Thunder Levin was born and raised in New York City, graduated from Hunter College High School, and received a BFA in Film from NYU before moving to Los Angeles at age 23. He credits the original Star Trek television series with opening his mind to both the wonders of science fiction and filmmaking as a child, while the original Star Wars solidified his desire to make movies when he grew up.
Mutant Vampire Zombies from the ‘Hood! (2008) starring C. Thomas Howell was Thunder’s feature film directorial debut. This led to him writing and/or directing several films for production company The Asylum, including American Warships (2012) and AE: Apocalypse Earth (2013), culminating in the pop culture phenomenon Sharknado (2013). While continuing to write and direct feature films, he is also developing episodic television projects.
Thunder is a lifelong sailor and car enthusiast who’s recently taken up motorcycle riding. In addition to his film and television work, he is writing his first novel. He lives in Santa Monica, CA, but considers himself a “temporarily misassigned New Yorker”. Thunder is his real name. Please don’t ask why.
Alex Ferrari 1:33
Enjoy today's episode with guest host, Jason Buff.
Jason Buff 1:37
Do you like sharks? Do you like NATO's? Well, my friend, you are in luck today, because today we are talking with thunder Levin, screenwriter of Sharknado and Sharknado. Two, I was wondering if you could talk for just a second about your experience when you first got into Los Angeles and what your expectation was versus what you actually found?
Thunder Levin 2:00
Sure. I got to tell I in late 1986, with my student film in hand, and I was quite prepared to send it to Steven Spielberg and say, Where have you been?
Jason Buff 2:14
We've been waiting for you. Right. That's what usually happens.
Thunder Levin 2:17
And that that did not happen to my great surprise. Although I did get a very nice letter back from his director of development at the time saying we thought it was a very well done student film. And so then I said about the hard slog of trying to make connections. And I guess it took about three or four years of just sort of knocking on doors before I got my first directing job. And then that didn't go very well. I was sort of outmaneuvered politically, I went into it being I guess, very naive and thinking everybody was there to help me realize all this nonsense, and no, everybody was there for for their own causes, or at least especially the producers. And so that did not go very well. And so then it was sort of a case of regrouping, and I started writing more. And it was a long time before, before other things started happening. And I started doing corporate promotional videos for a living, which actually is a fairly good living, if you can make it work. But it wasn't what I wanted to do. And so years went by, and I finally I was in my mid 30s, when I thought, you know, this is ridiculous, we got to make something happen. If nobody's going to hire me to do it, I ought to make my own film, which had always been the plan. It's just, you know, that was a Sunday kind of thing. Someday, if things don't work out, I'll just make my own film, and I'll show them. And then finally, I realize, you know, someday is, was a couple of years ago, I gotta get going, and tried to raise money to make an indie film and did not raise enough. And so that project collapsed. But some of the investors that I'd contacted, you know, who had, who had pledged funds, remembered me a year or so later, when I had another project. And now I seemed like, oh, well, he's done this before, even though we hadn't actually gotten the first film made. So there was there was some recognition factor when I went back to them a year or two later and said, Hey, let's, let's make this film. We can do it for less money than that other one. And, and it's going to be more commercial and all these things. It was just the funding, um, it was it was more of a niche, a niche film, but I don't think that's why it fell apart is a little science fiction film. But I think it fell apart because we were trying to raise close to a million dollars. And I just didn't have the connections to raise that much money. But then the next one we tried to raise money for which was a zombie film was much, much more modestly budgeted. We went in saying we were going to make it for 100 Round, but we would have the option of raising 150. And so we we eventually got to 100 grand. And we said, Okay, we're invoking our option to raise 150. Because we think it'll be a better film that way. And, and we raised 150. So it was much more doable and seemed like it'd be much easier for it to make a profit.
Jason Buff 5:20
So you worked as a producer on, you're talking about mutant vampire zombies from the hood?
Thunder Levin 5:26
And yeah, and so I was one of the I was, I guess, credit was, I'm the executive producer on that. George Saunders was my partner, he was the producer. But I ended up raising about 95% of the money. And so really, it was, it was a nuts and bolts from the beginning to the end, kind of production for me, and I learned a lot doing it. I don't ever want to do it again. I know there are people out there who enjoy putting the deal together and working all that stuff out. That's that's not really the part of the business that intrigues me I like, I like making movies, I like the creative part. I like coming up with a story and figuring out characters and casting and working with crew and cinematographers and sound people and artists, actors, and, you know, seeing it all come to life. Putting together the deal doesn't really doesn't really excite me that way.
Jason Buff 6:22
Can you talk for just a second about how you were able to put together that kind of funding. And I mean, I know it's not the really fun part of filmmaking. But one of the things that I've been trying to focus more on is talking about the non creative aspects and the more business aspects of putting together a film. So can you can you discuss just a little bit about the process of actually putting the film together and raising the funds? And what kind of, you know, things like, did you have to make it an LLC and the legal aspects of it?
Thunder Levin 6:51
Sure. I mean, I guess the first thing for anyone to remember who's going into this is it's a film business, not to film art, not to film craft to business, first and foremost, at least to people who are going to be investing and people are going to be buying films. So you've got to put together a package that makes sense from a business standpoint. So it's not about gee, this is and this be a really cool story, because investors probably aren't going to care about that. Some of them might, but most of them are, most people who are investing money in a project want to make money. So they need to see that, that you have some grasp of the business side of it. So the first thing is to do your research and figure out what movies are selling. What movies are getting made on the low end, and what are selling in the marketplace. And of course, the marketplace is changing in the midst of changing drastically, you know, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, it was all about what can you get on the shelf at Blockbuster? And of course, that's not the case anymore. It's about how do you get attention for a movie that's, that's on VOD, or on iTunes or Amazon or what have you. And the business really is sort of reinventing itself right now. And even the studios are, are scrambling to figure out how all that is going to work and how to make money from it. So it's a it's a weird time to be making an indie film right now. But what we did was to research to put together basically, we put together a business plan. And the things we had to include in that were, how's this film going to make money? What you know, what's the physical process, we're going to form an LLC, a limited liability company, the investors are going to be the limited members. And the producer and I were the general members, which meant that we, the the investors would only have their investment at stake. They couldn't be touched for any losses beyond the money they put in. But they would have no particular say, in running the company. And George and I would run the company. And we our investment would be sweat equity, the effort we put into making the film. And so then we put together this business plan that would that listed movies that we thought were similar to our film, and we did research on okay, what is the low end that these investors can expect to make? So we did some research on similar movies that hadn't done so well, and how much money did they make? How much money did they spend? What's the high end? You know, and of course, at that point, what we were all pointing to as a high end was The Blair Witch Project, been made for like, you know, 60 grand and made $100 million, you know, and of course, you you fill it with caveats, like it's unlikely that the film will will achieve that kind of success and your money is at risk and you could lose everything and you keep saying that over and over again.
Alex Ferrari 9:58
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Thunder Levin 10:09
To protect yourself legally, but at the same time you have to paint a rosy picture or else why would anybody invest in your movie? And what is it about our film, what elements of our film make it likely to succeed? So okay, zombies were hot. So it was a zombie film, we would, we would guarantee that we would get at least one name star in the film, it would be shot in 12 days on $150,000. So the the financial risks are very low compared to the potential rewards, things like that. And basically, we we did some research online, and we talked to other people who had done this before. And there are, you know, business plans out there that you can get a look at. And we synthesized the best elements from a bunch of different business plans that we looked at. And we, we got distribution charts from the Hollywood Reporter, and from one of the Box Office Mojo and a bunch of these other things to show how similar films had performed. We put together a budget, we put together a cast list of the kinds of actors we thought we would be able to get for the money we had, we put together a schedule of how the investors could expect to see things proceed. So okay, once all the money is in, it'll take this long to prepare and cast the film, and this long to shoot it and this long to do post. And from the time it's finished in post until the time it's out on DVD will take about this long. And once it's out on DVD, how long do we expect it to take to recoup its money. And then of course, there was the business side of all the way we structured it was that all funds that came in from sales of the film would go to the investors first. We wouldn't get anything until the investors had recouped 110% of their investment. So that was sort of their protection that we weren't sort of, you know, going to run off with the money or anything. Investors had the rights to, to audit the books, things like that. So we set it up to protect the investors it as much as possible to give them first position. Oh, actually, it was second position after any debts that the film might have incurred?
Jason Buff 12:28
Did you have a distribution model in place at that point?
Thunder Levin 12:30
We did not have a distributor signed, we had a couple of distributors at that point that we had individually worked with before I had experience with before. And so we mentioned them and said that the film will be taken to these distributors and to others. At the time, we felt like we could probably get a better deal on the distribution. And if we didn't pre sign with an investor in retrospect, that was probably a mistake. But we felt that any investor looking at just our script, and our little package with with, you know, filmmakers who were essentially unknown, would not give us a very good deal. But that if we went out and made a really good movie, then we could command a higher price. In retrospect, it probably would have been safer, probably would have been better to take the safer deal and make a deal upfront we we did have a couple of distributors who expressed some interest upfront. And that would have at least guarantee at a certain a certain minimum income.
Jason Buff 13:34
Now, can you talk about what what it feels like as a director to walk onto the set for the first time? I mean, I know you had directed other things, but this was this was probably the biggest thing you would direct it at that point, right?
Thunder Levin 13:46
I'm not sure it was necessarily the biggest. It was the first film where I essentially had creative control. And so that was a big deal for me. And it was certainly the first film that I was solely responsible for from beginning to end. And it was interesting, because in my position, I had been telling people for years and years that I was a great film director, but really had no way to prove it. You know, it was just, you got to take my word for this. I can see it in my head. I know what you know, I know what it's gonna be like, it'll be great. You'll see. And so in a way when things didn't go terribly wrong in the first our shooting, it was it was just sort of a great vindication for me that that shoot actually ended up being probably to this day, the best film set I've ever been on. I spent a lot of time putting the crew together and interviewing people and people were getting paid, you know, crap. I think most people were making 100 bucks a day. But I spent a lot of time interviewing people and making sure we had people who were going to be really excited about doing it. Everybody was essentially moving up a step. or getting their, their, their break, getting into the business at the entry level or, you know, like the cinematographers or people who had not shot features before, but had shot really good shorts, or really good music videos. That was, that was the kind of people we were looking at costume designer had only been an assistant costume designer, things like that. So everybody was looking at this film as a really good opportunity for them, even though they weren't making much money. So we had we had really good spirit on the set, everybody got along really well. There was a great sense of community. And we were all just really working hard to make this thing the best it could be. And so my experience on the set as a director, there's an hour of sheer terror at the beginning of the shoot, where oh, God, do I know what I'm doing is everything going to fall apart have are all the pieces in place versus going to be an utter disaster. And once you get past that, and for me, actually, that that's kind of a daily thing. I mean, I've directed several features now. And every morning, I feel the same way until the first shot is in the cache. And then everything is fine. But that that shoot that it was just a wonderful sense of vindication. It's like finally, I was doing what I was supposed to be, you know, this, this proved not, it was less about proving to other people. And it became a confirmation to me that what I've been saying all these years, was actually right. And that this was what I was meant to do. And that here was a place where I was at home. And I didn't have to kowtow to people who didn't know what the hell they were talking about. And I didn't have to support somebody else's vision. I was doing what I was supposed to do. And it was working. And so that was a that was a very powerful, sort of reaffirmation for me. And then when the shoot went so well, and everybody got along so well. And despite doing it on an utterly insane schedule, everything worked out. It was it was just the most wonderful, wonderful thing. And to this day, I'm very proud of that film. I mean, you know, it's a low budget, zombie horror comedy. And it's, it's silly, and it's, you know, it doesn't look like a million bucks. But I'm really proud of it for for what it was, I think it was a great film. And I will put that up against Shaun of the Dead or zombie land any day. It doesn't it doesn't have it doesn't have quite the production value of zombie land. But I think the characters are just as engaging, if not more. So. I think the story carries you along. Very few people have really seen it. But the comments that we see on on the various internet forums when people actually do watch it, I'd say 95% of them really, really get into it. All the comments, we've had been very positive. So it was a it was a great experience from beginning to end. Except for the fact that it hasn't turned a profit yet.
Jason Buff 18:07
Now as a Spielberg fan, I was it was kind of cool working with see Thomas, how did you ever like talk to him about what it was like working on et or anything like that?
Thunder Levin 18:16
Yeah, yeah, we, we had a few conversations about that he had. Tommy has stories about everything, because he's not only has he been in the business since he was a kid. But his, his father and even his grandfather, I think we're both in the business of stuntman. So he grew up in Hollywood. And, and he has a lot of great stories. And I remember one that he was talking about was that Spielberg had a trailer on the set that was filled with pinball machines and video games. And so So, you know, in between shots, the kids were all in there. And it was basically like their own portable arcade and they just had a blast playing games while the crew was you know, setting up the next shot.
Jason Buff 18:59
Now when you get on a set, who are the people that you're really relying on that you kind of lean on throughout the day?
Thunder Levin 19:06
Right! Well, for me, the main collaborator on a film is the is the cinematographer. To me that's that's the most important working relationship on a film for a director. The other one, of course, is the first the first ad cuz he's the one who really runs the show. A lot of young directors from films coming out of film school or just you know, people who want to want to make movies. They don't realize just the extent to which they are not in charge. The director is especially a good director, if he knows what he's doing. He will allow the first ad to do his job and his job is running the set. And you know, you need to have your vision you need to know what what you're doing and what's coming next.
Alex Ferrari 19:57
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Thunder Levin 20:06
And be able to express that clearly. But the first ad is the one who's really sort of directing the troops. And And if he's good at his job if he or she is good, if the first idea is good at his or her job, it frees up the director to not have to worry about a lot of that stuff. And to focus on working with the cinematographer. And working with the with the actors. And those are the, for me, those are the key relationships, the cinematographer is going to be translating your vision onto the screen. So you have to have a good relationship with your DP. For me the key I've always started working with my DP at the very earliest stage that I can I'd like to have my DP in the room when we're doing storyboards if I'm doing storyboards, in fact, for me, the best situation is if my DP is also an artist, and can do the storyboards himself. So we'll sit in a room and we'll go through the script, and I'll walk out my vision and what I think the shots will be. And I'll describe them to them. And maybe I'll draw stick figures. And then, if the DP can draw, he will do storyboards because I can't draw to save my life. So I'll draw a stick figure of what the shot should be. And then he'll look at her and go, Oh, fuck is that? And I will explain it to him. And he said, Oh, yeah, it'll look like this. And he'll draw it out. Or we'll have a storyboard artist in the room with us, who will draw it out. And then maybe the DP will make a suggestion, well, what if we did it from this slightly different angle, or what if we move the camera here, I like to collaborate with my DP as much as I can. So that, really the way the film looks becomes kind of a shared vision. And that way, when we get on the set, I don't need to explain anything, he knows exactly what it's supposed to look like exactly where the cameras supposed to go exactly where he wants the lights to go. So I don't need to worry about explaining that to him, all we'll need to do is adjust for, you know, those situations where the location, or the set requires that something be changed from what our original plan was, and then we'll figure that out together. And then he can worry about all that. And I can go work with the actors, on their performance and their blocking, and so forth. So for me, the most important relationship is between the director and the DP, then between the director and the ad, that's got to be a working relationship, you're not you're not too concerned about a creative relationship there. But you've got to be able to get along. And he's got to be able to, to understand the way you work. If there's friction between the director and the first ad, things tend not to work very well. And I've experienced both of those where I've had really great relationships with my ad, and not so great relationships. And life is a whole lot better when the director they get along. And then the other kid, the other key relationship on a set. And this was something that maybe surprised me a bit in the early days was the relationship between the director and the star, especially in these low budget films, where you have just one name actor, and that actor has a lot more, a lot more clout on set than then some directors might like, because probably, he's the reason your film got funded. And he's the reason your film is going to get distributed. And he knows that. So having a good relationship with your star, where you're both working towards the same vision is really crucial. Because if you get on if you come in to it with different visions, and he's pushing to get it his way, and you're pushing to get yours, and he has a certain level of control, because you know, you can't physically make him do something, he doesn't want to do that that can become an awkward situation, too. So making sure that you and your star are are on the same wavelength. And that you both see at least his character, the same way can be very helpful. And the star can become a great ally, too. Because on a low budget indie film where you're trying to shoot the film in 10, or 12, or 15, or even 20 days, you really don't have time to do the kind of dramatic work with the actors that you'd like to do. And so your star, if he really understands his role, and you guys are on the same page with it, he can then become a very helpful force for working with the other actors as well. Because what one would expect in an indie film, especially in a B movie, where you tend to be casting someone in the lead, who has probably already had a career and has been doing it for a while, because those are the people who who will sell a low budget movie.
Jason Buff 25:07
Did you ever find yourself maybe over directing or doing things that they didn't really need you to do? Or did you learn?
Thunder Levin 25:13
No, just the opposite or, in fact, is that you can actually do less, because they know what they're doing. And they can also pass along their experience and their their years of wisdom to the less experienced members of the cast, because on a, on a low budget indie film, you're probably going to have a lot of actors who haven't done this as much. And so having a good relationship with your star, he can sort of carry some of that burden for you. And he can, he can talk to some of the actors about what they're doing, and the little, the little techniques of acting that he's picked up in his years of experience that will help them do what you need them to do. You know, and you've, you've got to, you've got to balance that by making sure that everybody in stands that understands that you're in charge, and a good star gets that. And he won't question you publicly, you know, I had a moment, a moment on one of my films, where, you know, now I don't even remember what it was, but it was it was a case of the star sort of questioned something, you know, and I took him aside, and he was a guy who, who, you know, made dozens of films and and had a very successful TV series. And I had to take him aside and say, Look, you know, we can, we can talk about this as much as you want. If you don't like what I'm doing, we can we can work it out together. But you can't question me in front of the rest of the cast and crew. And here's like, you're absolutely right, I apologize for that. And then you were showing me and we had a very good. And here he was, we were literally out in the middle of the jungle, and we did not have a stunt coordinator on that film. And so Adrian Paul kind of took over that role for us. And he would help the other actors with with the physical stuff that they needed to do, thanks to all his experience, you know, on Highlander, mainly, because, you know, he spent several years doing endless fight scenes and stuff. So he was, he was really good at that. And he was able to help the other actors in ways that I probably would not have been able to. And even if I had been able to, I certainly wouldn't have had the time because there's so many things. I've often said that directing a feature film is probably the most all encompassing intense experience that a human being can have short of going to war, there's so many things that you have to keep in your head, so many things going on at any one moment aren't doing what I needed. And I would have had to go back and talk to them. And there would would have cost more time. But actually, my star was was talking to him and was bringing them along. And especially if you're working with if you're doing an action movie, as most of mine have been, and your star is someone who's done a lot of action work before, then he can also be very helpful with the physical stuff. Both see Thomas how on mute and vampire zombies. And also Adrian Paul, who was my star in a Ye, you know, they both had a lot of action experience. And so they would they would help the other actors. Okay, here's how you, here's how you might want to run through the scene. Yeah, we're running through the jungle. Well, how are we going to make sure we don't trip and fall over this, you know, Vine here, there's a lot going on. And it's a funny thing to think about how much time it takes to simply be able to run through a patch of jungle, this is something you don't think about when you're watching an action film. But simply being able to run through the jungle for 100 feet without tripping on something is, it's harder than you might think. And so having somebody with a certain level of experience at that kind of thing, how do I slide down this hillside without falling over and breaking my ankle? That neck can be very helpful, especially when you don't have a huge stunt team. You know, working with everybody on on one of these films, you're you're lucky if you have a stunt coordinator at all, much less a whole stunt team to work with each of your 10 different actors in a scene that are you are responsible for that it can really get overwhelming and you tend to develop tunnel vision to to a certain extent. And I know it happens for me that I am totally focused on the moment we're putting in front of the camera. And if somebody asked me about another moment in the film, I'm like what? Ah, there's there's another moment.
Alex Ferrari 29:55
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Thunder Levin 30:04
And I'll have to, like make a physical conscious effort to to change my focus and think about this other thing that needs to be addressed. Yeah. So on a, we were out in the middle of the jungle in Costa Rica, there's very little film infrastructure that I want there is is based in the capital of San Jose. So the people there San Jose, it's just a city like LA, people there have no more experience working in the jungle than anybody here would. So even our quote unquote local crew was still out of their element. So yeah, Adrian was very, very helpful on that production. And it was it was great working with it.
Jason Buff 30:45
Now, why was the decision made to shoot in Costa Rica? Is that just because the screenplay or was there some sort of financial incentive for for shooting there?
Thunder Levin 30:54
That was actually a weird, a weird situation. That decision was made by the partners at the asylum. And that was an asylum film. And they had shot several films in Belize, which, honestly, is where I expected to shoot the film. But they wanted a different look, because most of their jungle films have been shot in Belize. And so they, they started looking around at different places where we could shoot a jungle film. And we were talking about the Dominican Republic to and we were talking about Puerto Rico. And I was kind of interested in Puerto Rico. Because I had another project and indie project that I'd been developing that I thought we would probably shoot in Puerto Rico, because it needed both jungle and a Spanish colonial city. And so you got both of those in Puerto Rico, plus, they speak English. Plus, it's close to us. Now, there are no import restrictions or anything, because it's part of the US. And it's so close by plan that you could fly equipment and stuff. So Puerto Rico was interesting to me. But it made decided that Puerto Rico was probably going to be too expensive. And I think there were union issues there, too. So they were looking at Dominican Republic, and then Panama got into the mix. And then finally, the decision to shoot in Costa Rica, oddly enough, was made for two reasons. One, was that one of the partners at the asylum, his father, I think, owns a house in Costa Rica. And so somehow that made it better. I guess they just had a connection there. And then they got in touch with a local production company in Costa Rica, who kind of sold them on shooting there. And as it turns out, it might have been a mistake, because it turns out that Costa Rica is not an inexpensive place. And we were there during Prime tourist season. And there was no local crew in the jungle. So even the local the quote, unquote, local crew, we were hiring all had to be transported from San Jose, they all had to be put up in hotels, you know, normally think, well, we're going to hire a local crew, they'll just be living at home, and they'll come to the set every day. But it wasn't like that. So so the expensive shooting in Costa Rica, and everything's very expensive there. It's not, it's not this third world country where you can hire labor for 10 cents an hour or something. What little film production there is there was mostly TV commercials, and an actual Costa Rican television programs. So they were all used to work in sort of a normal day in a studio setting and getting paid decent rates. And we were coming in with this, this crazy low budget film that was going to be shot out in the middle of the jungle, and we wanted people to work for what to them was very little. And so it was it. Costa Rica actually was a wonderful place. But from a production standpoint, it actually kind of worked against us. And it ended up costing a lot more than anybody expected. But it was beautiful.
Jason Buff 34:03
When you're shooting in the jungle, how do you scout out locations? Do you just kind of say, Okay, well, here's a river. And we can shoot it like this. I mean, is there are you shooting it kind of in the same area? Or do you? Do you have like a location manager there that it's dealing with that sort of thing?
Thunder Levin 34:19
Yeah. It's funny. We didn't have an actual location scout, we hired a tour guide, who basically took people just tourists on tours. And we hired him to show us all these places, you know, and so during pre production, he took us around, we needed a waterfall. We needed a river. We needed a dense jungle. We needed an open clearing. So he took us around to a bunch of waterfalls and rivers and things like that, that he knew about. But yeah, we all we had to get it all in one basic area because we couldn't afford time wise or money wise to be traveling all around the country. And we were fortunate we found this A, I guess was a plantation I guess it was a sure it was a coconut plantation, I forget what they were growing there. But it was there was this plantation where part of it was cultivated. And then part of it was just wild jungle. And they happen to have a cave, which we needed, and there was a river on their property. And so we talked to the owners of this, this land. And we were able to end up shooting about 80% of the film on this one plot of land, where we had most of the things we needed. And then that really saved us because before we found that we were going to be moving around constantly. And that would have just cost way too much time getting to new locations each day and setting up all over again. And you know, the producers kept saying, Well, it's a jungle country, just pull over to the side of the road and shoot. And it's like, no, you can't do that. For one thing. At the side of the road, the jungle was so dense that you literally couldn't get into it, you would have had to hack your way in with a machete, you know, you want you want the actors to appear to be running through dense jungle, but it's virtually impossible to get your equipment in and shoot that way. So you need a place with paths and roads, and, and dirt trails and stuff where you can get to places that look like they're in the middle of the jungle, but are actually easily accessible. You know, we're where are 50 people going to sit down and have lunch on their break? And how are you going to run electricity in? And where are you going to lay dolly track and all this stuff. So shooting in dense jungle is pretty tricky. But we were lucky in that we found a lot of beautiful locations very close to each other. But the days where we had to move and go to a different location, like we did for the waterfall. It was it was pretty hairy. And finding all these things because they were they were widely spaced was was tricky too. But it all worked out. Was your
Jason Buff 36:57
DP working with like, big 5k lights and things like that outside? Or did you try to use mostly natural light when you could?
Thunder Levin 37:04
No, it was mostly it was mostly natural light. In fact, one of the interesting things was we have this scene inside the cave that was supposed to be lit by glow stick. Now these chemical light sticks. And at a certain point, we decided to just light it with glow sticks. And we bought the brightest glow sticks you could find and we wrapped a bunch of them together. And we actually shot one scene where they're walking through this dark cave lit entirely by glow sticks with people holding them near their face and stuff. So that was kind of cool. You know, I know we had we had a very minimal lighting kit. And we were really only using it. I mean, you know he'd set up a backlight occasionally. But we were in the jet. And when we were outside in the jungle, we were mostly using available lighting. Because it was a matter of Well, where are you going to run power from? Can we get a generator into this place we were there were there were days were you know, the only way to reach where we were shooting was in a four wheel drive pickup truck, there was no way to get a grip truck there. So transporting a lot of equipment just wouldn't have been practical. So a lot of that film, the vast majority of that film was shot with available light and reflectors. And every once in a while we'd set up a couple of couple of lights here and there. And then inside the cave, where we needed actual light. That was that was one day where we we brought in a generator, and we had to do a real lighting setup. And then there was some stuff that we actually shot in the city. You know, there were there were sets and, and buildings and so forth. And those we had lighting, but that, you know, we weren't in the jungle there. And we were in a controllable situation.
Jason Buff 38:48
Now, can you talk for a second about how you developed a relationship with the asylum and how you first met David lat. And those guys,
Thunder Levin 38:56
That was a very slow process, and it wasn't intentional. I met David lap before the asylum existed basically, I had had a day job that I won't even mention what I was doing. So embarrassing. But while I was there, I made friends with this woman who was a talent manager. And she knew David, I don't really know how she knew David. But she knew David lat they were friends. And so eventually she introduced me to him and we started talking. And nothing came of that this is actually I think one of the most important lessons for somebody coming out to Hollywood to try and get into the business is to just meet as many people as you can, because you never know what's going to turn into a great connection. So I met David lat and and I just knew him he was just somebody I knew and we would talk every once in a while when we were visiting with our mutual friend. I didn't really time with him on my own per se i mean i My girlfriend and I were invited to his wedding
Alex Ferrari 40:00
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Thunder Levin 40:10
You know, and on, audit off over the years we'd be in contact. Maybe we'd go to parties, the same party as occasionally because we had mutual friends. I ended up the friend who introduced us ran a coed softball team, and David's wife played on the team. And I played on the team. So so we were just in contact, on and off for years. And and when the asylum started, I think it was called something else. They were actually doing arthouse films, you know, and I talked to him on occasion about trying to get something going. And and it never really amounted to much. And I guess I was just, oh, that that friend of Donna's, who wants to be a director. Right. And so I don't think he really took me terribly seriously. But then once I made the zombie film, and I could actually show him something, I could say, Here, look at this, I can do what I've been saying I could do. And he looked at it. And there was a movie proving that I could do what I said I could do. And he couldn't sort of ignore that anymore. And by then the asylum had sort of become this low budget film factory where they were churning movies out in large numbers, and they had plans to expand and make even more films. And they had just hired a new director of development to guide that process. When I made the zombie film, and he said, Okay, it's pretty good, I will put you in touch with my director of development. And, you know, when he puts out a call to writers for script ideas, you'll be on the list. And so we went through a few different scenarios where I got an email from the Director of Development saying, hey, we need to, we need some ideas based on this, this concept, you know, and there were a few where I pitched ideas, and nothing ever came of that. And then finally, there was they were going to do a knock off of Fast and Furious Five, I guess. And I was into cars, and street racing, and so forth. And so I pitched them my idea, and they went with it. And it just sort of we develop the relationship from there. And I wrote that first script for them. I wrote that in, in 10 days, because we spent a while talking about the story. And by the time they finally approved what the story was going to be, they called me into the office as they said, Okay, we want you to write this for us. But we need the script in in 12 days. And I was like, I've never written a script in less than two months before. But okay. And what's worse is that it was right before Christmas, for some reason, I always seem to be writing scripts for the asylum right before Christmas. And I had a Christmas party planned. And so I lost a day and a half, two days, chopping and getting ready for this party. So I really had to write that script for 200 miles per hour, in in 10 days. But I did it. And I got it to them. And it was what they needed. And that led to another and another, and eventually to this sort of insane moment where they said, Okay, we want you to write a movie called Sharknado.
Jason Buff 43:29
What's your process? When you begin writing? Do you try to outline everything before you ever start writing? Or do you? I mean, what do you do before you actually start working on the screenplay?
Thunder Levin 43:40
It depends on the situation. Because if I'm writing on assignment for somebody, then I'm going to be having to fulfill their needs. The Asylum has a very specific process, they start with a one sentence logline that they will provide usually, and they'll ask for a one variety of one paragraph pitches that would fulfill this, this concept. And then they'll pick one of those one paragraphs, and I'll say, Okay, now write a one page story with a clear eight act structure. So write a one page story, and then they'll give you notes on that. And once they're happy with the way the one page goes, they'll say, Okay, now write us a three page outline with more detail and break it up into the the 8x. For for TV movie, because most of their stuff, you know, they're hoping they can sell it to sci fi or whatever. So it needs the TV movie structure of 8x. And so then you do this three page outline for them, and then when there'll be notes on that, and then they'll finally approve that, and then you go to script. So that's the way I have to work for that. When I'm doing a spec project. I prefer not to do that. What I generally do On a spec project, is I'll have a basic idea of what the story is going to be. So I'll probably have that one paragraph idea. And then I'll go to, to an outline format, where what I do is I make up a sheet with lines labeled one through 90. And each one of those lines should correspond to a scene on the general assumption that it'll be about one scene per page. So I've got 9090 scenes. And usually, the opening of the film will just be in my head. Because that's the the impetus for the story. And so I'll fill out, you know, the first 12345 10 lines with a one sentence description of what is that scene. And then usually, if you know what your story is, you know what your beginning is, you probably have an idea how you want it to end. So I'll go in and I'll plug in, okay, what's the climax of the film? And that'll be like number 8586 87. And then, okay, what's the turnaround in the middle, and so somewhere in the middle, and this will be less precise where it goes, I'll say, Okay, now this happens, you know, and maybe there'll be a couple of intermediary moments. And so I'll have this one sheet of 90 lines, where there's a bunch filled out at the top, and then a few interspersed in the middle, okay, I know this kind of thing has to happen somewhere in here. And then there'll be more detail towards the end. And on a spec script, I'll just start writing the script then. And usually, as I start writing, more ideas will come to me to fill in those blank lines in the middle. So probably by the time I've finished the script, I've also finished the outline. And I'll be able to move things around. I don't do the index cards, like, like a lot of film schools teach you and I know a lot of writers do.
Jason Buff 46:56
You just let the structure come out.
Thunder Levin 46:58
I liked it. I liked this outline. Because I want the structure in front of me, I want to physically see it all in sort of one gaze one glance. So it's having it fit on one sheet of paper, or sometimes two sheets of paper taped together. I like to be able to see the structure of the film in front of me.
Jason Buff 47:18
Do you have any basis? Did you just kind of feel out the structure? Or do you have like beats that you'd like to hit by specific point? I mean, I hate to say something like save the cat or whatever. But you know, anything like that, that you ever use? If you're in a bind, and you can't really figure out what's going to go somewhere? No,
Thunder Levin 47:37
I've never read says the cat I've never read truly, I've never read any of these screenwriting guys. In fact, it's funny because I've been talking to a film school about possibly teaching a class for them. And I want to teach a directing class, but because of Sharknado, of course, it's to their advantage to have me teach a screenwriting class and, and I keep telling him, I don't know anything about spring, I just sort of do this instinctively. So no, I don't, I don't really do that. I just get an idea. And then I'll get an idea of who the characters are, at least who the main characters are. And then I just sort of watch what they do. And I write it down.
Jason Buff 48:18
Any tricks for characters are like, how do you keep characters consistent and really develop your characters?
Thunder Levin 48:24
I really don't know how to articulate how I do that. It's just, I mean, I just put myself maybe I'll put myself in the head of the lead character, and try and put myself in that place and say, Okay, what would I do if I were this person in this situation? And then for the bad guy, I'll think, Okay, what wouldn't I do? I don't know, I really have never analyzed that. It's, it's a much more organic process for me. I mean, I could tell you how I direct a film. But how I actually write one of these scripts. It's it's just sort of a thing that happens, you know, and there are certain rules. I mean, obviously, you know that you have to establish all your characters and the the impetus for the story all has to happen within the first 20 pages and preferably within the first 10 There needs to be some action in the opening. At some point in those first 20 pages, the hero makes a decision that propels you into the story, or propels the hero into the story. The dilemma has to be presented to the hero and then he has to make a decision as to what to do and that changes his world somewhere in the middle. There has to be a turnaround where suddenly things aren't going to go the way the hero had hoped they were going to go and then as you get towards the three quarter point in the story, you know that there generally needs to be an all is lost moment where it looks like everybody's gonna die.
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Thunder Levin 50:09
And then that propels you into your action finale where the hero does something and saves the day. That's about as close to a formal structure as I really get. And, and then it's just a matter of what happens. And now again, when I'm writing for the asylum, and they have this very strict eight act structure, that's a bit different, because I know that each act is going to be about 12 minutes long, the first act will be a bit longer, and the last act will be a bit shorter. And in each of those acts, there has to be an action beat. So that needs to be fulfilled in the outline stage.
Jason Buff 50:48
So you're writing for commercials? Or is it like, is that the breakup?
Thunder Levin 50:53
Well, they don't want you to write for hard commercial breaks. Although on on Sharknado, two, I started doing that. Because sci fi, when they air, these movies will often put the brakes someplace other than where you thought they were gonna go. But they still want it structured so that every 12 minutes, there's a there's an action beat, and sort of a mini climax. And then each one would get progressively bigger until you reach the app. So you do, especially for the ones that they know are going to sci fi, you do have to delineate your acts. And they all need to be about the right length, you know, so maybe one act could be a bit shorter, maybe you could have a 10 minute act. If you have somewhere else and act that's 14 or 15 minutes, but that's about as structured as I get.
Jason Buff 51:44
Now, when you wrote Apocalypse Earth. Did you read that? Right that at about the same time as Sharknado?
Thunder Levin 51:49
Yes. And it should, it should be noted that it was not called Apocalypse earth when I wrote it, it was just called a ye. And there were a variety of things that he was going to stand for. And basically, when people asked me what did it stand for, I said, almost everything. Apocalypse Earth was actually a tag that was added on during post production by the assailant. And at first they were going to call it alpha Earth. And I was like, No, we can't call it alpha her if that gives away the twist at the end. So apocalypse, or at somehow I thought, well, there's this big Apocalypse In the opening scene. So if we call it Apocalypse Earth, and people see that maybe they won't be looking for the twist later on. But yes, I was. Let's see, how did that how did that go? They came to me, I was talking. It was after American warships. And we were talking about what my next project for them was going to be. And we were talking about a giant monster movie that they wanted. And so at first, I agreed to do this giant monster movie. Now, that's not how it worked. We were talking about what we were going to do. And we were still tossing around ideas. And they came to me and they said, We want you to write a movie called Shark storm. And that just didn't sound very appealing. It seemed like Shark storm. Okay, well, there, there have been a lot of movies about sharks and storms. And just like what why would we need this? It didn't appeal. So I said no. And we kept talking about, about other projects. And, and we started talking about this giant monster movie that they wanted to do, which I guess was gonna be a mock Buster of Pacific Rim. And so I started working on that, and sort of a vague concept form. And then they came back to me. And they said, Okay, what we really want you to do is Sharknado. And I said, what the sharks have to do with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization? And they said, no, no, no, not Sharknado Sharknado tornado full of sharks. And I said, That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.
Jason Buff 53:58
And that makes a lot more sense.
Thunder Levin 54:00
And if I can write it that way, then sure, I'd love to do that. Because the asylum tends to play all their movies completely straight. They don't like they don't like to stray into into farce or comedy, unless it's a comedy, which personally I have always taken issue with, because I think if you're going to make a low budget movie, and you know, it's going to be low budget, and it's going to look kind of cheap, then it's better to get the audience laughing with you than achoo. That was certainly the approach I took with mutant vampire zombies from the hood. And so when they said Sharknado, I was a little concerned that they would want to play it completely straight. And I just didn't see how you could take a movie called Sharknado and play it completely straight. And they said now we understand it's called Sharknado. And there's going to be a certain tongue in cheek element to it. And so with that comforting thought, I agreed to do it and originally I was supposed to direct it So I guess this was, this would have been the summer of 2012. And so the outlining process went pretty smoothly. And then the script writing, the first draft went very smoothly. And it was done in in a relatively quick period of time. And there weren't a lot of notes. And it was just done. And I was going to direct it, except that I felt a little burned on American warships, because I thought I, what we had done on set was really was really a good movie. And then I thought, the visual effects, which we'd really been depending on, kind of let us down. And if I'd known their process a bit better. That was that was the first film I directed for the assignment, I've had really sort of known a bit better, what we were going to be dealing with, maybe I wouldn't have left the film, so dependent on the visual effects. And so I was looking at the script I'd written for Sharknado. And thinking, there's just no way, there's just no way that this can be done on the kind of budget they're talking about, at least I don't see how to do it, I could do it for 20 million, maybe I could do it for 10 million. It's really $100 million film. And, and so I I sort of shied away from directing it because I didn't want to be in that position again. Because even though the script had this tongue in cheek element to it, I still, I didn't want to be unintentionally bad, you know, the stuff that was going to be cheesy, had to be where I intended it to be cheesy, I didn't want to be in a position where I just didn't have what I needed to make it the way I wanted it to look. And at the same time, I had been getting utterly enthralled with Game of Thrones. And I had this this sort of craving to create a whole world. And I've always been a science fiction guy. So I went into the director of development. And I said, Look, you know, we've got this Sharknado, and I'm supposed to direct it. But truth is, what I really want to do is make a movie where I can create a whole world and have a society in it, and just sort of build something from the ground up, call alternate reality. And he said, Well, we've got this project, that it's the one sentence description, is a group of refugees from Earth have to survive on a hostile alien planet? And that just sounded perfect to me. But I said, Yes, I'll do that. And so I started writing that, and that would have been, I guess, September of 2012. And so I wrote a UI. And as that writing process was going along, they scheduled the shoots of a UI, and Sharknado for exactly the same time, they were both going to shoot in January. And so I was forced to choose. And at that point, I decided to do a EA and I wanted to do this science fiction film in the jungle. And so I said, you know, I, I respectfully withdraw from Sharknado. I hope somebody else makes it work. And I'm gonna go off to Costa Rica, and shoot my science fiction movie. And in retrospect, I don't know if that was the stupidest thing I've ever done or not. You know, because if if I had written and directed Sharknado, then I would be the one getting all the attention for it. And maybe I'd be hailed as this, this great genius. Whereas now Anthony and I are splitting the attention for, but at the same time, you know, you wonder maybe things went the way they were supposed to go. And maybe it wouldn't have worked if I directed it. Who knows if if something Anthony did you know and dealing with not having the resources he needed to properly create this, this insane situation that I had written? You know, that it could well be that that is what endeared it to people. So maybe things worked out for the best, and I'm getting the attention from Sharknado. But I also have this serious science fiction film that I can point to and say, See, I can do that too.
Jason Buff 59:30
Now when you saw Sharknado, was it pretty much kind of how you would envision it or is it very different from your your idea?
Thunder Levin 59:37
Well, Anthony didn't want me to see it until it was done. It was funny because we met for the first time in the editing room. We were sharing an editing suite. I was cutting a at the same time he was cutting Sharknado and I was in there working with my editor and this guy walks in and he walks up to me and he says I want to punch you
Alex Ferrari 1:00:01
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Thunder Levin 1:00:10
And I didn't know who he was. And I said, Oh, okay, why? And he said, I directed Sharknado. I said, Oh, well, then you are very right.
Jason Buff 1:00:21
That makes sense.
Thunder Levin 1:00:24
So that was the beginning of what has become a great friendship. But he didn't want me to see it until it was done. So I didn't actually see. I mean, while we were editing, you know, I would look over my shoulder because we were sharing this editing suite. And so I would occasionally look over my shoulder to see what had become of my words. And some of it looked right. And some of it was like, What the hell is that? You know, because there was there was a car chase, and I didn't write a car chase. What was that about? You know, and obviously, they didn't have the wherewithal for it to be raining constantly in every shot, and for Los Angeles to be filling up with water, which was this giant disaster that I'd written. So when I finally saw it, I saw it with the public along with everybody else, I was just at home watching it on TV,
Jason Buff 1:01:12
There wasn't a premiere or anything at the at the asylum or anything was done.
Thunder Levin 1:01:16
There wasn't what what happens out here is we get the East Coast sci fi feed. And then there's the RE airing for the West Coast. So the plan was that people were just going to watch the East Coast feed, you know, wherever they were, then we were all going to get together to watch the West Coast feed at a party. But then the, you know, during the initial broadcast, this whole thing started happening on Twitter. And it just sort of became insane. And so I was on the computer and I was corresponding with people and tweeting, and getting phone calls for people saying, Can you believe what's happening and all this stuff. And so then I had to run out at the last minute to go to the party for the second airing. And I got, I guess it was going to start at nine o'clock here. And I got in the car and I got on the freeway. And for some reason, I guess there'd been an accident or something. But the flu was at a dead standstill. And after about 20 minutes of this and realizing I'd already missed the beginning. I just gave up and went home and got back on Twitter and get back on Facebook and email where the world was still blowing up. And very strange things were happening. And I was corresponding with Damon Lindelof. And I was starting to get requests for interviews, and it was just sort of the most surreal night I can imagine. But yeah, for the so for the first 20 to 30 minutes of Sharknado. I was sitting there going, what? That's not. That's not what I know, wait, what, but after that, after about the first 30 minutes, it settles down to be basically the way I wrote it. I mean, it doesn't look like what I saw in my head because I still had this huge disaster movie, Los Angeles is filling up with water kind of thing. You know, as the background I, to me, it was a it was a two layer thing, there was this realistic disaster movie going on, where Los Angeles is flooding. And then on top of that there was this ridiculous element of sharks falling from the sky. And so obviously, the realism of the of the disaster scenario was not achievable on the budget they had. And so I can't say that it looked the way I saw it in my head when I wrote it. Except for certain moments where we're really did. But on the whole, you know, I was, I was a little frustrated that they couldn't really achieve that kind of level of destruction and disaster. But still that they kept to my script from from about the 20 or 30 minute going on. And I was no longer going. Wait, I didn't write that. Anthony changed a fair amount in the in the opening.
Jason Buff 1:04:13
Do you think they carried off the tone that you had the kind of comic tone but not like the actors took it seriously, but they were within a world that was kind of, you know, chaotic, or, or absurd, in a way? Yeah,
Thunder Levin 1:04:26
I mean that the tone was what what I intended. The production value was where I wasn't what I had envisioned. But one of the reasons that I ended up not directing it was because I knew there was no way to achieve what I had in my head. So I think it all worked out for the best.
Jason Buff 1:04:43
Now you guys went back and making Sharknado two was the process completely different now that you had had all this success with the first one?
Thunder Levin 1:04:52
Yes. It was. It was interesting because the first One, nobody paid any attention. To me, the outlining story outlining process, you know, there were there were a few notes. And then it was like, Okay, go ahead and write. And then the first draft of the script, the asylum had a few notes, which I addressed, then sci fi had a few notes. And then it was done. And you know, nobody thought anything of it, it was just this ridiculous little moving. By the second one, of course, it'd become this phenomena. And so everybody had their eyes on it. And every little thing that I did, was being examined by, you know, half a dozen different people who all had to have input on it. So it was, it was a much more political process, getting the second script done. And of course, there was a lot more riding on it, because the first one, nobody thought anything of it. And the second one, suddenly, suddenly, it was going to become this franchise, if we didn't screw it up. So so there was there was a lot more pressure, there was a lot more eyes on the whole process took a lot longer getting the getting the script done. Now, what
Jason Buff 1:06:06
Well, does it feel like when all of a sudden people are, you know, noticing you and wanting to interview you, and you get all this recognition? How does that feel? Is it a good feeling? Or is it kind of? Does it give you anxiety? Or no?
Thunder Levin 1:06:20
The only anxiety has actually has happened in the last couple of months, where somehow my home address got out on the internet, I guess. And so I've been getting fan mail at home. And that's a little disturbing. Fortunately, it's all been good. There haven't been any death threats. But the fact that somehow my address got out there, that makes me a little bit anxious. Other than that, it's just been wonderful. You know, I mean, I came out to Hollywood expecting to be the next Steven Spielberg and imagining something like this, but imagining it happening 20 years ago. And so after years of struggling in anonymity, while I still hope, for a level of success and public appreciation, I'm not sure I necessarily expected it anymore. So when it when it finally started happening, it's just been wonderful. But I had been, you know, sort of preparing myself for this kind of career, you know, for 20 odd years. So I think if it had actually happened, when I was young, when I first came out here probably would have messed with my hand, I think the years of, of struggling, have allowed me to stay a lot more grounded during this whole process. And just sort of take it for what it is and enjoy it. And not let myself get too carried away with it all. But you know, it's a wonderful thing. You go to these conventions and lining up to get your autograph. And telling you how much they love the movie and what fun they had with it. And little kids do they remember, at Comic Con, not this last summer, but the year before, after the first movie had just come out. I walked on to walked onto the floor at Comic Con The first night I got there. And it was about the clothes, I'd gotten there really late because there was traffic or I don't remember what it was, but I got there late. So I just figured I'd take a quick walk around the convention floor. And I'm walking through these tables of displays and stuff. And the very first little snippet of a conversation I hear as I'm walking past somebody is this guy say, yeah, and then he dives into the shark. And then he cuts his way out. And that was literally the first thing I heard as I walked through the congenic convention floor Comicon. And now it's just surreal. And then the next day we were doing this poster signing. And you know, we'd been signing pretty consistently for like half an hour. And I was kind of surprised that people were still coming. And so I took a break and I went out to look for the line to see where all these people were coming from. And I couldn't find the line. All I saw was the big crowd of people filling the hall. And then I realized that was our line and they were actually lined up out the door to get these posters. And mind you I and and Tara weren't even there. It was me and Anthony, and Jason Simmons. And, and one other cast member, I think. So the big stars weren't even there. And we have a line out the door of people to get their Sharknado poster. So I was just like, What is going on here? This is amazing. And then this, this mother came up with a little girl who must have been about, I don't know, six or seven. And she was dancing around going Sharknado who's Jack Daedalus, running around in circles. And it's just been a remarkable experience.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:59
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Thunder Levin 1:10:08
And it's just so it's just really wonderful to see that people have gotten into it like this and have embraced it in the spirit that we intended. Just a wonderful feeling.
Jason Buff 1:10:20
Well, it's funny because my, my son's completely obsessed with tornadoes right now. And his favorite movie is Twister. He's six years old. Okay. And last night, I had Sharknado on, you know, doing a little bit of research. And I was like, son, this is a tornado, but to tornado with sharks in it, and he just about lost his mind. That was the first thing he said this morning. He's like, Dad, can we watch Sharknado. And I was like, after school, maybe it's, you know, a good time. I'm sorry. So I had one more thing that you had mentioned something in an interview before, that's kind of a different topic. And I just wanted to ask you this real quick, and then let you go. You had said that, if you could do things all over again, you would have made a feature film a lot earlier in your career. And I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about that?
Thunder Levin 1:11:10
Well, like I said, there, it had always been in the back of my mind that if I didn't succeed, if I didn't get where I wanted to go, following the traditional route of trying to get a film, getting somebody to make a film, getting a production company or a studio to hire me to make a film, that eventually I was just going to have to raise the money and make my own. But I guess I kept putting off that moment. Because that reaching that decision sort of implied that I had failed up to them that nobody was going to hire me to make a movie. And so, so coming to accept that and saying, Okay, I'm gonna have to take matters into my own hands, took longer than it probably should have, if I had made that zombie movie five or 10 years earlier, then the things that came as a result of it would have happened five or 10 years earlier. And, you know, hopefully, I would be five or 10 years further along in my career than I am now. Because because everything that's happened, from making movies to the asylum to the success of Sharknado, all of that can be traced back to the to that zombie film, where I proved that, yes, I can actually make a movie. So if I, if I had done that sooner, then maybe I'd be further along now. And maybe I'd be making big studio films now. Or at least maybe I would have spent an extra 10 years doing what I wanted to do rather than just struggling to make a living. So I do sort of regret not having made that film earlier. The question arises, you know, would I have wouldn't have been as successful if I'd done it when I was younger and had less experience and less maturity? I don't know. There's no way to know, of course, I think it would have.
Jason Buff 1:13:07
Don't you think technology also kinds of play plays a role to a certain extent, I mean, that that it's so much cheaper to?
Thunder Levin 1:13:14
Yeah, we were, we were able to make that film cheaper than if we'd shot it 10 years earlier, and had the shoot on film, actually, even five years earlier, because we were, we were sort of, you know, we weren't the first indie film to shoot on HD, but it was still a relatively new thing. And so the technology was still actually sort of a question mark. At that point. I remember we, we built a computer to edit it. It was like, Okay, what what does this computer need to be able to do, and I ended up spending like five grand to build a computer. And now you could do it for, you know, 800 on a laptop. So yeah, I probably would have been more expensive, if we'd done it sooner. But at the same time, there was more money available, because films were more expensive than and part of the so called democratization of film that's come with the digital revolution. I think there's a little less respect for what it takes to make a movie. Now people think, Oh, well, anybody with a video camera can make a movie. And that's not true. And unfortunately, I think people think, oh, it's really cheap to make a movie now. And that's not true either. Certain elements have become less expensive. You don't have to process film stock. You don't have to buy film stock. You don't need to print your movie at the end. Renting a high end HD camera costs as much as renting you know, a pan of flexio stew. So that hasn't changed too much. If you're really trying to do it at a professional level. Yes, you can go out and buy a cheap HD camera now. I mean, you know there there are phones that will shoot 4k video. But but they still have crappy little plastic lens It's not like you're really going to be able to make a movie that looks like a movie, on your camera phone. So yes, certain elements have gotten cheaper, you know, you don't need to rent an avid anymore, you can do it on, on any home computer, you can edit a film. Now, digital effects can be done on less sophisticated computers. But you still need the really good software, and you still need people who know how to use it. And, and so the craft hasn't changed, it hasn't gotten any cheaper. But unfortunately, people seem to think it has. And so, you know, it used to be the people in the film industry got paid pretty well. And part of that was the assumption that they had a craft that they had learned over many years, that was a was a rare skill. And part of it was the fact that you're not going to be working 50 weeks a year. So you need to be paid enough when you are working to live, you know, in between projects. And one of the unfortunate things that's happened in recent years is people seem to have forgotten that these are still hard won hard fought skills that take a lot of time to perfect. And not just anybody with a computer, and an iPhone can do it. You need to know what you're doing. But because of the technological advances, there's a there's a change perception, I think, of what's involved here. And so people think that they shouldn't have to pay for all this stuff. So you see all these visual effects companies, you know, winning Oscars, and then going out of business, because they're forced to do things so cheaply. And you see people making films on their iPhone, and then they get surprised when they can't sell the movie to a distributor. So it's been a double edged sword, I think. And yes, certain aspects of it are a bit cheaper than it used to be, but cost like sets and feeding your crew, and hiring actors and hiring crew and putting them up if you're in a different location or building sets, or finding locations and paying for none of the costs of this stuff have changed. Movies are expensive, it's very hard to make a good movie cheap. You know, every once in a while it can be done if you have a concept that lends itself to that like you know, The Blair Witch Project then, or if you're making a movie about two people sitting at a table talking. But but to make to make a popcorn movie still costs money just just because the cameras in the editing equipment are a bit cheaper now doesn't really change that.
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