Some films are just something else. Take Wes Craven’s 1996 film “Scream” which is a slasher film that combines slasher film violence with comedy to satirize the slasher film genre that was established by such motion pictures as the original “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” films. This film literally threw the cliches of it all right at you. Instead of trying to describe it myself, let the production history tell you all about it.
“Scream” was originally developed under the title “Scary Movie” by Kevin Williamson who was an aspiring screenwriter at the time. Let’s take a moment to take in the irony that the original title of the film was the name that eventually went to the 2001 parody “Scary Movie” that, even more ironically, satirized “Scream” itself. Anyway, it was influenced by a news story Williamson was watching about a series of grisly murders by the Gainesville Ripper. After seeing it, Williamson became concerned about intruders upon finding an open window in the house where he was staying. From that he was inspired to draft an 18-page script treatment about a young woman who was alone in a house, is taunted over the phone, and then attacked by a masked killer. The treatment remained as a short story while Williamson worked on another script called “Teaching Mrs. Tingle” which was a thriller that he would eventually sell but that would languish in development hell for many years. Struggling to pay his bills, Williamson secluded himself in Palm Springs and focused on the development of his “Scary Movie” treatment, hoping for a quick sale to meet his financial needs. Over the course of three days, Williamson developed a full-length script as well as two separate five-page outlines for potential sequels tentatively titled “Scary Movie 2” and “Scary Movie 3” (Yes feel free to laugh). The reason he did these outlines as well was he was hoping to entice buyers with the potential for a franchise. Williamson later added that one reason he focused on the “Scary Movie” script was because it was a film he wanted to watch that was born of his childhood love of horror films such as “Halloween” but he felt no one was making. His appreciation for previous horror films became evident in the script and the eventual film as it features inspiration from and references to films such as “Halloween”, “Friday the 13th”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, “When a Stranger Calls”, and “Prom Night”. Williamson also listened to the soundtrack for “Halloween” for inspiration while writing the script with excerpts from the soundtrack appearing in the film. Then came the challenge of trying to sell it.
Williamson then brought the “Scary Movie” script to his agent in June 1995 to put out for sale. His name was Rob Paris by the way. Paris warned him that the level of violence and gore in his script would make it, as he put it, “impossible” to sell. Following the script’s purchase by Miramax, Williamson was required to remove much of the gorier content that included graphic depictions of the internal organs of gutted murder victims “rolling” down their legs. Craven was secured as director, however, and this allowed Williamson to bring much of the excised content back. An interesting note was Williamson was going to remove a scene in the school bathroom featuring Sidney, as he felt it was awkward and out of place in the film, but Craven insisted the scene should remain as he felt it developed the character and her relationship with her deceased mother. Williamson later admitted he was glad that Craven proved him wrong about the scene. Another interesting note was Dimension Films head Bob Weinstein realized while reviewing the script that there were thirty pages, which translates approximately into thirty on-screen minutes on film, without a murder. So Weinstein instructed Williamson to have another character killed which is why Williamson included the death of the character Principal Himbry (Played by Henry Winkler) based on this input. In doing so this inadvertently solved a problem in the script’s finale. See Williamson had struggled to find a reason for several characters to leave a party so that the killer could attack. Therefore, the discovery of the corpse of Winkler’s character became the reason used to remove the characters from the scene at the party in the story. Concerning the killer’s motive, Williamson felt it was essential for the audience to learn why the antagonists had become killers. However, he also felt it was potentially scarier if they had no motivation. Opinions at the studio were also split between those who believed a motive was needed for resolution and those who felt the action was scarier without one. As there were two killers, Williamson decided to do both where Billy Loomis had the motive of maternal abandonment while Stu Macher, the second killer, jokingly suggests “peer pressure” as his motive when prompted. Let’s take a step back to view the bidding war that took place when this film was up for sale. That in itself was fun to read on because it was like a complex chess match. Only the smartest bidder would win.
The script for what was then known as “Scary Movie” went on sale on a Friday in June 1995, but received no bids right away. However, by the following Monday, the script had become the subject of a significant bidding war among a group of established studios that included Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, and Morgan Creek Productions. Producer Cathy Konrad read the script and felt it was exactly what the Weinstein brothers of the fledgling Dimension Films, which was then a part of Miramax, were looking for. At the time, Dimension had previously released several horror films and intended to focus on that genre so Konrad brought the script to Bob Weinstein’s assistant, Richard Potter. Potter believed it had potential so he brought it to Weinstein’s attention. One by one, Studios began to drop out of the bidding as the price of the script increased. The final two bidders were Oliver Stone, who was at the time working under Cinergi Pictures, and the Weinsteins of Dimension Films. Eventually, Williamson agreed to a bid of $400,000 from Miramax, plus a contract for two sequels and a possible fourth unrelated film. Williamson said he chose Dimension because he believed they would produce “Scary Movie” immediately and without significantly censoring the violence in the script. Craven read the script before he even became involved in the production and considered convincing a studio to buy it for him to direct, but by the time Craven read the script, it had already been sold. Well that obviously changed and pretty quick I might add.
Bob Weinstein approached Craven early in the planning stages of the film because he felt Craven’s previous work in the genre that combined horror and comedy would make him the perfect person to bring Williamson’s script to screen. However, Craven was already busy developing a remake of “The Haunting” and was considering distancing himself from the horror genre as he was growing weary of the inherent misogyny and violence. Weinstein did approach other directors including Robert Rodriguez, Danny Boyle, George A. Romero, and Sam Raimi, but Williamson said that they “didn’t get it”. In fact, Williamson was concerned that having read the script, many of the directors believed the film to be purely a comedy. Craven was again approached and continued to pass in spite of repeated requests. However, fate intervened when production of “The Haunting” collapsed. This allowed Craven to be free from that commitment and also found him in need of a project. During the hunt for the director, actress Drew Barrymore (Played Casey) had signed on to the film at her own request. This actually helped to convince Craven to direct for when he heard an established actress wanted to be involved, Craven reasoned that “Scary Movie” might be different from other films of the genre he had previously undertaken. So he finally contacted Weinstein to accept the job. While this is down the line a fun thing to talk about is how Weinstein might have saved the movie by doing one simple thing…changing the name of the film.
As the film neared completion, the Weinstein brothers changed the film’s title from “Scary Movie” to it’s now legendary title “Scream”, which was inspired by the Michael Jackson song of the same name. The reason behind this was Bob Weinstein considered “Scary Movie” to be an unsuitable title as, in addition to the horror and violence, the film contained elements of satire and comedy. Weinstein wished for that to be better conveyed by the title. Funny little note, the change was effected so late into production that congratulatory gifts bore the original name still. Anyway, Williamson and Craven immediately disliked the new title, considering it just plain stupid, but both later remarked that the change turned out to be positive and that Weinstein had been wise to pick the new title. Following a highly successful screening of the film in front of a test audience and Miramax executives, Craven was then offered a two-picture contract for sequels to “Scream”. However, it should be noted, Sony Pictures filed a lawsuit against Dimension Films and Miramax over the title claiming that the title “Scream” infringed on the copyright of Sony’s own 1995 film “Screamers” which was released the previous year. After the case was settled out of court, the details of that settlement remain confidential, “Scream 2” producer Marianne Maddalena considered that the case was a result of other issues between the two companies and did not just concern the film’s name. Maddalena confirmed that the studio was free to use the “Scream” brand for future films. Now on to how the already well-known cast was established.
“Scream” was a turning point in terms of casting for the horror genre, which usually involved relatively unknown actors. The reason behind this was the genre was considered unsuitable for bigger names as the films had lower budgets and often attained negative critical response. Drew Barrymore, as talked about before, read the script and was interested in being involved immediately so she approached the production team herself to request a role. Many don’t know this but Barrymore is a member of the Barrymore family of actors and granddaughter of actor John Barrymore. She had become a star in her own right following her appearance in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” in 1982 though. The producers were quick to take advantage of her unexpected interest, signing her to play the lead role of Sidney Prescott originally. It was believed that her involvement was instrumental in attracting other popular actors to the film in spite of its smaller budget and, as you now know, in causing Craven to reconsider his decision to direct the film. In regards to Barrymore though, Barrymore was faced with unexpected commitments before filming began which meant she would no longer be available to play the demanding lead role. So she instead played the smaller role of Casey Becker. This allowed her to remain involved and still gave the production the advantage of her stature as well. It ended up being a good thing for the film. By killing off one of their biggest stars early in the film, while considered a calculated risk, it was believed that it would be so shocking and unexpected that the audience would then believe that any character could die which could help make the film more exciting and unexpected. Anyway, once Barrymore left the film, actresses including Alicia Witt and Brittany Murphy auditioned for the lead role of Sidney while the producers also approached Reese Witherspoon who never auditioned. Neve Campbell came to Craven’s attention when he saw her in the TV show “Party of Five” and asked her to audition for the part. The reason behind this was he believed she could portray a character who was “innocent”, but who could also realistically handle herself while dealing with the physical conflict and emotions required by the role. Campbell was initially reluctant to perform in another horror film so soon after her supporting role in “The Craft” that came out also in 1996. After a successful audition, Campbell accepted an offer to play the lead character because “Scream” would be her first leading role and because she adored the character. For the character of news reporter Gale Weathers, the studio wanted a recognizable actress so they auditioned Brooke Shields and Janeane Garofalo for the part. Courteney Cox, who was starring in the sitcom “Friends” at the time, approached the production herself to pursue the role as she was interested in playing, as she put it, a “bitch” character to offset her “nice” “Friends” image. This is ironic because this image was the main reason why the producers initially refused to consider Cox for the part, but Cox continued to lobby the studio as she felt she could believably play the character with her efforts ultimately being succeessful. After actresses Melinda Clarke andRebecca Gayheart auditioned for the role of Tatum Riley, Rose McGowan was ultimately cast in the role. The casting director believed she best embodied the, and I quote, “spunky”, “cynical” but “innocent” nature of the character. Also, Gayheart would later receive a role in “Scream 2”. The studio felt the strong female cast of Campbell, Barrymore, Cox, and McGowan would help draw a significant female audience to the film. Kevin Patrick Walls and Justin Whalin were amongst the final candidates for the key role of Sidney’s boyfriend Billy Loomis. Whalin took part in auditions with Campbell, but Skeet Ulrich ultimately secured the role as the producers viewed him as perfect for the part and noted his resemblance to a young Johnny Depp as he appeared in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” which is one of the many films “Scream” references. Ulrich and Campbell had worked together on “The Craft” shortly before “Scream” which is an experience they both believed helped them be more comfortable with each other. It also allowed a more natural portrayal of the relationship between their characters. Though he failed to win the Loomis role, Walls remained in the film in the minor role of Steve Orth who was the boyfriend of Barrymore’s Casey Becker. David Arquette was also approached for the role of Billy Loomis but he asked to read for the part of Dewey Riley instead after reading the script. The role, described as “hunky”, was considered ill-fitting for Arquette’s appearance and approach but Arquette was still allowed to audition for the part and Craven liked him. He appreciated his softer, funnier approach to the character, and gave him the role. Matthew Lillard was cast as Billy’s friend Stu Macher by chance after accompanying his then-girlfriend to an unrelated audition taking place elsewhere in the same building because casting director Lisa Beach saw Lillard in the hallway and asked him to audition for the part. The role of Randy Meeks was contested between Jamie Kennedy and Breckin Meyer with the producers favoring Kennedy as they believed him to best embody the role. As he had no major roles prior to “Scream”, the studio wanted a more prominent actor than Kennedy to play the character, but the producers were adamant that he was the best choice and successfully fought to keep him. Roger L. Jackson, voice of the serial killer character Ghostface, was picked at the end of several weeks of local casting in Santa Rosa which is where parts of “Scream” were eventually filmed. The producers had originally intended to use his voice only as a placeholder, dubbing over it during post-production, but they decided that Jackson’s contribution was perfect and kept it with Craven describing it as an “intelligent” and “evil” voice that would become irreplaceable to the series. To aid their performance, Jackson was never allowed to meet the other actors, which prevented them from associating a face with the menacing voice. Jackson was present on the set, but spoke to actors by phone to help aid their performance. The rest of the cast was rounded out by W. Earl Brown (Played Gale Weather’s cameraman Kenny, Joseph Whipp (Played Sheriff Burke), Lawrence Hecht (Played Sidney’s father Neil Prescott), and C.W. Morgan (Played Billy’s father Hank Loomis). Liev Schreiber also appeared in the film in a minor role as Cotton Weary who was the framed killer of Sidney’s mother Maureen Prescott. As mentioned earlier, Henry Winkler appeared as Principal Himbry who remained uncredited so as not to draw attention away from the young main cast. Finally we can talk about the filming.
Filming for “Scream” took place over eight weeks between April 15, 1996 and June 8, 1996 on a budget of $15 million. The Weinsteins wanted to film inVancouver as it was estimated that they could save $1 million in costs compared to shooting in the United States, but Craven was adamant about filming in the United States and making a film that looked, as he put it, “truly American”. This argument over where to film almost led to Craven being removed from the project, but the Weinsteins eventually agreed to keep the production in America so location scouts looked at North Carolina as a possibility. However, they found that sites that seemed appropriate for the film’s requirements would have required extensive building, repairs, or modification, which would have inflated costs in the film’s budget. Attention was next turned towards California where scouts discovered Sonoma County and the cities of Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, and the nearby Tomales Bay. The house of Barrymore’s character at the beginning of the film is situated southeast of Santa Rosa on Sonoma Mountain Road and, even today I believe, directly faces the house used in the 1983 horror film “Cujo”. The home of Sidney Prescott is located near Calistoga which is north of Santa Rosa and Tatum’s home is situated on McDonald Avenue in Santa Rosa which is next to the houses used in 1960 for the film “Pollyanna” and “Shadow of a Doubt” in 1943. The home of Lillard’s character, which is the location for the entire third act of the film, is a house on Tomales Road east of Tomales Bay that had only recently become available after the death of its owners. The fictional Woodsboro town square, including the fountain where many of the cast sit in an early scene, is represented by the Healdsburg town square. For the Woodsboro high school, Craven desired a building that looked “American” so the producers approached Santa Rosa High School. The school board insisted on seeing the script and immediately objected to the violence against teenage children and the cynical, dark dialogue, including that of the fictional school principal. It got worse as local newspapers criticized the project and irate parents objected to such a film taking place at their children’s school. Some comparisons were made between film violence and the kidnap and murder of Polly Klaas three years prior which had left the area sensitized toward violence. Surprisingly, the producers received support from the school’s students and some local residents. The reason is they recognized that economic benefits would be generated by the film’s presence while others argued for the film’s First Amendment rights. The dispute resulted in a three-hour debate scheduled for April 16 which was one day after filming was to begin with the result of the Santa Rosa debate being that permission would be denied so the production was forced to find another location for the school. They ended up filming at the Sonoma Community Center which was southeast of Santa Rosa. Unwilling to be delayed, Craven began filming as scheduled on the 15th as planned with him starting with the opening scene of the film that features Barrymore. The scene took five days to complete. Still, that town debate was not the last of the film’s criticism DURING filming.
The progress of filming was criticized early on with Bob Weinstein disliking the Ghostface mask, believing it wasn’t scary enough. Also, upon reviewing the dailies footage of the opening scene, the studio was concerned that the film was progressing in an unwanted direction and they considered replacing Craven. To assuage their concerns, Craven and editor Patrick Lussier developed a rough, workprint version of the opening 13 minutes of the film to demonstrate how the completed film might turn out and after viewing the new footage, the studio was content to let Craven continue as director. Weinstein, having seen the mask in action, was satisfied that it could be scary. The third and final act of the film, over forty minutes long, is set at a house party where Ghostface strikes and was shot at a vacant property in Tomales over 21 nights. The scene, which was labelled “Scene 118” during shooring, was considered the most difficult to shoot as it took place entirely in one location yet featured the individual stories and deaths of multiple characters. Actors spent weeks undertaking intense emotional and physical scenes while coated in fake blood and wounds. As the scene was set during the evening, production had no choice but to halt at dawn and wait till the next night to continue filming. Director of photography Mark Irwin was fired during filming of the finale of “Scream” which was a week before principal photography was to be completed. Upon review of the dailies, Craven found the footage was out of focus and unusable with Irwin initially being ordered to fire his camera crew. He retorted that if his crew were to be fired, they would also have to fire him so the producers fired him and replaced him with Peter Deming who finished the film. Now time to see how all that blood and guts were made along with the fight to get the rights to use the now iconic Ghostface mask for the film.
To produce the many grisly effects for the film, the producers recruited KNB Effects team Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, and Gregory Nicotero with one of their first tasks being the production of a mask for the film’s killer. In his script, Williamson had only described the antagonist as a “masked killer” and this gave Craven no specific information on what type of mask to use or how to conceal the body. So, while location scouting, Maddalena discovered the Ghostface mask hanging from a post inside the house previously used for the film “Shadow of a Doubt”. Craven wanted to use it, but the mask design was owned by a costume company called Fun World and he was told to create one that the production could own so KNB developed multiple design sketches varying from deformed faces to monstrous visages riddled with fangs. Craven found nothing like the Ghostface design that he kept coming back to so he had KNB develop a mask that was based on it with enough differences to avoid any claim of copyright. The team developed several molds based on the original Ghostface design, but Craven found none were as suitable as the mask he wanted to use. Desperate to use the design, Craven finally convinced the studio to approach Fun World and successfully got permission to use the mask. While negotiations were in progress in getting that permission, KNB was instructed by Craven to make a mask that was very similar to the original mask, but was appropriate for use in filming. The mask they produced, which is made of a thin foam, was used in two scenes of the film. These scenes were the opening scene with Barrymore’s character and the murder of Winkler’s Principal Himbry. Still, Craven disliked the mask due to its slight differences from the original and therefore used the Fun World design for the rest of filming. For all those fun gory scenes, KNB Effects created over 50 gallons of fake blood, normally composed of corn syrup and food dye, to create the visual effect of severe wounds. For the penetrating effect of knives, the production used collapsible blades to prevent injury. In the finale, an umbrella with a retractable tip is used as a stabbing weapon as well. Ulrich also wore a protective vest beneath his shirt to help prevent harm while a stuntwoman attacked him with it. However, the second thrust missed the vest and stabbed Ulrich on his chest which impacted a wound from an open heart surgery operation. Ulrich’s genuine pain was captured on film and used in the release version of the film. Two of the most complex visual effects in the film were the corpses of Barrymore’s and Walls’ characters, Casey Becker and Steve Orth, respectively. Their deaths involved the character being gutted from ribcage to pelvis which essentially hollowed out the torso of internal organs and the guts “rolling” from the wound. To allow Walls to continue to move and feign death while displaying the wound, KNB designed a chair with no back with the actor kneeling behind it while his upper body, head, and arms were positioned within the chair’s seating area. Also, an anatomical model representing the character’s torso and legs was positioned in the chair and disguised so that the actor’s upper body and the model appeared to be one piece. The fake abdomen was filled with rubber, latex, and gelatin pieces smeared in fake blood that were the “internal organs” which could then fall free. The other big effect involved Barrymore’s character being gutted and hung by the neck from a tree so the team utilized a similar approach. However, this time they replicated Barrymore’s entire body instead of just her lower body. This was done since it would be impossible to conceal her real body and display the visual effect of her character having been gutted. I know it’s been a long fact tonight folks but we’re almost there. Time for post-production.
Filming was completed in June 1996 and then Craven spent two months editing the final product. He encountered repeated conflicts with the Motion Picture Association of America film rating system(MPAA) concerning the content of scenes in which he was forced to tone down or obscure the more intense scenes and overall violence to avoid an NC-17 rating. This was considered, as they call it, “box office suicide” as cinemas and retail chains often refused to stock NC-17 titles. In fact, Dimension Films had previously released NC-17-rated films with the rating making those films difficult to market and attract an audience. Dimension was desperate for a less-restrictive R rating, but the producers felt the demanded cuts would remove key elements from the film and reduce its overall quality. The opening scene featuring Barrymore was one of the most difficult parts to process through the MPAA, who required cuts based on its “intensity”, but Craven did something to stop that from happening. See Craven intentionally lied to the MPAA with him claiming he had only one take of the scene and could not replace it with something less intense so the MPAA allowed the scene. Craven ended up sending eight different cuts of the film to deal with complaints. Problematic scenes for the MPAA included the gutting death of Steve Orth where Craven was required to remove any movement of the character’s internal organs. There was also the throat-cutting of Kenny where Craven had to trim the end of the scene as the MPAA felt the actor’s pained expression was too “disturbing”. They also had to shorten the length of time spent viewing the crushed head of Tatum Riley. The MPAA still held issue with a scene from the finale, where the killers (Played by Ulrich and Lillard) stab each other which creates large amounts of visible blood. The MPAA required that the blood could not be seen in motion, falling to the floor from the body. At this rate, it seemed unlikely that the film would be able to achieve an R rating without further significant cuts so, with the film’s release date drawing closer, Bob Weinstein intervened and personally contacted the MPAA. He believed they misunderstood the film and to which genre “Scream” really belonged. He felt they were focusing too much on the horror elements and Weinstein explained that although he agreed with their assessment that the film was “intense”, the film also had comedic elements and satire so it was not just a horror film glorifying violence. The MPAA reviewed their decision and, shortly thereafter, the film was granted an R rating. Now one final thing…the music that made the atmosphere great.
The “Scream” score was provided by fledgling composer Marco Beltrami with this being his first time scoring a feature film. Craven’s assistant Julie Plec had requested input on composers who were “new”, “fresh”, and “wonderful” with Beltrami’s name being given by several people so Beltrami was contacted for samples of his work. Craven, impressed by what he heard, requested Beltrami come to the set to view the opening thirteen minutes of the film that contained the introduction and death of Barrymore’s character. After viewing it, Beltrami was tasked with scoring a piece of music for this scene, which would be reviewed by the producers and the Weinstein brothers. On the basis of the score he made for that opening scene, Beltrami was hired to score the entire film. Beltrami, however, had no prior experience scoring a work of horror so Craven and editor Patrick Lussier advised him on how to deliver music that would raise the tension and how to use stings to punctuate the more intense moments of the film. Craven wanted the music to intentionally raise tension during scenes where audience expectations were already raised by their experience of previous horror films so the volume would be raised to indicate that the killer is hiding behind a door, but nothing would be present upon its opening. Beltrami decided to intentionally disregard conventional horror score styles and rather approached the film as a western. He took influence from Ennio Morricone, a prolific composer for many westerns. When scoring a theme for the character of Dewey (Played by David Arquette), Beltrami approached him as a “quirky” wild west sheriff and used a Morricone-style guitar accompaniment. Sidney Prescott’s theme, titled “Sidney’s Lament”, features a female choral arrangement expressing “sorrow” concerning the character’s situation with Beltrami stating that the voice “spoke” for the character and lamented the loss of her mother. Christian Clemmensen of Filmtracks later called the “haunting” vocals of the track the “voice of the franchise” with the song being used throughout the film’s sequels.
Well everyone it was a pleasure to give you this incredibly detailed story behind the making of a film that has become a legend. It allowed you to enjoy the horror while laughing at the cliches that the genre had previously developed over the decades prior. I have never been a fan of horror films to begin with, but this film was made to intentionally throw the silliness of the genre in your face while giving you something new to enjoy. It has spawned 3 sequels with a possible “Scream 5” on the way. It is beloved by fans and continues to be a shining example of the horror genre. If you are like me and don’t prefer horror films I suggest you give this film a try, it might scare you into loving them.