Out in the Open

'I don't apologize for Sharknado': Cult film's screenwriter considers his legacy

Thunder Levin spent two decades trying to break through in Hollywood before he wrote the movie that became his claim to fame.

Thunder Levin is proud of his low-budget disaster film but hopes it’s not all he’s remembered for

Key art for Sharknado 2: The Second One. (Released by NBCUniversal/Associated Press)

This story was originally published on May 10, 2019.

When a film production company approached Thunder Levin to write Sharknado, he scratched his head.

"I said, 'What do sharks have to do with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization?'" He'd misunderstood the title as "shark-NATO."

"I was imagining sharks fighting the army in Europe or something," Levin told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay.

"It's something more important and far more profound than that," he later realized. "It's sharks in a tornado."  

Thunder Levin's claim to fame is writing the made-for-TV, low-budget disaster movie that first aired in 2013. Sharknado would spawn a six-film franchise in the years that followed.

Levin said the movie's cultish, so-bad-it's-good appeal was part of the plan. "It had to be a little tongue-in-cheek," he said. "Most of all, it had to have fun with itself."

You can watch the official trailer here: 

Before Sharknado, Levin wanted to be the next Spielberg

But it wasn't quite the career Levin had imagined.

He had moved to Los Angeles to be the next Steven Spielberg. But instead, Levin spent two decades making corporate films and working day jobs to get by.

The work paid well, but he found it soul-crushing. He kept writing films, hoping one day that he would get his break.

"The years went by and success always seemed just within my grasp, but never quite," he remembered.

Levin didn't expect Sharknado to become a hit. But on the night the movie was aired, Twitter exploded.

"It was surreal," Levin said of the thousands of tweets about the movie.

Celebrities were expressing their appreciation. Mia Farrow, Patton Oswalt and Olivia Wilde took to Twitter with their excitement. Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof tweeted that he'd like to write the sequel.

 

"It was a huge breakthrough," Levin said of the movie's popularity. "I had never really achieved any public awareness for any of my films."    

The calm after the shark storm  

Although Levin says he's happy to be known for writing Sharknado, he'd like to surpass its success with more serious works.

"Then hopefully, I will have two legacies and people will look back and say, 'How did the person who did [Sharknado] also do that?'"

Sharknado screenwriter Thunder Levin (Ezequiel Becerra)

Levin hopes a TV series project he's been working on will become his next big thing.

"I have had success doing something silly; I would like to also have success doing something more serious," he said.

"But I don't apologize for Sharknado."


This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Legacy Projects".

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