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“Requel”-ing Wes Craven: Radio Silence on Scream (2022)

Scream (2022)Scream (2022)

There may be no horror franchise that opens with as simple and satisfying a tradition as Scream. As the production company’s logo appears on screen, we begin hearing the ringing of a landline phone—if you’ve seen only one of Scream’s now five installments, you immediately know whose voice will be on the other line. Reeling in a character with a false sense of comfort before swiftly posing a question everyone in the audience would affirmatively respond to (“do you like scary movies?”), the soon-to-be-victim begins to realize what we already know: if they can’t answer three specific slasher-film trivia questions, they’ll be six feet under before next month’s phone bill arrives.  

Slasher films have often merged fear and excitement, creating a playful call-and-response dialogue between characters onscreen and the viewers watching them, and the Scream films play into and comment on that. Directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, the first Scream opened the floodgates to a flurry of slasher films that borrowed from the original’s formula: an opening murder that establishes the masked murderer, a slew of current Hollywood teen heartthrobs (any of whom could secretly be the killer), getting more and more creative as each character is picked off one-by-one, being self-referential with nods to zeitgeisty movie trends and pop fandom, and, finally, have the killer reveal themselves in the third act with an extended monologue that reveals their modus operandi (the backstory must always be shockingly elaborate) before they too expire, often as a result of a gunshot fired in self-defense by our heroic Final Girl. 

Three profitable sequels followed, all directed by Craven and all but one scripted by Williamson. After the passing of the director in August of 2015, however, the Scream franchise was assumed to be over (a MTV television series ran for three seasons but was poorly received and not considered canon). And, following the countless sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein that unfurled in 2017, Dimension Films and its parent company, The Weinstein Company, shuttered and sold off its assets for $289 million to an equity firm (Lantern Capital Partners) that would, in turn, begin collaborating with a revamped and production-focused Spyglass Media Group on new features.

“There are a lot of sequel-izable assets,” Spyglass co-founder Gary Barber said to Variety at the time. Directed by Radio Silence—the filmmaking trio made up of directors Tyler Gillett & Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and executive producer Chad Villella—Scream (2022) is one such sequel, serving as both franchise continuation and reboot. Welcoming a new, young cast alongside series mainstays David Arquette, Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox, this latest edition is deeply indebted to the original while finding new ways to expand upon what connects each of the traumatized characters to the fictional town of Woodsboro. As with each of these films, attempting to guess who the killer is as the story progresses is a much valued part of the viewing experience and, as a result, the leaking of spoilers is of utmost concern. 

It’s with this precaution that I catch up with Radio Silence below. In our conversation (which took place a week before their Scream was set to open in theaters nationwide), the filmmaking team discussed how they were hired for the project, honoring and subverting viewers’ expectations, following safety protocols during a pandemic and more.

Filmmaker: We last spoke the morning after your first feature, Ready Or Not, made its world premiere in 2019. You mentioned looking forward to potentially staying within the horror genre for your next feature, but that it had to be fun and couldn’t be too dire. The scares and laughs synonymous with the Scream franchise, then, seem like a natural fit. But how was this project brought to your attention? Was a Scream sequel in the works and the studio reached out to see if you’d be interested in directing?  

Villella: We were very excited after the release of Ready Or Not and looking for another project to make with the same team at Project X [the production/financing company co-founded by James Vanderbilt, a producer on Ready or Not]. We wanted to work with those guys again, even if we didn’t exactly know what that next project would be. Something else came to our attention that we were attached to for a little while and as we went down that path, out of the blue, we were able to have a meeting with Gary Barber at Spyglass Entertainment [Spyglass has a “first look” deal with Project X] and found out that James Vanderbilt was writing a new Scream. We thought, “Well, this is fantastic: a friend of ours is writing the new Scream movie, one of our favorite franchises in existence.” But after that meeting, we merely planned to go back to work on the other movie we were involved in.

About a week later, Project X and Spyglass called to ask if we would be interested in coming aboard Scream. Through Project X, we read the script that James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick (who was a co-writer on Ready or Not) had written and thought it was phenomenal. It felt like a dream come true that we couldn’t pass on. Once we signed on, it became all hands on deck. Scream has been our sole focus these last two years.

Filmmaker: Was everything pretty well established in their original script? I know previous Scream sequels had multiple scripts written due to fear of the reveal of the killer being leaked online.….  

Villella: Honestly, it took us three hours to read the script and it was pretty much the movie you see now. We had to change a few sequences for production purposes and due to shooting in 2020 during the pandemic, but not too much. Guy and James have been mega-Scream fans from day one and their script was a love letter to Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson. Kevin had even come aboard the project [as an executive producer] before we did, and once we knew we had his stamp of approval, we were all in.

Filmmaker: The specific formula and narrative beats of the Scream franchise are ingrained in the memories of countless horror fans worldwide, and with that comes certain expectations to be met for each new installment. With your film both following and subverting these expectations. I wanted to ask what it was like to take on a project so aligned with one specific director. Of course, you want to film your own personal take on the material, but you also have to honor the blueprint established by its creator.  

Bettinelli-Olpin: It wasn’t necessarily a hard process for us, but it was definitely a constant one. We never lost sight of the fact that this movie had to do justice not just to Scream as a franchise, but to Wes Craven as well. If it doesn’t do that, then we’ve failed. What helped the most in that pursuit—besides simply studying Wes’s work and learning everything we could about him—was that once you closely study his career, you begin to realize that the thing he did so incredibly well was subvert viewer expectations while continually challenging you as a viewer. He always managed to go left when you thought he was going right. As filmmakers, that allowed us, in the process of making this movie, to take a few swings and feel like, “Well shit, this might not work, but if we don’t take that risk, then we’ve already failed.” Because of Wes’s career, we felt that we were allowed to take risks that we hoped would make him proud while also fitting within the legacy established by the Scream franchise. That was the most freeing thing for us.

Filmmaker: Like each of the Scream films, your installment is very much in conversation with both itself and other modern horror films. Your film discusses the concept of “requels,” which, as described in the film, is an entry in an established franchise that serves as both a remake and a sequel. Your Scream, with its title being the exact same as the original (rather than simply Scream 5) while bringing back characters from previous entries, is then itself a kind of “requel.”  What was that experience like, making a film that it is both hyper aware of, and commenting on, itself and current industry trends? 

Gillett: While a ton of that was in the script, the one thing we didn’t necessarily expect or account for was how, over the course of making the film, we would find ourselves in these “meta moments” where it felt like the experience of making the movie was folding in on the movie itself. I don’t know how specifically we can talk about this without getting into inevitable spoilers or certain plot points, but it’s definitely one of the most fun things about watching these movies, right? It was really fun finding ourselves on that same ride, making a Scream movie and having a similar experience to what you’re seeing, in some respects, play out in the film. Honestly, it was also inspiring for us. It felt like there was always a place to grab new ideas from since the movie is so aware of itself in what it’s doing, what it’s hoping to achieve and what it’s hoping to subvert in terms of what the audience expects it to do.

Filmmaker: I noticed that directors Lars Klevberg and Sophia Takal are thanked in the end credits, which is ironic given that their most recent features were themselves “requels”—Child’s Play and Black Christmas, respectively. Those two films are begrudgingly name-dropped in a pivotal scene by a character in your Scream, so I’m assuming this was all done in good fun.   

Gillett: Absolutely, yes. We reached out to each of those filmmakers to let them know about their inclusion.

Filmmaker: Oh, has [director of The Babadook] Jennifer Kent seen the film then? Her work gets a pretty sizable shoutout too.  

Gillett: She has not seen it yet. We’re all huge fans of hers, and of The Babadook, obviously. We can’t wait for her to see it.

Filmmaker: I have a feeling her phone will be blowing up quite a bit over the next few days…

Gillett: [laughs] Yes, we’re sorry, Jennifer!

Filmmaker: Your Scream stood out to me for having what feels like an abundance of frightening sequences shot in broad daylight. That’s always a risk (less shadowy corners, more illuminated setpieces) for a horror film, but you make it work, especially in a sequence involving a mother and son who are in the immediate crosshairs of the Ghostface killer. Seeing the Ghostface apparel in bright, natural light feels like a departure for the series and you find new ways to frame that black robe and white face. What were those experiences like, where you brainstormed new ways to present the kills? 

Bettinelli-Olpin: I think we just loved the idea that the movie could “go there,” that it could deliver something that feels as much part of the franchise as any of the other kills, but with a simple tweak it could also take on a completely original identity. Speaking for all of us, we feel that the Scream franchise has some of the most iconic kills of any slasher movie out there, and one of the things we love so much about the franchise is that each of these kills possess an incredibly specific identity. You can think back and identify any of them and call them out in a very simple and concise way with friends.

We really put our heads together to work hard on the script with Guy and James, designing sequences that had their own specific identities. The daytime sequence that you’re referring to (that we can’t go into too much detail on) takes such a specific approach that hopefully feels totally original while still fitting into the established canon of the amazingly tense kill sequences Wes and Kevin designed over the course of the previous four movies. These sequences are so aware of a particular trope while being simultaneously aware of the audience being aware of the trope. It comes with a very specific viewer expectation, and the fun of that sequence (and, to varying degrees, of each of the kill sequences in our film), is that it’s all about turning the audience’s perception of what might be coming, of playing with that built-in expectation. That’s the most fun place we can take an audience member, right? As a viewer, you know that the movie is in control of the experience you’re having and you have to be willing to be fully invested in that ride.  

Filmmaker: On previous Scream sets, I know Roger L. Jackson (the ominous telephone voice of Ghostface) would try to be on set whenever he could so that he could read his dialogue in real time with whomever his scene partner/potential victim was. Was he ever on set this time around? 

Gillett: We very much wanted to have Roger on set due to hearing, as you mentioned, how he worked that way on the original and thinking it was a very cool idea for our cast. Since we were shooting during a pandemic, that just wasn’t possible. What we ended up doing for the majority of Roger’s scenes was have him go into his personal studio and call in. That way, he could be on the phone with the actors in real time. On the occasion that he couldn’t do that, he would record his lines and send them to us so that we could play them for the other actor on set. The process was a hodge-podgey mix-and-match, but we did our best to emulate what had clearly worked so well on the original four films. Roger was wonderful to work with and incredibly game for whatever.  

Villella: He’s so committed to the idea of Ghostface, to a degree that genuinely got under our skin, albeit in a very fun way. He would not break character while on the phone with his scene partner. 

Bettinelli-Olpin: He’d call in for the day’s scene and we’d pick up the phone and say, “Hey Roger, we’re just going to do a little reset here. Give us like three minutes before we get going,” and he would just stay in character and start fucking with you a bit.

Filmmaker: I wanted to ask about the final act of the film, taking place in a very specific house that will be eerily familiar to Scream fans. Am I allowed to speak of the significance of the house or is that a spoiler?   

Bettinelli-Olpin: Oh, that’s fine.  

Filmmaker: It’s Stu Macher’s house [Matthew Lillard’s character from the first film]. 

Bettinelli-Olpin: Yeah, we thought we could hide that from getting out [laughs].   

Filmmaker: When I saw the news about David Arquette hosting a retreat with Airbnb at the home, I assumed it would play a role in your film in some way…   

Gillett: [laughs] In some ways, that became the biggest part [of our marketing]. 

Filmmaker: Did you actually reuse the house from the original or was that a build that you replicated?

Villella: It’s not the original house, no, but our production designer, Chad Keith, had surveyors actually visit the original house in Northern California [in Marin County]. From that experience, they recreated it by building the house to scale on a stage in Wilmington, North Carolina. They essentially built an exact replica of the house, most prominently the first floor and the foyer area where [much of the action in the third act] takes place. We then enhanced everything else, such as the rooms that the film doesn’t really take us into, via various extensions of visual effects. It was a production design piece of work, through and through. 

Filmmaker: Did working on a soundstage in any way help make following COVID-compliance rules easier? There’s a party scene that takes place in Stu’s home in your film, and it obviously requires a ton of actors to be present and interacting with one another, and so I wanted to ask if working on a stage made that process easier. I’m sure you were all hyper-aware of protocols everyone needed to follow.

Villella: We were all very, very aware of it, and we owe a lot of thanks to our first AD, Rudy Persico, who was a) very much about building a family on set b) making sure it was always “safety first” for all elements of the shoot. He was the heart and soul of the production, leading our crew with great care so that everybody always felt safe, even though we were several months into the middle of a pandemic. By building Stu’s house on the largest stage available on the Screen Gems lot in Wilmington, North Carolina, everyone had their own designated spaces on set. It also allowed for quicker “clear outs” to make room for crews to quickly come on for prep, then to quickly clear out once cameras and actors came on. Safety was our biggest priority while we were shooting everything on the stages.

Filmmaker: Anyone that’s grown up watching the Scream films probably has an appreciation for the role their soundtracks play. On a personal note, I went through much of junior high school listening to songs from D’Angelo, Dave Matthews Band, Sugar Ray, Kottonmouth Kings, Master P & Silkk the Shocker on the Scream 2 soundtrack. Without getting into spoilers, some of the songs fans might most associate with the franchise make a return in your film, in addition to bringing in a few new pieces. Matt and Tyler, correct me if I’m wrong, but did I see your names credited with one of the songs?  

Bettinelli-Olpin: Oh man.

Filmmaker: I tried to observe which song it was, but the credits went by pretty quickly. 

Bettinelli-Olpin: As a real quick aside on that, we needed a jingle for Gale’s theme song for her TV show. We found ourselves having to come up with the jingle for that and made it on GarageBand! [laughs]. That’s the song we’re credited with.

I’m glad you brought up the soundtrack for this franchise, as that’s something we really do care about. It’s something we’ve loved about the original movies and something we had a lot of fun with making this new one. Every song choice in the film is extremely deliberate and took a lot of trial and error. Finding the tone, the narrative story, of the soundtrack was important, as we grew up in the ’80s and ‘90s, which was a time where it felt like every movie came accompanied by a soundtrack that you liked and knew by heart. When it came to making our film, we were like, “Let’s try to do that. Let’s really take the time to focus on the song choices and make sure that they can tell a cohesive story. There has to be an art to it, yes, but it has to have everything you’d want out of what we would consider a great soundtrack.” Throughout post-production, that then became the side project for us, searching for the right music to include.  

Gillett: There had to be real intention for a song to be included. We could never just say, “Oh, this works well enough, so let’s put it in.” It was all very intentional.

Bettinelli-Olpin: And the end credits song was recorded specifically for the movie, which was a lot of fun too.

Filmmaker: As I mentioned at the start of our conversation, Scream feels like a very logical progression for you all as filmmakers post-Ready or Not. Even so, taking on a Scream film comes with higher expectations, a higher budget, getting more familiar with studio filmmaking and executives’ notes, etc. But at the end of the day, this is a film, as the end credit makes clear, “Directed by Radio Silence.” What was the experience like further transitioning into the studio world? 

Gillett: It was surprisingly seamless and smooth, and we owe a lot of how the experience turned out thanks to the relationships we had forged with the producers on Ready Or Not. There was such trust and a sense of family on Scream. Even from the earliest stages of this process, I think we took great pains to make sure everyone who joined the team felt like they were joining a part of that family. The production felt like a combining of families, as we were entering an existing family too—one that Wes and Kevin had built and continued for numerous years. For us, it was about making sure that, in combining those two worlds, everyone knew that there was mutual respect and appreciation. We wanted the process of making our film to be about honoring the [on-and-off screen] family that Wes had created and the legacy he had left behind. It all came from a place of kindness which, in studying his career and his work with others, is also something we took out of Wes’s playbook. I think the end result yielded us a really fun movie while also, personally, giving us a gift in the family we built while making it. 

Filmmaker: You’ve certainly all come a long way. I believe next week will mark 10 years since V/H/S premiered at the 2012 edition of the Sundance Film Festival, an anthology film you had directed a short for.

Bettinelli-Olpin: Holy shit, you’re right!

Gillett: That’s crazy, wow.

Villella: I think now we’re all grown up [laughs].

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