Beyond Ghostface: The Inside Story of 'Scream's' New Mask, Killer and Future (an Anthology?)

Co-showrunner Jill Blotevogel talks with THR about the season's death toll, balancing a murder mystery with a teen soap and more.
Eliza Morse/MTV

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the series premiere of MTV's Scream.]

MTV's Scream set up a potentially season-long (or beyond) murder mystery during its series premiere Tuesday when mean girl Nina (Bella Thorne) — and her date of the night — were killed in the opening scene.

The series, based on Kevin Williamson's hit franchise, takes place in Lakewood and exposes the inner-workings of the town's complex social hierarchy after young loner Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus) is outed via cyber-bullying and the town's dark history — including serial killer Brandon James — is explored as the search for Nina's killer begins.

The premiere revealed that young it-girl Emma (Willa Fitzgerald) is perhaps the newest target of the town's killer, which is either the return of Brandon James — a deformed man who had a crush on her mother, Daisy Maggie (Tracy Middendorf) — or one of her (sometimes shady) friends. What's more, in the closing moments, Audrey also joins the list of the suspects when she reveals to have an old photo of Brandon James — who, like she was, was bullied in high school.

Here, co-showrunner Jill Blotevogel talks with The Hollywood Reporter about creating the new mask, the mystery of Brandon James as well as how to balance the line between being a soapy teen drama and a murder-mystery thriller. Plus would everyone return for season two? Could this be an anthology series down the line and what similarities does this MTV series have in common with the film franchise? Plus check out a clip of what's to come, below.

People have now seen the mask. Is it safe to assume that the masked killer we've seen in this episode is Brandon James?

It's safe to say that whoever is wearing mask wants people to think that and wants to use that mythology to his or her advantage in terms of instant shock and awe. It's definitely someone tapping into a fear that's already 20 years rooted in this town. It's being used either literally or psychologically to inspire fear.

Talk a little bit about the mask itself. Since you couldn't use Ghostface, what was the idea behind what viewers saw — and how will that evolve as the show goes on?

The original Ghostface mask in the first Scream was something that this dude grabbed from a costume shop and threw on and [used] to inspire terror. In our show, in the same way we have to expand the mythology to create a deeper mystery and something that we can dig into over time, we realized that the mask itself should be part of the mystery. We went through a ton of possibilities — dozens and even hundreds of ideas and spit-balling theories of what the mask is. It came down to the idea that this character is someone who has this physical deformity. We talked about what doing a mask that looks like the deformity but realized that would be a specialized mask. When we started talking about a post-op surgical mask and started looking at examples of what these masks look like, we realized they were very evocative of the original Scream mask because they were individually made for the face of the person who was undergoing these surgeries. We realized this was a perfect, organic tie-in to Brandon James. Creating this mask let us tap into all the different things that work for us: because of its elongated appearance, it feels reminiscence of the original Scream mask. It does have a certain hockey mask genetic tie- in to famous horror movie masks but most importantly for us, it was relevant for our character and mythology. Brandon James is a character we're going to dig deeper into. Coming up with a new mask became a way for us to pay homage to everything and still make it very relevant to our story. 

How will the idea of hiding behind a mask be explored beyond Brandon James? It seems everyone here is hiding behind something — Emma with a cheery social media presence, etc.

The idea of how social media gives everyone a chance to wear masks is abig theme for us and it is something that has evolved so much since 1996. For teens, they put themselves out there: they check in at every location and Instagram every meal. It struck me when I thought about social media and how a killer would stalk someone, if someone is checking in at frozen yogurt place, you know 10 minutes later they're going to be in a dark parking lot behind that place. A killer doesn't have to stalk someone; just tune in to their Facebook, Instagram or Twitter feed. It's this idea of how kids make themselves so vulnerable on social media without realizing they're doing it. They're doing it to be seen and envied, but if a killer decided to use that window into their lives, imagine how vulnerable these kids become. For us, the opening sequence with Bella Thorne when she's in this glass house is this great representation of how her life is completely exposed and she pays the ultimate price for it. That's our new take on masks. These characters are all hiding things from each other and it's all going to start coming out. That's the added elements and layers you need to find to make a TV series as opposed to a 90-minute feature. You have to make these characters irresistible and serious in their own lives, much less before a killer comes stalking them.

I thought about ranking the suspects in the pilot but everyone here is a suspect. Could "Brandon James" be any one of these people?

My dream is that there's a giant board in Vegas and every suspect is on there. Our cast and crew all have theories. You want people going to bed still thinking about it and waking up and chewing on things, it's like a great book when you can't wait to get to the end.

Do you already know who the killer is? Have we met them?

Yes — but I can't say!  

How much will this be an ongoing procedural of whodunit vs. a soapy teen drama?

We're delving into the characters. Every episode begins with me stepping into Emma's shoes because we're going through the story from her point of view because she is going to be proven to be the one who is the focus of the killer. It starts with characters, and if a character's revelation this week leads to terror, it leads to terror; if it leads to more teen drama … it's not a show where we're promising a kill every week. It's not something where that would be helpful for us. It has to be about characters. They're going to be terrified but we want them to care about the group as a whole. … There will be repressions for every bad thing that happens.

Two people were killed off in the pilot. What would you say the death toll is going to look like this season? How safe are these core characters given how committed you are to telling this soapy teen drama at the core of the show?

We're going to have to repopulate in season two. We're going to have to refill our well a bit. For me, it's not going to be promising how many we're going to kill. I was on Harper's Island and we promised a kill a week and the great thing about that is it kept people guessing how it would happen, but on the other hand, it was an obligation and an expectation. In this show, if you don't know that someone is going to die from one week to the next, that's the terror and suspense. You don't know who is going to die by the end of this season and you won't know, hopefully, until it happens.

Have you pitched season two already? Is this an anthology-type series where you repopulate the cast, save for maybe one or two key characters?

We have a plan and it will involve the same characters but it's not the same characters going off to college like Scream 2 might have done. I look at how Hannibal did things where that show would have big reveals and sometimes it would twist things we already knew or revel that people weren't reliable. The original movie has Cotton Weary's [Liev Schreiber] arrest and that helped the movie reset a bit. We're using similar ideas in our show. You will get satisfying answers at the end of season one but there will continue to be a bigger mystery that we'll still be digging into in a satisfying way in season two and beyond. Once we finish season two, we may have realized that we need to do a big reset. That's what Hannibal did so brilliantly. We do have a lot of big signposts in place for where we want to go and there is a roadmap.

How many seasons do you see your Scream going?

Depending on how well it does and the possibility for reinventing, we've talked about five or six seasons — and a movie based on the TV series. I say that as a joke, but I don't think you should ever joke about that when you do TV! If it works in a bigger way, and they do open up their minds to the idea of doing something more like an anthology where we go to a new town with a new mythology and new characters and we embrace that aspect of it, I think they're open to anything, really. The first step is seeing how people respond to season one.

Aside from the title and conceit, is the story connected to the original Scream town of Woodsboro at all?

The tone and structure is really the connection right now. I picked the name Lakewood so you have a bit of Woodsboro in it but we know that this revolves around what happened at this lake, which is named after a lake near my hometown in Southern Illinois. We talked about if we wanted to have any of the characters referenced — were these the children of Sidney (Neve Campbell), Gale (Courteney Cox) and Dewey (David Arquette)? — and it really became a conversation where as with the mask, we were going to feel beholden to elements that we felt had run their course. If we wanted to establish a new identity for Scream, then we needed to make that call. I wanted to put one sly reference into Noah's speech in the pilot where Jake says, "What about Stab, they tried turning that into a TV series and that never worked." [Exec producer] Bob Weinstein said no and he didn't even want to reference that. He said this was fresh and new and I always say that Woodsboro and Lakewood are in the same spiritual ZIP code but they are their own places and stories.

So why call it Scream — aside from the brand recognition and marketability? 

All of those things! Sometimes that helps us and sometimes it doesn't. It's that undeniable connection of people will get their satisfying Scream moments from this series and they will get that same thrill. We will have Easter Eggs and common threads. And people will say, "I'll be right back!" and people will groan when someone says that. What's fun is while the original would reference horror movies, we're able to reference horror on TV, which is another level we get to go to. It's taking what Scream did so well, updating it for 2015 — technology was part of what the killer used then and now we have so much more technology that's creepy, invasive and stalker-friendly. We're never going to run out of possibilities for how this killer can work and how this killer can play games.

Would you say Brandon James is a one-season story or will he be the overall arc to potentially season two as well?

Brandon James is going to haunt this story for a while. He's never going to be excised from our story. It's a question of how far his influence reaches: Is it him behind that mask or is it someone who is using the built-in fear that mask provides? We're going to keep questions like that going for a while as well as give some answers along the way.

Emma's mother, Margaret (Tracy Middendorf) is hiding the fact that she was Brandon James' love interest, Daisy. She's now told the sheriff (Jason Wiles), whose son (Amadeus Serafini) is seemingly dating her daughter Emma (Willa Fitzgerald). How will that secret getting out set up a Sidney Prescott-type vibe? 

Yes. It's definitely going to provide a bond and conflict between mother and daughter. We will be exploring that as the series goes on. It's the mother's fears for her daughter being transferred down. It became a great way to have the mother become the heroine character. It made Maggie a more central part of the mystery. Sometimes adult characters are just extra limbs in a show like this and with our story, they're integral to the ongoing mystery.

One of the big themes here with Audrey's character is cyber bullying. We see at the end that she also has a photo of Brandon James up at home, too. How does that connect here? She's now not only a victim but now possibly a suspect, too.

There's a thematic connection, the idea being that bullying has been happening since cavemen days and that Brandon James is someone who was bullied and targeted because of how he looks. Audrey was bullied and targeted because of her sexual orientation, curiosity and to some degree how she looks. There is this spiritual connection. The decision to kill the mean girl in the opening wasn't purely random; it was this idea of does it pay to be a bully? It's something that ties into lot of elements of our story. We're going to take a lot of people who seem untouchable and reveal their secrets to the world and out people in a lot of different ways. It's a theme that will play out over the course of the series.

What did you think of the Scream premiere? Share your theories on the killer in the comments section, below.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit

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