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[This story contains spoilers for Scream.]
Seconds after the filmmakers behind the new Scream ended a meet-and-greet Zoom call with Mason Gooding, they knew he was their choice to play Chad Meeks-Martin. There was just one problem.
In the original script from writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, the charismatic jock (and nephew of Jamie Kennedy’s original Scream character, Randy Meeks), dies during the third act.
“The conversation as soon as he signed on was, ‘Well we can’t kill Chad. Mason has got to be in the other movies. This guy is the greatest! We’d be crazy to get someone this charismatic and just kill them,'” recalls co-director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin.
The Scream team tweaked the script to add a beat to the very end of the film, in which the audience sees Chad alive (if not totally well), exchanging a look with his sister, Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown). That move has already paid dividends, if audience reaction is any judge.
Because of COVID-19, the Scream filmmaking team known as Radio Silence, which also includes co-director Tyler Gillett and executive producer Chad Villella, was not able to do traditional test screenings. So when Scream opened Jan. 14, they went around the Los Angeles area to experience it in theaters with an audience for the first time.
“I heard an audible, cathartic, gasp,” Bettinelli-Olpin says of the reveal that Chad lives. “You could feel people were so glad that he lived. That includes us.”
Radio Silence broke out with the horror film Ready or Not (2019), which earned $57 million on a $6 million budget, and with Scream they are reaching new heights. Despite pandemic theatrical challenges, the film has managed to pull in an impressive $84.9 million globally to date and is still going strong. The film reunites original stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette with a new batch of actors, as someone wearing a Ghostface mask once again haunts Woodsboro.
No formal plans have been announced for Paramount and Spyglass to continue beyond this Scream, which is the fifth installment of the franchise launched by director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson 25 years ago. But in a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, Radio Silence shares thoughts on what it would take to make a sixth Scream. They also reflect on that Dewey shocker, those Rian Johnson references and spending time on the Scream subreddit.
What was it like watching David Arquette and Courteney Cox perform the scene in which Dewey and Gale reunite? There is not only character history, but real-life history with the formerly married couple.
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: We felt the whole time we were observing someone’s relationship from afar. It was really special that they opened up like that and let us in on it. What you see in the movie felt like the right representation for Dewey and Gale. I don’t think it’s a thing a lot of people would be willing to do. “Let me go make a movie with my ex.” Hats off to both of them.
You have so much respect for the legacy characters. How do you tell David that this is the end of the road for Dewey? Does he just find out when he reads the script?
Tyler Gillett: We knew automatically reading that scene that it was a really sensitive moment. It’s a big shift for the franchise and a big risk. William [Sherak, producer] reached out to David’s reps and reached out to David before [the script] was sent along. Kudos to the writing. It wasn’t this brutal, superficial kill that you then move on from. There’s a real consequence. It brings Sid [Neve Campbell] to Woodsboro. It brings Sid and Gale together and cements a deep bond between them. In the scene itself, we really wanted to make sure that that death felt as heroic an end as possible. This character is unkillable. The idea that one knife was never going to be enough for Dewey to meet his end. And then of course this romantic thread that is pulled into it when Gale finally calls him. You have this moment of hope where he sees her face on the phone and you kind of know that he’s ready to go in that moment, because he’s weirdly gotten the one thing that maybe he’s been missing for the last two years.
I was expecting to see all three legacy characters in a scene, but perhaps Dewey’s death is more meaningful because it is the story engine that gets Sidney back home. Did you play with trying to get all three of them in one scene?
Gillett: We loved that they were ships passing, that things don’t always work out the way you want them to, that people don’t always get back together. We loved that they all get scenes with each other, but the withholding of that trio connecting in person was really interesting and just adds to the heartbreak of it.
Right before Dewey’s death is Tara’s scene in the wheelchair. Did Jenna Ortega surprise you with how good she was there?
Chad Villella: Tara was not written to be one of the greatest living actors. We just got really lucky. One of the jokes we had on set was, “Fuck, we need Tara to be a bigger part of this movie. She’s in a wheelchair the whole time!” Jenna took all of the restraints of that and used that to her benefit. I think she blew all of us away with that.
Gillett: Just the amount of prop work that Jenna has to do in the movie. The opening scene, she has a cellphone, a landline, a knife. Outside of just the incredible emotional performance, the technical performance and how she makes it feel totally seamless, we can’t say enough about all the cast.
How much did you play with the door-scare scene with Wes (Dylan Minnette)?
Gillett: The scene in the Hicks house was not what was originally scripted. That was something that was designed when we were in prep. It’s the perfect example of the limitations of the process actually resulting in something that is fresh. That was going to be a fight and a scramble in the house with a gun safe. There were a bunch of little bits. At the end of the day we didn’t have the time to pull off that sequence. I remember sitting at the Homewood Suites where we were all staying with William [in Wilmington, North Carolina]. “We have to reconceive of this thing. What haven’t we done yet?” We came up with the idea of putting the audience in a place of privileged information where they know that the killer is clearly in the scene and the scene is not over. We just happened to have this incredible location that had all these little corridors.
The editing is masterful, too.
Bettinelli-Olpin: There is a cut of that that is like twice as long.
Gillett and Villella: (Uprorious laughter.)
Bettinelli-Olpin: I’m not going to drag you guys down with me. I would be down for a 20-minute version of that. For me, if we could watch it and set the table for 20 minutes.
Who all recorded their voices in the “For Wes” tribute? Was Scream 2′s Sarah Michelle Gellar among them?
Bettinelli-Olpin: We have lots of voices. We don’t have Sarah Michelle Gellar, but that would’ve been a great one. We’re in the post process and we’re doing ADR and we are kind of reaching out to all of these people as we can. A lot of it is asking friends who might know them to get in touch. Drew Barrymore does it, and she also does the voice of the principal saying “Classes are canceled, be safe.” That was just a friend who knew her who put us in touch. And then she instantly was like, “Yes, anything you guys need, I’m in.”
You are very in touch with fandom. Before this interview I saw a post on the Scream subreddit that was convinced you must have been reading it during production. Can you confirm or deny checking the Scream subreddit?
Gillett: Yeah, we had to. Not only because it’s interesting for us just as a snapshot of where we’re at in terms of how we engage with forms of entertainment. We also consider ourselves a part of the fan community. That’s an important distinction to make. As much as we are certainly calling out specific things about toxic fandom and all of that, I think we consider ourselves huge fans. We’re all guilty of a certain degree of having a really strong response about something that we think is ours, when someone has spent countless hours creating it and hoping to entertain and create some form of a dialogue. We found it was very fertile, creative territory because we are fans making the fifth movie in a franchise that we love so dearly that is about two characters that are hoping to steer a franchise within a movie in a direction they think is right. Throughout the process, there were countless meta moments. We looked at those. We looked at Twitter, at Reddit, at all the message boards, because it’s such an interesting place to gather a sense of the momentum of those communities.
Rian Johnson is referenced here. Do you know him?
Bettinelli-Olpin: We don’t know him personally, but we did reach out to him to let him know there was going to be a callout to him in the movie.
Gillett: He gave us his blessing. He also retweeted a very hilarious tweet that you should check out.
Chad died in the original script. Is Mason Gooding just so charming you have to let him live? I felt pretty emotional seeing the shot of him at the end.
Bettinelli-Olpin: You nailed it in one! It is all Mason. Mason is a force. He is so loving and charismatic. He is the definition of someone who walks into a room and lights it up. He has that presence no matter what the situation, where he is, and we had a Zoom with him during the pandemic when we were doing casting. Not an audition, just a, “Hey, what’s going on?” Two seconds after the Zoom we were texting, “Oh fuck, this is bad, this has got to be Chad.” He blew us away. Then the conversation as soon as he signed on was, “Well, we can’t kill Chad. Mason has got to be in the other movies. This guy is the greatest! We’d be crazy to get someone this charismatic and just kill them.” I went to a screening this weekend to see it with an audience. I heard an audible, cathartic, gasp. You could feel people were so glad that he lived. That includes us.
I can’t imagine many movies more challenging to crack than doing Scream 5 justice. If you were to make a sequel, does it feel like you’d have an easier road, now that you’ve done some of the heavy lifting?
Villella: I would say we are on the right track. We still would need to double down on just about everything we did on this one. We’re thrilled to be a part of the fifth one. If they’ll have us back for the sixth one, we’ll welcome it. In order to make it special, you need to subvert things that have been established as the new rules and play outside of those parameters. Let’s break the rules now that we just re-created. And just go for it. I think you have to really go there.
Gillett: And thankfully, Wes and Kevin did that with every movie. The second it felt like you understood what it was, it decided to be something else from movie to movie. Those are the marching orders, regardless of whether we are involved or not, we hope that whatever is next has that same ethos.
Scream is in theaters now. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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