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This year marks the 25th anniversary of Scream, the Wes Craven-helmed film that’s widely credited with reviving the horror genre at the multiplex. By the time he took on the project (after refusing multiple times), the director had already established himself as a genius at crafting terrifying tales — beginning with The Last House on the Left, followed by The Hills Have Eyes and the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, among many others.
While famous for horror, his non-genre work was equally successful — including 1999 drama Music of the Heart (which saw Meryl Streep earn an Academy Award nomination for best actress) and a segment of the critically acclaimed Paris Je T’aime — and his personality was far from horrific. To mark this Scream milestone, more than a dozen key players spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what it was like to work with Craven and the legacy of the auteur, who died in 2015.
(Read their accounts of making the genre-changing film in THR‘s Scream oral history.)
“HE WAS A GENTLEMAN AND A GENTLE MAN”
Despite a horror-heavy filmography and a special talent for dark and twisted narratives, the genius director had a bright, funny and calm demeanor.
KEVIN WILLIAMSON, writer Wes was so easy and caring and gentle, and he even walked in a very light way. Just watching him walk, he glided. He was just this very kind soul juxtaposed with, “Wait, he’s also this horror movie director.”
MARIANNE MADDALENA, producer We would look at other directors’ work, and he would say, “Oh my God, that’s just so violent.” I’m like, “Wes, have you seen your movies?” He was such a gentleman and a gentle man, and we were very close. We were partners for 20 years, and we decided early on that if we were going to be working all the time that we were going to make it fun. He was a genius, such an individual auteur, but just really easygoing and fun to work with.
NEVE CAMPBELL, Sidney Prescott Wes was a tall, graceful, calm man. Not the kind of figure you’d imagine would be able to think up such dark stories. He was funny and somewhat shy, yet brave and clear in vision at the same time. He pulled us into his imagination and took us for a ride.
SKEET ULRICH, Billy Loomis There was a connectedness and a presence, and you knew he was looking at the minutiae. It was really creatively a great experience. He had so much to offer and so much kindness and heart and presence and warmth and humor. You knew you were being led by somebody who was up to the task.
JAMIE KENNEDY, Randy Meeks He makes these chaotic movies in the calmest way, that’s how I can describe him in a nutshell. Very measured, he never raised his voice. He was this mountain figure, an icon. He took a chance on me. He gave me my career.
CATHY KONRAD, producer Wes made it a point to know everybody by name. He made us all wear name tags at the beginning until he knew every single crewmember by their first name.
RICHARD POTTER, Dimension executive The first time I ever met him, we’re in a conference room. I’m sitting next to Wes, and he turns to me and says, “So, what do you think is scary?” I remember thinking to myself, “Well, everything you’ve done.” But I said to him, “I love those kinds of movies where it’s just constant adrenaline, and you’re surprised by what you see.” Then I told him one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen was his movie The Serpent and the Rainbow. And I said, “I got to tell you, though, that’s not a scare that I enjoyed. It felt a little too real.” He just kind of smiled at me. In my head, I was like, “Why did you just say that to him?! He’s going to hate you now.” But he didn’t.
ROGER JACKSON, the voice of Ghostface I was just thinking of the last time I saw him. It was for the fourth film. My wife and I had to go back to Michigan for some retakes in the middle of winter in a snowstorm. When my part on the reshoot was wrapped, we were driving back to the hotel. Everything is covered in deep snow, and there is Wes with his camera, taking pictures of the night birds after all this work. Here he was still pursuing something to feed his soul. A marvelous man.
“LIFE’S TOO SHORT TO WORK WITH ASSHOLES.”
The former professor never stopped teaching.
PATRICK LUSSIER, editor I worked with Wes for almost 20 years. He was a very quiet, professorial kind of guy, incredibly funny, and very well educated. We would bond over our fascination with giant squids. We would talk about all sorts of crazy stuff, but he was also really generous with his knowledge. From the very first time we worked together, I would just ask him tons of questions about how he did this and how he did that, why this choice and why that choice? I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been a collaborator with him for so many years and on so many different projects. He just taught me a lot about how you do the job without being a dick. “Life’s too short to work with assholes,” I remember him saying. Encourage people to do their best work. Be in charge, but at the same time be grateful for the work that people do and show your gratitude.
LIEV SCHREIBER, Cotton Weary Wes was just an absolute pleasure, and I don’t say that lightly. It’s not the kind of thing I normally say, but he really was an extraordinary person. I looked forward to every film we made together, even though we only made three. Those were the early days for me. To have someone like Wes to watch and to absorb and learn from was a lucky break for me. He was super, super nice. You wouldn’t expect that because he even looked a little bit like Freddy Krueger, but he was just a really sweet, gentle, funny person.
EARL BROWN, Kenny Jones Wes was one of my life’s great teachers. Wes was a thoughtful, caring man. The way he would work with actors is he’d just kind of pull you aside and whisper in your ear. “Think about what Gale said to you in the previous scene when she was so dismissive of you, let that thought kind of go through your mind as this plays out. Just think about that.” That was his way of planting those seeds. He was very protective and understanding of what actors have to go through.
MARCO BELTRAMI, composer He was very patient with me because I really was a neophyte with this. How I approached certain scenes, my instincts were not always right. He would be there to help adjust. Instead of building tension to something that’s going to happen, you might plant the seed earlier, so the audience is aware of it. And, sometimes, the vacuum of not having music there is more impactful even than having music. Just being able to see the movie through the eyes of a master was really helpful. It was probably the best schooling that I could have had.
“IT’S THOSE LITTLE MOMENTS”
Craven was a bit of a sage when it came to off-set matters as well.
MATTHEW LILLARD, Stu Macher I have great memories of him. These memories of celebrating the first $100 million [Scream made] and having dinner at his house, being at his knee hearing these iconic stories about Serpent and the Rainbow. Walking around his incredible house in the Hollywood Hills and being blown away that I was invited. For me, personally, I had a moment with him where he said to me, “You’re going to win an Academy Award some day.” So as my career ebbs and flows and I have these moments of thinking, “Maybe I’ll never work again,” I have this incredible touchstone of somebody I respected and revered telling me I was special. It’s those little moments that get you through the really crappy parts of this industry.
DAVID ARQUETTE, Sergeant Dewey Riley The first impression is just like, “Wow, that’s Wes Craven?” Because he’s so soft-spoken, and he’s so intelligent, and he just doesn’t seem like this scary figure at all. He really was a guy who just loved movies and loved scaring people. He understood the fun of being scared but being in no danger. Wes really made such an impression on me. There’s not a lot of people that have had that much of an impact on me. He sat me down during Scream 2 and just had a real father-son caring moment where he was just there for me, and gave me some really sound advice that I firmly believe kind of saved my life. My mother was passing away, and it was just a really difficult time, and he said, “I really want you to get yourself together, David, so you can make the most of your life and potential relationship.”
A HORROR AUTEUR
Despite a reputation as a genre genius, those who worked with him think people never realized exactly how brilliant Craven was.
WILLIAMSON I feel like he never got the full credit he deserved because the horror genre gets ignored a lot of the time. Silence of the Lambs is one of the only true horror films to win best picture. He really latched on to, “It has to be emotional. Everything must be emotional. If it’s not emotional, it doesn’t work.” So he wasn’t looking at the scare, he was always looking at the moment after the scare. What’s the response to the scare? What happens then? He was so character-based in that regard, and I think if you talked to Courteney and Neve and Skeet and all the actors who have worked with him, they would agree that he was very much an actor’s director. I think that’s something he didn’t get credit for. And I miss him every day of my life.
ARQUETTE I think his greatest legacy is the human being that he was. He really was this one-of-a-kind type of person who would be a mentor, would be a friend, would be a leader. And he challenged himself. He was constantly looking to grow, and he would. One time I walked over to the monitors and he was watching anime. And I was like, “Wes, why are you watching this?” And he was like, “You could get some incredible shot ideas from these films.” He would watch all kinds of different movies to be inspired. He loved film and he contributed immensely to film and horror, specifically. He’s on the Mount Rushmore of directors of horror films.
MADDALENA People understand now that he was a real thinking man. He was an academic. He was extremely well-read. He just had an auteur’s mind. I try to think of horror auteurs who are around today, and there aren’t that many. I think he was one of the last.
CAMPBELL I know from the thousands of people I’ve met who remind me of the impact he had on them, how he entertained them for decades, that he’ll not be forgotten easily. I certainly never will.
POTTER I feel like it’s still too close to when he was around to understand what his legacy is. He helped redefine the horror genre with A Nightmare on Elm Street and then he did it again with Scream. Who gets the chance to reinvent the genre twice? After Scream came out, I kept saying to him, “You’re the only person who’s ever done that.” That makes him one of the most significant filmmakers in any genre. I think that’s a key part of his legacy, that he looked for opportunities to do something new.
SCHREIBER His name is sort of synonymous with horror movies. I think that you knew you were going to go on a ride when you saw a Wes Craven movie. It was like a roller coaster, and I know that’s an overused analogy, but it seems particularly appropriate for Wes. He prided himself on really putting you through something. For him, that was entertainment, that was amusement. I’m not the kind of person who really enjoyed that sort of stuff, but nobody did it better than Wes.
KONRAD His legacy is that he’s a classic and classics always play. They never go out of style. Wes was an original and he really cared very deeply about how these stories got told. He found ways to tap into our fears and our feelings and allow us to process that in really interesting ways with really cool narratives that were very much not being done at the time. He was a pioneer.
BELTRAMI He really captured the imagination of the youth, of a whole generation, and he dealt with issues that kids, teenagers were wrestling with. He told me that he was going to be a high school sociology teacher or something like that. So, he was very familiar with teenage angst and he gave it a place to breathe, to have its voice. I think he’ll be remembered for that.
LUSSIER Scream’s a great pinnacle of his legacy. He treated his audience with a lot of respect. He didn’t talk down to the people he made movies for. Some of his films are more successful than others, but you look at his range from Serpent and the Rainbow, obviously the Scream films, to Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, Last House on the Left. He made very unique films that had a lot of integrity. He gave people so many movies that were diverse yet, at their core, had the theme of the survival of the truest heart. Wes understood that these were primal stories that were important to tell. That you were offering people something scary yet letting them survive the experience. There’s something about surviving onscreen horrors that makes the horrors of your own life, or the trials and tribulations, feel less so. For those couple hours, you get to escape that.
Additional reporting by Trilby Beresford.
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