Interview: Scream 4 Director Wes Craven On Keeping The Franchise Alive

When I was 10 years old I sat next to my mother and watched Casey Becker, sans insides, hang from a tree. Yes, the image made it tough to sleep at night for quite a bit, but Scream also left a long-lasting impression in the best way possible. Just a year later, my grandparents were kind enough to take me for not one, but two viewings of Scream 2 and finally, by 2000, I found ways to sneak into R-rated movies so I could enjoy the third film minus a guardian. Having grown up with this franchise, getting to speak with Wes Craven about resurrecting the franchise with Scream 4 is honestly a dream come true.

On the other hand, the pressure is on for Craven. I’m not the only moviegoer who’s a dedicated franchise fan, meaning that in Scream 4 Craven doesn't just have to do the original films justice, but he’s got to offer something new. No, the general story of Scream 4 or the decision to make another Scream film for that matter didn’t come from Craven, but the director certainly had a strong impact on the project from the moment Bob Weinstein offered him the gig.

Check out everything Craven had to say about bringing the franchise back to life, summoning the old, adding some new and where we can expect the series to go from here.

When did you decide to resurrect the franchise? Did you just wake up one morning and decide now is the time?

No, that’s actually pretty far off the mark. The way it worked is that Bob Weinstein called me and said that he was going to remake it or do a Scream 4. Kevin [Williamson] was working on an idea that Bob thought was really good and was I interested and would I like to talk to Kevin about it? That’s really how I came into the picture. I had dinner with Kevin; he didn’t have a script yet, but he had a very coherent outline of the film. I found it fascinating. But I didn’t commit to the film until some months later when the first of the real big chunks started coming. I think it’s a matter of Bob Weinstein deciding this. He told us, there was not going to be a Scream 4 for a long period mostly because of Scary Movie and because he didn’t want us just making it because we could, so I think it was smart of him to wait until we could comment on an entire decade and a decade that was the 21st century; that’s a significant landscape to set your picture on.

Considering Kevin only had that outline when you met, did that give you the opportunity to work with him on developing the actual script?

Yeah, the moment I signed on I’m writing notes, outlines, whatever I can to help the process. Kevin and I collaborated a great deal with Bob also on the script until Kevin left. So sure, I’m a very hands-on director in so far as notes and things like that, not demands, just, “I think this works,” or, “I think this maybe doesn’t work.”

And how about your returning cast? Did you approach it as though they’d come if you called or did you have to choose your words wisely?

No and again, the man who controls the circus is Bob Weinstein. He owns the franchise and he pulled the trigger on doing this film so by the time I came in he had already spoken to Courteney [Cox] and David [Arquette] and Neve [Campbell]. I can’t remember whether people had fully committed or not, I think maybe one had and the two others had not yet, but as soon as it was known that I was going to be directing or considering directing seriously, we all talked and made sure that we were going to be there for each other. I think we all feel very much that we depend on each other to keep the quality good and keep the franchise, whatever iteration of it that it is, strong and powerful and based in the original journey of Sidney Prescott.

And then how’d you go about choosing your new cast members? A lot of them bear similarities to previous characters, so did you have your eye on certain actors who reminded you of the original casts?

Within the structure of Scream 4 there is the film within a film, but that’s been part of the Scream franchise since Scream 2 when you had the Stab franchise. In our film, Stab is up to Stab number seven and the kids talk a great deal about that because we established that the first three Stabs basically were based on the life of Sidney Prescott. So then she sued them for using her story and for starting making up crazy qualms and making the one sequel after another. So that’s kind of our poking fun at people who just make endless sequels of the film that was originally original. Within the context there is the evil version of people, let’s just say, that are aware of original them, a certain emulation of them, a certain copying of them in a way to get at Sid’s arriving in town. She thinks having dealt with all the ghosts and perhaps even living in a town in a peaceful way that could put the stuff behind her. So that’s part of what those traces are doing; they’re saying it’s not over.

Once you had your stars, how’d you go about preparing them? For those newcomers, I assume they were all very familiar with the franchise.

Yeah, I think a lot of them have watched my films, several of the actors that used to watch it through fingers over their eyes, and they were familiar with the Scream franchise and a lot of them went back and watched them again to get refreshed on it. You just find the best actors that you can. There’s an inherent drama within the framework of scares and killings and all that. In Scream there is very real drama that would be in almost any drama. In this iteration [Sidney’s] mother’s sister is part of the cast and Sid’s cousin, played by Emma Roberts. So there were those family ties. That’s straight drama. There’s a thousand ways you could do it as a director to guide them, help them, whatever, but this was a very very experienced cast, really, even though they’re young. Emma Roberts, for instance, has been making movies for quite a long time. Hayden Panettiere same thing. Rory [Culkin] comes from a filmmaking family. A lot of them came with a great amount of professional accomplishment already, so then it was just a matter of approaching it as real life drama and not, “I need to hear you scream.” It’s never ever like that at all even though I constantly get asked, “Do you make them scream first?” It has nothing to do with that; it just has to do with people who can really act.

So how would you compare your directing style overall now to ten years ago? Times have changed, so have your methods – script breakdown, exercises?

Nothing like that. In general, I don’t even have the luxury of rehearsal time on most films that I make. It is just a scene-by-scene full cast read through. It’s very much just doing the rehearsal sometimes the day before, at the end of the day, but just on the spot as the scene unfolds. After a take is over going up to them and talking to them and giving my observations, my ideas and working with the thing as a progressive has been the way I’ve approached it ever since the beginning. The reason we’ve probably done very temporaneously in some ways, it’s done on practical locations where you’re not shooting on sets where things are much more conventional; you just don’t even have that trust to the set until the day the owners who have it move out. It is much more in-flow at the time talking about directing.

What’s the plan from here? When we first heard about Scream 4 there was a 5 and 6 there as well. Is that still the case?

No, there is no Scream 5 script. Kevin [Williamson], when I first talked to him about this project before there was a script, he had an idea for a trilogy, so we’ll have to see what comes out of that. I’m sure Bob Weinstein is open to it if the script or ideas are to his pleasure. He has very high standards. I don’t think he’s in any rush to do it particularly, but on the other hand, I think he’s open to the idea of a trilogy, so at the point when there is an idea that he’s really excited about I’m sure he will begin launching that next film.

Perri Nemiroff

Staff Writer for CinemaBlend.