“We knew we could not f**k this up,” explained Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, co-director of Scream. He was all too aware that both the stakes and anticipation were high for the fifth film in the multimillion-dollar slasher franchise.
The original Scream movie, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, was a critical and commercial smash and is now considered a classic. Directed by Wes Craven, who also helmed the second, third and fourth Scream films, it kickstarted a pop culture phenomenon and grossed $608.5 million worldwide.
Now Bettinelli-Olpin, co-director Tyler Gillett, and executive producer Chad Villella pick up the baton for the requel, blending legacy cast with a new bunch of characters and brutal slayings.
I caught up with the trio to find out what was going through their minds the night before production started, the movie’s title, and what the plan was if OG players Courteney Cox, Neve Campbell, and David Arquette said no.
Simon Thompson: Not long after I spoke to you guys about your movie Ready or Not, we bumped into each other at a party. We were chatting about what franchises you might want to take on, and Scream came up. Do you remember that?
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Tyler Gillett: Wait. Did we Inception ourselves? (Laughs)
Chad Villella: We couldn’t have manifested that in our wildest dreams.
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: When we found out that a friend of ours was one of the guys writing it, even then it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, that’ll be something we do.’ It was more like, ‘Wow, that’s cool.’
Gillett: Yeah, it was more like, ‘I guess they’re probably not going to text with us anymore now they’re at the cool kids’ table.’ (Laughs)
Thompson: I know you’ve seen the incredible reactions to the first press screenings of Scream, and they must be a huge relief. What was going through your mind the night before your first day of shooting?
Gillett: Honestly, ‘Oh s**t. Oh f**k. What have we done?’
Villella: Yeah, it was. ‘Oh boy. Okay, here we go.’
Bettinelli-Olpin: I remember being super nervous, and although I’m not an athlete, I assume how I felt was how they feel before a big game or a race or something. The nerves were incredible, but we had to put all that aside, and we had to go do this. We knew we could not f**k this up.
Villella: This was a 41-day shoot, so it was like the night before 41 Super Bowls.
Gillett: You sort of inch towards that feeling because as you get closer and closer to day one, the pressure really starts to build, but there were definitely moments leading up to that where the pressure was released, and you felt it was going to work. I remember the dinner we did with the cast. It was the first time everyone was together, boots on the ground, in Wilmington, and everyone clicked. It was like combining families and hoping that there’s chemistry and people enjoy each other. That was the moment, even though I was still terrified, that we knew we’d got great people, and it was down to us not to screw it up.
Villella: There were a lot of other factors in play, too, because we were shooting it in August in a pandemic year, so everybody was getting tested every day, but there is no Get Out of Jail Free card for that. We still had to make the best movie possible.
Thompson: In an attempt to keep some movies secret, sometimes people aren’t told exactly what they are auditioning for. Did everyone going for a role in Scream know it was a new Scream movie?
Bettinelli-Olpin: I’m pretty sure that everyone knew it was a Scream movie.
Gillett: I think we were conscious about wanting the people who would be involved to have love, respect, and appreciation for what Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson had built. That was really important to us. There are varying degrees of fluency with what the Scream movies are within the crew and the cast, but everyone had a genuine love for what the Scream movies are. Everyone was changed in some way by them. It was important to us to have this level of respect and reverence.
Thompson: I’m guessing you also wanted to make sure that everyone wasn’t just copying what they had seen in the other movies but created something new out of that?
Bettinelli-Olpin: Absolutely. We were always cautious about making sure that we weren’t just imitating a Scream movie, but it never really came up. I think everybody, especially the cast, really got it and understood that they had to be their own characters, not just a version of a thing you’ve seen.
Thompson: How did you get that right because you want to continue Wes’ legacy, and this is the only one he hasn’t directed, but you also want to do your own thing and bring your own style to it.
Gillett: There was a lot of conversation about it. There were moments every day where we were specifically navigating that and walking on that on that tight rope. From the first time we read the script to the day we finished the movie, there was always an effort to calibrate that. We owe a lot of credit to the script because you could very easily fall into being an imitation from a plotting sense or even how a scene feels like one you’ve seen in another Scream movie. The blueprint was so beautifully drawn by Guy Busick and Jamie Vanderbilt. They wrote a script that understood these movies and what makes them singular. It also helps that the Scream movies are also very aware of themselves and allow the viewer into a different experience because the film is always having a bit of a conversation with itself. That also creates a little room for us to step in and make a movie for entertainment value.
Thompson: Was there always the one script. Legacy characters play vital roles in Scream, and if one of those actors didn’t sign up, it would be a very different movie.
Gillett: Oh God, stop. (Laughs) You’re making my palms sweat.
Bettinelli-Olpin: There was one script, and it’s the script that became the movie. I think we all lied to ourselves and said like, ‘Well, if one of them doesn’t join, we’ll deal with that at that time.’ I don’t think any of us ever put more than two seconds of thought into what that actually would look like because in our minds, and this is true for the producers, too, it wouldn’t be right if they weren’t all coming back. It felt like the only real way to do this was to get them all back. I don’t think we even allowed ourselves to manifest that in any way. At the end of the day, it goes back to the script. We believe that Guy and Jamie wrote a great script, and we believed that Courteney, David, and Neve would feel the same. Luckily they did.
Thompson: If they hadn’t, could Scream never have happened? Would that have been the end of it?
Bettinelli-Olpin: That’s very possible.
Gillett: I think we were kidding ourselves thinking there was any version ever without the three of them.
Bettinelli-Olpin: That would not have been a version we would have ever wanted to make.
Thompson: You usually test movies to see how audiences react and how the ending lands, especially with films like Scream. Did you get to test Scream, and did you have any alternative endings up your sleeves just in case?
Bettinelli-Olpin: I mean, we have very little alternate stuff. One of the weird things about making a movie during Covid is that many of those things don’t happen. We didn’t have your usual testing process on this because we couldn’t. We couldn’t get a roomful of people together. It was such a big deal. We only did one real test screening, and that was it. A lot of this was old school, weirdly, and kind of trusting our collective guts, and that includes us, the producers, the studio, and at the end of the day, putting our faith in what the movie is. Honestly, that was refreshing.
Gillett: In terms of making it, we had constraints on set too. We had really tight hours; we were on a really tight schedule, there wasn’t time to shoot stuff that wouldn’t end up in the movie. We were strict about that in prep and only wanted to go into this process shooting things that we think are of real genuine value, that we love, and have a particular place in pushing the story forward. At the end of the day, there just wasn’t any fat. We would have shot a lot of fun side quests because the actors are incredible, they all understood the characters, and we were all having such a great time. We could have done that with more time, but we just didn’t have it.
Thompson: Talking of time, Chad said earlier that this was a 41-day shoot?
Bettinelli-Olpin: That is not a lot of time.
Gillett: How many scenes were there in the script? Do we know where do we end up? I think it’s like 137 or something. There are a lot of characters, a lot of scenes, especially in the third act where you’re jumping around a lot. And there is so much going on. It was a tight schedule.
Thompson: Project X is a new entity specializing in this kind of genre movie within a particular budget space between under $15 million and $60 million. Without that kind of structure, is this kind of movie even really feasible now? Studios rarely make them directly; you’ve either got to go to a streamer or a company like Project X, who are trying to emulate the Castle Rock style and catalog. How important was that to making Scream a reality?
Bettinelli-Olpin: I would say pretty much 100 percent.
Villella: It was them and Spyglass Media Group coming together.
Bettinelli-Olpin: It was Project X’s idea. They were the ones who decided they wanted to take it on and have it be their thing, and they had a close relationship with Spyglass. Because of that, Spyglass let them, and with Jamie as a producer and a writer, it created a nice little package. Jamie then raised his hand and said that he wanted Guy to write it with him, and he wanted us to direct it. It was the easiest A to Z in movie history (Laughs).
Gillett: The kind of crazy thing about the experience that those three producers bring to the process is that they’ve done movies of every scale. They’ve made this small indie thing, done the massive $100 million movie thing, and I think what they ultimately share with us philosophically about the process is that you don’t need to have a bloated budget and schedule to make something great. They force you to examine the priorities of what the story wants to be, and in our two experiences with working with them, that process has done nothing but help us create better work.
Thompson: Did this way of doing things make you more inclined to stay with the franchise for a sequel. What would you call that? Scream Again? Scream 6? 6cream?
Bettinelli-Olpin: If you can come up with a good title, we’re in. Just to be clear, we would love to do another one.
Thompson: I want to ask about the title. You went for Scream. A lot of people were expecting it to be called 5cream. Was the title always Scream, and did you have a say in that? It seems everyone has an opinion on this kind of thing, and there is even a joke about sequel titles in the movie.
Bettinelli-Olpin: Gary Barber at Spyglass, who owns the movie, that was his choice. He told us when he told Paramount that this would be called Scream. We have the same thoughts as everybody else, and we called the movie 5cream, as in Five Cream, the whole time on set. It was a joke for us, the cast, everyone on set. We all always called it 5cream. What Gary deciding to call it Scream did was to allow us to think about how we could bake that into the movie. That wouldn’t have worked if this were any other movie than Scream. We had to think about how we made the movie comment on it being called Scream. If we didn’t do that, we were failing.
Gillett: We were immediately aware of how many opinions there were about that, so we had to make it part of the movie because it was part of real-life.
Thompson: Scream is hitting theaters. When have you been able to exhale and know that everything turned out okay?
Bettinelli-Olpin: We still haven’t.
Gillett: Next week, maybe?
Villella: Maybe check back with us in February? (Laughs)
Bettinelli-Olpin: I will say it was nice to see people enjoying it at those first screenings. It was a surprise. It really was. The level of enjoyment was really special to us. It meant a lot.
Gillett: I think a big part of this experience for us is that we’re making something for an existing fan base, and that’s the first time we’ve ever made something like that. The exhale we’re feeling now is that the Scream fans who have seen it, who had a lot of faith in us and had been very generous, embraced us and liked what we have done. That there is now some critical response out there saying that people think Wes would be proud is the highest compliment we could ever be paid. That’s been a sigh of relief.
Scream lands in theaters on Friday, January 14, 2022.