Movies
12:55 pm
Fri July 12, 2013

The Business Plan Behind 'Sharknado'

Originally published on Fri July 12, 2013 2:45 pm

The campy movie “Sharknado” about killer sharks caught in a tornado and dumped in Southern California, premiered yesterday on SyFy and unleashed a storm on Twitter.

At its peak, it produced 84 tweets per second. So what is the secret to this low budget film’s rabid success?

Guest

  • Ryan Bradley, senior editor for Fortune Magazine. He tweets @theryanbradley.
Copyright 2013 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

All right. So that's "Under the Dome," but it really cannot hold a candle to the phenom that is "Sharknado."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SHARKNADO")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) We're going to throw bombs into the tornado.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) It's too dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (as character) There's too many of them. We're going to need a bigger chopper.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Claudia, move.

CHAKRABARTI: The disaster flick about sharks in tornadoes aired last night on the SyFy Channel. But, Jeremy, it really took over Twitter.

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

It sure did. Tweets about "Sharknado" peaked at about 84 per second.

CHAKRABARTI: Wow. But there is a serious business plan behind "Sharknado." Ryan Bradley is senior editor at Fortune magazine. And, Ryan, the movie is made by a production house called The Asylum. Who are they?

RYAN BRADLEY: The Asylum makes not B-movies, what they call Z-movies; really, really low budget, knock-off blockbusters. Basically it all begins with its silly title.

CHAKRABARTI: Such as, well, "Sharknado" we've heard, but also they've made a film called "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies."

BRADLEY: And "Princess of Mars," "Transmorphers," "Snakes on a Train."

(LAUGHTER)

CHAKRABARTI: OK. So that leads us back to what you are saying that their first rule of making a lot of money off bad films is get the title right.

BRADLEY: Absolutely. The tagline for "Sharknado" is: Enough said.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAKRABARTI: Which makes you wonder why people even needed to watch the film and yet they did. So they've pretty much got it down to a science. What else do they do to make these successes?

BRADLEY: Well, they just crank out movies. Most of their budgets never go past $200,000. The shoots never take much more than three weeks, and they spend nothing on advertising and marketing.

CHAKRABARTI: So how does that work, no advertising budget at all?

BRADLEY: So, they often kind of ride the coattails of major studio films. This summer, their biggest budget movie is going to be called "500 Fathoms Deep" in most places, but then in others it's called "Atlantic Rim," very similar to "Pacific Rim," which comes out this weekend.

CHAKRABARTI: Oh, so they really are riding, like, directly on the coattails of Hollywood blockbusters.

BRADLEY: Yeah, yes. And this works amazingly well on direct-to-video because as you can imagine you're on Netflix in a couple months, you pull up "Pacific Rim" and "Atlantic Rim" is right there...

(LAUGHTER)

CHAKRABARTI: And little do you know, it was made for, you know, 1/10 or 1/100 of the budget.

BRADLEY: Yeah. Exactly.

CHAKRABARTI: So the moviemaking business is changing so dramatically. Are there any lessons here that The Asylum has to teach big Hollywood studios?

BRADLEY: I think so. I mean, I think that there's a tidy profit to be made by really focusing on direct-to-video and having fairly low margins. All of their films make money because they basically do not release a film without knowing that they will have the distribution, that there's a willingness out there to watch a film called "Sharknado."

(LAUGHTER)

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Ryan Bradley is a senior editor at Fortune magazine. His piece on the business savvy behind "Sharknado" is linked at our website, hereandnow.org. Ryan, thanks so much.

BRADLEY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, SHARK IN THE WATER)

VV BROWN: (Singing) Maybe there's a shark in the water. There's something underneath my bed. Oh, please believe I said.

HOBSON: And, you know, Meghna, last night, I was just looking at Twitter and I just see "Sharknado," Sharknado," "Sharknado..."

CHAKRABARTI: Everywhere.

HOBSON: ...everywhere. And I did what everyone did. I guess I turned on "Sharknado."

(LAUGHTER)

HOBSON: The next thing I know, there's a guy with a chainsaw, chainsawing himself out of a shark. So I guess that's what we missed.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAKRABARTI: Oh, Twitter, oh, "Sharknado."

HOBSON: This is HERE AND NOW from NPR and WBUR, Boston. I'm Jeremy Hobson.

CHAKRABARTI: I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. Robin Young returns on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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