Thunder Levin is passionate about writing and directing. He’s always conjuring up something new whether it’s a small budget or epic SYFY. Thunder’s movies he wrote or directed or both include zombies, mockmusters, disaster films, and the racing movie “200 MPH”.
He started off working as a Still Photographer for Roger Corman which was educational and memorable for him…in more ways than one.
After writing and directing several films will it be difficult to watch someone else direct “Sharknado” and did you get the opportunity to discuss the screenplay with Anthony C. Ferrante?
THUNDER: During the early stages of Sharknado there was the possibility that I would direct it, but two things made me decide against it. First was simply the scope of the story. The Asylum likes big stories, despite the low budgets they work with, so when they asked me to write a movie called “Sharknado” I said I’d only do it if it could be truly over-the-top. By the time I finished I realized that I’d really written a $100 million movie, and I wasn’t completely confident I’d be able to do it justice on the budget that was available. Even so, I would have tried to figure out some creative ways to make it work, except that at the same time I was developing “AE” and it became clear that both projects would be shooting at practically the same time and I had to choose one or the other. “AE” was pure science fiction and an opportunity to create an entire world that didn’t exist. This really appealed to me, and the story was closer to my heart. It also had the advantage of taking place in a tropical climate, whereas “Sharknado” would be shot in Los Angeles in the winter. After freezing my butt off during “American Warships” I’d vowed that I was never going to make a movie in the cold again! So when forced to choose, I went with “AE”, and it turned out to be a great experience and I think a great movie, so I’m confident I made the right choice. But because I was in Costa Rica shooting “AE” when “Sharknado” went into production I never got to speak with Anthony Ferrante. In fact, we never even met until he was editing “Sharknado” next door while we were cutting “AE”. If we had been able to talk, I would have told him “don’t be afraid to make it funny!” I haven’t seen more than a couple of shots from the film, but I’m looking forward to watching the finished product and I’m sure Anthony’s done a great job.
I’m sure you learned a lot working on Roger and Julie Corman films. Katt Shea directed and acted in plenty of their films. Was there anything you learned from her?
THUNDER: I worked on three movies for Roger Corman, as Still Photographer, right after I moved from New York to L.A. after college. I like to say that I learned how to direct at NYU, but I learned how to actually make movies working for Roger Corman. I worked on one Katt Shea-directed film, “Stripped To Kill II: Live Girls”. I think the most surprising lesson that came out of that production was that it was actually possible to get tired of looking at strippers. Sorry, “Exotic Dancers”. An interesting bit of trivia is that almost the entire camera department of that film went on to greatness. DP Phedon Papamichael has shot a lot of big films and is now a director too. Key Grip Mauro Fiore won the Oscar as DP of Avatar. And Gaffer Janusz Kaminski somehow became Spielberg’s go-to DP. I’m still trying to catch up to those guys.
I read about the tragic death of filmmaker Roger Saunders and how he wanted you to write an “urban horror film” which ultimately became “Mutant Vampire Zombies from the Hood”. After his death you and George Saunders (no relation) made the movie. How was that experience once you decided to make the movie?
THUNDER: Roger’s death was pretty shocking to me. He was only in his 50’s and a big strong guy, who apparently had an undiagnosed heart defect. But his death really spurred me and George to get off our asses and make the movie ourselves. And once we did it was literally the best film production I’ve ever worked on. That entire cast and crew bonded almost instantly. There were none of the little dramas and interpersonal tensions that always seem to crop up on film sets. We really became a family. I’m still close with many of the people from that shoot. DP Eric Billman and I are planning to work together again as soon as our schedules allow, and of course Johanna Watts has become a very dear friend, who I cast as the female lead in “American Battleship”. She was actually supposed to play the part of “Lea” in “AE”, but then ended up having a scheduling conflict and couldn’t do it.
Now while making MVZFTH! was a dream, selling the film and dealing with the distribution end of the business has been a nightmare. I’m hoping I never have to be involved in that part of a film again. I’m much happier being a filmmaker than a business man! (If anyone wants to see that movie, I’d ask them to go to http://www.MutantVampireZombiesFromTheHood.com and buy the dvd directly from us. It’s really the best way to make sure the profits are actually going to the filmmakers. I’ll even sign it if someone wants.)
Are there any updates you can share about “2176” and “Shadows of the Jungle”?
THUNDER: *Sigh* “2176” is my dream project. It’s an epic science fiction trilogy whose scope dwarfs movies like “Lord of the Rings” and “Avatar”. It was optioned by Ron Shusett (Alien, Total Recall) and Daniel Alter (Hitman, The Apparation) several years ago and was submitted to some of the biggest directors in the business, like Ridley Scott, James Cameron, and Robert Zemeckis. In the end, the consensus was that it was simply too big and expensive a project for a studio to pay for without it being based on some pre-existing property. Ron & Danny even tried reverse-engineering it, and came very close to getting it set up as a video game and graphic novel. But even that eventually fell through. For now it just lies dormant. The rights have reverted back to me, but every once in awhile I’ll hear from Daniel and he’ll say he still wants to get it made someday. I know I do. Maybe it’s just fate intervening so that by the time it get’s sold I’ll be successful enough as a director to make it myself.
As for “Shadows Of The Jungle”, which is an action/thriller with a supernatural element; it keeps getting postponed by other projects, but I’m pretty determined to make that my next film. Since it also takes place in the jungle, I’ve considered “AE” as a warm up. If you know anyone who wants to invest a couple million bucks in a movie, please send them my way! Seriously.
“AE Apocalypse Earth” is due out the end of May which you wrote and directed. Can you give us a quick summary about it?
THUNDER: “AE Apocalypse Earth” is about a group of refugees from Earth who must survive on a hostile jungle planet as they try to find a way to get home. It stars Adrian Paul, Richard Grieco, and Costa Rican supermodel Bali Rodriguez. We shot it in January in the jungles of Costa Rica. It’s pure science fiction and action from beginning to end. Editing is done and the visual effects and sound work is well underway. We put together a great cast, we all had a blast making it (in between the snakes, scorpions, bats, and mosquitoes!), and I can’t wait for people to be able to see it!
Thank you Thunder for a very informative and exciting interview! As mentioned earlier be sure to check out “MVZFTH” website for more information and to order the DVD, also look for Thunder’s upcoming movies “AE Apocalypse Earth” and “Sharknado”.