One of the most iconic horror franchises in recent history, Scream rang into movie theaters during the Christmas corridor in 1996 and revived the slasher picture for a new generation of moviegoers. The film brought a playful, new energy into what had become a tired, straight-to-video horror subgenre. Infused with Gen-X ironic detachment, the original Scream poked fun at the conventions and gratuitous excess that had until then defined slasher movies: It was a self-reflexive whodunit drenched in blood and guts. Scream (1996), with its young cast, ushered in a new wave of slasher movies for mainstream audiences—horror movies for the MTV generation—and was a catalyst for the genre’s late-1990s revival in movie theaters.
The men behind the filmmaking team known as Radio Silence—Matthew Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, and Chad Villella—are members of that generation. Together, the trio has produced some of the most memorable horror movies in recent years, including Devil’s Due (2014) and Ready or Not (2019). Tasked with reviving the franchise 25 years after the release of the original—the first time a Scream movie has been entrusted to someone other than horror legend Wes Craven—the filmmakers remain tight lipped ahead of the film’s January release. In this interview with Boxoffice Pro, the directors, while not providing many details (or spoilers), talked about their connection to the franchise and their fan-driven approach to tackling the fifth entry in the Scream saga, which shares a title with the original.
Listen to the full audio interview on The Boxoffice Podcast
Where are the main characters—Sidney (Neve Campbell), Dewey (David Arquette), and Gale (Courteney Cox)—since we last saw them in Scream 4 (2011)?
Tyler Gillett: Part of the challenge of talking about the movie right now is being able to give satisfying answers to questions without spoiling anything. What I can say is that what we were really excited about and really loved about the script, as fans and filmmakers who were taking it on, was to tell the story of where we find these legacy characters 10 years after the last movie. Guy Busick and Jamie Vanderbilt, the writers, did such a beautiful job of answering that question and grounding the movie in how those three individuals have dealt with the trauma they experienced over four movies, now that they’re being pulled back into the mix. That was such an exciting part of what the read was for us, wanting to know what happened to Sidney, Gale, and Dewey. We think audiences are going to be absolutely thrilled with how we present that story and answer those questions.
As a filmmaking team, how did this project land on your desks?
Chad Villella: We did Ready or Not with the Project X team: William Sherak, James Vanderbilt, and Paul Neinstein. We had an incredible experience with them and were very proud of that movie, doing it for what we could budget-wise and seeing the results it had in the bigger world. We went in for a general meeting, at least we thought it was a general meeting, with Gary Barber, the head of Spyglass Entertainment. They called to give us a pep talk beforehand: “Guys just go in and be normal, don’t do anything silly. Just go in and talk to Gary.” And we’re like, “Why did they just call to give us a pep talk before a general meeting, our first time meeting this guy?” In the meeting, Gary let it slip that they have the rights to Scream, and that Jamie Vanderbilt and Guy Busick would be writing it. When we got out of the meeting, we were thrilled that two of our friends were writing Scream, because we’re lifelong fans of Scream. It’s a movie that is near and dear to our hearts in terms of [our] coming up in the horror space. It wasn’t until a little bit after, when we were getting to our cars, where we were like, “Wait a second, what was going on there? What were they doing?” About an hour later they called us and asked if we’d like to be a part of this. It was a very quick, without question, “Yes.” It is one of our favorite franchises of all time, and we couldn’t be happier to be a part of it, making it with people that we really get along with and who we know share the same sensibilities we do.
The opportunity is also daunting. You’re inheriting a franchise from one of the masters in the genre, Wes Craven, who died in 2015. How much pressure did that bring as you came in with a new approach to this series?
Matthew Bettinelli-Olpin: The most important thing to us, throughout this process, was to be conscious of how to honor what Wes Craven created. How do we expand on that? How do we learn and use the tools that we’ve picked up from him over the years to make this next chapter of Scream something he would have been proud of? We wanted to make sure [his vision] was in the DNA of this movie, and Guy and Jamie did an incredible job in the script of making sure that was true on a foundational level. We were really conscious the whole time of how Wes would do things: What would Wes do? That was something we talked about all the time. We immersed ourselves in interviews and books to get every little tidbit of information we could about him. We embraced it. We talked to all the legacy cast, we talked to Patrick Lussier, his editor on the [first three] Scream movies, his wife, everybody we could talk to. And [screenwriter] Kevin Williamson, of course, had so much information from Wes to share with us. Hopefully all of that is in the movie, because in a lot of ways, the movie is a love letter to Wes that also pushes the franchise forward. We also wanted to make sure we didn’t get stuck in nostalgia, because that’s not something we think would do the franchise justice.
That’s such an important balance to strike. What did you learn to emulate and what did you learn to avoid from the sequels?
Tyler Gillett: One of the things that we had the advantage of, having been fans of the original four movies, was this sense of muscle memory of what it feels like to be [watching] Scream. It’s so specific in the way these movies are, how they mix tone and genre; the alchemy of a Scream movie is such a singular thing. For us, what we learned and what those movies taught us was to follow that feeling. This goes back to our first read of the script—did it feel like it was of the same cloth? We carried that with us throughout the process as well. At every stage of production we asked ourselves, does this feel like a Scream movie? Is this a choice that a Scream movie would make? You dig into the specificity of that. One of the things that we strived for, and it’s what we love so much about the franchise, is how it always plays with and subverts expectations. The second that you think the movie is going to go right, it goes left. We just love that. So much of the experience is being on this wild ride and thinking you know what’s going to happen, but also knowing the movie is probably a few steps ahead of you the whole time.
Matthew Bettinelli-Olpin: The first one, for the three of us, is one of the greatest movies of all time. Full stop, period. Not as a horror movie, no disclaimers—just as a movie. One of the things that we learned is that the subsequent ones all live in that same world and that the fans of Scream really care about all of those [details]. Some franchises have [sequels] that everybody just writes off, and they don’t count anymore. With Scream there is a long legacy. A large part of that is because Wes Craven directed all four of them and Kevin [Williamson] wrote three of them. We wanted to make sure that we never let go of that. Good, bad, or whatever anybody’s point of view is on the previous four, we wanted to make sure that ours can stand with those in terms of what the ultimate story is.
When I think of Scream, I think of how it is so willing to play with the formulas of the genre. How it’s very playfully self-reflexive. The series is a commentary on where horror is when those individual movies come out. The most recent installment, Scream 4, addressed a lot of that found-footage horror film that we were seeing during its time. What does your Scream have to say about where horror is today?
Tyler Gillett: That question is a bit slippery for us to answer, unfortunately. What we can say is that we were excited to see how [the writers] tackled that. How it’s self-reflexive, how it’s providing some form of commentary about pop culture and the genre and where we’re at in a very specific moment in time. All of that is there, but it’s not so mired in it that it forgets to be a thrilling horror movie. For us, it was essential you didn’t find yourself being reminded the whole time that you’re watching a Scream movie. The short answer is that we’re really excited to be able to have these conversations after the movie has come out. There’s a whole lot to unpack in what the movie is providing commentary on.
It’s great that this movie is going to be playing in movie theaters, where the audience can experience it in a communal atmosphere. I get that home video plays a role in the horror genre, but when you think of The Exorcist, the original Scream, Halloween—these were cultural events at the movie theater. What does it mean for you guys to have this film in theaters?
Chad Villella: It’s surreal that this movie is coming out within days of the 25th anniversary of the original. The fact that we were able to work with our partners at Spyglass and Paramount to do a theater-only release, given the state of the world in the last 19 months, we were just in awe. We can’t wait to see it in a packed theater. That’s the best way these movies are watched. Scream will benefit greatly from being in an environment where people are having this shared experience. You’re going to get the oohs and aahs, the laughs, the jump scares with people tossing popcorn because they jumped out of their seats a little bit. That’s the way we approached it and the way we approach all our projects: We want to be in the theater. We want to have that communal experience. The best fans in the world in a theater are horror fans because they are so vocal, energized, and passionate about their movies. We’re three of them. On opening weekend, we’re gonna go from theater to theater and experience not just the movie we made but experience Scream with a larger group. It’s honestly a dream come true.
Tyler Gillett: There is something profound about the experience of having a shared catharsis. People have been experiencing isolation and loneliness in some form, collectively, over the last couple of years. That’s why you’re seeing people showing up to movies like Halloween Kills, like Candyman. There’s a real desire and hunger to not only be back out in the world, but to share these emotional experiences. It’s something that we’ve all missed so dearly. To get to be a part of that reopening and revival is emotional, honestly. The movie theater has shaped all of us in such profound ways over the course of our lives; to get to have this movie open during this time is truly profound.
Matthew Bettinelli-Olpin: Movie theaters are the last place left where we can disconnect and have an experience. I don’t know where else I can go and not see people on their phones—maybe roller coasters? There’s just something so special about being able to dip into the subconscious and have that uninterrupted experience. I’ll just speak for myself, but I try so hard to not look at my phone when I’m watching a movie at home. It’s almost inevitable that at some point I’ll pick it up and do something dumb on it.
Tyler Gillett: We’ve all been back to the theater recently, and one of the things we’ve all talked about since that first experience back was how we had to relearn how to put the phone away and just be focused on one thing. It was weird. It felt strange and was difficult at first, but once you’re in that experience, the muscle memory of being in the theater takes over. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I was having the experience again.
Do you remember the first time you watched Scream in a movie theater?
Matthew Bettinelli-Olpin: I saw it in Oakland, California, at the Grand Lake Theater, which is my favorite theater in the entire world. It’s the theater that I grew up going to, so I saw every movie I love for the first 20 years of my life there. Scream was one of them. It’s a wonderful, old-school theater. They play the Wurlitzer before [the show]; it’s like a movie experience from another era. I saw it a couple weeks after it came out. I got back from school, or from the holidays, and you know, everybody was talking about it.
Tyler Gillett: I was too young and too much of a chicken to see it in person in the theater. I was at a slumber party; someone’s older sibling probably rented it. I remember being absolutely terrified. My experience with the movie is inextricably linked to this social experience of seeing it with a group of people. My first theatrical experience with Scream was with the second one. It was the same group of friends; we were scared shitless the first time and were all ready to show up and have the exact same experience in the theater for the second one.
Chad Villella: The first time I saw it was in Erie, Pennsylvania, as a freshman in college. Right after we watched it, we wanted to go see it again. I think we went two days later to see it again in that theater. Hearing the audience’s reactions after the opening scene is something I’ll never forget.