Say all you want about the cheaply shot, not-so-Oscar-worthy “Sharknado” franchise, but its cult-like fans likely will want to follow where parts of the movie were shot.
That may take them to Buffalo and to the Lockport Caves, where scenes from “Sharknado 2: The Second One” were filmed in April, and that could mean a better economy for the community it large.
“I think ‘Sharknado’ may be on a smaller scale as far as filming because it’s a television crew. But what’s bigger, I think, is the cult-following and the social media that follows ‘Sharknado,’” said John Percy, the president of Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation.
“Sharknado 2: The Second One” is the sequel to “Sharknado” and stars Ian Ziering of “Beverly Hills 90210” and Tara Reid of “American Pie” and “Scrubs.” It aired on SyFy, a cable network channel, on July 31. And the movie opened in theaters Thursday.
To many, it doesn’t seem as big a deal as when the Oscar-nominated “The Natural” was shot in Buffalo in 1984.
But Percy disagrees.
“Thirty years ago, you didn’t have social media and that following,” said Percy, whose corporation supports the Buffalo Niagara Film Commission, which assisted the “Sharknado” film crew. “It just creates this large audience that was not there 30 years ago where you can’t speak about the film. What you have is that continuation of discussion about the film and the production.”
In the “Sharknado” sequel, the Lockport Cave & Underground Boat Ride filled in for Central Park’s tunnel system. Clancy Burkwit, co-owner of the attraction, expects hundreds of “Sharknado” fanatics to start making their way to Lockport after Thursday’s premiere and discover one of the area’s hidden historical gems.
“People like to see where movies were shot. We’ll show them – they set up here, they set up there,” said Burkwit, as he stood in the cold, wide caves 45 feet below ground. As he stood on the wet path of pebbles along the cave’s waters, he pointed to the limestone walls. “The biggest thing I want the people to understand is that Lockport has an abundance of industrial history that’s not always in the textbooks.”
The Lockport caves were built in the 1800s for water power with the Erie Canal. They closed in 1941.
Burkwit reopened them as an attraction and began offering underground boat tours for the public in 1996 with co-owner Tom Callahan. Since then, about a dozen filmmakers have used the caves as movie sets, but none was as big as the “Sharknado” phenomenon, said Burkwit.
And he hopes the attraction, which doesn’t receive state or federal grants, is able to benefit from the tourism.
“I put a lot of sweat and tears into this tour, and I certainly want it to last forever,” he said. ”The publicity of it, that it was shot here, absolutely draws people.”
Percy presented the owners of Lockport Cave & Underground Boat Ride attraction a plaque to recognize its role in the film and spoke to reporters afterward about why he supports films in Buffalo.
“Film is debuted on a world stage, and we see the economic impact back to the destination and back to this area by people visiting,” he said. “That’s invaluable to us because we could not afford to spend that kind of money on films.”
Take, for instance, when big-time access Melissa McCarthy starred in “Tammy,” which featured scenes in Niagara Falls last year. The film crew was large, and the crew members spent a lot of time in the area.
And Buffalo’s big role in the “Sharknado” sequel is also bringing some pride for Western New Yorkers.
Darlene Atkins, of Rochester, drove to Lockport to tour the caves Thursday and had no idea filmmakers had been there a few months prior.
“I think that’s so cool because it’s so close to home,” she said. “This is an area I live in, and it made the movies.”
Buffalo may not be the next Hollywood, but it’s becoming more appealing for filmmakers. The producers of “Sharknado 2: The Second One” shot parts of the film “Battle Dogs” in Buffalo in 2012 and came back.
“They knew how accommodating the city was in closing down streets and doing stunts,” said Rich Wall, the director of operations at the Buffalo Niagara Film Office.
Tim McKort, the director of the independent sci-fi film “Q4 Dream Corporation,” said something similar as he worked on shooting half of his film in Erie and Niagara counties a couple of weeks ago.
“There’s a huge arts community here to tap into, including actors,” McKort said. “I think there’s a lot of stuff going on here in the film community that a lot more people should be accessing.”
Wall said a few more films will be shot in Buffalo in the near future, though he couldn’t yet release the names.