Tom Vitale is an Executive Vice President, Programming & Original Movies, for the SyFy and Chiller channels of NBC Universal. I spoke with Tom about trends in entertainment, advice for aspiring science fiction/ horror producers, and the state of diversity in the industry today:
- Exclusive, original content is more important now
Vitale has been in the business for 25+ years and noted that a critical trend is the need for exclusive, original content to compete with viewers’ increased access to entertainment (via YouTube, video-on-demand, DVR technology, etc.). To this end, Vitale focuses not just on acquiring and scheduling, but now also commissioning up to 24 original movies per year for SyFy. This is in addition to other original content that his colleagues are creating for different arms of SyFy, such as TV programming.
- Aspiring producers take comfort — channels do buy from smaller companies
According to Vitale, there is no single source for ideas, and Chiller especially looks at smaller production companies. In addition to production company pitches, ideas might flourish internally, not just from the creative side but from the business side, such as marketing. Inspiration for plot lines has even come out of real-life news — a CNN story on snakehead fish migrating from Asia to the US inspired Snakehead Terror). That said, production companies in consideration for selling a movie to these channels have produced something else that has sold – you don’t have to be a big-budget house but you have to have a track record.
- Diversity in both cast and crew includes race, gender, age, and familiarity
These movies often have international distribution so the diversity in the audience demographics requires diversity in the casting. This is not just racial diversity, but Vitale mentioned looking for gender balance and strong female roles. In addition, off-screen diversity is present in the producers and writers tapped for projects, including career changers who might come to the business later in life. Finally, diversity includes a mix of familiar and fresh faces, so while brand name actors help to sell a movie, there is emphasis on introducing new faces as well.