Sharknado 3: Ian Ziering on finding the 'secret sauce' of shark franchise

Contributed by
Jul 22, 2015

Ian Ziering is clearly a man most at home with a chainsaw in his hands these days. Since the first Sharknado took the Internet by a man-eating storm in 2013, the former Steve Sanders has become more recognizable as Fin Shepard, the chainsaw-wielding hero of the Syfy monster comedy.

Now, after the franchise became an even larger hit, in the ratings and on social media, with last year’s second entry, Ziering returns with Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! Along with more sharks -- in a ‘nado that moves from New York to the entire “feast coast,” including Washington, D.C., and Orlando, Fla. -- Fin gets bigger and badder toys (and more creative chainsaws?) to slay the storm.

I visited the Universal Studios Orlando set of the third film last February, where Ziering spoke to me about riding the wave of Sharknado popularity. In the following interview, we discuss how to up the ante for the trilogy, the low-budget appeal of the franchise and, of course, chainsaws.

The first Sharknado probably felt like lightning in the bottle, then the second one went bigger, and now the third is even bigger still. Is there anything where, as you're approaching this, you decide it's important to hold back a little bit to save for future installments, or are you constantly swinging for the fences?

You have to constantly swing for the fences, because you can't rely on future installments. With this project you always put your best foot forward, but finding the secret sauce, that magic ingredient, that allows it to be not just successful, but globally successful, is very elusive.

Major motion picture studios spend hundreds of millions of dollars in hopes that they're able to accomplish what we did on a fraction of the budgets they spend. With the success of Sharknado, there was such a huge demand for Sharknado 2 that they picked it up pretty quickly. I don't think that was a surprise to anyone, it was pretty successful.

Ultimately, when Syfy aired Sharknado 2, it delivered, and it delivered in a big way. I think a lot of that had to do with the fans. The science fiction fans are the most supportive fans in all of entertainment.

Again, the excitement spilled over from sci-fi fans to mainstream entertainment. Now with Sharknado 3, there's going to be this moment where people don't want to miss it, they're not going to want to be left out on the watrercooler conversations. The movie just strikes a chord with our audience, because they're in on the joke but the characters within the movie are not.

How does the low-budget element play into the appeal of Sharknado?

When you have that genre and you put within it a low-budget science fiction movie, you don't have time for the quality content you see in those movies. So, quite often, you might see someone running in the background in a huge, hysterical panic scene where, once she'll cross the scene this way, then she'll wait 10 seconds and run this way. She's running back and forth. You may see that, you may not. You may see someone whose legs were chewed off in a previous scene. That happens.

Again, because we shoot these movies in 15 days, it creates that campiness that wouldn't exist if we had five months to shoot this movie. We'd shoot two pages a day. Not only do we shoot 7 to 10 pages a day, but those pages are changing up until the moment we say them. So it's like nothing I've ever done before, and it's incredibly rewarding and immensely enjoyable.

When they told you the third one was going to be in Orlando in a theme park, what's the first thought that went through your mind? "Oh, that's going to work great" or "What's that going to be like?"

I was thinking it's going to be great, because we'll be warm for a change. Mother Nature had other plans for us: It was pretty cold when we started shooting down here, and it was raining. We had the coldest day of the year the other day.

We talk a lot about the social media component, but we can overdo it because we're also trying to have a good movie with a good narrative and characters. How do you balance that? Likewise, do you think about how things will play online while shooting?

We shoot things specifically for that. We've got people within our cast that are influencers in different social environments. So there's a lot of that. But you don't want to tell too much. We're not allowing anybody to post pictures of us in character. You don't want to see everything.

Show business is an interesting animal. It's the show on one side, but not through social media, seeing how you can effect change, positive or negative, it propels the brand in a way that was never before possible. It is not just the production companies and studios, but the actors who are aware of the potential for the digital outreach.

At this point, wouldn't Fin want to stay as far away from water as possible?

One would think, right? Actually, I'm going to put it out on my Twitter feed and take some suggestions of where, if there is another movie, it should take place.

Without spoiling too much, how have the weapons evolved in terms of killing sharks in this movie?

I'll tell you that we're still using chainsaws. They're very effective. Guns, when we can find them. All the tools still apply. In Sharknado 1, I think that chainsaw was a Home Depot special. With Sharknado 2, that was a timber saw. That's a good 45-pound saw that's used to cut down big trees. In Sharknado 3, there's a bit of a change in the chainsaw.

Three movies in, if ever there was a Sharknado expert, it's Fin. Do you have any survival tips, should something this ridiculous actually happen?

Leave your umbrella at home and take the chainsaw.

Maybe an umbrella chainsaw?

Maybe Sharknado 4!

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