With anticipation building for the April 15th release of Dimension Films’ Scream 4 – the latest entry in the top-grossing slasher franchise after more than ten years of silence – B-D reporter Chris Eggertsen and a horde of other journalists crowded into a conference room at West Hollywood’s Mondrian Hotel this week to engage in a Q&A session with director Wes Craven, returning cast members Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox Arquette, and David Arquette, and new additions Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, and Anthony Anderson, to discuss their involvement in the massively-hyped new sequel.
Topics covered included the reasons behind revisiting the franchise after such a long absence, updating the rules and conventions of the series for a modern audience, and how the ill-fated town of Woodsboro has changed in the decade-and-a-half since the original massacre. See inside for the full report.
With the addition of a horde of fresh-faced young cast members, who in many ways echo the crop of self-aware young high school students featured in the original ‘Scream’, one could be forgiven for experiencing a slight sense of déjà vu when watching Dimension’s upcoming ‘Scream 4′, the belated third sequel in the iconic postmodern slasher franchise that’s finally being unleashed on April 15th. It was a sensation actually experienced by many of the original cast members as well, who recently gathered – along with their next-generation “doubles” and director Wes Craven – at Los Angeles’ Mondrian Hotel to discuss the heavily-anticipated new entry.
“I think with the new cast coming to this, it was really interesting to see because they were kind of reflections of us when we first got there“, said Arquette, sitting with Craven and fellow returning cast members Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox Arquette. “It just really sort of [generated the same] electricity that I felt on the first film.”
For her part, Campbell related a self-aware moment that she shared with Cox Arquette during the initial read-through with their younger cast-mates prior to the start of production.
“Courtney and I looked at each other and we were like, `we could be their mothers!’” laughed the actress, looking just as radiant and beautiful as she did when we first laid eyes on her over a decade ago.
“Grandmother!” remarked Cox Arquette in response, leaving the group of reporters seated before her to begin calculating the math in their own heads.
Of course, since the release of ‘Scream 3′ at the turn of the new millenium (now guess who’s feeling old?), there has inevitably arisen an entire new crop of horror franchises and sub-genres, not to mention a host of changes in both the culture at large and the technologies we use to navigate it. Craven, who at 71 years old keeps himself refreshingly up to date on how today’s young people both communicate and consume entertainment, spoke to the evolution of the culture since the last installment and how that factored into he and the Weinsteins’ decision to revisit the hugely successful franchise after so many years of being away.
“[Bob Weinstein] originally told us I think after `Scream 3′ that there were not gonna be anymore for a long time. They didn’t want it to feel like we were just knocking `em out to make money“, said the soft-spoken Craven, as always exuding an aura of quiet grace and intelligence. “But I think at the end of the decade, there was a feeling that this was a perfect time to turn around and look at the first decade of the 21st century. It was quite distinctive from others. 9/11…that’s sort of hovering over things. And certainly the presence of the electronic media being brought down to the people, to the level where everybody is online. Everybody’s on Facebook, people are tweeting people all over the world all the time. That’s totally different [than it was].
“…I have a step-daughter who’s 20 years old, [and] she’s watching movies on her computer or her phone“, he continued. “So the whole business, as you well know, is changing dramatically. And the way the fans follow the movies, and participate in the movies, and make their own movies…[it's] profoundly different.”
Campbell, now in her fourth outing as perennial victim Sidney Prescott, got back into character not by looking forward so much as delving into the past, taking time to revisit the first three films again prior to the start of production.
“I had fun watching the films again before we started this, just to get a sense of it“, she told us. “It was really nice to see that they still hold up really well. But…it isn’t difficult to get into the character. With Sidney, it’s just like imagining her circumstances and doing it.”
Cox Arquette found herself not only marveling at Craven’s predilection for staying connected to youth culture, but also at the way he’s been able to maintain a sense of what scares people after 40 years in the business.
“He’s an amazing filmmaker…he is the master of this” she said. “And the way he directs Ghostface, it’s the most…the way he tilts his head, it’s so eerie! I don’t know, there’s something about Wes that’s just like a choreographer when it comes to Ghostface…he’s just a great director.”
As for keeping the details of the new film a secret, Craven smartly recognized the need to balance preserving a sense of mystery with making fans of the franchise feel acknowledged and included in the process. To accomplish the latter goal, he maintained an active Twitter account during production.
“We did everything from have contests [to win] posters [of] the film…to having contests where people would identify photographs of weird bugs that we took off of the set…when we were shooting at night, and all these strange bugs [were] falling out of the sky“, he said. “We just sort of kept the fans aware that we were filming, and that we knew they were out there. I have to say, it was very intriguing to see how quickly people answered [the tweets]…[it] made me realize even in the process of filming how different this reality was from even emails, you know? Just much, much quicker, and worldwide.”
He was also diplomatic (damn it) in response to a question about the alleged sour grapes that arose between original screenwriter Kevin Williamson and the production after ‘Scream 3′ scribe Ehren Kruger was brought in for last-minute rewrites.
“I think we’re all pleased with the way the script turned out“, he intoned. “It was a result of Kevin’s original master script, and Ehren did a decent amount of work on specific scenes and areas…and I wrote sections of the film myself. But it very much is Kevin’s concept and characters and situations and overarching framework for the film.”
Following this uber-short Q&A session with the original ‘Scream’ crew, four new cast members – Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, and Anthony Anderson – took their place on the panel to discuss joining the storied franchise after years of being exposed to the films as moviegoers.
“It’s an exciting thing to be a part of“, remarked Panettiere, who in the film plays Kirby Reed, the best friend of Roberts’ character who is essentially an updated version of Rose McGowan’s “Tatum” from the first movie. “It’s like a sequel, but at the same time a remake, but it’s a combination…it’s cleverly remembering where it comes from, the clichés, and really using them to our benefit and growing with the audience. Because as generations go on, they just get smarter and harder to scare, and all that stuff. So it’s a very cool movie, a fun thing to be a part of. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be in [a] `Scream’ [movie]? I thought, I was sitting on set and I was going, `Aren’t I supposed to be watching this movie? I don’t think I’m supposed to be here.’ I would never [have] imagine[d] myself on screen with Neve Campbell and screaming. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Anderson, one of the loudest, most insatiable hams I’ve ever had the dubious pleasure of being confronted with, spoke to the surreal nature of being involved in ‘Scream 4′ (he plays the character of “Detective Anthony Perkins” – get it?) after having appeared in the third and fourth installments of the (initially) ‘Scream’-lampooning ‘Scary Movie’ series.
“I’m a fan of the franchise. Actually, I was in another film that spoofed this franchise, and now I’m in this franchise. So that was that“, he acknowledged, before later admitting he hasn’t actually seen the movie yet: “I just found out who the killers were like 27 minutes ago, honestly. Because my script never had an ending to it. I don’t know if they didn’t trust me…the lines that I prepared the night before, when I got to set everything was different. That’s how I went to work. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one like that, but honestly, since I haven’t seen the film and my script never had the ending part of it, I didn’t know who the killers were until literally before [the] last roundtable discussion.”
Emma Roberts, who won the lead role of Sidney’s teenage cousin Jill after Ashley Greene reportedly turned it down, talked rather generally (the name of the game at the practically worthless second panel discussion, which quickly devolved into an Anthony Anderson stand-up act) about what attracted her to the project – in a bit I’m only including because it was more or less the sole usable quote offered up the actress during the mercifully short 15-minute session.
“I was a huge fan of the franchise, I’m a huge fan of Wes Craven, and I thought that the fact that he was coming back to direct this one meant it was gonna be good, and yeah, I love the part“, said Roberts. “I read the script, and it was an interesting role, and I’ve never done a horror movie, so why not?”
At the far end of the panel from Roberts sat lost little Rory Culkin, who didn’t even attempt to compete with Anderson’s apparent personal mandate to dominate practically every second of the discussion. It was only near the very end that he was finally able to get a word in edgewise – and only after Roberts cheerily implored Anderson to give his fellow cast member an opportunity to speak.
“He’s always a different person with different motives“, intoned Culkin, in response to a question about what makes Ghostface so scary. “You don’t really know why they’re doing this…it’s also weird because the whole town sort of celebrates this massacre that only happened like ten years earlier, so everyone in town is sort of twisted. It’s a pretty sick little town.”
Therein lays one of the most interesting components of the new film, which heavily references the first installment in painting a picture of how the fictional town of Woodsboro has itself changed in the last ten years. While it would’ve been disingenuous of the filmmakers ‘not’ to have referenced the ’96 original in crafting the latest installment, there’s also the obvious risk of making viewers pine for the good ol’ days if they end up feeling significantly let down by this new entry. There’s no doubt the world has changed dramatically over the last decade, but thankfully some things – like the hypnotic allure of a good piece of filmmaking – don’t ever go out of style.