Read Part One of Andrew’s Scream Chronicles here.
Most filmmaking is a seat of the pants endeavour fraught with pitfalls and last second changes. Nothing goes according to plan, but more often that not on major Hollywood productions things tend to go more swimmingly. That is, of course, provided that they aren’t making a sequel to one of the previous year’s biggest success stories. That situation gets stickier if said film had a twist ending that threw most viewers for a loop and reignited an entire genre. It gets even tougher when the film you are making a sequel to is still in theatres and not showing any signs of slowing down at the box office when cameras are set to start rolling. Oh, and it has to be done by December of that year to cash in on the same season that made the first film so much money, meaning the sequel is coming out just a shade under a year after the original. These are the circumstances under which Scream 2 was made, and all things considered, it stands as a testament to director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson that the film managed to be almost equally as good as the original and actually far more interesting on an academic level.
Following the slowly growing success of the original Scream, Craven and his long time producing partner Marianne Maddalena signed a three picture deal with Miramax in March of 1997. The deal was to include Scream 2, a non-genre film titled 50 Violins (with Madonna tapped to star), and third unnamed film (that would almost obviously end up being Scream 3).
Williamson was brought into the fold far quicker than Craven, thanks to the outline of Scream 2 already being included with the original’s script. Arguably, he had a harder job than the director on this outing because where the original film was one of the first in the horror genre to fully exploit the dangers and pitfalls of the cellular age, Scream 2’s production would be beset on all sides by a series of internet leaks and misinformation almost from the outset. Even before casting and pre-production were finished, Williamson’s entire 30 page outline for the film had leaked onto the internet. While changes had already been made to the leaked treatment, Bob and Harvey Weinstein demanded that even further precautions be put in place from such things ever happening again in the future and that the current draft be rewritten.
Casting for the second outing was fairly easy despite not having anyone other than star Neve Campbell under contract for a follow-up. David Arquette (who played a character that was originally supposed to die in the first film), Courtney Cox, Liev Schreiber (who only had a cameo in the original as Cotton Weary, the alleged killer of Sidney Prescott’s mother) and Jamie Kennedy were all set to return, but due to the success of the original film, casting director Lisa Beach was beset by requests from big name actors interested in joining the project.
While new additions Jerry O’Connell (as Sidney’s new frat boy boyfriend), Timothy Olyphant (as obsessive cinema studies major Mickey), Duane Martin (as Gale Weather’s new cameraman), Elise Neal (as Sidney’s new best friend), and Laurie Metcalf (as the creepy Gale Weather worshiping reporter Debbie Salt) were all cast through normal channels and auditions, agents representing damn near half of young Hollywood would be banging down the doors to get their clients even the most minor of roles in the sequel to Scream.
Jada Pinkett-Smith and Omar Epps lobbied heavily to appear in the film’s now famous opening sequence. Rebecca Gayheart and Portia de Rossi, both of whom were considered for roles in the original, were able to snag roles as a pair of sorority sisters trying to court Sidney to their organization. Joshua Jackson, who was currently working on Dawson’s Creek with Williamson, and Sarah Michelle Gellar, who had just finished work on the Williamson scripted I Know What You Did Last Summer, used their connections to procure roles smaller than their growing star power would suggest they get. It seemed like everyone was happy to be a part of the burgeoning franchise no matter the pay, and while Dimension Films and Craven were happy to have them on board, it would lead to more than a few headaches once cameras began to roll due to scheduling constraints.
While it was generally seen by the public at large that Craven would be able to handle the stresses of bringing a bigger budget sequel to the screen in a small amount of time, doubts were being cast upon Williamson’s ability to keep it all together under a growing workload brought on by his recent successes. Not only had Williamson just finished work on I Know What You Did Last Summer, but he was also elbow deep in the writing of another Dimension production, The Faculty (set to roll later in the year with another all star cast of young talent and Desperado director Robert Rodriguez behind the camera), and was beginning pre-production on his long gestating Killing Mrs. Tingle, which had yet to firmly hire Williamson for his directorial debut or change its title. On top of all this was his commitment to the WB network’s Dawson’s Creek. With Scream 2 always seeming to be a priority, many wondered if the wit and scares of the original could hope to be matched.
The plot of the sequel moves the meta-humour of the original to a different location and introduces the “film within a film” motif that the following sequels would stringently adhere to, leading to a film that is tonally closer to Craven’s Elm Street send up Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Sidney has moved on to campus life at Windsor College, studying acting much like her deceased mother did. Strengthened by the events of the first film, Sidney weathers constant harassment from jokesters intent on scaring her again following the success of the slasher movie Stab. Loosely based on Gale Weather’s “tell all” book, the fictional version of Sidney’s life provides ample basis for a new killer to begin replicating the events of the first film on a grander scale. The murder of a pair of young lovers at the premiere of Stab provides the impetus for Gale and Dewey to eventually join Sidney and Randy at Windsor.
After the leak of the original outline for the story, changes often had to be made on the fly, with the film’s twist ending kept famously under wraps. All the security in the world, however, couldn’t stop what was about to happen once filming began. Keeping the ending a closely guarded secret meant the film had to be shot largely in sequence with the opening set piece involving Smith and Epps fateful trip to the movies coming towards the beginning of the shooting schedule. The scene, which is constructed to mirror the opening scene of the original film by setting up characters to only have them killed off moments later, required a movie theatre full of extras to chant and cheer the movie within the movie. Only hours after shooting Smith’s climactic death scene had been shot, the footage had been leaked to the internet by an extra who had smuggled a camera into the theatre. Despite streaming video still be in its infancy at the time, the bootlegged raw footage was downloaded thousands of times over.
Following this transgression, no Scream film would ever again have scenes requiring large crowds of extras. Portions of the film that required Sidney’s character to act on stage in front of an audience were quickly axed and a pivotal cafeteria scene where Sidney’s boyfriend professes his love to her (which was also the scene Jerry O’Connell was forced to read for his audition) was almost in danger of being cut. While the film still has several scenes that take place in open air spaces and at parties, the shoot turned mostly to crew members, interns, and Dimension films employees wherever possible.
All scripts from that point on were confiscated and shredded. They were reprinted on a special kind of paper originally designed by the tobacco industry to prevent pages from being photocopied or photographed. Even these copies had to be shredded immediately after scenes were filmed. Security tensions regarding the project were at such an all time high that when a reporter for Fangoria jokingly asked where the paper shredder was located during a well guarded press day on set, he was almost asked to leave out of suspicion that he would try to glue the already shot pages of the script back together again for an exclusive scoop.
If security was a main concern from a marketing aspect, scheduling was just as big of a concern from a filmmaking standpoint. With a script containing close to 40 speaking roles that has even minor characters played by familiar faces, the already tightly packed shooting schedule was constantly in danger of spiralling out of control. The biggest concessions had to be granted to Sarah Michelle Gellar, then busy at work on two other films in addition to the upcoming Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series.
Gellar’s sequence (shot to echo the opening sequence of Bob Clark’s seminal slasher Black Christmas) had to be shot away from the rest of the project at a sorority house in Pasadena, California (whereas most of the college sequences were filmed just outside Atlanta, Georgia) to account not only for the scene’s numerous steadicam shots, but also to put the least amount of stress on Gellar’s already packed schedule. Moving the shoot to Pasadena required “heaven and Earth to be moved” according to Craven, and while the scene feels oddly out of place from the rest of the film, it does add a bit more star power to a film all about making things bigger and badder than the original.
With the production moving from Atlanta to several sets at UCLA (that actually weren’t big enough to accommodate the proper shoot), post-production happened concurrently with filming. Craven, anticipating another battle with the MPAA on the sequel, shot sequences to be gorier than he even necessarily wanted them to be in a bid to make the scenes he wanted included pass on to the final cut. Shockingly, the MPAA let Craven and Patrick Lussier’s cut pass with no changes for an R-rating, citing the opening sequence as appropriately setting up the tone for the carnage to follow in the film. A few cuts were made after the film passed the censors to some of the gore in two sequences (one involving the death of a major character and another involving a car crash) simply because Craven never wanted them in the first place
The film was picture locked in late October 1997 for release approximately one month later, and that was surprisingly ahead of schedule. The buzz on the film was positively thunderous, solidifying the idea that the Scream franchise had resurrected the horror genre permanently. Full page ads were bought in every major film market to herald the film’s release. An eclectic soundtrack album designed to appeal to rockers (Foo Fighters, Everclear), indie blues lovers (Nick Cave, John Spencer), Juggalos (Kottonmouth Kings), hip-hop heads (Master P, who along with Silkk the Shocker delivers one of the most hilariously awful movie tie-in tracks ever created), frat boys (Dave Matthews Band), R&B slow jammers (D’Angelo, covering Prince), and others (Collective Soul) was integrated into the film and proved to be a successful standalone product. TV ad time was bought up for almost every NBC prime time show to exploit Cox’s high profile on one of the network’s top rated shows. It seemed a foregone conclusion that Scream 2 was going to be a blockbuster with the only question being how high the ceiling was.
The $24 million dollar production (ten million more than the budget of the original film) opened on December 12th to predominantly positive reviews from critics and one of the highest ever opening weekends for an R-Rated film, netting $32 million in its opening weekend. Released only shortly before a crowded holiday season that would include Titanic, Tomorrow Never Dies, Good Will Hunting, and As Good as it Gets, Scream 2 didn’t really have the legs to sustain itself as long as the original film, but it still ended up crossing the $100 million mark at the box office thanks to a late April re-release akin to the one used to milk some more money out of the original film.
Scream 2 is very much a “sequel’s sequel.” Where the first film was keen to play around with the conventions of and entire genre, Williamson and Craven created a film that acts as a logical extension of the first film while delivering more of what is expected of them after a successful first outing. The gore and body count increases in this entry, but so too does the technical mastery on the part of Craven and Williamson who remain sharper than ever despite the troubles of crafting a project on the fly.
While the overall story of Williamson’s sequel is admittedly so-so, where the writer succeeds is creating a sandbox-like world for Craven and the cast to play within. The pieces of the story don’t fit together as nicely as they do in the original and the characters are admittedly a bit more two dimensional this time out (including the returning cast members), but the characters themselves fit together quite nicely. Williamson and Craven create an almost absurdly dreamlike experience where random characters, which may or may not be important at all, float in and out of people’s lives. As such, the ending of the film is almost arbitrary. Williamson does a great job of keeping the killers in plain sight, but buried under a wealth of exposition, misdirection, and misinformation; in short, exactly what the audience expects after the conclusion of the first film.
Craven does some interesting things on a visual and thematic level to play games similar to the ones Williamson is foisting upon the audience through the use of these characters. Two of the most interesting visual touches come in from of deep focus camerawork and the costume department.
In a film with so many characters to keep track of, Craven repeatedly goes back to using deep focus shots not only for the depth of the frame, but also because the audience is intently scanning the frame for clues. A key scene where Randy receives a call while talking to Dewey and Gale is technically masterful with almost every shot including someone in the background on a phone or running somewhere to make the audience just as confused as the character. These background players can barely be seen, and the famed Ghostface outfit is almost immaterial. No one would be able to spot the killer even if they were wearing the mask, but the principal characters know that the killer is watching every move the make despite being in broad daylight with few precious places to hide.
The costuming of the film, much like on many genre films, is something that often goes unaddressed, but is something that fans of the series might find interesting. Craven, who previously clothed Freddy Krueger in particular shades of red and green that would be harsh on the eyes, read once that people wearing certain shades of light, almost denim like blue are seen as suspicious, while people who wear shades of tan are often seen as more studious and trustworthy. To this end, in Scream 2 whenever Craven wants to cast suspicion on a particular character, they are purposefully wearing or carrying something with that particular shade of blue, and when he wants the audience to know that a character is inherently good, they wear shades of brown. There are a couple of exceptions, notably Randy (who often wears blue and tan at the same time), Gale (who is almost exclusively clothed in black to signify her almost as a bringer of death), and Cotton Weary (who always wears the blue jeans, but is often seen wearing shades of white and grey for shorts before the climax). It’s a subtle, but effective technique.
Craven also gets more of a chance to get literary with his material with a sequence he largely wrote himself involving Sidney rehearsing for a stage version of Troy where she will be playing Cassandra. Famous in Greek mythology, Cassandra was endowed with the power of prophecy. She would later be deemed mad for foreseeing the fall of Troy (specifically the famed Trojan Horse, the death of Agamemnon, and her own death).
Sidney is almost a mirror image of the character in this film, conforming to the more Jungian idea of a Cassandra complex espoused by scholars starting in the late 1980s regarding a woman who is seen as being irrational simply because she is a woman. Her concerns are certainly valid, but she is surrounded by males (known appropriately as Apollo archetypes) that cause a distance and disconnect to the world around her. By the end of the film, which so gloriously takes place on the same rehearsal stage she was on before (set to a piece designed specifically by Danny Elfman instead of regular series composer Marco Beltrami) two of the characters in the film will mentally violate her to the point where her gradual transformation into the character will become complete. It’s an often unheralded bid by Craven to make the audience and his critics realize the parallels between acting and reality that’s more effective than the fame seekers Williamson has stocked the film with.
Another character in the film will reshape the entire franchise at the end, by helping Craven to turn the next two films in the series into a play on Aeschylus’s House of Atreus cycle. The story at the end of this sequel would move forward, away from simple interpersonal issues to a tale on the limitations of revenge and how to fight evil from within without succumbing to the evil itself.
The final moments of the film are almost unnecessarily happy in tone, but it’s undeniably designed to be a crowd pleaser to keep audiences interested in a future instalment. It isn’t so much a set up for a third film as it is Craven and Williamson gently elbowing the audience as if to say “Wouldn’t it be great to spend another day with these guys?” It smacks oddly of a sense of good will that the original film tried to steer clear of, leading to the only part of the film that feels thematically false.
In the end, Scream 3 was all but assured to go ahead as planned, but not right away this time. Williamson was far too busy and Campbell (who fulfilled her contractual obligations to the series with this film) and Craven were largely disinterested in a third outing. Williamson would go on record as saying that he always had the idea that Scream would be a trilogy, but after two gruelling back to back shoots, no one was exactly in fighting shape to get back on board right away.
The series would take a two year break before reconvening on the third instalment. It was unknown if Campbell would return or if Williamson would even be able to produce a script. Also looming on the horizon unknown to Dimension and the production staff, was a tragedy that would reshape the dynamic of the franchise for better and worse.
The Complete Scream Collection is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Alliance Home Entertainment. It has proven an invaluable asset to the construction of this series.
We would also like to take this opportunity to formally congratulate the winners of the Dork Shelf Scream Box Set Giveaway.
Our grand prize winner (receiving a Complete Scream Series Box set with mask and free six month subscription to Rue Morgue online) goes to Kelsey Allan of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. Second prize winners are Marla Pollard of Mississauga, Ontario, Susan Bannister of North York, Ontario, and Ed Kanerva. Congrats the winners and thanks to all who participated, and stay tuned for more great giveaways from Dork Shelf in the weeks and months to come!