Wes Craven Remembered by Bob Weinstein: "It Was a Joy to Listen to Him Talk About Fear"

Wes Craven - H 2015
AP Images

Wes Craven - H 2015

Weinstein convinced Wes Craven to direct Kevin Williamson's meta-horror movie, originally called 'Scary Movie,' which was released in 1996 as 'Scream.'

As head of Dimension Films, Bob Weinstein had to convince Wes Craven to direct Kevin Williamson's meta-horror screenplay, originally called 'Scary Movie,' which was released in 1996 as Scream. The movie, which grossed $173 million worldwide, gave birth to three sequels and a series on MTV. Looking back, Weinstein remembers Craven, whose name became synonymous with smart horror movies, as "a student of the art of that genre."

I had never met Wes. I knew him from movies only, but I was a big fan of The Last House Left and A Nightmare on Elm Street scared the hell out of me. So when Scream came along, he was most definitely my first choice to direct. But it’s a funny thing: As careers go Wes had just come off a picture called Vampire in Brooklyn, starring Eddie Murphy. It was a horror comedy and at the time Wes wanted to stay away from anything that had anything to do with any inkling of anything that was funny within the genre of horror. It wasn’t so much his assessment of the script as an assessment of where he was coming from career-wise that made him reticent to even look at something that gave him a flashback nightmare of his latest film experience.

Over time, though, Wes and I got to know each other and kept the dialog open, and over the next several weeks and months, we got to know each other on a professional level and somewhat personally until he decided Scream was something he could put his heart and soul into.

One of things Wes and Kevin and I spoke about: When the script first went around, a lot of people who read it looked it as a comedy with elements of horror, because it was so damn funny. I remember asking Wes and Kevin whether I bought the right script or not, so I said. "Tell me is this a comedy with horror or is it scary movie that has elements of wit and sarcasm?" They said, "Don’t worry, Bob, you bought the right movie." Wes promised me he’d scare the hell out of everybody, and he delivered.

I have to say Wes and Kevin were great collaborators — and they certainly collaborated against me in opposing the title change I wanted to make. It’s so easy to get attached to any title that comes by that’s the title on the page. But when they said, "It’s first and foremost a horror movie," somehow calling it Scary Movie felt to me a little bit tongue-in-cheek, which it was. But I felt that would be leading marketing-wise with the wrong thought. I said to my brother, "Harvey, I don’t know about this title Scary Movie. It seems like the wrong idea."  He said, "I agree." Michael Jackson had a song out at the time called "Scream." So Harvey called me, and said, "I’ve got the title of that for that movie of yours — Scream." I called the guys, and I have to say they were less than thrilled. I would love to find this — there is a slate from the first week of shooting called Scary Movie until we changed the slate to Scream. But the rest is history, and it was the right title. Here’s the irony. When we then spoofed the genre, I humbled myself and called Kevin Williamson, and said, "Remember that movie you wrote called Scary Movie, which ended up being called Scream. Well can I use that title?" And he got a great laugh out of and so did Wes.

The true fans can tell how great Wes was and what an artist he was. It’s no dispersion against the rest of the industry, but horror is looked at as the bastard stepchild of the art of movie-making, and it’s anything but. That’s a shame, but I think other directors and the fans — and they’re the ones that matter most — knew he scared the hell out of a hell of a lot of people during his lifetime. And that gave him an endless amount of joy. He was a student of the art of that genre and what it meant, from a very intellectual level. It was just a joy to sit and listen to him talk about fear and psychology and what makes people afraid of things.

He always approached everything as if it were just as real as it could be. In the Nightmare series he was dealing with something that was very surreal, but he approached it with seriousness. I think that was his gift. You bought it 100 percent and that’s why you took the ride with him. How he knew how to do it — that’s his art. 

– As told to Gregg Kilday