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Why Sharknado Should Be Taught in Film School


sharknado poster

I’m doing something a little different today since the grade for Sharknado is obvious…If that grade is anything but an F in your mind, I’ll pray to the Lumiere brothers for your immortal soul in the cinematic afterlife. But I do feel that Sharknado can play a crucial role in the world apart from reintroducing us all to Ian Ziering and Tara Reid – something we weren’t aware we needed.

In the classroom, the standard style of teaching a concept is to focus on how to do it right. Students memorize the correct path in recognizing and utilizing a formula, which often deters original thoughts or the formation of connective thinking. Film students dissect the brilliance of Scorcese, Spielberg and Hitchcock, among others. Movies like Citizen Kane are analyzed in order to be revered through future films. However, placing such a strong emphasis on how to do it right can impede the growth of creativity.

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To be clear, do I think these films should be ignored in place of those not reaching the same heights of greatness? Not at all. I think the greats should be analyzed in conjunction with the duds. Take Sharknado. Students of film editing would cringe seeing the discrepancies in Sharknado. One minute the weather is clear as a summer day (or just a day in Los Angeles) and the next there’s a torrential downpour. Clearly, the makers of Sharknado have never heard of continuity.

From this, students can begin to brainstorm on how to fix these problems. When presented with a jumbled puzzle (in this case, with numerous missing pieces), more imagination and skill is needed to make a complete picture. So, if the editor is provided with the unenviable task of making it seem like these actors are, you know, acting, they can make something happen. Ultimately, it is not the editor’s fault if each take is filmed differently, at multiple locations (on and off set) or is simply irreparable, but you have to work with what you’re given.

Acting classes could take a few tips from Sharknado as well. Sorry, heed the warnings, not the tips. For instance, when pretending to be in a moving vehicle, shaking one’s body like Ace Ventura in a Humvee does not mimic reality – that means you, actor who could easily be Ian Ziering’s brother but instead is playing his older-than-he-should-be son. Nay, it reminds everyone that the actor is on a glorified amusement park ride.

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It is also important to remember what the scene is trying to accomplish. If your ex-husband is showing up unannounced, you would understandably be perturbed. However, if said husband is warning you of impending doom, mild annoyance is not the appropriate tone of voice – I’m looking at you Ms. Reid. Even if you are not a vocal part of the scene, the movie still benefits from a complete immersion in a role. So, during a scene packing a Hummer with explosives, the movie is not helped by a hanger-on looking confused and idly searching for something to do with his hands; Ricky Bobby would be proud.

Frankly, Sharknado could be shown in almost any filmmaking class and be used as a “How to” guide for getting everything wrong. Storytelling? Don’t even bother trying to follow the logic here. First and foremost, movies should keep a structured narrative moving. The beginning of Sharknado involves some shady dealings that are literally never referred to or mentioned again; the sole purpose is to show how ornery the sharks are. That’s fine, I suppose, but I felt comfortable in my assumption that sharks would be ticked anyway if they had been ripped from the ocean by a gust of wind.

Second, writers should avoid unnecessary callbacks and references. Sharknado is chock (chum?) full of reminders as to what’s occurring. Ian Ziering’s name? Fin, you know, like a shark. His coworker’s biggest fear even though she works on the beach? Sharks. In order to remind the audience of the scenery, Thunder Levin (yes, that is the writer of Sharknado) makes incessant, obtrusive references to “LA staples.”

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Everyone who’s anyone knows about the 405 and the 10 and LA’s infamous traffic, but in case you needed a reminder, Sharknado is there for you. Sharknado expands on this by reminding us of the vapid nature of Southern Californians, as Tara Reid’s April believes Beverly Hills to be “like 100 miles” from the beach when in reality she is precisely (according to Fin) “6.6 miles” away. As they travel through the city, I’m sure she believed them to be driving through South Africa or the Iraq, such as. These references do nothing for the plot and likely alienated those who have never visited LA.

Finally, students could learn about commitment from Sharknado. No, not romantic commitment; that is horribly portrayed here, as it’s impossible to discern who loves whom. I am referring to a commitment to style and tone.

Ian Ziering is the consummate professional here by actually trying to portray Fin as a real character, and I commend him for that. The rest of the cast, *cough*Tara Reid*cough*, mails in their performance while running around with their arms waving. The only true consistency comes from the faux-Aussie sidekick who is a one-liner generator; sadly he is as out of place as a kangaroo loose from its pen. The fault cannot lie with them, however, since the script is hesitant to commit fully to the idea of tornadoes flinging sharks all over Los Angeles. Go big, or go home.

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Most films decide on a tone and stay with it for the duration of the plot, unless there is a twist turning everything upside down. An action thriller with a low budget and absurd premise should not try to retain a sense of reality. Yet, Sharknado includes one Google search’s worth of research by including factual gems about a lack of hurricanes in Los Angeles (as told by a reporter with selfish priorities) and what causes a tornado. Moments like these further discredit a film because it gives the impression that effort was put into it when the rest of the film displays a complete disregard for authenticity. Students would be wise to find their identity and stay true to that.

For any filmmaking class, the proper curriculum should include Sharknado on the first day. The lecture should begin with an introduction of the Syfy masterpiece and end with a declaration that the coming weeks will teach students how to avoid what they just witnessed. From there, any class can then move to the legitimate classics. This will provide students with an all-encompassing view of how to make a film. Imaginations will be sparked and creativity will be stimulated. Similar to the great innovators of our time like Disney or Hefner, film students, after having viewed Sharknado, can start from the bottom and work their way up with a unique viewpoint, untainted by what they know as the gold standard.

Everyone has to start somewhere, so why not start at rock bottom?

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  1. The only flaw I can spot in your logic is that some people actually enjoy shittiness to varying degrees. I count myself among them (sometimes). I’m not disagreeing with you at all, I’m just saying…The Asylum must be making money to be churning out the crap they do. But you’re right. When teaching people how to make movies, this is not what you want to hold up on a pedestal as actually good.

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