it into a singular event.
“There are no rules in Sharknado,” says director Anthony C. Ferrante, which if you were living in Sharknado’s fictional universe would either terrify you or make you believe that you were immortal. “SyFy lets us do it.” And so they have, letting him create fun since 2013.
Of course, every movie is a group effort (just ask Orson Welles). SyFy has their input, as does writer Thunder Levin, and movie studio The Asylum. For instance, Sharknado’s sharks roar. “That’s an Asylum thing – they love the roar” he lets me know, but it’s one thing to make a shark roar and have people turn it into a joke (see Jaws: The Revenge) and another to have people say to themselves “Huh, roaring sharks. Makes sense.” You don’t bat an eyelash.
“My job as a director is to integrate the various ideas” when I ask him how much of the movie is his versus writer Thunder Levin’s, but when an opportunity presents itself, it’s all his. In Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens, one scene involves a classic car that, without spoiling anything, is part of a classic moment of superhero mythology. “We just planned to shoot on the exteriors and interiors, but the owner of the car let us know we could drive it, so for the next 45 minutes, we drove around ad-libbing a scene.” He calls it the “energy of desperation”, which is the best goddamn turn of phrase for any artist who has ever had a perfect moment for creation drop into their lap unexpectedly.
Like a Chippendales dancer crotch-rocketing a shark, as happens in The 4th Awakens. “You worry that Standards and Practices won’t allow it, and then it becomes the first scene of the teaser trailer.”
He gets to play in the various sandboxes of genre films. The first Sharknado starts off as a gritty crime scene, a low-life fisherman shaking down an evil businessman over the costs of sharks for shark fin soup. “It started off as just a fishing fleet getting wiped out by a sharknado – why not make a crime film before the credits?” In The Second One, it’s very much a “New York movie. We got to film in city which was so special.” Oh Hell No! was a combination of “White House Down and a space movie,” and the fourth, “our superhero film.”
Although he said there are no rules in Sharknado, there actually is one: “It always has to be Fin (the series male protagonist) and family saving the day,” which is why he thinks the series has blown up in the public’s collective consciousness. “We make it silly and fun. There’s no Friday the 13th sex, no [Eli Roth’s] Hostel-style violence. It’s a family film. It’s very flattering that people love these movies.” They really do. At a recent Comicon, there were 1000 people in the audience, the same crowd you’d get for a “Marvel movie or a Season 3 or 4 of a TV show. The movies wouldn’t exist without the fans.”
And while he might not win the American Elasmobranch Society’s award for science communication (as someone who’s studied shark biology, I can assure you sharks do NOT roar), he is making his contribution towards shark conservation. A friend’s kid wanted to know if he was aware that vending machines kill more people than sharks do. Ferrante laughs, and as we talk about sharks and their villainous appearances in film, he says someone once told him “Jaws made them afraid to go into the water, Sharknado made sharks fun.” One of the big things that shark conservationists will tell you is that people need to love sharks before they will save them, and if takes a cinematic experience where it’s humanity with chainsaws versus sharks, hey, I’m sure the sharks will appreciate the irony.
He’s a director, improviser, shark ambassador … and musician. He lets me know his band “Quint” does some of the music (including the insanely catchy, Ramones-esqe “Ballad of Sharknado” and the fantastic Queen homage “Sharknado Rhapsody” – available on iTunes!). With 15 days of filming and 1000 SFX shots to deliver a movie, to throw songwriting and production on top of it? He might as well be juggling actual chainsaws. You don’t do this unless you love what you’re doing.
Before I did the interview, I asked my friends, most of them poets, if they had any questions. Some people asked legitimate questions like “When is it coming out in 3-D?” (“If we were going to do that it would’ve been with the 3rd one”) and “How did he make the shark bites look so real!” (“The SFX work gets better with each film”), while others asked the too-cool-for-school question: “Why?” I’ll tell you why, haters – because Anthony C. Ferrante is having fun, bringing something to life that shouldn’t be, like the new species of “boulder shark” he created. As an artist, I’m jealous, and mystified, of the energy an endeavor like this must take.
There can be only one explanation: Anthony C. Ferrante is having more fun than you.