'Sharknado' Season

Behind the Science of Making Low-Budget Monster Hits
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Syfy is about to debut the sequel to a movie whose anticipated success is about as baffling as the premise of the story it tells: how a freak weather pattern brings live sharks raining down into the streets of Manhattan.

In the next few days Syfy will find out if lightning indeed strikes twice (and can take a bigger bite out of the ratings and social-media universe) with the debut of Sharknado 2: The Second One (July 30), as well as film legend Roger Corman’s latest hybrid aquatic monster epic, Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda (Aug. 2). 

As scores of young males — the target demo for these types of low-budget horror flicks — butter their popcorn for a night of pure escapist fun, other channels and producers are watching closely. Because the schlocky, tongue-in-cheek, youth-oriented low-budget flicks that were so popular in the 1960s and 1970s from producers and directors like Corman are making a comeback. And other networks are looking to jump in the water.

B-MOVIE REVIVAL

Already producers like The Asylum — which produced Sharknado, Sharknado 2 and dozens of other films for Syfy — as well as Corman’s New Horizons Picture Corp. and Active Entertainment, a Louisiana producer that has spawned Arachnoquake,Swamp Shark and Ghost Shark, among  others, have seen a spike in interest from other networks, especially those that are going after a young male audience.

Sharknado got us a lot of meetings,” said The Asylum partner, sales and distribution David Rimawi, and led to a deal with Animal Planet for Blood Lake, a reality-based movie about killer lampreys. “Other networks are saying, ‘Look, we want a film that the audience is excited about and is talking about.’ Are we signing deals? No. Are we having conversations? Yes.”

RBC Capital markets media analyst David Bank said that all networks, large and small, are increasing their focus on owning more of the content on their channels. And the low-budget horror movie could more than fit the bill.

“We live in a world where content is more monetizable on a global basis and that genre [low-budget horror] probably works across the globe, as opposed to, say, romantic comedies,” Bank said.

While so-called B-movies have been around since the 1930s — they were essentially second reels in double features — they were transformed in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, as Corman and a growing number of young producers and directors tapped into youth culture with low-budget films that were high on gore and campy humor like A Bucket of Blood, Little Shop of Horrors and Attack of the Giant Leeches.

By the ’80s and ’90s, these films made the transition from the big screen to home video, where they found a new audience attracted to a steady stream of blood, guts and increasingly implausible titles. Corman ushered in the era of the reptilian monster mash-up with Dinocroc, a half-dinosaur/ half-crocodile creature feature that was snapped up by fledgling cable network Sci-Fi Channel (as it was then called) and quickly became its highest-rated movie at the time.

The game changed again with last July’s debut of Sharknado, which on the surface appeared to be just another in a long line of campy, teen-oriented horror flicks.    

But Sharknado (and hopefully its sequel) set off a social-media firestorm when it premiered on July 11, 2013, generating more than 387,000 online comments during its initial 87-minute broadcast, mostly on Twitter. While the ratings for the first Sharknado airing were ordinary — about 1.37 million viewers, a slight improvement over a typical Thursday for the channel — those tweets (reaching about 5,000 per minute at their peak) helped drive more viewers to subsequent airings.

In its second airing, Sharknado drew 1.9 million viewers and by its third, 2.4 million watched the movie, a record for a Syfy encore. In one fell swoop, Sharknado had proven what online experts have been saying all along: Social media can drive future ratings.

Syfy executive vice president of marketing digital and global brand strategy Michael Engleman added that while the Twitter explosion during the first Sharknado movie was a surprise, his team knew exactly what to do to keep it going.  

Read the complete version of the Sharknado story here.

Check out a Q&A with the legendary B-film auteur Roger Corman.

Sharknado writer Thunder Levin on the 'fun and ridiculousness' of the Syfy telefilms.

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