The ‘Sharknado’ phenomenon: Making America bait again

Social media buzz has turned ‘Sharknado’ into one of the most popular film franchises ever made for television. (AFP)
Updated 24 July 2017
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The ‘Sharknado’ phenomenon: Making America bait again

SAN DIEGO: With its airborne sharks, over-the-top gore and endless cheesy cameos from fading stars it ought to have flopped — but the viral “Sharknado” franchise shows no signs of losing its bite.
A fifth film in five years, “Sharknado 5: Global Swarming,” is due for release on Aug. 6, building on social media buzz that has turned the series into one of the most popular ever made for television.
An unabashed homage to the B-movies of Hollywood’s Golden Age, the franchise stars “Beverly Hills 90210” alum Ian Ziering and Tara Reid from the “American Pie” films as husband and wife Fin and April Shepard.
Wherever they go, the hapless couple end up doing battle with giant, monstrous great whites that have been sucked into the air in freak storms and deposited on unsuspecting populations.
“Each movie we get to do a different genre. The last movie was a superhero movie. We got to do ‘White House Down’ with sharks and a space movie in three,” Anthony C. Ferrante, who has directed all five installments, told a panel at San Diego Comic-Con at the weekend.
“So this one was an international ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ James Bond movie, and it allowed us to do things we never thought we could accomplish.”
The franchise got off to a slow start, with “Sharknado” only managing 1.4 million viewers during its first run. But repeats and all-important social media buzz made it into a cult classic.
Its third airing pulled 2.1 in million viewers, the most-watched repeat of an original movie in the SyFy channel’s history.
“Sharknado 2: The Second One” attracted a viewership of 3.9 million, the largest audience ever for SyFy, a unit of NBC Universal.
By the time “Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens” came around, the series had enough cultural cachet to attract fan favorites like David Hasselhoff, Steve Guttenberg, Jackie Collins and Lou Ferrigno.
The series was also becoming known for some odd appearances — sometimes way too long to be described as cameos — by the likes of right wing political commentator Ann Coulter and “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin.
In the meantime the movies have spawned a cottage industry of merchandise, from action figures, comics and video games to the book “How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters” by Andrew Shaffer.
No one was more surprised by the sudden popularity of the series than its stars.
“I remember it was first called ‘Dark Skies.’ To have that on your resume, it sounds like a good movie,” Reid told fans at Comic-Con, many decked out in “Sharknado” costumes and t-shirts.
“Then they told me it was called ‘Sharknado’ and I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ll never work again.’“
Zierling, meanwhile, said he ordered his agent to get him off the project and joked that he had even considered changing his name so the movie wouldn’t appear on his Internet Movie Database entry.
The films have varied in their fortunes with the critics, the first attracting an approval rating of 82 percent on reviews collation website “Rotten Tomatoes.”
“Sharknado 4” managed just 17 percent and was described by The Daily Beast as “another piece of dreary detritus,” yet it still pulled in almost three million viewers, buoyed by social media.
Reid in particular, with 380,000 Twitter followers and another 192,000 on Instagram, has been a prize asset for the franchise.
“Sharknado” prompted 318,000 tweets during its debut airing — in an era when social media engagement is as important for TV executives as eyeballs glued to the screen.
“Sharknado 2” became the most social movie on TV ever, with 581,000 tweets — around ten times as many as for “America’s Got Talent,” that summer’s most popular TV series among Americans.
In “Sharknado 5,” which has the tagline “Make America Bait Again,” Reid and Ziering are joined by Olivia Newton-John and the Italian model Fabio, who graced the covers of numerous romance novels in the 1980s.
SyFy debuted a new trailer at Comic-Con showing Fin and April trying to save their son, who’s trapped in a sharknado churning up the world.
The movie was a truly international production, shooting in the UK, Australia and Bulgaria.
Playing themselves are British Olympic swimmer Tom Daley, “Fantastic Beasts” star Dan Fogler and NBC News anchor Jeff Rossen.
“The studios have two to two-and-a-half years to do a movie. We’ve done five of these in five years,” said Ferrante.
“We started shooting this movie in January and we literally delivered it last night. We went to five countries but we also did in an impressive amount of time — the way only ‘Sharknado’ can.”


Pressures and pains that tear a couple apart

A still from the film.
Updated 19 July 2018
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Pressures and pains that tear a couple apart

DENVER: Like a gallery wall-sized enlargement of a microscopic image, “Scenes from a Marriage” is all about size, space and perspective.
Directed by Ingmar Bergman — whose birth centenary was marked this week — at 281 minutes long, its unwieldly length presents an intimidating canvas, yet the claustrophobic intimacy of its gaze is unprecedented: The two leads are alone in nearly every scene, many of which play out for more than a half-hour at a time.
Premiered in 1973, the work is technically a TV mini-series, but such is its legend that theaters continue to program its nearly five-hour arc in its entirety. A three-hour cinematic edit was prepared for US theater consumption a year later (it won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but was ruled ineligible for the corresponding Oscar).
Not a lot a happens but, then again, everything does. Shot over four months on a shoestring budget, its six chapters punctuate the period of a decade. The audience are voyeurs, dropped amid the precious and pivotal moments which may not make up a life, but come to define it.
We meet the affluent Swedish couple Marianne and Johan — played by regular screen collaborators Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, both of whom clocked at least 10 Bergman credits — gloating about ten years’ happy marriage to a visiting reporter. This opening magazine photoshoot is the only time we see their two children on camera, and inevitably the image projected is as glossy, reflective and disposable as the paper it will be printed on.
The pressures, pains and communication breakdowns which tear this unsuited pair apart are sadly familiar. The series was blamed for a spike in European divorce rates. It may be difficult to survive the piece liking either lead, but impossible not to emerge sharing deep pathos with them both. Sadly, much of the script is said to be drawn from Bergman’s real-life off-screen relationship with Ullmann.
It’s a hideously humane, surgical close-up likely to leave even the happiest couple groping into the ether on their way out of the cinema.