Interview: 'Sharknado: The 4th Awakens' Director Anthony C. Ferrante On 'Star Wars' Gags And The Next 'Sharknado' Sequel

When I reviewed Sharknado: The 4th Awakens I tried to keep it spoiler-free. When I interviewed director Anthony C. Ferrante, who has helmed all four Sharknado movies to date, there were a few specific things I wanted to discuss. He said it was okay, because if you've watched the trailers, most of it is in there. So spoiler warning for anyone who is still avoiding the Sharknado 4 trailers.

As the subtitle suggests, there is a parodic Star Wars reference or two, and the trailer even gives away that there's an opening crawl. Hey, Sharknado 3 opened like a James Bond movie. Twitter voted on #AprilLives or #AprilDies after Sharknado 3, and it's no secret that Tara Reid is back. However, the film picks up five years after the cliffhanger scene on the beach at the end of Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! Now Aston Reynolds (Tommy Davidson) has devised a way to eliminate tornados, but the sharks find their way into other weather phenomena. Fin Shepard (Ian Ziering) is still the only man who can stop them.

Read our Sharknado director interview below.

Was I right that you were doing a superhero movie?

Oh yeah, of course. In only a way that a Sharknado movie could do it. We kind of realized we're always playing with different genres. So it's one of those things where when we were doing it, it was like okay, we're doing a pirate movie, we've got the Vegas thing...

People still mistake that you're purposely making a bad and campy movie. Are you actually trying to embrace the ridiculous and make it awesome?

That is the intent. The intent is not to be bad and campy. Look, we don't have money to do a $200 million Sharknado movie. We have 15 days and probably the craft service budget of Batman for a week. We do these movies in six months so there's going to be some stuff that misses the bar in terms of looking super polished. We take what we're doing seriously as if we're doing one of those things. Also, we just go, "Look, we're just going to be outlandish and crazy because that's what these movies are." They're intended to be fun. However anybody wants to construe them is up to them. If they want to think that they're bad and campy, that's fine. What I've found in general though is the true fans that love these movies, they love them because they are what they are. Not because this label that started off, the "so bad it's good" thing. That one still bugs me a little bit because when you say it's so bad it's good, okay, fine, I get that but if it's so bad, you don't want to watch it. I still haven't quite understood that meme as much as the other stuff.

If you had more time for the effects, would it defeat the purpose? These are very quick gags, so we get the point and you move on.

I think the thing is if you look at all four movies, the visual effects have been improving on each film. I think there's a lot of stuff that we would love to try to have more time to fill out. I think just having an additional 100 effects and maybe another two months would just make it even more of a meal. The ideas are crazy so I think it would be fun to maybe go even more ambitious than what we have. I think the audience would be along for the ride with us. What we originally wanted to do with the train sequence and the Grand Canyon was epic, but when you only have 15 days to make a movie, you have to shoot the nitty gritty and get it dow. Yeah, it works. It gets the point across but you sometimes would like to let some of this breathe just a little bit more.

You did James Bond in Sharknado 3. Did you just have to do Star Wars?

The James Bond thing was something I kind of knew I wanted to do and everybody was kind of like, "I don't know if we should be doing that." I go, "Let's just try it." Then it became now we've got to find something we could do with this one. If we didn't do Star Wars we would be disappointing everybody. Even at that, we kind of did Star Wars in the last movie with the lightsaber chainsaw so it's not an anomaly to this franchise. I don't think we hit it until the gag is dead either. I think there's just enough Star Wars gags in this movie that it satisfies the subtitle but I don't think it's intrusive.

Sharknado: The 4th Awakens - Season 2016

What was the decision to skip ahead five years and not immediately deal with the cliffhanger on the beach?

I think that came from Syfy originally which I thought was good. It'd be very hard to have Fin Shepard running around with a newborn baby. Just production-wise, that would've made our lives a lot of hell. But I also think it was one of those things where we talked about what can we do that's different? I think I discussed this a lot of times. Why isn't the government or someone figuring out what to do with these tornados and stuff? Given five years, I think someone would've figured it out and it wouldn't be the government. It ended up being a Steve Jobs dude.

Did it give you a chance to address the commodification of sharknado, since everyone knows about them now?

I can't remember when this line came up but it kind of summed it up. We've established that sharknados are a threat and that they're not sharks, they're not tornados, it's just this anomaly that they're attracted to each other and they exist. If you eliminate one of the elements, because there were a couple instances we talked about. My pitch was, they rounded up all the sharks and put them in Guantanamo Bay basically. The only way they thought they could stop this was to corral them. The thing is, that's kind of a little unrealistic. In dealing with sharknado, thinking you could get every single shark, and it is a big crazy concept but we also are crazy and weird. The thing that really made more sense was what if they could neutralize the tornados? Because then you're not really hurting the sharks, you're not killing the sharks. You're not doing something horrible to them, even though we do in every film. In just the broad scope, there still is this real world that exists in the movie and I don't think the public would be very happy corralling sharks. That would be a different political statement in the film. So neutralizing tornados made the most sense and again, it would make sense that it was an outside source to figure out how to do that. Now it's an even playing field and nature starts going, "Hey, I can create a sandnado and here's an oilnado." And the sharks survive in it because it's sharknado sharks. It's like Two-Face in Batman. On one hand, we're going we're completely ridiculous and crazy, and yet there are moments of lucidity where we go, "Yes, but in reality we can't do that. That would be horrible." We try to have our cake and eat it too sometimes.

How did it feel to hear Wayne Newton sing "The Ballad of Sharknado?"

That actually was very cool. We were in Vegas and we found out Wayne Newton was going to be in it. I go, "We've got to get him to sing 'Ballad of Sharknado.'" So I had to send him the song with the lyrics and he said, "I'll do it!" Basically 30 minutes before we were going to shoot, I sat there and taught him how to sing the song. I think we have a video clip of me singing it with him. That's just so surreal when those moments like that happen. Making movies is the thing I set out to do. I love making movies. Music is an important part of all of this but it also is sort of a hobby. When you write something that transcends just being a hobby, it's kind of neat.

And technically, you are now a shared universe with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, aren't you?

Yeah, yeah, I guess MGM's going to have to pair up with us with that. I heard that Bill Moseley was mad that we didn't have him play Chop Top in the movie. I feel horrible. I think we tried reaching out to him but how fast we move, it's one of those things. Okay, we're shooting this on Tuesday and it's Sunday night. That's not a whole lot of time to get a hold of people and negotiate and do all that stuff. If we can't get ahold of someone it goes past, so I have to make it up to Bill Moseley. Bill, if you're out there and you're reading this, we love you and we would have loved you in this movie but we will find a way to pay you back.

When April said, "Come with me if you want to live," was it her idea to pause?

Yeah, we knew we wanted to do a few of those lines. It's so tricky because we don't want them to ape the other movies. We want them to feel organic, but they sort of veer into that. She did that a couple different ways. We had her doing it very big and very small. I think that was the best one.

Sharknado: The 4th Awakens - Season 2016

You seem to handle exposition better than some of the big blockbusters. Do you have a philosophy for powering through that?

I wish I could say there was some sort of master plan. I think it's just storytelling. It's a collective brain trust. You have Syfy, you have Asylum, you have Thunder and you've got myself. We all have our ideas of the stuff we want to do with these movies. We go back and forth. We have a master list of gags so my job as the director is to balance all that stuff and find a way to try to tell a story with it. Certainly, there's a lot of competing ideas in these movies. It is scattershot and crazy sometimes but at its core, what I try to do is always go back to what's going on with Fin and April, grounding that. Once you get that arc of what's going on with them within the framework of the craziness, then you can start dealing with, how do you get away with the exposition? How do you create this new mythology? I'm glad you said that and I hope that's true, that we explain everything as best as we can. I think we gloss over stuff too but I think our original concept was a lot more complicated and the more we went through, we just kept simplifying and simplifying. Now you have what you see in the finished movie.

There was another discussion too, and this was kind of the tricky part, originally we weren't going to reveal what happened to April, whether she lives or dies, until the movie in terms of exactly what happened. Everybody would know Tara was in it but how she was in it or what she was in it was always going to be kind of a mystery. But, as it became clear, we couldn't keep it a secret. I think it worked to the advantage of the marketing to say, "Yeah, she's back." You've seen the movie. Other people don't know exactly why. The important thing for me was finding ways of keeping a mystery even if you know what's happening.

One of the earlier things that I wanted to do was when you watched the film, in the crawl, I wanted it to say: April Wexler is dead. And be definitive about it and then find our way of how to get around it as you watch the film. But the problem with that was that that crawl is part of the commercial. Again, in our self-imposed rules, we're parodying that but it's organic to the idea that this is a commercial within the movie, not necessarily the crawl to Sharknado.

Do you have plans for Sharknado 5?

If the audience is there and Syfy wants us back, it's one of those things where I know that there's still stuff to do. Every time we finish a movie I think there's nothing left to say, and all of a sudden I say something stupid and go, "Hey wouldn't it be cool if we did this? Oh my gosh, I'm talking about the next movie." So there's always ideas. There's always things, I think, left in the universe to mine. I'll give you an example. The main title animation that we did, I knew I wanted to do animation. I was searching for someone that wanted to do full-on animation for that one minute. I found a guy named John McGuire. That was about two and a half, three weeks ago. It was the beginning of July I finally locked him in. So we started talking about what I wanted to do. I wanted to tell a mini Fin adventure so it sort of became a post-apocalyptic terminator shark Fin adventure in animation. We came up with all these gags, some gags too we didn't necessarily get a chance to put into the film. At one point we were talking about lasers on sharks so that ended up going in there. We came up with a couple fun things. I love the sort of WWII flying sharks. That was fun, they're dropping bombs. There's still interesting gags but I think the gags don't work if you don't care about the characters. Even with the addition of some of the new cast, you really like these people. For whatever reason, even Tommy Davidson who plays a foil for Fin, he's this big larger than life salesman of this technology but at his core he's a good guy. I think that's what makes him interesting. Probably my favorite scene in the entire movie is the one where Fin and April finally get a chance to talk. It's so Sharknado and so cornball but it's the heart of the movie. They just acted the hell out of it.

Maybe the fifth one can be your Fast Five.

We almost did that with the car, but there's that. There are a few other genres we haven't played with. There's still some places left to destroy so we'll see where it all leads. The reason why we cram so much into the last movie and particularly his movie is that I remember showrunners for the longest time, when you'd hear them talking about their series, it's like, "Well, why did you go there in season two?" Well, if you don't put everything into your season, you don't know if you're going to have a season six or seven so you've got to cram everything you can in there and then sort through it next year. I feel Sharknado is the same way. If we hold back and don't put everything we've got into it, there might not be another one. You have to put all your wares on the table. I think this one is probably the fastest pace of all of them.

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Sharknado: The 4th Awakens premieres Sunday, July 31 at 8PM on Syfy. If you want more Sharknado, Ferrante has released an opera under his band, Quint. You can buy the "Sharknado Rhapsody" on iTunes. He also filmed a virtual reality horror short with Ziering called Killer Deal that should be available after its Tribeca and Fantasia premieres. Ferrante also produced a horror movie called The Ones Above that should be released soon.