EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Richard Potter Part 1: The True Story of the Sale of Scream

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have interviewed some of the most influential people who worked behind the scenes of the Scream films. Now, I’m very excited to say that I’ve had a chance to talk in depth with another key figure of the creation of Scream, Richard Potter. Richard’s role in the whole Scream phenomenon is a fascinating and integral one.

While working at Dimension Films, Richard was the first one to read Kevin Williamson’s original screenplay for Scream (then titled Scary Movie) and the first to not only believe in it, but to actually work hard to get it on the screen, the way we see it. It’s a story that’s been told briefly and usually really only in pieces. Next will be my in depth interview with him, but first, in his own words, for the first time, Richard has recounted how it all went down, and it’s a fascinating read!

The True Story of the Sale of Scream
By Richard Potter

Many people who know the Scream movies know who I am, which always surprises me. Those that I have met have been extremely kind and I’ve really enjoyed the conversations.

I've been interviewed and told stories from my time on the set of the first two movies, how Wes Craven got involved, and how the level of success the movies reached shocked all of us. No one expected it to be what it became.

I've read many accounts of how Dimension Films got the Kevin Williamson script that became Scream and have had people ask me about these stories. Some of these stories are straight up fiction. Some are people inserting themselves into the narrative when they weren't really there. Some versions don't even include me!

Any that don't mention me you can immediately dismiss. If you take me out of the story, there is no story.

Then, there are those that tell of me as Bob Weinstein’s assistant reading the script and running into a room where he was sitting with another executive or group of executives. That is also not true.

Then, there are variations where I am either presenting the script to Bob along with some other people, or I am doing it because someone has asked me to tell Bob about the script.

None of those stories are true.

I was not Bob’s assistant at the time, I was an executive. Bob was not in the office when I read the script, and neither were any of the people who claim to have been there. No one talked to me about the script before I read it or before I told Bob about it. No one involved read it before I did.

This is how it happened:

It began sometime after 9pm in New York at the old Miramax Offices at 375 Greenwich Street.

It was not unusual for executives to be working late at night in the New York offices, since Bob and Harvey Weinstein would still be calling in, sometimes as late as 11pm. In addition, we also needed to be in touch with the Los Angeles office as well as producers and agents on the West Coast, where it was only 6pm.

I worked on the Dimension side of Miramax, which in 1995 was still new to making its own movies. Prior to 1994 Dimension was an acquisition only label. It bought finished films and released them as a Dimension Film, as a way to release movies that didn’t fit with the identity of the Miramax banner. The first ever Dimension Film was Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth.

We used to make jokes, doing fake trailer voices, saying things like “From the people who brought you The Piano and My Left Foot, comes Hellraiser: Bloodline!”

Miramax was for prestige films and Dimension was for popcorn movies.

I was Director of Production and Development, not Bob’s assistant in 1995. I had not been Bob’s assistant for the better part of eight months. That might seem like a minor detail, but the point is that someone who was there or was part of all this would know that...except Bob.

Let me explain: Bob still referred to me as his assistant even years later when I was Senior Vice President of Production. He would always apologize later if he realized he’d done it since he knew I was an executive. I think my title got locked in his brain as “assistant” since that’s how he met me. At the Premiere of Scream 4, Bob told the story I’m telling here, but said I was his assistant. At the party afterwards he apologized for that.

Besides me, there was Andrew Rona, who was also Director of Production and Development, and Paul Rosenberg President of Production. On the west coast was Jeff Kurz who was VP of Acquisitions. Michael Weiss might have been in the LA office by then too, or if not very soon after. That was the entire executive staff of Dimension at the time.

So, a little after 9pm Bobby Cohen, who worked on the Miramax side of the company, came into my office with a thick fax and said “This just came in. I think this is for you guys. It’s not for us.”

If I’m remembering correctly the fax was from Jennifer Gwartz at Woods Entertainment in Los Angeles, but I could be wrong.

The fax was a script called "Scary Movie". To be honest, I almost didn’t read it. The title made it sound like it was going to be a spoof and we were not looking for that.

I thanked Bobby for it and decided to start reading it instead of going home. If it was a goofy parody I would know in a few pages.

It wasn’t and I was hooked. The writing was fantastic. By the time Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore in the movie) was killed Iknew I had and finish it right now.

A little after 10pm I finished reading, picked up the phone and called Bob Weinstein at home. He’d always said that if I read something I loved to let him know immediately. This was the only time I ever did that.

Bob answered and asked what was up.

I was so excited I was practically vibrating. I told him, "I just read a script. If you don’t want to buy this, then I don’t know what you’re looking for."

He laughed and said, "I better read it then."

I made copies, got a cab, and personally dropped a copy off with his doorman.

The following morning, I was supposed to meet Bob at a screening room to see a Dolph Lundgren movie called Hidden Assassin. The movie was available for distribution, and we were to watch it to see if Dimension should acquire it. Jeff Kurz must have set up that screening.

Bob and I were the only ones in the theater. As we sat down, I asked Bob if he’d read the script. He said no.

We'd watched about 20 Minutes before Bob turned to me and asked, "Is it really that good?"

"It's the best spec I've ever read," I told him.

"OK," he said to me, "I'll read it right now."

He picked up his briefcase, stood up, and said, "You finish this. Tell me if you think we should pick it up."

He left.

The movie ended and I started heading downtown to our office. A few minutes into the ride my cellphone rang (yes, we had cellphones in 1995).

He didn't even say hello.

"I'm about halfway through. Is the whole thing this good or does it fall apart?"

"The whole thing is like that."

"OK. Get Cathy Konrad and the agent on the phone and let's get this."

"L.A. isn't opened yet," I reminded him.

"OK. Let Cathy know. I'm going to finish reading it."

I got to the office sometime after 10am. I told Bob’s office that we needed to get Cathy Konrad on the phone and that when L.A. opened we were going to make an offer for the script.

I had made copies for Bob’s Office, Andrew Rona, and for Paul Rosenberg the night before. Paul, as I said, had recently been brought in as President of Production for Dimension.

Paul and I clashed often since his arrival at the company. Paul was brought in because he had more experience as a studio executive. Andrew and I had been Bob’s assistants and were the original production executives at Dimension. We’d been promoted off Bob’s desk in November.

The previous summer I came up with a plan to turn Dimension from an acquisitions only label to a production label. Andrew and I presented it to Bob and Harvey, and they gave us the go ahead to do it. We’d been proving ourselves over the past year, but Bob wanted someone with more experience in charge of the division. However, he made it clear that we still reported directly to him. Anyone coming after us would report to Paul.

Paul didn’t like that Bob spoke to me directly all the time and that Bob relied on my opinion of scripts before buying them. Paul was the President and felt that everything should go through him. He felt I was going around him.

I couldn’t get him to understand that if the Chairman of the Company asked for my opinion, I was going to give it him. If the Chairman of the Company wanted me with him in meetings that I was going to be there. If the Chairman of the Company called me, I was going to take the call. And if the Chairman of the Company told me to call him immediately if I ever came across a script that blew me away, I was going to make that call. Bob was the Chairman of the Company and I worked for Bob. I was not making a power play. Bob knew me, he didn’t really know Paul and that was all it was.

No matter what I said or did I could never get Paul to see it that way.

I told Paul what was going on with this script and he lost his shit. He starts yelling that I should have sent the script to him last night and he would have decided if it was worth sending to Bob.

I reminded him Bob personally instructed me on numerous occasions to go straight to him if I loved a script, and it was his company, so that’s what I did. Nothing had happened yet, and he had the script in his hand. He had plenty of time to read it before Bob came in. I was giving him the script at my first opportunity.

I let Bobby Cohen know the script he gave me was great and we were going to try and buy it.

I went back to my office to start writing the coverage. I didn’t want to send it out and wait a day or two for coverage to come in. If Bob was going to make an offer today, we’d need coverage today.

As I’m writing the coverage, Bob’s office connects Cathy Konrad to me. I didn't know Cathy very well at this point. She worked for Cary Woods at Woods Entertainment and for the most part their movies were done on the Miramax side. I knew Cary Woods because as I said, Bob liked to have me in meetings with him. So, while Cathy and I knew each other, we didn’t really have a relationship yet.

I told Cathy how much I loved the script. She said she hadn’t had a chance to read it yet. Since the script only went out about 12 hours ago this was no big deal. Most people who got it would not have read it yet. Miramax was headquartered on the East Coast, so we tried to use the time difference to our advantage.

A little before noon New York time, Bob’s office calls me. Bob is not coming into the office. He is working from home. They are connecting me to Bob and getting Cathy.

With all three of us on the phone we call APA, Kevin Williamson's agency at the time. I don’t remember if we spoke to Rob Paris or Justin Dardis. In my memory it was Justin, but that may not be right. I don’t want to say definitively who it was in case I’m wrong.

This is probably not 100% word for word, but to my best memory this is what happened.

Keep in mind it’s first thing in the morning LA time. Kevin’s agent is just starting his day when he gets this call.

Bob: We love the script. What are you guys looking for?
Agent: I'm really glad you like it. We're excited about it, too.
Bob: So, what are you guys looking for?
Agent: We're just getting in, Bob; we have to let other people respond.
Bob: I'm telling you I want to make an offer.
Agent: I understand, but we have to protect relationships. I have to at least let some other people respond.
Bob: What does your client want? What are you looking for?
Agent: Kevin is out of town. I can't reach him right away.
Bob: You're telling me you took out a spec, but you can't reach your client if you get an offer?
Agent: Yes. He was nervous.
Bob: So, what are you looking for? What takes it off the table?
Agent: I don't know. I don't have a number. I'd have to speak to Kevin.
Bob: So, call Kevin.
Agent: He went out of town. I don't know if I can reach him right now.
Bob: Richard, what are you doing right now?
Me: Whatever you need me to do, Bob.
Bob: Cathy, you free right now?
Cathy: I'm here, Bob.
Bob: OK, we can hold on. Call your client.
Agent: I don’t know how long that will take.
Bob: We can hold on.
Agent: I don’t know how long it will take. He’s out of town.
Bob: Just leave us on hold.
Agent: I can’t do that, Bob.
Bob: OK, then give me a number. What takes it off the table?
Agent: I don’t have a number.
Bob: I’m telling you Dimension wants to make this movie. How do I buy it? What takes it off the table?
Agent: I don’t know,… a million dollars.
Bob: So, if I say a million dollars, we have it?
Agent: Bob, I—
Bob: OK, a million dollars. Do we have it?
Agent: Bob—
Bob: You said a million dollars takes it off the table, and I’m saying a million dollars. Do we have it?
Agent: Bob, I have to let other people respond.
Bob: This offer is only good as long as we’re on the phone. If we get off there is no million dollar offer from Dimension, do you understand? I don’t want to find out that you guys are using our offer to drive the price up or start a bidding war. Once we hang up there is no offer of a million dollars.
Agent: I understand.
Bob: So, do we have it?
Agent: No! I have to speak to my client.
Bob: OK. But there is no million dollar offer. We're interested. Keep in touch with Richard and Cathy.

And that was the end of that call.

There was a bidding war for the script, and Kevin had offers for more money than what we were eventually offering from companies including Columbia Pictures, Sony, and Oliver Stone's company.

When it got down to the final few Kevin spoke to his lawyer, Patti Felker, for advice. Patti and Kevin separately told me the same story of their conversation about how they chose us. Patti told Kevin: "The other companies will pay you more money, but Dimension will make your movie. You have to decide which is more important to you."

I did a web search to see if I could find an announcement for the sale. This is what I found:

Title: Scary Movie
Logline: Small southern town killer is on the loose.
Writer: Kevin Williamson
Agent: Justen Dardis, Rob Paris
Agency: APA
Production Co.: Miramax/Dimension Films
Price: $400K/$500K
Genre: Horror
Date Sold: 6/8/1995

Ryan Hills

Ryan Hills is a contributor and writer for Scream-Thrillogy as well as administrator for the largest online Scream collecting group, Scream & Ghostface Collectors on Facebook.instagram

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