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"Sharknado" writer: I thought I was writing "SharkNATO"

When Thunder Levin was approached to write a script for a tentative SyFy project named "Sharknado," he had one question in mind.

"What do sharks have to do with NATO?" the screenwriter recalled to, initially thinking they had pitched him on "SharkNATO," a film involving the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. "Are we battling the army to protect them from sharks?"

Executives informed Levin that he misunderstood them. This was intended to be a movie about a storm full of sharks.

"[I thought] this is the most ridiculous thing I have heard of," he said. "I had to be a part of it."

About 1.37 million viewers later and a whole boatload of tweets, "Sharknado" has become the viral sensation that everyone seems to want to talk about. Due to its popularity, the made-for-TV movie will re-air on Syfy at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday.

From the beginning, Levin -- who also previously wrote and directed "Mutant Vampire Zombies from the 'Hood!" -- pictured the project as a disaster film. The New York native decided to set it in his current hometown of Los Angeles as a way to unleash his frustration with "the freeways and the traffic and a lot of the L.A. stereotypes."

With all that pent-up anger, it only took him one month to write the first draft of the script. There were some difficulties, especially because the executives were concerned that the film was becoming too ridiculous. A particular point of contention was the part where the main character chainsaws his way out of a shark. It has since become one of the film's most iconic scenes.

"I would just reply, 'It's called 'Sharknado!' We can't go over the top!'" he said.

Unfortunately, he had to give up the battle on a scene where a Hollywood agent gets eaten by a shark.

Levin was surprised when the project was greenlit so quickly, particularly because he wrote the film with a $100 million budget in mind.

But, due to the fact that he had already directed one tongue-in-cheek movie -- and partially because he couldn't figure out a way to reduce his ideas to the meager $1 million that the film was actually budgeted for -- he signed off on the project. Instead, Levin flew to the jungles of Costa Rica to direct a straight-to-DVD film called "AE: Apocalypse Earth," replacing flying sharks with fist-sized scorpions and poisonous snakes.

It wasn't until he was in the editing room trying to piece together "AE: Apocalypse Earth" that he ran back into "Sharknado." Director Anthony C. Ferrante had been randomly assigned to share an editing bay with him.

"Someone had told (Ferrante) who I was," Levin said. "He walked in and said, 'I want to punch you.'"

"I said, 'Who are you?'" Levin continued. "He said, 'I directed 'Sharknado.' I said, 'Well, you should punch me.'"

Ferrante told the Hollywood Reporter that as a horror buff, he had been drawn to the film because he wanted to do a suspense-driven movie that had humor and action built in. It probably also helped that his background was in visual effects -- they only had one partial practical shark and three fins to work with. Everything else had to be added in post-production.

Levin tried not to look at the editing process, but it wasn't like Ferrante was willing to give him a glance at the making of "Sharknado."

"He was a bit protective of me seeing it until it was done," he said. "He didn't want me to get any false impressions."

Levin finally got his chance to see his film when it debuted on Syfy last week. He said he was impressed with the way Ferrante handled the movie, and loved the actors they had chosen to play his characters.

"Ian Ziering reinvented himself as an action star for this movie," he said. "He managed to stay in character the whole time. He never winked at the camera."

Syfy has announced that it has commissioned a sequel set in New York, but both Levin and, to his knowledge, Ferrante, have not been approached to join the project. The writer said he would jump at the chance to write the second film, and he already has ideas because he grew up in the city. First, he thinks Syfy should throw away the made-for-TV format and go straight to the theaters. Second, he'd love the original cast to return -- and some celebrity cameos.

"I'm a huge fan of Harrison Ford and George Clooney, but somehow I doubt we'd cast them," he said.

But before he gets that call to start writing, he's crossing his fingers that director Steven Spielberg will give him a ring. Coincidentally, Spielberg's "Jaws" is one of his favorite films of all time.

"If Mr. Spielberg would like to give me a call and would like for me to speak with him, I would take the day off," Levin said laughing.

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