Sharknado & Syfy Original Movies: Panel with Syfy Executive VP, Tom Vitale

It takes a certain kind of fan to enjoy Syfy Original Movies. The appeal of these films vary from person to person; whether it stems from an appreciation of the tongue-in-cheek nature these films embrace, to fans supporting actors they enjoy, to people who enjoy sharing these movies with a group of friends in a viewing party. Certainly, a major attribute to their success is the professionalism and earnestness each member of the cast and crew brings to each film. It is the ability to sell the story and action which allows these films to capture the magic of the B movie genre.


I am a self-professed fan of the Syfy Original Movie. Those readers among you who have seen me at a convention, know I can often be found behind the panelist table discussing these movies. My time at Arisia this year was no different when I had the opportunity to sit alongside Tom Vitale, Executive Vice President of Programming  & Original Movies for Syfy and Chiller. Along with my fellow panelists Randee Dawn, Bob “MovieBob” Chipman and Michael McAfee, we discussed the origin of Syfy original movies, the productions and the future of these films.


Syfy original movies take approximately 14 months to produce, from concept to wrap. In most instances, Syfy assumes about half of the production costs, splitting them with the production studio. While in their heyday, Syfy was producing two movies per month, audiences have no doubt noticed a decline in new titles. The network feels the market has become over-saturated, leading to the decision to cut back on production. The next original movie is slated to air in April. The schedule will then return with some regularity. Last year, Syfy made the decision to move original movies from their long held Saturday night time slot to Thursday night. This move seems to work in their favor and will likely remain the time slot for the foreseeable future. However, with the lack of fierce programming competition in the summer, Syfy may take advantage with marathons of previously aired original movies.


After-market distribution of original movies is one aspect where consistency is elusive. Licensing can be convoluted and governed by producing rights, filming location, as well as international sales and DVD release windows. This explains why some movies do not make it to DVD or will not be available through streaming sources, such as Syfy’s website, Netflix, Hulu or Amazon.


Sharknado has been the greatest success Syfy has experienced with an original movie. The title was able to capitalize on it’s success with a theatrical release when Fathom Events approached the network to create a special one-night only midnight screening across the country. Syfy does field requests for original movie screenings for film festivals and large fan events, recognizing these films are often better viewed with a crowd.


With regard to the types of films represented in the stable of original movies, there is an inherent pull towards creature features. Whether it is a romantic nostalgia for the Creature Double Feature many fans remember, or the idea of facing an uncontrollable beast of nature is unknown. Undoubtedly, every sub-genre gets its day, depending on the mood of audiences – initially it may have been aliens or natural disasters, tomorrow it may be robotic animals. The interests of the audience dictate which foes will see the small screen.


Which Syfy Original Movies have you enjoyed? What about these films paying homage to the B movie genre appeals to you?