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When Scream became a smash hit at the end of 1996 and beginning of 1997, screenwriter Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven were asked to rush a sequel for release less than a year later. Williamson was actively writing and producing Dawson’s Creek at the time, so he performed double duty by flying back and forth between Dawson’s North Carolina set and Scream 2’s Georgia set. Production was so accelerated that he wrote much of Scream 2 on set, and given the newfound, rabid interest in the budding slasher franchise, Williamson released “dummy scripts” to combat any leaks from casting and production about the ending.
“Wes [Craven] would make the actors come and read [the script] before they auditioned, and we just knew that people would start talking,” Williamson tells The Hollywood Reporter in support of Scream 2‘s 25th anniversary. “There was such an interest in what was going on with Scream 2 that we wrote a dummy script and leaked it. And then we had a second dummy script that we also leaked, but that one didn’t really get out too far. And then the real one got out, but no one seemed to care by the time the real one got out.”
Williamson is also an executive producer on the new series of Scream films that are led by the creative team known as Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Chad Villella). While he’s now a big believer in the franchise’s new direction, he admits that it was tough at first to pass the baton, creatively.
“At the very beginning, I was like, ‘Wait, what do you mean?’” Williamson says. “And now I’m so happy I said yes, because I said no in the beginning. I thought, ‘Without Wes, what is Scream?’ But I was so wrong. Radio Silence is awesome, and they’ve become really great friends.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Williamson also recalls Jessica Simpson, prior to the launch of her music career, auditioning for the role of Sidney Prescott’s (Neve Campbell) college roommate.
Well, I owe you $20 because my underage self snuck into the first two Scream films. Sorry about that.
I’ve done the same thing, so I owe somebody, too. I snuck into Magic with Anthony Hopkins. I don’t why I chose to jump the rope for that movie, but that was the one.
I brought this up to Neve Campbell in order to ask what R-rated movie she snuck into, and that’s when she informed me that she’d never done it. I was stunned.
So the original film didn’t have a huge opening weekend, but it did have holiday-season legs, if you will. So at what point did the studio reach out about you writing a sequel?
Well, we talked about it on the set. When I sold the spec script, I attached an outline for the second one, and I’d written the opening scene in the theater. I also created Stab, and I laid out the idea that Gale Weathers’ [Courtney Cox] new book had been turned into a movie. And now Stab was in the theaters, bringing all this attention right back to Sidney [Neve Campbell] at a time when she’s trying to go off to college and live her life. And I thought that would be the best world to put the movie in because I already had fun with the first film and all the cheeky references and the post-modern deconstruction of a horror film.
So then I went after the sequel, and I thought, “Let’s just go after Friday the 13th Part 2.” That was the movie that I had in my head. So I did it, and we always had that [outline]. And then halfway through [Scream’s production], they said, “Well, why don’t we just pay you to write the sequel? But we may not make it.” And I was like, “No.” I think I was doing The Faculty at the time, and then they said, “Well, then work on The Faculty.” And then, by week number three, I was writing [Scream 2].
You mentioned The Faculty so now I’ve got “scat” on my mind …
Scream’s opening weekend made less than weekends two through five, so I figured the call didn’t come at the usual time.
Yeah, I think it was week number three. Once it started climbing, they were like, “We have to have a sequel.”
So a few endings leaked during production, but that was by design, right?
Yeah, we leaked the first one because we knew we couldn’t hold it in; everyone was interested. We were also casting the actors. So we were sending the script out without the last 75 pages, but then Wes [Craven] was like, “No, you’ve gotta come sit in the room and read it in front of us.” And so Wes would make the actors come and read it before they auditioned, and we just knew that people would start talking. There was such an interest in what was going on with Scream 2 that we wrote a dummy script and leaked it. And then we had a second dummy script that we also leaked, but that one didn’t really get out too far. And then the real one got out, but no one seemed to care by the time the real one got out.
Did the killer combo of Mrs. Loomis [Laurie Metcalf] and Mickey [Timothy Olyphant] stick for the most part, or was it fluid for a while?
Well, it was fluid in terms of the thought process for me, but once I put it down on paper, that was it. And that’s when we had to start protecting it. So that’s why we wrote a dummy script where Dewey killed people with someone else. These dummy scripts were sort of ridiculous now that you think about them, but we just wanted to make the movie fun. We wanted to make sure we kept the surprises because a movie like this relies on its twists and turns.
Scream 2 kicked off my love affair with Tim Olyphant. Do you recall his casting at all?
I don’t remember his audition. I was in the auditions, partially, but for Scream one, I was there all the time. But for Scream 2, I was already doing so much. So I don’t remember his audition, but I remember Jessica Simpson auditioning. (Laughs.) But I do think I saw his screen test. I think I saw the tape.
Internally, was Randy’s (Jamie Kennedy) death a pretty controversial choice at the time? He was so key to the humor and meta quality of these films.
He was, but I presented it this way. I said, “Listen, Dewey died in the first [Scream] script, and Wes said, ‘We’re going to film this one little piece of him getting in the ambulance, just in case.’ And it was the best decision we ever made.” And so the very second that Dewey lived in Scream one, it was R.I.P. for Randy in Scream 2, because we had to kill a legacy. We had to kill someone that was involved with Scream one, and that was done halfway through so that we could up the stakes. I also wanted to upset the audience and make them mad at the killer.
But had I known now that these movies were going to live forever and that they were going to go on … I do think that there was a lot more life left in the character. So I’d love to have seen him as an adult. I’d love to see what he became. I’d love to see how he turned his love of horror films into a career. I’d love to see what his trauma was like after surviving, but unfortunately, I killed him.
By all accounts, it was a rushed production. So in hindsight, do you still wish you had more time, or would you not change a thing at this point?
I always wish I had more time. I watch things now and just cringe. With every single episode of television I’ve written, I’ve always wished I had another week. You have to rip the script out of my hands. I just want to keep writing.
Randy and Mickey debate numerous sequels back and forth. Did you actually reference any of those titles for inspiration?
Well, I don’t know if I was building my sequel off of them, but I was using the idea of “the sequel.” I knew that the second film was all about the sequel, because I had already mined the tropes and the structure of horror films in the first one. So I wanted to make sure that we had something new to talk about, and I thought the sequel would be the way to do it. And everyone was pretty much on board with it. The good news was that they didn’t have a lot of time to argue it because we were so rushed all the time. So I didn’t have a lot of notes. It was really just me and Wes.
Did Joshua Jackson negotiate his cameo on the set of Dawson’s Creek?
(Laughs.) Well, I asked him. It was just me begging, but it worked.
Between I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream 2, you killed a Sarah Michelle Gellar character twice in two months. Was she a good sport about it?
100 percent. She came to Atlanta, and she was like, “Let’s do this.” She was happy, and I think she had a lot of fun.
A few minutes ago, you mentioned that Jessica Simpson auditioned. Was she up for Gellar’s role of Cici Cooper?
No, if I remember correctly, I think she auditioned for [Sidney’s] roommate. [Writer’s Note: The role of Hallie eventually went to Elise Neal.]
What was the discussion around Randy’s “O.J.” line at the time?
It’s just what was going on, you know? What’s interesting is that I wrote stuff in Scream and Scream 2 that you couldn’t write today. Those lines would get rejected by lawyers; it’s just a different time now. But no one really cared at the time. I could tell you off the record some of the lines that caused me so many problems with my agents and with actors and people threatening lawsuits, but it all worked out. They kept trying to cut certain lines, and Wes was like, “Nope, nope, nope.”
Whenever I watch Scream 2, I’m reminded of how fortunate you were to cast Liev Schreiber for just a couple shots in Scream. Did you already know how capable he was when you originally hired him?
They had the [Scream] outline, so they asked me, “Is Cotton going to be in Scream 2 if there’s a franchise?” And I was like, “Yes, yes, yes.” So they had a two-picture deal with Liev Schreiber, and he got paid his full rate for doing that one-day shoot on Scream. He flew in for the news footage, and he did that one little piece which counted as one of his options on the two-picture deal. And then we had him for Scream 2. We all knew he was a good actor, and we thought we needed a great Cotton. So we were just so lucky that he agreed to do it.
What’s your most vivid memory from set?
Well, I wrote most of the movie on set. I started it in Wilmington where we were filming Dawson’s Creek, and I flew back and forth to Atlanta a lot. I remember just sitting on set and sleeping on the grass. And then I remember just writing and writing and writing. At the end of the day, I always had the most fun in the hotel bar, playing Ms. Pac-Man with Rebecca Gayheart and Sarah Michelle Gellar. (Laughs.) That’s all I remember doing, and it was so much fun. We were a family at that point with Courteney [Cox], Neve and everyone. Wes was really great about putting these big dinners together, and we would always have these great big dinners. It was all so much fun.
Do you think Scream could pull off a Wes Craven’s New Nightmare-type movie where all the Scream actors are playing versions of themselves and are being pursued by a “real-life” Ghostface, requiring them to use the rules of the franchise to save themselves?
Write it. That’s awesome. You should write that. I keep envisioning The French Lieutenant’s Woman  with Meryl Streep because it’s exactly that. These two actors have this torrid love affair while filming The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and the movie goes from 19th-century period piece to modern day. So you’re watching the two actors film a movie about their characters’ affair while we’re watching their own affair happen in whatever decade they filmed the movie in. So you’re getting two movies in one, and it’s a very esoteric and long drama. But if you did that for a horror film like Scream, it’d be great. So go do that.
It’s a meta franchise already, so you might as well take a page out of Wes’ own playbook.
That’d be awesome.
So I know you’re an E.P. on the new Scream films, but was it tough to let go of the reins, creatively?
It was tough on [Scream (2022)]. At the very beginning, I was like, “Wait, what do you mean?” When the Weinstein Company got sold, auctioned off or whatever, [Spyglass Media Group] acquired the Scream rights, which excluded me. So they didn’t have to use me, and I thought, “Well, I don’t want to be involved anyway because Wes isn’t here. How could I possibly do anything?”
So I didn’t really care, but then I did care. I was like, “Wait, they didn’t even ask me to be a part of it?” but then they did. [Co-writer/producer] Jamie Vanderbilt called me up and said, “We’d really love for you to be a part of this movie.” And I was like, “In what capacity? What do you want me to do? There’s nothing for me to do.” And he said, “There’s a lot for you to do, and we want you to help guide the ship.” So he stood by his word.
I was the first one he pitched the movie to, and I guess I’m a legacy character at this point. I keep thinking, “Well, how do I participate in this?” And so I speak up when I speak up, and everyone listens to me when I do. So it’s great. Everyone has been so nice and respectful, but yes, there were a lot of mixed emotions going into it. And I told them that. I said, “Guys, I don’t know how to feel about this. You don’t want me to write it, but you want me to participate? What is my place here?” And then they told me what my place was, and they welcomed me with open arms.
And now I’m so happy I said yes, because I said no in the beginning. Like I said, I thought, “Without Wes, what is Scream?” But I was so wrong. Radio Silence [Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Chad Villella] is awesome, and they’ve become really great friends. The entire team. What I love about the first movie is that it became such a family, and it’s still such a family when I run into the cast around town. And Radio Silence has created that same environment. It’s a family again, and that’s what makes [Scream (2022)] so special. You can see it on screen.
Scream 2 is now available on 4K. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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