Creatively, Syfy insists that the movies it airs adhere to some basic logic, or at least as much logic as can be expected from fictions premised on the existence of chupacabras and Jersey devils. In what the network calls its “unnatural disaster” flicks, the forest fire or earthquake must be underpinned by some vaguely realistic scenario, so as to ground it in the realm of science fiction rather than pure fantasy. “The earthquake in New York will be based loosely on a scientific premise — [a pocket of] geothermal energy, a scientist drilling deep down into the core and disturbing something he shouldn’t have disturbed,” Vitale says.
As for the talent who direct and act in Syfy flicks, they share that complete commitment. Mary Lambert, who counts among her credits Pet Sematary and a trio of the most influential music videos ever made (Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” “Material Girl” and “Like a Virgin”), knew going in that directing Mega Python vs. Gatoroid would not be “an auteur situation.” Still, she embraced the low-fi nature of the assignment.
“[These films are] not overthought. Nobody spends hours and hours worrying about whether the monster should have scales that look like fingernails or fish scales,” she says. “These movies have a beating heart that comes out of the striving of the people who make them. … The story is being told with whatever is at hand. You’ve got two sticks and you’re just banging them together.”
Tiffany, who has starred in two of Syfy’s Saturday-night movies (Mega Python and Mega Piranha — which, alas, are related only by virtue of the Mega in their titles), admires how the producers attempt to carve out at least a little space for both heart and story. “There were lots of dips and valleys with my character [in Mega Python]. There was a kindness to her,” she notes earnestly, before deadpanning, “But the true stars were the python and the gator. I think [Debbie and I] did a good job second to them.”
Asked about the challenges that come with low-budget filmmaking, Tiffany points to the condensed shooting schedule: “I was only there for 10 days.” Indeed, the Syfy movies are made under conditions that would break many filmmakers and performers: They’re shot in three weeks for a mere $2 million or so (by comparison, IMDb.com estimates that Transformers: Dark of the Moon cost $195 million). Owing to various tax incentives and credits, they’re filmed all over the world; Bulgaria and Romania have been particularly welcoming to productions of this stripe.
All this, of course, royally screws up the production schedule. “If somebody says, ‘OK, it’s a zombie Western with music overtones, filmed in black-and-white, and it has to be shot in Alaska,’ I’m like, ‘OK, when do you need it by?’ ” Latt notes, gleefully and sarcastically at once. “We are like drug addicts, and our drug of choice is making films. … We keep making these movies every three weeks. One day we’ll probably overdose.”