KU alumnus contributes to Sharknado phenomenon

Posted on Aug 6, 2014 in Alumni News and News

Have you heard of Sharknado, the SyFy Channel’s global pop culture phenomenon? The first movie was released last summer, and Sharknado 2: The Second One was unleashed on July 30. The movies feature a freak weather system of tornadoes and sharks that spells disaster for major cities, and they’re epic guilty pleasures that generated a lot of buzz on social media networks.

Imagine our surprise and delight to find a KU connection to Sharknado: Matt Jacobson, associate professor of film and media studies at KU, contacted the KU News Service to let them know that Sandell Stangl, c’11, served as visual effects coordinator for both installments of the franchise. Many thanks to Christine Metz Howard, public affairs officer, who passed the tip along to us. We reached out to Sandell this week, and he shared a little bit about working on Sharknado and his time at KU.

Sandell StanglWhat was it like to be a part of Sharknado?
I remember very clearly when my coworkers and I first saw Sharknado on our schedule. While we’ve done some pretty outrageous movies in the past, this one stuck out to us. When we asked what the movie was about, we were simply told, “It’s exactly what you think it is.” After that, we treated Sharknado like any other movie. I just assumed the movie would find a cult audience like our Mega Shark franchise, and that would be the end of it. You can imagine my surprise waking up one morning last summer and discovering that EVERYONE had seen the movie and they were all talking about it on the news and social media. I couldn’t believe that something I treated the same as any other movie was getting this kind of recognition. It still feels pretty unreal to me and will probably always feel that way.

What was your role as the visual effects coordinator for the films?
I always feel weird describing what I do because I feel like my description of it sounds boring. In reality though, it’s quite rewarding and very enjoyable. I work as the visual effect department’s interface with editorial. Anything that a visual effect artist needs from an editor, I get it to them. I also organize every shot into a database and monitor their statuses. Once a shot is done, I make sure that it gets back into the edit and that the most up-to-date version is used. This can be quite a challenge when we’re working on four movies at once—which is not uncommon for us to be doing!

What’s been the most surprising aspect of the Sharknado phenomenon?
Every aspect of it is surprising to me.

How did your KU experience prepare you?
When I attended KU, I had the privilege to be part of a wonderful student organization called “KU Filmworks.” Sadly, it is no longer around, but it was a student-run film production group. I learned so much from being a part of this group. Most importantly, I made some very close friends during this time at KU, and we are still in contact with each other to this day. Because of that practical experience, when I came out to L.A. I felt like I had made enough films and experience to prepare myself for real film work. This was all thanks to the opportunities KU provided me and the help I received from professors like Matt Jacobson.

What are your fondest memories of KU?
My fondest memories are making short films with my friends. We were constantly shooting films and learning something new from each one.

Have you made any helpful connections with KU alumni?
There is a group on Facebook called “Hollywood Hawks”. I recommend any alumni wanting to break into the industry to check it out and ask for help. (Editor’s note: Visit the official Hollywood Hawks website at www.hollywoodhawks.com.)

How do you stay connected to KU these days?
I still have friends that live in Lawrence or moved to KC, and I visit them from time to time when I can fit it into my schedule. I haven’t been on campus in a long time though. Next time I visit, I wouldn’t mind walking around Wescoe Beach again.

If you missed Sharknado 2, don’t worry—there’s an encore on Wednesday, Aug. 13, on the SyFy Channel. We’ve heard that Sharknado 3 is on tap for next summer, and we’re crossing our fingers that Kansas will somehow have a role in the movie. 

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