Scream - Kevin Williamson Letter
|A Letter from Kevin Williamson (Los Angeles, October 1997)
I was twelve years old and living in Arkansas Pass, Texas. My father was a local fisherman and my mom ran a small hotel that we lived in back of. It was all very Norman Bates. My very first girlfriend lived next store. Her name was Shelley. She was a fair-skinned, red-haired Molly Ringwald type.
On her thirteenth birthday, her mom and dad took me, Shelley, and a few friends to the movies. They let me pick the film. They knew I was a huge movie buff. I had seen Jaws a few years back and had quickly became a Steven Spielberg fanatic. My bedroom was a Spielberg museum and it began my love affair with the movies.
To Shelley's parents' displeasure, I picked this little scary film that had recently opened and was getting rave reviews and a lot of press. People were calling it "the scariest movie since Psycho."
The movie, of course, was Halloween, and I desperately wanted to see it. After Shelley's mom called up the kids' parents and got permission for us to see an R-rated film, we were off to the movies. It was a night I'll never forget. The movie changed my life.
Halloween was my revelation. I already knew my love of movies was bordering obsessive but had no idea of how fixated I was until the experience of Halloween. The movie frightened me beyond belief. I sat, white-knuckled, between Shelley and her mother. I remember vividly how I kept grabbing Shelley's mother every time Michael Myers appeared.
There were moments when I would forget to breathe because I was so wrapped up in the moment. When Jamie Lee screamed, I screamed. When she ran, I ran. I can vividly remember pounding my feet on the floor as she raced across the street trying to escape the clutches of Michael.
I went back to see the movie again and again. I'd go by myself and would have to sneak in because it was R-rated. I'd pay to see some bogus movie playing on the screen next door, then jump the velvet ropes. I would sit in the middle of the crowd and just watch the participation. I watched as men and women screamed at the screen, yelling and coaxing the characters on. The film definitely had an effect on people. It was a roller-coaster ride from the beginning to end. I knew from that first screening that I wanted to affect people like that. I wanted to make them scream and jump then laugh at themselves for getting so worked up. Halloween was the film that opened my eyes. Flash forward sixteen years.
I was in transition. My career hadn't really ever taken off. I tried acting. Nope. Directed some theater. Nope. I worked as an assistant to a director in music videos. Nothing was panning out for me. Finally, just on a whim, I sat down and wrote this little movie called Killing Mrs. Tingle. The idea was one of many floating around in my useless vessel of a brain and I finally got the confidence to do it. It took all of two weeks. I didn't know if it was any good until I gave it to my best friend Gil. He read it and liked it but it was not in the business, so he didn't know if it was good or not. He did have a friend who owed him a favor who happened to be a literary agent. He slipped it to him and before you can say, "spec sale," the script was set up at Interscope. I thought I had arrived.
Unfortunately, I then discovered the term "development hell." The movie was never made and went through many incarnations. The option money I made got me through some student loans and a new car, but alas, I was broke and on unemployment again. That soon ran out and I was in serious trouble.
My friend Gil kept loaning me money. Lots of money. To this day, I am forever indebted to his generosity. To help repay the thousands of dollars I owed him, I would house-sit for him when he went out of town.
One night, I sat in his house in Westwood watching a Barbara Walters special on the Gainsville Murders. It was scary as hell and was really spooking me out. The idea that this man was stalking and killing these college kids in this small, unsuspecting town was very frightening. It reminded me of Halloween. Then, suddenly I heard a noise. It was coming from another room. I went to check it out and discovered an open window. I had been staying in the house for two days and hadn't noticed it had been open. I was starting to lose it. I don't do well in scary situations.
With a butcher knife in one hand and a cordless phone in the other, I called my buddy David (who now works with me) and made him talk to me while I searched the house over. I checked the closets, under the beds, in the shower stall, and then went out to the garage. David, of course, was being a dick. He kept trying to scare me on the phone, saying things like, "Freddy's gonna get you," and "Michael's behind you," and "Kill, kill, kill, ha, ha, ha..." Before you know it, we were arguing over which killer was scarier and what horror movies worked best, mixing up all the movies together. The conversation turned into a movie debate where we started quizzing each other with our movie knowledge. Thus, Scary Movie was born.
I say Scary Movie because that was the original title of Scream. After the Gainsville house-sitting night, I went home and started outlining a movie in my head. I used to sit around and tell the story to my friends. One night, I sat in a car with five people and told them the whole story from beginning to end and I had them scared out of their minds. That was when I knew it was time to start writing.
I went away to Palm Springs for the weekend. I wrote around the clock and in three days had a first draft. That draft is pretty much the one that got made. I tweaked it here and there but that first draft is essentially the movie that made it to theaters.
I gave the draft to my agent, and he went through the roof. He sent it out immediately but I thought it would never sell. Horror movies have never really done well on the spec market. After the first day, no one had made me an offer. New Line passed and I thought the script was dead in the water.
I remember sitting in Jerry's Deli in West Hollywood with my friend Kathryn (who now also works with me) contemplating my lack of money and future when she said, "Just shut up. This script will sell, I just know it."
The next morning the flurry began. I quickly found myself in an intense bidding war. Miramax, Oliver Stone, Morgan Creek, Paramount, and others were making offers. The price kept getting higher and higher and I was getting more and more scared.
By the end of the day, a stalemate had been reached between Bob Weinstein and another studio. Bob got really tough. He said, "Take it or leave it." His price stood firm. The other company offered more money. Quite a bit more. My agent was ready to close the deal, so I had to make a decision.
In a private conversation with my lawyer, Patti Felker, expressed her concern and reservations about going with this other company. This was ultimately my decision but she wanted me to have all the facts. Patti reminded me of what had happened to my last script, Killing Mrs. Tingle, and if I sold it to this studio, that could also be the fate of Scary Movie. However, Bob Weinstein, owner co-chairman, head of Miramax, had loved the script. He had just opened a new division called Dimension Films which was dedicated to this type of movie, and had promised to make this film right away. And getting a movie made was a hell of a lot more important than the money. I really wanted to see Scary Movie made, so Bob and Dimension got the script.
What a great decision (thanks to Patti) it turned out to be. Scary Movie became the beginning of a long relationship with Miramax and Dimension. Bob not only kept his word and made the movie right away with producers Cathy Konrad and Cary Woods, he assembled the most incredible cast imaginable: Drew Barrymore, Courteney Cox, and Neve Campbell. And he gave Scary Movie it's greatest gift. He gave it Wes Craven.
Wes Craven in many ways was the perfect choice for this movie. He knew these movies inside and out and I think, quite frankly, he was tired of them. I think he saw Scream as a challenge. He understood what I had set out to do with the horror genre and he completely concurred. He loved the idea of exposing the conventions of the genre. Wes gave Scary Movie its tone. He brought it to life with a perverse wickedness and I'm forever grateful.
Scary Movie quickly became Scream for a number of reasons. While we all liked the quirky feeling the title invoked, it raised some issue as to what type of movie it really was. We were worried that middle America might think the title implied it was a comedy. We wanted it clear. While the script is funny, it is definitely a scary movie. Hence, the title was changed. Scream was Harvey Weinstein's idea. An idea that soon proved to be genius.
Scream has changed my life. Since it sold, I've switched agents (not lawyers -- I'm locked to Patti for life), bought a house, and was able to buy a truck for my dad. It's a Dodge Ram with an extended cab, running boards, and roll bar with head beams. It's a carbon copy of the truck Chuck Norris drives in Walker, Texas Ranger, which is his favorite show. The "Walker" is his dream. I surprised him with it. It was one of those "life moments."
I worked on the adaptation for Columbia called I Know What You Did Last Summer, based on the young adult novel by Lois Duncan. I've created a television series that debuts in January called Dawson's Creek. It's a coming-of-age story about a young boy growing up in a small town who dreams of one day being Steven Spielberg. Sound familiar?
My career, at the moment, is going at breakneck speed. I've signed a great deal with Miramax/Dimension to write, produce, and direct several movies. I couldn't be in a better place. The guys at Dimension really "get me." Bob, Harvey, Richard Potter, Andrew Rona, Cary Granat...it's nice to be working with a group of people who have the same instincts and are on the same plane as you. They've given me a home.
They've also given me Killing Mrs. Tingle, which will mark my directorial debut. Bob obtained it from Interscope and I'm currently polishing it up and meeting with actresses. I couldn't be happier that the first script I ever wrote will be my first directing effort. It's just the way I always wanted it to be. Tingle is the best representation of who I am as a storyteller and I think it's completely fitting that it was be my first movie as a director.
I'm also busy on a number of other things. I'm working on a sci-fi project with Robert Rodgriguez, creating a new TV show for Miramax (about a bunch of aimless twenty-somethings in L.A.) called WasteLAnd. I've got a Breakfast Club for the nineties in the works, an action thriller, and a romantic comedy.
Ironically, just as my interests seem to be evolving and move away from horror, I've fortunately been able to come full circle with my career and participate in the creation of Halloween 7, the final installment of the famed franchise. I've helped with the story and it looks like Jamie Lee Curtis will reprise her role as Laurie Strode.
Of course, there is my own franchise, Scream 2 will be in theaters on December 12, 1997. Directed once again by the master, Wes Craven, Scream 2 stars all the surviving cast members from the first. When I sold Scream, I attached a five-page treatment outlining the second and third installments of the story. I always saw it as a trilogy. I think that's what makes it so special. Most sequels are after-thoughts based on box office performance. Scream 2 and Scream 3 have always been part of the plan and I'm also fortunate to have such great people bring them to life.
In addition to Wes, Bob and Harvey, and the bigger, more famous names involved, I'd like to take a moment to mention a few people that have influenced my work and helped me with the creation of Scream. My mom and dad, of course, and in no particular order, Richard Potter, Andrew Rona, Cathy Konrad, Marianne Maddalena, Cary Granat, Gil Gold, Kathryn Willis, David Blanchard, Pattie Felker, Robert Newman, Richard Feldman, Justin Dardis, Rob Paris, and Julie Plec. It was with the help and support of these people that Scream and I exist today. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.
Life couldn't be better or busier.