EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Richard Potter Part 2: Creating Scream

Richard Potter and Neve Campbell on the set of Scream 2.

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.

In Part 1, Richard told the full and true story of Dimension Films acquiring Scream (then titled “Scary Movie”), which was subject to a bidding war in Hollywood. Richard was the first to read the script at Dimension and one of the first to truly recognize how special Kevin’s script was and really fight to get it made. Now in part 2, I talk in-depth with Richard about the production of the original Scream.

What kind of films did you love growing up? What was your earliest experience of the horror genre?
I loved comedies and monster movies as a kid. I was obsessed with Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein. After school growing up The 4:30 Movie on Channel 7 in New York rotated through Japanese Godzilla-type movies, Planet of the Apes movies, and the old Edgar Allan Poe movies. I did my homework with those movies playing in front of me.
I don’t know what my earliest experience with horror was, but I was obsessed with the Universal Monster movies and the Hammer Films. This was in the days when you either rented a video or watched whatever was on TV. You really were at the mercy of whoever was programming the networks, but I can tell you with 100% certainty the first thing I remember watching that scared me. It was the TV Mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot.
The boy floating out the window scratching the glass really freaked out the little kid version of me.

I also read a lot of the classics. I read Dracula (loved it), The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde (loved it) Frankenstein (boring!), and every Edgar Allan Poe story. My mother had this multi-volume set of Poe stories and I read those over and over again. Later I got in into Stephen King and I’m still reading and re-reading his works.

Ricard Potter on the set of Scream 2 wearing a classic Dimension Films hat.

How did you get started in the film industry and ultimately work for Dimension Films?
I didn’t really know how to start or how to find a job. I lived in New York City and most of the studios had offices there, but I had no idea how to get in. I took a bunch of unpaid internships with producers and even one at Universal’s New York office.

I started buying Weekly Variety on Sundays and reading the articles looking for executives' names and their job titles. If someone was based in New York I would send them a cover letter and resume. I would write to the same people every few months, but I’d never indicate that I’d ever written before. I hoped that my name would start to seem familiar to them, but they wouldn’t know why or if they knew me.

I had written to several people at Miramax, so when there was an opening in Harvey Weinstein’s office for an assistant someone who had just received it gave my resume Harvey’soffice. That job got filled and I was never called in for an interview. A few months later Bob’s office had an opening for an assistant and Harvey’s office passed my resume to them.

When I started working for Bob Weinstein, Dimension films was an acquisition-only label. It didn’t make movies, it bought finished films and distributed them.

I was Bob’s assistant by myself for about a month, and it was impossible. I was hired with the understanding that there would be at least two of us. Specifically, it was to be myself and Maria, the woman who was already there and who had hired me. But after my third day, Maria went on vacation and just never came back.

So, no one was training me, I had no idea what I was doing, I didn’t know who the people at the company were, I was in over my head, and I was overwhelmed. By way of comparison, at the same time, Harvey’s office had three assistants and an intern. Bob only had me doing the same job that Harvey had an entire team to do. 
Harvey’s intern, Andrew, saw I was drowning and he would help me out. Eventually, I was able to convince Bob to hire Andrew as an assistant, but that was after I convinced Andrew to want the job! Andrew had just graduated from NYU Film School and wasn’t sure he wanted to work at a studio. He was a really talented director, so it wasn’t so crazy to think he’d go off and make his own movies.

Andrew and I were instantly in sync. He was really smart and personable, and together we were a great team. At night we’d watch the newly acquired films just to stay up to date. Bob liked that we were on top of the new material and that we’d started doing that without being told to.

As we watched these movies, I started thinking that we could make better movies than what was being acquired. That is not meant as a criticism of the acquisitions team, they were great. It’s really a commentary on what was being made and sold at the time. The movies that were out there were “good” at best. But most were direct to video titles to go on the shelves at Blockbuster.

I wrote what I called “the six-month plan” which was how to move Dimension into making its own movies. I showed it to Andrew. He liked it, which was a good thing because the plan relied on the two of us working together. There is no way Dimension happens without the two of us. For its first year or two, we were Dimension films.

We presented my plan to Bob, and he said it sounded smart, but he wanted to see what we could do. We turned the direct-to-video title God’s Army into the theatrical film The Prophecy which set the record for a Labor Day weekend opening and became its own franchise. From there Dimension was on the move.

The first ever Dimension production executive was me.

I remember a meeting four years later. The conference room was filled with Dimension staff and on the speakerphone was a full conference room of staff in Los Angeles. Bob turned to me and said, “Richard, remember when it was just you and me?” It was kind of a shock to think of how fast it all happened and, if I’m being completely honest, gratifying to hear that from the Chairman of the Company.
Before Scream, what other films had you worked on?
Before starting at Dimension, I hadn’t worked on any films. I had worked on a cable TV talk show called Shmoozing. It drove me crazy that the title was spelled wrong. It should have been spelled “Schmoozing”.

Dimension’s early theatrical films were acquisitions that had been intended for video release. I gained real-life experience on movie sets when we were either doing re-shoots or shooting new material for those films. So pretty much any Dimension movie after Hellraiser 3 (the first Dimension movie) was a movie I worked on.

Kevin Williamson types on a laptop on the set of Scream 2. Photo taken by Richard Potter.

What was it like the night you first read the script for Scream?
I wish I could say that there was something special about that night, but there really wasn’t. It was a long day. I was tired and wanted to go home, but I had some work to do so I was in the office late. My work philosophy has always been that I work until I’m done. The clock doesn’t matter. What matters is getting the job done.

So that night I was working late. Bobby Cohen [a Miramax Executive] also happened to be working late. The Scary Movie script came to him, he recognized that it was not for Miramax, saw I was in my office, and brought it over to me. In movie writing terms, this is the inciting incident- Bobby Gives Richard the Script.
What are some of your favorite elements of the script and story?
I have too many answers to that question so let me focus on what struck me the night I read it. 
First, it was a teen movie. At the time no one was making movies for teenagers. I wanted to find a way for Dimension to break through and a movie for an underserved market was a way to do that.

Second, the teenagers in the script were not stupid. They had wit, intelligence, and attitude. I knew they would be fun to watch on screen. The movie and TV teenagers we take for granted now did not exist before Scream. Think about that. Beyond the more well know and often discussed groundbreaking aspects of the movie, we cannot forget that the characters were completely original and new.

Third, the mystery of who or what the killer was. Reading the script, it wasn’t clear how the killer seemed to be in two places at once. Was it supernatural? Now it seems obvious it was more than one killer. Back then it was it was a brand-new idea. When I got to the reveal I was floored. Two killers! Besides Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope I couldn’t think of a movie with two killers, let alone two teen killers!
David Arquette and Jamie Kennedy on the set of Scream 2. Photo taken by Richard Potter.

Fourth: Randy. A truly new and original character. Finally, a teen character in a horror movie who has seen horror movies, like a real teenager! He saw the common elements of these movies and suddenly horror movies had rules! I will never understand how they are not called The Randy Rules.

Fifth, that opening sequence! Come on. I read that and had to stay in the office til 10 O’clock at night and finish the script on the spot! I freely admit that I got scared reading it alone in a dark office. That opening is its own mini horror movie.

Finally, Billy and Stu don’t really have a motive. I loved that. If the killer has a reason why, then someone can potentially find a reason why not and talk them out of it.

And what does the movie say during the final scene?

Billy: “You hear that Stu? She wants a motive. Well, I don’t really believe in motives Sid.”

I know, I know Billy also talks about Sidney’s mother sleeping with his father as a potential motive, but that’s bullshit. Billy was a psycho and would have been a killer no matter what. The affair was his excuse, not his motive.

Take a look a look at the dialogue in that scene. Look at exactly what he says. He says, “How’s that for a motive?” He knows it’s not really his motive. Besides, they already killed her mom, so how is that a motive for killing Steve Orth? Or Casey Becker? Or the Principal? Or Tatum Riley? Or Kenny the Cameraman? Or even Sidney?

And what about Stu? Why would Stu care about who Billy’s father slept with? Or if Sidney’s mom was sleeping around? Why would any of that make Stu want to kill Sidney? Or Tatum? Or any of the others?

There’s a real-life psychological disorder known as a Folie a Deux. It’s a shared psychosis. In a real Folie a Deux you separate the two participants. The weaker one will recover when removed from the presence of the stronger one. Separate Stu from Billy, and he is not going to kill anyone.

So, think about it, does Stu really care enough about who Sidney’s mom slept with to kill? Of course not. So why does Stu do it? He suggests peer pressure and he’s almost right. It’s a Folie a Deux. He and Billy are too intertwined in a shared psychosis.

This idea of no motive is set up early in the movie, in the video store by Randy. Randy is always right. Doesn’t Randy tell us that it’s Billy at the Video Store? Maureen Prescott’s affair is Billy’sexcuse, not his motive.

The tone of Scream really rides a fine line between horror and comedy but it really is more a horror film. Was this time something that could have gone more in either direction?

It really doesn’t when you think about it. It’s a horror movie. Before the movie came out, I would use the script for potential readers to test their coverage. They didn’t have to like the script to get hired as a reader. If they gave it a pass, I was OK with that. I cared more that their comments supported their decision. A lot of great readers gave it a pass.

What every person who didn’t like the script had in common (and not even everyone at Miramax/Dimension liked it) was that they saw it as a comedy with scares. It doesn’t work if it's a comedy.

It’s easy once you’ve seen Wes’ movie to understand the tone, but to be fair, when reading it cold off the page about 1/3 of the people didn’t get the tone.
Did the script include a summary of the next two films? How planned out were the sequels early on?
Yes and no. The original script of Scary Movie, the version that was sent out as a spec, had an outline for “Scary Movie 2”. Ultimately Scream 2 is not what that outline was. Scream 2 is a much better and smarter movie than what that outline was, but what it proved was that there was more.

There was some discussion of what Scream 3 would be while we were doing Scream 2. That version never happened. I think it would have been a much better movie than what got made as Scream 3. Some elements of it are actually in Scream 4.

We were looking at Scream as a planned trilogy and I think the original idea for Scream 3 would have ended the franchise, but it would have been brilliant.
Had you been in contact with Wes Craven before contacting him about “Scary Movie”?
Yes. We had the rights to The Haunting, which most people now probably know as the Mike Flanagan Netflix Series. We were going to remake and update the Robert Wise film and were looking at the source material, The Haunting of Hill House.

Wes was going to direct that movie but none of us were happy with the scripts. I was still Bob Weinstein’s assistant at that time, but Bob had me in all of the Dimension development meetings. I was fortunate enough to meet and get to know Wes Craven and his producing partner Marianne Maddelena during that time.

When The Haunting didn’t happen, we remained in touch. I knew I wanted to find something to do with Wes. When Scary Movie came in, he was immediately at the top of my list.
Besides Wes Craven, who were some other contenders for director?
I can’t say. I wouldn’t do that. It doesn’t matter. Wes was our first choice and he directed it.
 When Drew Barrymore was cast how far along did things get with her playing Sidney before she suggested playing Casey? Were there other contenders for Casey at that time?
Drew was offered the part of Sidney very early on. Casting had not started for the other parts when she asked to change to Casey. No one else had been considered for Casey. We wouldn’t have been discussing casting Casey yet because you cast the lead roles first, so once she was Casey, we needed a Sidney.
What was the process like to get Wes Craven as director? He was hesitant at first, right? Not wanting to do more horror at the time.
Wes did not want to do the movie. He said no to me twice. He felt that he’d already done slashers and horror movies. He’d also done New Nightmare, so he felt he’d done the self-reflective, meta thing. From his point of view, there was nothing here he hadn’t done before.

I told him this was not like anything he’d ever done before. I told him no one had done anything like this before. I told him this was his chance to redefine the genre for the second time. Most people never get to do it once, but who gets to do it twice?

And you know what he said to that? He said no. He was not going to do the movie. He was not interested. I don’t think anything I could have said would have made a difference. I was the studio trying to convince a director to do a movie.

There are two reasons Wes changed his mind: Marianne Maddelena and Julie Plec.

They convinced him to take another look and to read it with fresh eyes. Because of them he did that, and it clicked for him. He saw what it was and what it could be. We all have Marianne and Julie to thank for Wes making the Scream movies.
You were heavily involved with maintaining the consistency of the mystery plot of Scream. Can you describe what your job became behind the scenes?
Having it all make sense and be consistent was very important to Wes. We had a shared philosophy of how mysteries should resolve in a movie. Once you know the solution you should be able to go back and see that was always what was going on. That meant everything the killers did had to be believable and doable by two teenage boys and we had to know where they were and who did what.

It became my job to keep track of the killers. I had to know where Billy and Stu were from scene to scene, and even within the scenes. I knew who killed who and where each killer was at all times.

I also tracked how often something exciting happened, like a kill or a scare. It worked out to about every ten pages. Except in one area where it was over twenty pages. I talked it through with Wes and Kevin and we realized that the principal (Henry Winkler) was killed off-camera, and his body was discovered later, also off-camera. We figured that if he was stalked and killed on camera it would solve that problem, and it did.

One of the reasons the tension never lets up in Scream is that either something just happened, or something is happening. You never really get a break.

 What was it like seeing the first dailies and then the opening sequence cut together?

I was on set in Santa Rosa shooting the movie, so I was not in New York when they were seeing the dailies. Everyone knows the controversy that Bob didn’t like what he saw. I’ve seen articles written saying the studio “failed to grasp what made the movie special” and that was why Dimension had issues with the opening. That is absolutely wrong and ridiculous. That is not what happened. Not even close.

It came down to one very simple thing: Bob didn't know how the pieces were all going to fit together, which is what he said himself after the screening of the rough cut of the scene.

In the dailies, there might be over a minute of the sequence in a take that the director and editor know they only want ten seconds of. All the inserts, close-ups, and effects were missing in the dailies. Bob saw long takes and footage that felt flat to him. He was concerned.

Wes had his own way of doing things and his own team. People like his editor, Patrick Lussier, knew which pieces were the pieces Wes wanted and how to put it all together.

This story has been fictionalized as it gets written about and with the anniversary it is spreading again and what is spreading is wrong.

I am one of the few people who knows. I was there and I was the contact point between the studio and the production. When you hear that Bob was making angry phone calls about the dailies, who do you think he was calling? That was me. When you hear that a special screening was set up to show Bob the cut together scene, who do you think set that up? That was me. I was at the screening, and I was at the meeting afterward.

Simply put, Bob didn’t like what he saw in the dailies. Wes and Patrick cut the dailies into a rough version of the scene. Bob watched the rough version. He liked it. He walked out smiling and said something along the lines of “What do I know about dailies?” and the whole thing was over.

This is something that’s been debated for years, was the Ghostface seen in the reflection in the grocery store and outside Tatum’s house meant to be the actual killer or just teens messing with Sidney like they did at the school? How about the Ghostface that Sidney encounters in the washroom?

Billy and Stu are not stupid enough to kill Sidney during school hours in a bathroom or during the day in public in a supermarket or any place where they would get caught or potentially stopped and identified. They need Sidney to trust them. Imagine if she grabbed the mask off the person in the bathroom and saw her boyfriend's face? Or store security grabbed the guy in the store, and it was Stu?

Plus, if I remember correctly the bathroom guy doesn’t have a knife or a weapon of any kind.

The scene where the principal is yelling at kids for acting so callous and wearing Ghostface costumes sets up the idea that a lot of people are running around in that outfit. Also, after the scene at Sidney’s house, Dewey says they sell the costume at “every Five and Dime” so that means there are a lot of people with those costumes in the area.

Wes Craven on the set of Scream 2. Photo by Richard Potter.

What was it like working with Wes Craven?
If you were a horror movie fan and you got the chance to work with Wes Craven, whatever you would hope that experience would be is exactly what it was, and better.

I’d gotten to know him a little when we were developing The Haunting, so we didn’t have that “getting to know you” awkwardness on Scream. He came to trust me when we were developing the script from the spec to the shooting script.

I think a big part of that was that he saw I didn’t really want to change anything. I wanted to make sure he had the best version of the spec script for the production. To Kevin Williamson’s credit, the spec is pretty much the movie we shot. But there were some changes. The biggest is the principal’s death. That’s a new scene. Anything else was a tweak.

Oh! And typos and spelling errors. Wes didn’t like mistakes in the script, so Kevin and I went through the script looking for typos and spelling errors... and that was after Wes’ draft came back with red ink marking every typo and spelling error he’d found.

Once we were on set, he was fascinating to watch. He had a soft touch with actors. He’d let them do what they do, letting the actors trust their instincts and play off each other. But at the same time he had very specific things he wanted from the shots and from the performances and he knew how to get them.

One actor had a particular mannerism thing they did fairly often. I won’t say who or what it was, but I noticed it a bunch of times and asked him about it. He smiled at me and said, “I know. I won’t be using any of that.” None of that is in the movie and the performance is one of their best.

I initially tried to stay out of his way. I thought he wouldn’t want to feel like the guy from the studio was lurking over his shoulder, but when I wasn’t around Marianne would find me and say, “Wes wants you.”

At first, I had the paranoid feeling that he just wanted to know where I was at all times. That maybe he didn’t trust me. I mean, you hear stories about directors with those kinds of relationships with the studio, and being on set is not the same thing as having a story meeting in the office.

I’d come over and he’d just ask, “What do you think?” of whatever we were shooting. He’d sometimes run past me what he thought he wanted to do for a particular upcoming shot or scene. If I had a suggestion, he would listen to it. Sometimes he’d look at me for a beat and then say, “Let’s do that” and then he’d shoot what I just said right in front of me! It was crazy and amazing.

He was collaborative. He listened to the ideas of the people around him that he trusted and if he liked something he’d try it. But make no mistake, he had his vision and his unique style. He was brilliant, funny, and insightful. He knew how to get the best from the people around him and I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know him, work with him, and have him as a friend.

Rebecca Gayheart, Richard Potter, and Portia de Rossi on the set of Scream 2.
Being on set for Scream and Scream 2 with him and his team were some of the best experiences of my life. I think everyone who worked on those films would say the same thing.

We’d talked about doing other projects, and years after I left Dimension we spoke about doing another project, but he was committed to something else at the time, and we never got the chance to revisit it later.
Was it difficult having to involve the MPAA?
There is no way around the MPAA [now the MPA]. They have to be involved. Mainstream theaters won’t play an unrated film. For a studio horror movie to work it has to reach the widest possible audience, so we had to be in the mainstream theaters which means we had to get a rating from the MPAA.

We weren’t sure if we wanted a PG-13 or an R. PG-13 is a potentially wider audience, but not having an R rating can create the perception that the movie is “soft”. Genre fans don’t want a soft movie and you don’t want to alienate them. It is a tough call. But then again, you don’t get to choose your rating, you are given a rating, so it’s just talk at that point.

The MPAA situation was a pain in the ass on this movie because they gave us an NC-17 which is the same as an X rating. Mainstream theaters don’t play those movies. So how do you fix that?

You see, they don’t tell you specifically what they don’t like, or what they had a problem with, and they are not consistent. Isn’t Saving Private Ryan more violent and bloody than Scream? Are they deciding based on what they see in the movie, or based on what value they see in the movie?

In the end, it all worked out so while it was frustrating it was just a bump in the road.

The funny thing is that because of the MPAA situation on Scream we anticipated the same thing happening on Scream 2. So, we shot Scream 2 much bloodier and more violent, but with backup versions ready to go that were more tame. That way we could submit that bloodier, more violent version and if they gave it the NC-17 we could come back with the version they were more likely to accept...and guess what? We never had to go back with the tamer version.
What was it like as you realized how huge of a hit Scream was? How much did it exceed your initial expectations?
No one had any idea that the movie was going to be this successful. Anyone who says they knew is lying.

I remember Marianne calling me on Friday of the release and asking me how I thought the movie would do. I think told her I thought the movie would make $10 million -$12 million for the weekend. That would be $20- 25 million over its run, which meant it would be profitable by the time we got to home video. In truth, I wanted to see something like $15 Million for the weekend, but I didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment.

Keep in mind that double your budget is usually your break-even point because you have marketing and distribution costs to think about too. So, if we made the movie for $14 Million, $28Million was break-even, then everything after that is profit. If we could get close to break-even in the theater, we’d be profitable on home video.

You also need to know were scared. Bob decided to counter-program the holiday season with Scream. No one released horror movies between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was either big tent-pole/event movies or family films. Bob was taking a big risk with a teen horror movie and we'd either hit a home run or strikeout... and it looked like a strikeout.

The movie opened to $6 million for the weekend and we thought we were dead. That Monday was not a happy day.

A movie usually drops by 50% each week. So with $6 million week one, you’d expect $3 million week two, $1.5 week three, if it is still in the theater, which would mean we would crawl to $10 million.

But in week two there was no drop. It was still about $6 million. Week three, about $6 million. We were not dropping. People were talking about the movie. People were going back to see it again and again. It was in theaters for months, not weeks!

It was still in theaters when it came out on rental home video. People could rent the movie, but they were still going to see it in theaters!

Then it came out for sell-through. Now they could either see it in a theater, rent it, or buy it and all of those were happening! Nothing seemed to make a difference. The movie didn’t drop.

I think after week two we knew it was going to make money. After week three we knew it was breaking through beyond the genre into something bigger than anyone ever expected.
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview, Richard. I do have one last question I wanted to ask. People have been debating whether or not Stu survived the end of Scream. Did Stu live?

No. Stu is definitely dead. There was never any discussion of Stu surviving. It seems pretty clear when you think about it. He's already bleeding to death when an old-school TV falls on his head, electrocuting him and cracking his skull. The whole sequence of events was supposed to not be survivable... Besides, Wes and Kevin would never leave a giant story hole like that.
Don't you think that if Stu was alive Dewey or Randy would have mentioned that when they were going through possible suspects in Scream 2? Wouldn't Sidney or Gale or the Police have asked to check on Stu's whereabouts when a Ghostface killer is stalking Sidney? Wouldn't the characters wonder whether or not Stu was still locked up in every sequel if he was alive? It just doesn't make sense that Stu would be alive and no one ever mentions it. He'd be the first person you'd have to suspect and then eliminate in every movie.

Hopefully, these arguments will now be as dead as Stu is. Because he is.

Behind the scenes of Scream 2.

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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