The tagline to Scream 4 may be “New Decade, New Rules”, but the “rules” for director Wes Craven have more or less remained the same over the last 40 years – keep making movies. Now 71, the still-youthful director has rarely strayed from the genre he made his name on (Music of the Heart was an anomaly, thank god), and to the delight of Scream fans everywhere he returned to the director’s chair for the highly-anticipated fourth installment, reuniting with original cast members Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox Arquette, and David Arquette to bring to life a new Kevin Williamson-scripted tale of tongue-in-cheek mayhem.
B-D’s Chris Eggertsen recently caught up with Craven to talk to him about the new sequel, with the director giving insight into the process of updating the franchise for a new generation while keeping true to the tone of the first three movies, deciding how much blood was too much, and taking on the much-publicized additional photography that followed an early test screening. See inside for the full interview – and lest you forget, Scream 4 opens everywhere on April 15th.
Note: Because Craven offered up several plot spoilers throughout the interview, portions of the text below have been censored for your own protection.
Bloody Disgusting: I liked the movie, I have to say. I saw it the other night and I was really pleasantly surprised.
Wes Craven: That is basically the response I’ve been getting. It’s very gratifying to hear that people like it, you know?
BD: I definitely noticed that the film is sort of a mash-up between a sequel and a remake. You have the new cast of characters sort of reflecting the cast of characters from the first movie. Is that something that attracted you to the script when you first read it?
WC: Yeah. I think, you know, since we talk so much about reboots and sequels and remakes in the film itself, that it was interesting that at the same time it had that element to it of going back to the first one and kind of being a magic mirror to that.
BD: Yeah, I liked that about it. In the age of remakes, that approach kind of makes sense.
WC: Yeah, as long as we made it very different as well. I think that was kind of the charm of it, that on the surface people were doing things that were kind of mimicking the first one. But the motivations and who’s actually doing it and the world that they live in, with some of the social media and things of that sort, were completely fresh and new.
BD: I liked that you have your cameos in the movie but it never goes overboard with them. I think at a certain point if you put in too many it would start to feel a little too jokey. How did you keep the movie from crossing that line into parody?
WC: I think it was…you know, obviously the surprise [is] that [CENSORED FOR SPOILERS]…And we actually did subtle changes to the soundtrack and everything to make it a little bit more of a real presence. I guess, off the top of my head I guess that we…tried not to get silly about it. Always the temptation is to get kind of over-the-top, ‘oh, this is one of those [CENSORED FOR SPOILERS]…so let’s make the music really bad’ or something like that. So we kept away from that.
BD: Given that this is a whole decade after the first film and you’re trying to incorporate a whole new set of conventions into the film, I’m curious if there were any horror trends over the last ten years that you intentionally stayed away from. Because obviously there are certain things that if you put them in the film, for example a torture porn sort of thing, it wouldn’t really feel like a ‘Scream’ movie anymore.
WC: Right. Right up front we have characters referring to it, so we kind of took our shot at the torture porn films and moved on quickly. You’re right, that’s not what ‘Scream’ is.
BD: As far as the violence goes, I felt this was pretty bloody relative to the first three. I’m just wondering if there were any moments on set were you got a little carried away with the gore and had to force yourselves to pull back at all?
WC: You know, Gary [Tunnicliffe], our special effects makeup and blood guy, let’s say was very enthusiastic. With [CENSORED]’s death – we were shooting in a practical location by the way, so it wasn’t like we were on a soundstage where we could change the walls of the room – the room was so small that I had to be in another room watching on the monitor, where the blood just does not pick up nearly as much as it did on film. So when I walked [back] into the room [after we shot the murder] I was stunned.
That was probably the one case where I felt it went kind of over the top. And we did pull that scene back somewhat…at one point we even optically took out some of the blood on the walls…[but if you take out too much] it loses a certain power. So we felt like we kind of split the difference and didn’t have somebody just endlessly being stabbed in the stomach with a knife, and at the same time showing that a horrible assault had taken place.
BD: Did you feel that the MPAA were any more lenient this time around than they were with the first three films, given the sort of super-gory movies we’ve seen over the last ten years?
WC: I think the MPAA has kind of matured, and I think they kind of get ‘Scream’. That process began really with the first ‘Scream’, when initially their reaction to that film was that it was virtually obscene and that almost the entire third act had to be drastically altered. You know, the whole scene in the kitchen with the boys in the kitchen stabbing each other to establish the alibi, all of that.
And then Bob Weinstein went to them and said…’this is a comedy’. And though we didn’t see it that way really – [though] there were certainly comedic aspects to it – that kind of took the [edge] off of it for them and they gave us our ‘R’ with only a single cut. I think there was a shot of Stu’s hand with blood dripping off the end, and that particular moment…the MPAA didn’t like…so we shortened that shot, and that was it.
On this film, to my astonishment frankly, there were no cuts demanded. I guess if nothing else, it’s a great example of how as a filmmaker you just have no idea what the MPAA is going to do. And the way it’s set up, it’s a revolving group of people. [The] audience that watches your film for any given cut is not the audience that will watch it for the next cut.
You’re constantly playing this kind of mental shell game of, ‘should I put in more than is necessary in order to have something to cut out, or should I take the risk of having to keep it in the picture?’ You know, there’s all that stuff that goes on. And frankly, we were so immersed in the mixing and getting this done that I almost forgot about it. And then somebody called and said, ‘oh by the way, we got an R’. And I said, ‘oh my god!’
BD: So did you guys shoot ‘Scream 4’ with a lot more violence anticipating that the MPAA was going to crack down?
WC: No, no…I mean that one scene, the death of [CENSORED], was by far the bloodiest scene. Other scenes, I mean there is blood, but in some cases [it’s] part of the ‘Stab’ movies. But we never tried to do it like it was gonna be gratuitous, necessarily. [More] like kind of the way it would be if it was actually happening.
BD: We were talking about the mirror of the characters in the original film, and Alison Brie really fulfilled that role for Courtney Cox’s character. I know that there was some additional photography involving Alison, but I’m not really clear on whether she was in the original cut of the film or not.
WC: Oh, very, very much. She was there from the get-go. I’ll tell you exactly what those were, was Bob [Weinstein], at a certain point, I think in our last screening…got very excited about [the movie, but wanted a couple of scenes to change]. They were the Alison Brie scene, where [CENSORED FOR SPOILERS], and the scene with the two girls in Woodsboro at the very beginning of the movie. So he asked me to write kind of supplements to those scenes. He wanted more suspense in the Alison Brie [scene]. In the original version of it she [CENSORED FOR SPOILERS]. So it was relatively quick.
So I wrote this whole thing where she [CENSORED FOR SPOILERS]. And it was really just a way of enhancing a scene that was really good but felt like it should have just a little bit more. And the same for the other one. In fact, the point about the one of the girls in the ‘Lando’ house, as we referred to it, was that Bob wanted upfront to establish that the killer was…making a movie. And we did not have that element in those scenes. And so [we added] this thing where the phone rings and the second girl answers the phone and starts to talk to the killer who’s calling [him/herself] ‘the director’.
And then the chase that went through the house was actually a scene that was originally planned to be shot and then we dropped it at the last minute. Bob didn’t think it was necessary. So I kind of had a good laugh at his expense when we went back and shot the very scene that he had pulled the plug on during the main shoot.
But that’s all it was. It wasn’t like either of the scenes had failed. It was just in that one scene we wanted more suspense, and in the other Bob wanted the killer [to speak] in terms of being a killer that was making their own movie. And so the scene was the same until the girl goes upstairs and then when she comes down…her phone went dead and…she then got up, she was getting some popcorn out of the cupboard and stuff, and Ghostface is standing there. So it really wasn’t…it was just a different version, and it didn’t have that phone call expressing that theme.
BD: Now that we’re speaking about behind the scenes stuff, there have been a lot of rumors that Kevin Williamson wasn’t happy with Ehren Kruger being brought on for rewrites. What was the situation exactly and do you think he would return, if the series continues, to write the fifth film?
WC: I kind of feel like those questions are kind of fishing for turmoil. I frankly – and I say this in absolute honesty – have never heard Kevin say [he was upset]. So whether he said something to somebody else in an interview I don’t know, but Ehren came in after Kevin had done the majority of the work, and he certainly…the whole idea, all the characters, all the basic situations and scenes, were [written] by Kevin before he left. A large part of the reason that he eventually had to leave the production was that his ‘Vampire Diaries’ show was starting back up, and the…network literally threatened to sue him if he didn’t turn his full attention back to that.
But at that time, we had all of the script that was really, really important, and it was a matter of massaging things based on the actual locations we were able to find and things like that. So Ehren Kruger came in and did a lot of very interesting work, but it’s very much about Kevin Williamson’s script…stuff [added during rewrites] related to…the action and certain other things that [were] changed because of locations and things like that.
So you know, it’s Kevin. It’s Kevin’s writing and his imagination that is on display there. And I’m sure…actually I’m speculating, but it must have been painful for Kevin not to be able to stay with the film. But the process of writing…had just gone too close to the beginning of Kevin’s show, and at a certain point said he could not be there anymore.
BD: I know Kevin has talked to you a bit about where he’d take the next two movies, and I’m wondering what the likelihood is, if all goes well with ‘Scream 4’, that you’d direct ‘Scream 5’?
WC: You know, it’s so far in the future. It’s gonna be a year [before production would even start on ‘Scream 5’] at least, I would think, because even though Kevin sketched out the general notion for ‘5’ and ‘6’, it was not like he had a…ten-page beat sheet. So it’s gonna be a matter of if Kevin is of the mind to write again in this franchise, and when will we write?
My approach to [‘Scream 4’] in general…[was] I love[d] the element of Kevin, I love[d] the element of Courtney Cox and David and Neve…I knew everybody had pretty much signed up, but until I saw a substantial amount of the script I didn’t say yes. So that’s my approach: ‘let’s see the script, let’s see what they come up with, and then I will or I won’t.’
BD: You were involved in the remake of ‘Last House on the Left’ a couple of years ago, and I’d heard a little bit of talk about ‘Shocker’ and ‘The People Under the Stairs’ too. Are there any updates on either of those remakes, or any others that you might have in the works?
WC: You know, I think there was a little [period] where we were kind of doing remakes – [though] the ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ remake was made by totally different people – but part of that was just the result of discovering that we owned those projects again after 30 years. But definitely by the end of the second ‘Hills Have Eyes’ film remake, I felt like, you know, I’m spending too much of my time and energy doing this, and I need to get back to directing. And so…I wrote ‘My Soul to Take’ and then signed up for [‘Scream 4’].
You know, I just kind of looked [at it] and I said, ‘you know what, you’re a director and [you] shouldn’t be devoting a full year to remaking ‘The Hills Have Eyes’. It takes that kind of time, and…the choice seems to be obvious [to direct instead]. I think I underestimated the amount of time that was required to do a remake. Even if you were gonna put it in the hands of a really good director, you still have to be very much a part of it, you still have to be doing a lot of work on it. And that kind of keeps you from being a director. So I kind of put all that behind me for the time being, and maybe for the rest of my life! [Laughs]