Universal, Syfy open film shingle

Film company plans 2012 start

Universal Pictures and NBC Universal cabler Syfy have launched the genre shingle Syfy Films to develop projects for the bigscreen.

The production company will use Syfy’s expertise in genre fare to develop and produce pics with a human, relatable angle set in the worlds of science fiction, fantasy, horror and the supernatural. Aim is to release two films annually starting in 2012.

Mark Stern, Syfy programming chief and co-head of content for Universal Cable, and Universal co-chair Donna Langley will oversee production. U will distribute the pics and handle marketing. Syfy will promote the projects on each of its platforms, including online.

Partnership aims to help Syfy up brand awareness, an aim since the network underwent a makeover more than a year ago. And it gives Universal a dedicated genre label. Paramount has long had similar arrangements with its cable siblings for the Nickelodeon Movies and MTV Films labels, which focus on projects tied to each net’s target demo.

“This is something that we’ve wanted to do ever since I started at Syfy,” said network prexy Dave Howe, who has seen ratings success with such culty sci-fi telepics as “Sharktopus” and miniseries including “Alice” during his tenure.

Howe observed that while the film industry has seen such cheaply-produced horror pics as the “Saw” films increase over the past few years, science fiction and fantasy auds have been comparatively underserved by studio genre arms.

“We believe that there’s a gap in the market for these lower-budget science fiction and fantasy movies,” Howe said. “And if you look at ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ or ‘District 9’ or ‘Pitch Black,’ they’ve been very successful financially.”

Budgets for Syfy Films productions will reportedly range between $5 million and $25 million.

Revenue will be split 50-50 between Syfy Films and Universal, with U picking up a distribution fee as well. “There’s some of it that we haven’t worked out,” Howe said.

For some of Syfy’s more recognizable offerings, such as “Eureka,” shingle may also provide the opportunity for bigscreen treatment (although Howe said there are no immediate pic adaptation plans for “Eureka”). U has been developing a feature adaptation of Syfy’s “Battlestar Galactica.”

Projects that move in the other direction — from bigscreen to small — are a possibility as well.

“We want to build franchises where possible,” Howe said, “so we’ll be greenlighting films that can generate sequels, that can spin off television series and videogames.”

Syfy and U are seeking a production exec who will work closely with their creative teams in developing projects that fit the brand.