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Inventing 'Sharknado': Inside Syfy's Booming B-Movie Factory

Inventing 'Sharknado': Inside Syfy's Booming B-Movie Factory
Photograph courtesy Syfy/NBCUniversal

Last night, on the Syfy channel’s made-for-TV movie Sharknado, Ian Ziering killed an airborne shark with a chain saw. Erik Estrada microwaved a tiny chupacabra in last year’s Chupacabra vs. the Alamo. And in the 2011 non-hit Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, 1980s pop star Tiffany was eaten by an enormous alligator as Debbie Gibson watched, scream-crying, from a helicopter that had come to save her. This is the Syfy B-movie monster machine. It is cheap, it is stupid, and it is enormously successful.

Syfy started making original movies in 2002, mostly out of necessity. “The straight-to-video market had dried up a little bit—this was before DVD rentals like Netflix—and some of our suppliers stopped making movies. So we said, What if we just commission you to make movies?” says Thomas Vitale, executive vice president of programming and original movies at Syfy. They started with the alien-attack thriller Interceptor Force 2, which is the sequel to Interceptor Force, a movie you’ve probably never heard of.