A lot of firsts occurred for all of us during 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic was all anyone was talking about. On the “not life changing but still interesting” end of the scale for me personally was doing my first “virtual” set visit for Scream, the fifth movie in the iconic horror franchise and first new Scream movie since 2011. More of a press junket than honest-to-goodness set visit, the prospect of gaining some info on the highly-secretive sequel was too alluring to pass up. While it’s not a reboot, it is being championed as a reinvigoration of sorts for the series, focusing on a brand new slate of young characters while bringing back a handful of easily recognizable fan favorites.
As should have been expected, both cast and crew were very tight-lipped about what the film has in store for us; they were only allowed to dole out the slightest of details regarding characters and plot. But what all parties involved were able to provide was insight into tackling the high expectations that come with a new chapter in a beloved franchise, which also happens to be the first Scream not guided by the reliable hand of director Wes Craven, who passed away in 2015. (It’s also the first Scream film being produced by Paramount and Spyglass Entertainment, as opposed to Dimension/Miramax.) This time around, the ship is being steered by Radio Silence, the filmmaking trio known for short works in the anthologies V/H/S and Southbound, as well as the wicked horror-comedy Ready or Not.
The virtual set visit took place in mid-October of 2020, while the cast was shooting in North Carolina. It’s worth noting that it became very clear that, outside of the team behind the camera, no one knew how the film would end or who was playing Ghostface (Marley Shelton revealed the cast had only received the first 77 pages of the script). While our interviews with the cast can be seen here, we’ll be devoting this space to our chat with directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and producer William Sherak.
According to Sherak, the guys from Radio Silence were pretty much the producers’ only choice for the film (Sherak and Radio Silence had previously worked together on Ready or Not): “We had said to Gary [Barber, chairman of Spyglass Entertainment] from day one that Radio Silence is who we want to direct Scream. They didn’t know, but unless they really didn’t get along with Gary, they were getting the movie. Unless they didn’t want it. It was super secret that we were developing it. We needed them to meet Gary, so we set up a general meeting for them to come in to meet Gary, not knowing that we were involved with Scream, we were working on Scream or Jaime was writing Scream, and we just wanted them to meet Gary, because we had made Ready or Not with them and they were super talented, and Gary should just know who they were… We had set the whole thing up so that if the meeting went well, they were going to direct Scream, and when they left the room, Gary said, ‘You guys are right, they’re awesome,’ because Gary had already seen Ready or Not. It was never a process, we wanted these guys from day one.”
“Everything we know and understand about this tone, we learned from Kevin and Wes,” says Gillett. “That’s not hyperbole in any way, shape, or form, they taught us everything we know and everything we love about this tonal tightrope of making something that’s scary and funny and emotional and meaningful and thematically rich. It feels like they make it seem effortless, Kevin and Wes.”
“There would be no Ready or Not without Scream,” adds Bettinelli-Olpin.
Sherak says the successful blending of horror and comedy in Ready or Not was crucial in not only hiring Radio Silence for the Scream gig, but in getting the original cast members on board as well. “Hitting that tone as well as they hit it was really a positive for us as we went out to the legacy cast… They had the material that said, ‘We can straddle a tone where something can be truly scary and still have fun with it,’ and there aren’t a ton of filmmakers out there who have done that, tried to do it, or have done it successfully… That helped significantly with the legacy cast to be able to say, ‘Okay, if I’m going to come back in with somebody that isn’t Wes, they have the chops to do it.’”
When asked if they feel pressure to continue the franchise considering the expectations, the Radio Silence guys have to admit that indeed they do. Says Gillett: “I will say that every step of the way there is pressure and intimidation to emulate the things we love about the Scream movies. I think one of the things we loved from the jump when we were reading the script for the first time was that, the moments where the story is doing that and also the moments where it’s steering far away from that, there was this amazing balance that felt like it was giving you all those things that are so specifically a Scream movie. And then there are moments where it’s completely defying those expectations, which is also weirdly exactly what you want from a Scream movie. If you are a fan of the franchise, there is so much you’re going to love about this,” says Gillett. “And if you are new to the Scream universe, you will fall in love with it in a way we fell in love with the first movie. Guy and Jamie struck a perfect balance of homage and originality, and it’s why we’re here, we really loved what was on the page and are honored to get to translate it.”
In terms of getting the cast they wanted, Bettinelli-Olpin explains the majority of the newbies all responded very favorably to the script, and to the opportunity to be in a Scream movie in general. “Everybody got to read at least most of the script, if not all of the script because we kept it secret from a lot of the cast, keep it hidden, but it goes back to what’s on the page, everybody loved it. The thing that I think we lucked out with is, I think every single person we talked to who ended up in the movie from the first meeting had a genuine love for Scream that they shared with us. Even Mason, who might kill us for saying this, he wrote one of his essays in college on it. It means something to them personally and has throughout their lives. So it wasn’t just, ‘Oh cool a chance to be in a movie, that’s neat,’ it was something more personal to all of them across the board and us all included.”
As for where we find the fan-favorite characters of Sidney, Dewey and Gale, well… obviously the filmmakers can’t tell us much. (In fact, they told us literally nothing about the plot, as was expected.) But they clearly think old and new fans will be pleased. “The fans that are interested in the story of the legacy characters, they’re going to fall in love with the work that they do in this,” says Gillett. “It’s really thoughtful and amazing. For us, your mind spins a yarn on what the lives of those characters could be after the fourth installment, and we were all so pleasantly surprised when we read the script. Who they are, and how they’re handled, we think the audience is going to be really, really surprised and really, really happy.”
As for Kevin Williamson’s involvement, he is a producer on the film and, while not technically one of the writers, his blessings were always sought after. “The first thing we did when Gary Barber relaunched the franchise was go out to Kevin and get him into the process,” says Sherak. “It’s not about a once-over, it’s about without Wes around, he’s our true north, and his approval means everything. Let’s be clear, he’s the reason we’re all here… Making sure we’re doing it right for Wes and for the fans and for a new group of fans, so he’s been that true north that made sure we stayed on course… When he was pitched the original idea, he gave us his thoughts on the pitch and that’s what we went and did, so everybody’s been pointing in that direction from the very beginning. When Radio Silence read the script, they agreed with that version of the movie. It’s rare, but we’re in that luxurious place where everybody was going to make the same film the whole time.”
Scream opens January 14, 2022.
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