After seeing and reading countless interviews with Wes Craven, I can’t say that I’m surprised that he’s as genial, soft-spoken and erudite as he is. The way his more professorial qualities subvert (but don’t diminish) his status as one of the all-time horror greats is well known at this point. Still, I was more than a little apprehensive about speaking with him this morning. After all, this is the guy who gave us A Nightmare On Elm Street (along with Dream Warriors), The Hills Have Eyes, Shocker, The People Under The Stairs and of course the original Scream trilogy.
Reaching Craven on the East Coast by phone to speak about the upcoming Blu-ray/DVD release of Scream 4, I found him every bit as thoughtful, polite and engaged as I expected. Sometimes interview subjects are pleasantly surprising. In Craven’s case I simply knew I was going to be speaking with someone who not only loves their craft, but is articulate about it as well. He did not disappoint.
Obviously focussing on Scream 4, we spoke about how technology is affecting the current generation, the casting process, why the fourth film is significantly more violent than the third and much more. There’s even a potential tidbit about Scream 5 waiting for you if you get to the end.
Hit the jump to check it out!
Wes Craven: Hello, Evan.
BD: How are you doing, Wes?
WC: I’m good. How are you?
BD: Good! So I saw Scream 4 in theaters when it came out and I had a chance to check out the Blu-ray. And actually I have to say I think it’s the best one in the series aside from the original. I think it has a lot of interesting things to say.
WC: Wow, thank you.
BD: My pleasure. I want to start off mainly with the theme of the movie, you seem to be addressing this new generation not only in terms of technology but in terms of their moral compass. In terms of fame, attention and getting things you don’t necessarily deserve because that’s what this generation kind of expects. Is that something that was kind of part of the project all along? Was that the impetus to make this fourth one?
WC: Well I think it’s the core of the negative aspect of it, if you will. The criticism of [the generation]. Let’s just say a portion of the generation, because I certainly don’t think it’s true of the entire generation, but I think it’s kind of a warning shot across the bow in a way. But that was part of the larger notion that the thing that has truly changed in the past 10 years that makes it totally different from the previous three [films] is the power and scope of the internet. Online, smart phones, the generation is in contact with each other through screens. I sometimes quip that it’s the `bowed head generation’ because everybody walks around with their head bowed as if they’ve been defeated, but they’re all looking at their cell phones. So it’s very much about that. What has God wrought in a way? What has this tremendous amount of communication and contact only through screens, or principally through screens, done to people’s minds? Or their social integrity and sense of reality? Or as you said, their moral compass. Then it gets into, “everyone can make a movie”. One thing that was all said was going to liberate the next generation, this generation, is that everybody would be able to make a movie. Now we’re seeing that a lot of it could be, you know, could be a lot better. And the reason is that literally anyone can do it so anyone can make themselves a star.
WC: (continued) To our eyes. Most of us, obviously I’m older, so are the studio heads, so is Kevin [Williamson] but we all keep in touch with it. And of course we use the same devices but not nearly to the same extent. But it’s that idea that there are fewer face-to-face important conversations anymore. It’s just device conversations that are so prolific in their quantity that they can’t have the same meaning or reality to them.
BD: Not at all. As someone who’s getting to the age where it’s time to start thinking about having kids, this is more horrific, in a way, than the first one. There are all of these studies that show protracted Twitter and Facebook use can increase sociopathic behavior. Kids sleep with their cell phones in their hands now so they don’t miss important texts, which interrupts the portion of sleep that allows them to process the information from the day. I thought it really effective in the way it handled that. So the seed of this was there when Kevin Williamson brought the initial script to you?
WC: Yes. Very much. And you know Ehren Kruger came in at a certain point and did a lot of writing. He’s also a very apt observer of the current generation. And I added things too. We all had a really fun [time] brainstorming. Bob Weinstein as well. Although Bob’s kind of computer illiterate. But the three of us were very aware of the young audience, we work with a lot of young people, and how different things are. You pick it up and it’s just different this time. At the same time I’m always trying to remind myself that my mother would constantly tell me I was going to go blind from watching too much television. Sitting too close to the screen. So there’s always this phobia one has about a technology that’s newer than your own. As opposed to my four-year old grandson walking around with his dad’s cell phone playing `Angry Birds’. It’s like “whoa”!
BD: It’s amazing that they can interface with that.
BD: I also noticed in this movie that the brutality is also kind of an uptick from the third film. Was that sort of a conscious decision? I noticed in a documentary (Still Screaming) that Scream 3 might have had some of the violence muted as a response to Columbine. Do you feel like the visceral nature of the kills in this one is sort of where you like to keep things or is it a response to the the third one?
WC: Well, I think Scream 2 is actually the Columbine affected one of the series**. The original script that Kevin had involved a high school student, the daughter of the principal, who was actually leading a band of kids that were killing students. And we got the first draft and just moments after that we got the news of Columbine and just dropped it like a hot potato. It got to a point where it was a little, and we always try to keep it from being campy, but there was a lot of comedy in it. And it was a bit more light hearted. And when we got to this one my feeling was, “I don’t want to get soft”. We were competing in a sense with Saw and Hostel and films of that sort. The violence had kind of amped itself up. And I wanted to be scary as well as funny certainly and I felt that it was time to get a little bit more serious and less snickering up the sleeve. I never intended to do that in 3, but there was a sense that 3 was a bit softer than the others. And that’s one thing I don’t think you can do in the genre is get soft. I just shot what I felt was happening. We also had a new special effects blood guy who was just gleeful about it so, especially the death of the girl in her bedroom…
BD: Yeah. There’s blood all over those walls.
WC: We were shooting in a practical house, an actual house that was so small there was no room in there for anyone but the cameraman and the girl. So I was sitting in another room watching it on video and I did not pick up [how bloody it was]. And when I walked in the room I was astonished! Give our schedule it was, “okay, that’s our ‘after’ shot”. We weren’t about to go someplace else or repaint the room and wait for days for the paint to dry. So we went with it and I felt like, “you know what? It’s somebody getting killed. It could be that gory”.
BD: Well she puts up an athletic response to it. So it sells the blood everywhere.
BD: And you filmed solely in Michigan, right?
WC: Entirely, I think. Yes. The hospital scenes were around Detroit and the rest of the time we staged either out of Ann Arbor or up north.
BD: So the fountain scene in the deleted scenes wasn’t filmed in Santa Rosa? Because that’s a pretty great match.
WC: It was a great match. It’s a town called Plymouth and it’s one of the sweeter, nice looking towns around Ann Arbor. We shot in three separate small towns for Woodsboro. But all in Michigan.
BD: I noticed while you were shooting that casting kind of seemed to be an ongoing process, even while you were shooting. One day I’d hear Adam Brody was in it and the next Marley Shelton or Hayden Panettiere. Is that the way it felt on set? Were you casting as you would push up to certain scenes or was that just a staggering of announcements?
WC: Well, it was a large cast and frankly the writing process went well into shooting. Bob [Weinstein] was very, very strong with his liking or not liking scenes and so forth.
BD: As a Weinstein is apt to be.
WC: Yep! It’s always an interesting collaboration. So sometimes scenes would flex so much that a character wouldn’t be in them the next moment. But we also had the opening and Bob wanted to kind of showcase talent for that that we may not have been able to have for the whole picture because of their television schedules. And that kind of went down the line for quite a long while. And it was quite a struggle to decide who was going to be the number one girl. Not in the opening scenes, but for the entire film.
BD: For Jill?
WC: Yeah, for Jill. And you know we needed someone who kind of looked like she could be very close in the family aspect with Neve Campbell. So we used that look and we needed someone with really really strong acting chops and somebody that no one would suspect. So that combination of things, and the fact that some people just don’t want to do horror films, all came into play. We had to sell her [Emma Roberts] to Bob because he was concerned that she was so small, because she is kind of tiny, and no one could believe that she had the strength to do some of the things that Ghostface had to do if Ghostface was going to be her. But when we actually scanned the script, there were very few [instances] where she had to do the actual killing.
BD: Robbie could handle the others?
WC: Yeah. [So] we put in Freudian slips. And she had such a personal gravitas and was able to go from sweet girl to powerful.
BD: It’s a pretty remarkable change when that reveal happens and she goes into her screed. She really sells that entitlement and that anger and sociopathy.
WC: And speaking of technology, we were already in Michigan and we cast her the final time on Skype. We sent a tape of that to Bob and that was the final step.
BD: And was she always going to be the killer?
WC: Yes, she was.
BD: Real quick, [we] hear that Scream 5 is looking for a writer. Do you have any kind of update on that?
WC: Honestly, I don’t. My wife [Iya Labunka], who produced the picture, and I are just taking the summer off and acting like there’s only a world here where we are and nowhere else. But I assume that Bob is looking for a writer. I think Kevin’s television schedule has kept him from being able to be a writer all the way through [the film], which is what I think Bob is looking for. I’m sure he is looking for someone.
**After the interview I got back in touch with Craven via publicist and confirmed that the draft scrapped due to Columbine was indeed one of Scream 3 and not Scream 2 (which premiered before the killings).
Scream 4 arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on October 4th. It features a host of extras including an alternate opening I prefer to the theatrical version.