Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Bryce J. Renninger
July 12, 2013 4:10 PM
5 Comments
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All We Can Talk About Is 'Sharknado,' So Why Can't We Watch It NOW?

"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.

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5 Comments

  • blackaciddevil | July 18, 2013 7:49 PMReply

    Truth be told, I've seen and have probably purchased Asylum films in the past. However, it wasn't until seeing "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies" which was their mockbuster of "Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter" that I started to purchase their films on a regular basis. Why? It was because "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies" was a more entertaining film than "Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter" was...even though it was made on a low budget. Performances put in by Bill Oberst, Jr., Baby Norman, Ron Ogden & Anthony Padarewski were a joy to watch. I can't quite put my finger on what I love most about their films only to say that, in alot of instances, their films are quite more entertaining than the blockbusters themselves(Don't believe me? Check out: War of the Worlds, Invasion of the Pod People, American Battleship, Nazis at the Center of the Earth, Dragon, Monster, Transmorphers, Six Guns, Battle of Los Angeles, Hansel & Gretel as well as the aforementioned film). In my honest opinion, I think their films are getting better with each one that they produce. People rag on the Asylum for making the types of films they do(mockbusters) but, really, if you take a look at it...the bigger companies have been doing the same thing for years. They just don't want others to get their slice of the filmmaking pie. At any rate, so long The Asylum keep putting out entertaining films...I'll keep supporting them by purchasing them.

  • Sam Ford | July 17, 2013 9:07 PMReply

    Thanks for the shout out to our book, Bryce! I do think it's interesting to see how Sharknado in particular became cultural fodder for a range of audience activities. Many of my co-workers at Peppercomm organized an in-person and Twitter viewing party. Didn't move the Nielsen rating, perhaps, but the level of engagement was particularly deep. (It sort of reminds me of the passion around Snakes on a Plane, at a lower level of course...) I get the "ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. On the other hand, seems there are some good lessons here for Asylum to understand what it is that might drive some interest in their film that goes deeper than the small-margin interest they've generated. What about Sharknado went above and beyond their usual fare? To everyone's point, part of it was just the depth of ridiculousness of the premise, since no one had actually seen the film. But what does it mean that the idea of the film, and its trailer, generates such intense cultural interest? Someone joked that they "should probably just stick to making spectacular B-movie trailers." Well, if their B-movie trailer in this case was so spreadable, what of that? The trailer is much cheaper to make than a whole film, after all. :) Given the number of films for which I've said, "I loved the trailer, but I'd never want to see the whole film," I'd say there's probably a large market for selling movie concepts no one would ever want to watch.

    On the other hand, the #Sharknado viewing parties and the Asylum drinking games you reference point toward an experiential aspect of the films that speak not to their classification as a work of art (ha!) but rather the social contexts through which they most most deeply be engaged. Seems like that's an area well worth exploring if Asylum is looking to enter Donald G. Jackson or Ed Wood territory...

  • Jules | July 15, 2013 3:43 PMReply

    To be honest, The Asylum should probably just stick to making spectacular B-movie trailers, rather than waste their budget on a crappy movie no one will actually watch; the Internet only has so long an attention span.

  • Miles Ellison | July 13, 2013 10:43 PMReply

    No one actually needs to watch this movie.

  • Michael | July 13, 2013 3:06 PMReply

    I think people think it's more than enough to simply be aware of the situation - hilariously bad cheap B-movie with silly premise - than to actually bother watching it, so we've all gotten in line to take shots at it on Twitter and where-have-you without knowing anything about it beyond the trailer. As disingenuous as that seems, it's actually probably the best way to go, because anyone who's ever seen an Asylum movie already knows how torturous they are to endure for 80-90 minutes