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Thunder Levin – Sharknado‘s Screenwriter Discusses Penning The SyFy Film Phenomenon While Begi

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

Thunder Levin, writer of “Sharknado” working as director of “AE: Apocalypse Earth.” Photo: © 2013 Ezequiel Becerra. Courtesy of Deraney PR. All rights reserved.

Thunder Levin

Sharknado‘s Screenwriter Discusses Penning The SyFy Film Phenomenon While Beginning Work On Sharknado 2: The Second One, His New Indie Film, And His Science Fiction Epic TV Series!

by Arlene R. Weiss

The SyFy Cable Television Network is well known for its deliciously campy cheese fest of so-bad-it’s-good, made for TV, science fiction, horror, and fantasy B-films. This past July, SyFy experienced an unprecedented pop culture phenomenon and some of the highest ratings in the channel’s history with the broadcast of Sharknado!

The witty, self-aware, and deliriously exuberant tongue in cheek, low budget disaster film, depicts ocean formed waterspout tornados scooping up man eating sharks and depositing them with flooding seawaters into the streets of Los Angeles. Chaos, pandemonium, and an intentionally fun, over the top blend of gore, mayhem, and humor, take center stage as an infectiously likable rag tag group of friends brave their way through L.A. to hopefully find a way to destroy the sharknadoes and ultimately find safety.

I caught up with the man behind Sharknado, screenwriter Thunder Levin – who wrote the amazing, clever, and riveting screenplay for the film – to discuss the movie and the myth!

Sharknado stars Beverly Hills, 90210’s Ian Ziering in a career-defining dynamic performance as the heroic Fin Shepard. Ziering performs all his own stunts in the film, including a thrilling scene in which he rappels off a bridge to save a school bus full of children. He saves the day while battling and dispatching bloodthirsty sharks and raging weather catastrophes. As Levin best puts it, Ziering literally “reinvents himself as an action movie hero!”

The film also stars American Pie’s Tara Reid as Fin’s ex-wife April, acclaimed stage and screen actor John Heard as Fin’s buddy George, Baywatch’s Jaason Simmons as Fin’s pal Baz, and a firecracker performance from newcomer Cassie Scerbo as badass heroine Nova Clarke. Director Anthony C. Ferrante deftly helmed the film, combining just the right mix of thrilling suspense, warm character development, and winking humor.

Sharknado captured the imagination of a nation when it seemingly took over Twitter upon its first broadcast, sending the Twitterverse into the stratosphere with celebrities and fans alike tweeting the film’s praises. Its original broadcast and subsequent two re-broadcasts in July 2013 scored viewers and ratings into the millions. The film garnered an August red carpet premiere at L.A.’s Regal L.A. Live Stadium 14 Theater with the cast and crew turning out to cheering fans in support of a subsequent midnight showing and theatrical release in 200 movie theaters nationwide. Ian Ziering and Tara Reid were special guests on The Discovery Channel’s hit Shark Week spin off Shark After Dark, and the cast members, Ferrante, and Levin have been invited to appear on numerous talk shows and media.

On August 8, 2013, the SyFy Channel officially announced the sequel to Sharknado, titled Sharknado 2: The Second One, (the title was submitted and chosen by fans via a contest on Twitter) to premiere July 2014 on SyFy. This second chapter will see the shark infested tornadoes wreak havoc on the citizens and streets of New York. Ian Ziering will be back to reprise his role as Fin and Thunder Levin is already in the beginning stages of writing the sequel’s screenplay.

Levin has forged a career as both a successful and talented director and writer mostly in the realm of low budget science fiction, fantasy, and horror films. He’s performed duel creative duties, directing and writing 2008’s outrageously fun cult classic Mutant Vampire Zombies from the ‘Hood! starring C. Thomas Howell, 2013’s American Warships starring Mario Van Peebles and Rocky’s Carl Weathers, and the 2013 science fiction epic AE: Apocalypse Earth starring Adrian Paul from TV’s Highlander and Richard Grieco from 21 Jump Street and Booker.

Levin also wrote 2011’s Fast and The Furious “mockbuster” riff, 200 M.P.H., as well as co-writing 2013’s delightfully humorous Atlantic Rim which riffs on Pacific Rim with wit, flair, and fun.

Just a day after Labor Day weekend 2013, Thunder Levin graciously took time from writing Sharknado 2: The Second One to discuss his creative process behind Sharknado, as well as his many writing and directing film and TV projects. Levin also exuberantly discusses the two upcoming projects he’s most excited about, his new indie film Shadows of The Jungle and his new science fiction epic TV series 2176.

Hi Thunder, how are you? I want to wish you many congratulations on the phenomenal success of Sharknado! I had such a blast watching it! It’s so much fun! What do you think it is about Sharknado that so resonates with fans? Why do you think people feel such a strong connection to the film and to the concept of such an incredible and (comedic tongue in cheek) terrifying weather event?!

I think people have really tuned into the sense of fun we had with Sharknado. I had fun writing it. Anthony and the cast and crew had fun making it. Even the marketing department, with “Enough Said”, clearly had fun with it. I think, maybe, in this summer of prepackaged, bloated budget blockbusters, just the silly sense of fun of our little movie shone through. And, of course, who wouldn’t have fun with a tornado full of sharks?! It’s better than a barrel of monkeys!

Have you seen the photos on the web of fans at San Diego Comic-Con International 2013 who made their own amazing costumes and dressed up as Sharknadoes? There was one girl in particular who was an awesome Sharknado. What did you think?

Not only did I see the photos, but I was there and got my photo taken with her! That was great! And just this past Labor Day weekend at Dragon-Con 2013, at least two more people dressed up as sharknadoes.

Have you thought about putting something together at Halloween, just like Rocky Horror Picture Show?! You can have the midnight screenings at theaters with fans dressing up in Cosplay characters as Fin, Nova, Baz, George, and April….and of course the sharks, all while re-enacting the dialogue!

Personally, I’m hoping Sharknado becomes the next Rocky Horror and plays at midnight movies for all eternity!

Let’s talk about Sharknado’s origins. How did the film come about? How did you become involved with writing the screenplay, and how did you come up with such an awesome and surreal concept?

I didn’t come up with the concept. SyFy came up with the title Sharknado and I was hired to write it. (Author’s Note: After SyFy came up with the title, The Asylum film production company produced and made the film for SyFy and hired Levin to write the screenplay.)

What was your mindset and creative approach to writing Sharknado?

My approach was two-fold. First, it’s called Sharknado, so I had to have fun with it, and nothing would be too over the top. But even a movie this ridiculous needs to have a realistic foundation. So I started with the fairly straight-forward question, “What would happen if L.A. were hit by a hurricane?” This is a city that’s not designed for much rain at all. Our streets flood if it rains for an hour. So there’s no way it could handle the deluge of a hurricane. The whole city would fill up! So that’s where I started. And then I added sharks and tornadoes.

Were you on the Sharknado set during filming?

I wasn’t on set. I was actually in Costa Rica at the time, directing another film that I wrote, called AE: Apocalypse Earth (2013). It’s a fairly serious science fiction, action movie starring Adrian Paul and Richard Grieco. It’s out on DVD and streaming now.

Did you have any input on the casting choices and what did you think of the actors that took on the roles? I especially thought that Ian and Cassie are great and are so badass in their heroic roles saving the world and L.A.!

I had absolutely zero input on casting. But I thought Ian was a revelation. Like most people, I only knew him from Beverly Hills, 90210, but I think he reinvented himself as an action movie hero. Now he’s going to be known as Fin Shepard first, and Steve Sanders was that “other role” he played.

It’s scientifically documented that objects as big as freight train cars can be picked up many feet in the air and carried away long distances by tornadoes. Did you do any weather-related research on tornadic phenomenon when writing the movie?

There are documented cases of fish falling from the sky miles inland after waterspouts, tornadoes, and other meteorological phenomena. I just took it to the perfectly logical extreme.

It’s apropos that a film as cool as Sharknado was written by someone with just as cool a name, and weather related too! How did you get the very awesome and badass name Thunder!?

It was the 1960’s. There were a lot of strange things happening!

The biggest and most positive reactions have been on Twitter with many celebrities catching Sharknado fever. Who were some of the celebrities that most surprised you that started tweeting about the movie? I heard you wound up in a Twitter conversation with Damon Lindelof!

Well the most surprising participation on Twitter had to be Mia Farrow. But the conversation with Lindelof was pretty surreal. He tweeted that he was going to write a sequel to Sharknado and have it done before Sharknado was finished airing. I said it should be a prequel, only not quite. And he responded “Touché”! That was fun.

The sharknado was the result of a hurricane that hit L.A. in the movie. So why was the title of the movie not, Sharkicane or Hurrishark?

Because those aren’t as good titles!

I want to applaud you for creating the character of Nova. It’s so awesome to have a strong, intelligent, courageous, resourceful female hero and role model. Nova’s like a female Rambo, she’s such a kick ass lady! What was your inspiration for her character and the idea of her dropping bombs from a helicopter on the sharknado?

I’ve written strong female characters in most of my scripts. I love Nova too. The inspiration for her character was simply Quint from Jaws. I thought “What if Robert Shaw’s character was a really hot badass chick?!”

Wiki defines a nova as “cataclysmic nuclear explosion in a white dwarf star”, which describes the character of Nova to a tee. How did you come up with her name?

A Nova is the brightest thing in the universe. I always wanted to name a daughter Nova, but I’ve never had children. So I gave birth to her another way.

What about Fin’s name and its very obvious tongue in cheek pun? Was that your idea as well and how did his name come about for you?

Yeah, “Fin” was my idea. It just seemed obvious. In fact, his whole name is tongue in cheek. It’s Finlay Shepard. So not only is his first name shortened to Fin, but as a “Shepherd”, he takes care of his flock and guides them to safety.

It’s no secret in the movie that Fin and his ex-wife April are on tenuous terms before the sharknado takes place. When Fin goes to save her and his two teenage kids, April’s blustering boyfriend “chews” Fin out, and then her boyfriend gets his when he’s literally chewed, that is eaten by a shark! Was justice served?

In my draft, the boyfriend was actually her new husband and he wasn’t quite as much of an ass. But it was felt that the film would lose too much momentum if a more likeable character that she was actually married to was killed, because then we’d have to spend a lot of time mourning him, so he was changed into what you saw in the finished version. It makes sense.

Man of Steel had a pivotal scene where a young Clark Kent saves a school bus full of children that plows off a bridge into a river. But the young Superman is no match for Fin, who also saves a school bus full of children, and unlike Clark Kent, Fin must fend off deadly chomping sharks! Next to the film’s big finale, that’s my favorite scene in the movie.

Mine too!

A few characters buy the farm in the film. How did you decide which characters would get munched by sharks, and which characters would make it out alive?

Well, some characters that we care about have to die in a movie like this, but we obviously didn’t want Fin or any of his family to get eaten. So Baz and George were the obvious choices. And they had to die in order for the audience to believe that Nova was dead when the shark swallowed her.

What inspired you to write the most badass end to a film, EVER! Fin cutting his way out of the belly of the shark with a chainsaw, and then, going back to pull out of the shark, a still very much alive Nova!?

I don’t know, it just came to me. Obviously, the story of Jonah and the whale lurks in our collective unconscious, so that was probably the original impetus. And at first it was just Fin going in and then chain sawing his way out. But as I said, Nova’s character is based on Quint from Jaws. And the only disappointing thing about Jaws is that the most colorful character dies. So I figured, why not bring Nova back? Have her still in the shark and Fin pulls her out? It makes him even more heroic and it allows her to have the great line, “I really hate sharks.”

How old were you and what first inspired you to become a writer and also to work in the medium of film writing screenplays? How has the success of Sharknado changed and affected your career and validated what you do? Is there a special sense of pride, satisfaction, and joy in seeing your craft validated so highly in the public consciousness?

When I was a little kid, my favorite show was the original Star Trek. I knew that when I grew up, I wanted to explore outer space aboard the Enterprise. But I was just old enough to understand that the Enterprise wasn’t real. At the same time, one of my earliest memories was of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. And that just seemed so primitive! So I knew I didn’t want to be a real astronaut. But then someone gave me a book called The Making of Star Trek. It really wasn’t age appropriate, it was way too dry for a little kid to read, so the first thing I did was turn to the photo section. And right there in the first picture was a group of studio technicians in their 1960’s shirtsleeves working on the bridge of the Enterprise. And so I guess it just kind of clicked in my little kid brain that there WAS a way I could work on the Enterprise! There were other influences as well, of course, as I grew up…. a TV production class in high school, the stage musicals and plays I worked on, and of course Star Wars. But it all probably started with that book about Star Trek, which years later I read from cover to cover and thoroughly enjoyed.

The success of Sharknado has certainly opened up new opportunities to me. I’ve got a new agent with a prestigious agency and I’m getting meetings at much bigger companies than I might have before. There are some very exciting possibilities now and I’m looking forward to what the next year will bring!

What were some of your most memorable experiences co-writing the awesome Atlantic Rim (2013), which I thought was much better than Pacific Rim, and also co-writing another favorite of mine 2008’s Mutant Vampire Zombies from the ‘Hood!, which ties with Sharknado for the coolest concept and title ever!

Honestly, I wasn’t that big a part of Atlantic Rim. Richard Lima and I wrote a first draft, but then they wanted significant changes and I was already prepping AE: Apocalypse Earth and didn’t have time to work on it. So it was handed off to another writer. The basic backbone of the story, and the principal characters still resemble our draft, but there’s not a single line of our dialogue in the finished film.

Mutant Vampire Zombies from the ‘Hood! was a great production to be involved with. It was my first feature, we put together a GREAT cast and crew and everyone got along better than on any film set I’d ever been on. The script’s impetus was a northern California producer named Roger Saunders who was putting together a financing package for a series of low budget urban horror films. We’d been talking for a while and he asked me to write one. I’d collaborated with George Saunders (no relation) before and so I asked him to work with me on a zombie film with gangs that could be done well on a very low budget. We wrote the script in record time, but then Roger suddenly passed away of a heart attack. So I told George that we’d better raise the money and make the film ourselves, because you never know when your time will be up. So we did! And it was a wonderful experience. Many of the people I met on that production have become friends for life.

What other film projects are you working on and what’s your dream project? What’s a concept that you would love to write about and what actors or directors would you love to work with?

Well, it’s important to remember that I’m a director myself. In fact, I’d say I’m a director first and a writer second. Having said that, I’d love to work with Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, and James Cameron. They’re pretty much my professional role models. As for actors, there are so many, but I’d especially love to work with Harrison Ford or George Clooney, or any of the surviving cast of the original Star Trek!

As far as dream projects go, I’ve got an indie film that I’m trying to get off the ground called Shadows of The Jungle. But my real DREAM project is a science fiction epic called 2176. I’m actually pitching that around town as a TV series right now.

Without giving away too much, what can you reveal and tell people about the sequel to Sharknado, Sharknado 2: The Second One?

I really can’t talk about the sequel yet!

The sequel is already planned for broadcast on SyFy, July 2014. Will you and the Sharknado 2 cast and director be attending Comic-Con 2014?

I hope so!

There are already Sharknado T-Shirts, hoodies, and merchandise. The Discovery Channel just had Ian and Tara as guests on their Shark Week show Shark After Dark. Why do you think that Sharknado is such a fascinating fixture in pop culture, and it would seem world domination?

It was all part of my evil plan to take over the world!

I would love to see a versus film mashup concept for Sharknado. There’s already Alien vs. Predator, and SyFy had Pegasus vs. Chimera, one of my favorites! Here’s my idea for a mashup. Sharknado vs. Mastodonmeltdown, that’s right, rampaging mastodons from the ice age awakened and released from global warming melting the polar caps!

I really don’t know what to say to that!

Copyright ©2013 All rights reserved. Posted: September 10, 2013.

Photo Credits:

#1 ©2013 Ezequiel Becerra. Courtesy of Deraney PR. All rights reserved.

#2 ©2013 Syfy Media, LLC. Courtesy of NBC Universal. All rights reserved.

#3 ©2013 Syfy Media, LLC. Courtesy of NBC Universal. All rights reserved.

#4 ©2013 Syfy Media, LLC. Courtesy of NBC Universal. All rights reserved.

#5 ©2013 Syfy Media, LLC. Courtesy of NBC Universal. All rights reserved.

#6 ©2013 Syfy Media, LLC. Courtesy of NBC Universal. All rights reserved.

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