"Sharknado" is all over the entertainment news today. Time Magazine writer James Poniewozik took a break from his vacation to write a review of the made-for-TV flick, calling it "genius" and "exquisitely ridiculous." Jacqueline Andriakos at Entertainment Weekly also raves, saying, "I’ve seen it all—'Dinoshark,' 'Sharktopus,' 'Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus,' 'Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus.' But to all Syfy television leeches’ delights, The Asylum managed to plug new variables into its inexplicably successful science-fiction-monster-attack formula." CNN, the LA Times, and many other outlets noted how much Twitter was lighting up with tweets about the film. As our own Alison Willmore noted, the film was a big hit on Twitter, but the initial Nielsen numbers for the show have been unremarkable.
But now that it's a success on social media, around water coolers and between friends... how can all these people that are talking about it actually see it? Shouldn't we be sharing clips from this all over Facebook? Watching it to catch up?
"Sharknado" was produced by The Asylum, a company that makes "mockbusters," B-movie remakes of blockbusters released simultaneously to those studio tentpoles, and B-movie schlock of all kinds, including the slew of films Andriakos mentions in her EW piece. From a recent GQ profile that focuses on the studio's production of "Atlantic Rim," a rip-off of Guillermo del Toro's "Pacific Rim":
"The only thing we haven't done is straight drama," says [The Asylum partner David] Rimawi[, 49]. "In other words, good films," adds Paul Bales, 48, the third Asylum partner, who joined seven years ago to manage operations and keep the books in check.
The fans of The Asylum are rabid, according to the GQ piece, written by David Katz:
Every genre has its connoisseurs—people who'll wade through the pulpiest plot to get their horror or sci-fi fix—but The Asylum's fans are particularly rabid. They hold Asylum parties and play Asylum drinking games. There is a rumor of an L.A. man with the studio's logo tattooed on his back. The more stilted the dialogue or campy the plot, the more Asylum-ites adore the flick. "The Asylum's creatures are always amazing," says superfan Melissa Foster, a theme-park actress from Orlando who landed a small role in Atlantic Rim. "If they're real, I'm excited. Unless it's really bad CGI, and then I'm thrilled."
Syfy is now planning on re-airing the film next Thursday, July 18 at 7pm. (An early schedule on the Asylum site lists the film as re-airing tonight at 1am, but that plan seems to have been scrapped; as of yesterday, it was next supposed to air in August.) "Sharknado" will be released on video September 3 -- and while The Asylum maintains a premium YouTube channel offering up a selection of the studio's original films, none of the Syfy movies seems to be on there.
The GQ article makes one thing clear: Asylum's films are profitable. Six figures are made on each film, and those six figure totals add up. While the Twitter explosion may have been an anomaly, the company has a model that isn't broke, and so might not need to be fixed.
It may seem like the ease with which news of "Sharknado" spread proved that the production teams had their finger on the world we live in, a world of social media and spreadable media (to use a term coined by Henry Jenkins and company). But as Variety reports, Syfy is already planning a "Sharknado" sequel. The focus, it seems, isn't on extending the conversation; it's on exploiting the attention given to "Sharknado" to further grow the number of fans ready to consume more of Asylum's absurd fare.
After all, The Asylum and Syfy have been trying to make a splash with their titles for a while now, with these on-the-cheap monster movies become a network staple, and sometimes succeeding. But while films like "Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus" and "Sharktopus" got attention, they didn't enter into the cultural conversation to the degree that "Sharknado" has. With the surprise swell of awareness, it's telling that Syfy and The Asylum weren't ready or don't want to make the film available for streaming right away.
While people are clamoring to see the film (and will probably do so using friends' DVRs or torrents), the attention is good for The Asylum. You liked this absurd film? Chances are, you might also like "Dinoshark" or "Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus" (which, we needn't tell you, stars Debby Gibson and Lorenzo Lamas).
At this point, it's not about using digital tools to tell stories in different ways; it's not about engaging the audiences in new ways. It's about making absurd films that get a fair amount of attention, eventually making a film that gets an absurd amount of attention, and using that attention to make your fanbase even larger.
The tools -- Twitter, especially -- are new. But the strategy is old. And, for the producers, it works.