Writers Guy Busick and James Vanderbilt on toxic fandom, Wes Craven and elevated horror.

By Drew Grant · @videodrew · February 3, 2022, 7:00 PM EST
It's an honor.

Editor's note: Spoilers in abundance! Take heed, all ye who enter here. You have been warned.

"What's your favorite scary movie?" For audiences everywhere, the answer right now is Scream, a 'Requel' to Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson's blockbuster 1996 meta-slasher that defined horror for a whole generation of teens (myself included.)

Success for a new entry in the franchise was far from a sure thing: it's been over a decade since Scream 4, which was already seeing the lowest box-office returns of any installment. For many Gen Z'ers, this would be their first introduction to Sidney Prescott, Gale Weathers and Dewey Riley, the three legacy characters played by Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette. Instead of naming it Scream 5 (or 5cream) —which ran the risk of alienating new audiences who didn't want the homework of watching four previous installments — the studio went back to basics. Taking a cue from the success of 2018's Halloween, the latest addition into the franchise is simply titled Scream.

Recognition wasn't the only factor in the uphill battle facing the film: The Omicron variant was keeping audiences from venturing to the theater at all, and new distributor Paramount didn't offer an option for fans at home by releasing it simultaneously on its streaming platform Paramount+, the way Warner Bros.had done with its theatrical releases on HBOMax. But for fans of the franchise, perhaps the biggest hurdle was accepting the new blood behind the camera. There are few other movie franchises associated as heavily with its original writer and director duo as Scream, and this would be the first installment not helmed by legendary filmmaker Wes Craven, (who passed away in 2015), and only the second for which Kevin Williamson did not receive a script credit. Instead, Ready or Not directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillette took over, with co-writers Guy Busick (Ready or Not) and James Vanderbilt (The Amazing Spider-Man, Zodiac) behind the scenes. In short, Scream was to be an entirely new beast that had to pass for a much older one.


It could have been a bloodbath. Instead, Scream (2022) was an overnight hit, becoming the first film to knock Spider-Man: No Way Home from its #1 spot at the box office. FANGORIA chatted with the movie's writers Busick and Vanderbilt about Ghostface, working with a pair of directors who call themselves Radio Silence, and a legacy that just won't die. And for whoever needs to hear this: yes, there will be spoilers. You've been warned.

Scream is such a totemic movie to so many people. Before finding out you'd be writing the fifth installment, what was your experience with the franchise?

Guy Busik: I saw Scream opening night in Lincoln, Nebraska, during a winter break from college. On the way back to the car, I remember my friend Mark and I just quoting all our favorite Billy and Stu lines. Scream did something to me, fundamentally altered how I saw film. I hadn't been a horror movie fan before this. I'd seen other horror movies, but this was the one that really got its hooks into me. I think it's because the screenplay was so smart and knowing, the characters seemed like real people, they weren't just machete fodder for the bad guy. They had personalities I could relate to. I cared about what happened to them. But most of all, it was fun, and it was funny. It was like, 'Oh, you mean horror movies can do that?'


And then there's what Wes did with that screenplay…he created a movie that was commenting on and dissecting scary movies while also being terrifying and effective. It was just a mind-expanding moment and had a huge effect on my career. I always say you can draw a direct line between Scream and Ready Or Not, you can see its influence there. We wanted to give people a fun ride, to show that scary movies don't just have to be one thing.


When you guys started brainstorming this iteration's meta-commentary, what were some of the bullet points you knew you wanted to focus on?

James Vanderbilt: It was actually really fun the way we went about it. We decided to watch all the movies together over the course of two nights. We both took notes and very purposefully didn't talk over our ideas; we wanted to just have stuff occur to us. When we sat down to compare them, about 90% of the stuff that Guy wanted to have in the movie, I had written down as well. It was a weird, shared brain experience.


We both knew that we wanted the movie to take place in Woodsboro. We both knew that we wanted the younger characters to have a lot of screen time in the beginning of the movie, so you could get to know them before the legacy characters enter. We both knew we wanted the Sam character to be very different from Sidney, not just be Sidney 2.0. All these things where we were just eerily sympatico. Once we came to the idea of commenting on requels and fandom, that was the piece that felt very 2022.

GB: That was our 'Why now?' We didn't want to make the movie just to make a movie, there has to be a reason for it to exist in this franchise which we both love so much. We were both excited and relieved to stumble onto the Requel and toxic fandom elements as the 'Why now?' It was like, 'Okay, yes, this movie just earned its place in the canon.'


Did you have any trepidation about taking on a movie that's so famously tied to a singular voice vision? Like, 'No matter what we do, people are going to hate it because it's not Wes and Kevin?'

James Vanderbilt: I maybe wasn't scared enough! The idea that we would get to do it—while working really hard not to fuck it up— was the most exciting thing I could have possibly imagined.


Stepping into Kevin's shoes...well, we cheated a bit. The first thing I did after learning I got the green light from Gary Barber at Spyglass to write the film was call Guy because he's such a huge fan. The second thing was to call Kevin [Williamson].

Kevin gave us the confidence to take these swings. He said at one point, 'This is the one thing that doesn't really feel like a Scream movie, and this is absolutely why you have to do it.'

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Were you worried that your portrayal of toxic fandom was going to get any sort of negative reaction from the fans?


JV: Nope!

GB: Nope!

JV: The thing is, we're Scream fans, so are the Radio Silence guys. Toxic fandom is toxic fandom. I've engaged with fans for years, having worked on [The Amazing] Spider-Man, and 99% of the interactions are wonderful and lovely. There's that 1% who's not. They exist. We trust that real fans of the franchise understand that this isn't about them, but we got very excited to play with this element, because it felt like something you couldn't say in the other movies. It didn't feel like a 2011 idea. It felt like a 2022 idea.



Our new heroine, Sam Carpenter [Melissa Berrera] is definitely NOT Sidney Prescott, though they both have some parental trauma in common. Sidney's mom might have gotten around, but Sam's father was serial killer Billy Loomis, Sidney's boyfriend from the first film, whom Sam frequently hallucinates and argues with. When she goes into berserker mode at the end of the movie, it's scary; her line 'Don't f*ck with the daughter of a serial killer' may be my new favorite rule in Scream. How early in the process did you conceive of that twist?


GB: James and I both came up with this idea independently....

JV: ....we both wrote it down on our pads!

GB: …and at the same time! The question was always 'How do we create a character who is NOT Sidney?' Like you said, there's some overlap because Sidney had issues with her parents, but Sam's is [laughing] a little further than that. To retcon that Billy had this child, that he'd had an affair when he was with Sidney, was really exciting. The idea that we could see Skeet [Ulrich] again was a huge swing. A lot of people thought it wasn't going to work.


That's the part Kevin said was the 'most un-Scream-like,' but demanded we keep it in. It gave us the confidence to make not only a big swing but a good one. Skeet and Matthew [Lillard's] performances are so much of why I love the first movie. They are as big a part of the franchise as the Big Three. So being able to go full circle and revisit at least one of those performances was really special.

Let's talk 'Requel' rules: legacy characters are brought back but can also be killed since their function is to introduce audiences to a new cast. It's not quite a reboot, not quite a sequel. One character mentions Jurassic Park and Star Wars as examples of the form, which aren't horror movies. Was the intention to have this Scream comment on a larger conversation we're having about fandom that's maybe not exclusive to genre?


JV: I think one of the things that has changed is that horror is mainstream now in a way that it wasn't before. When the original Scream came out, it was very profitable, but starring in Friday the 13th: Part 7 wasn't supposed to be a very cool thing. Now,starring in a horror movie is this enormous thing. So part of it is how horror has become as big as say, Star Wars, and Ghostbusters, which we're name-checking right alongside Halloween (2018) and Saw. Those are all very large franchises, so there's that aspect as well.

Scream has always been in conversation, not just horror but pop culture in general: wherever it is at that period of time. It was really important we continue that tradition of a wider dialogue.


Scream is infamous for the cold open, and you really upend that formula here. We are introduced to Sam's sister Tara, played by Jenna Ortega, who gets the Ghostface call asking for her favorite scary movie. Convention dictates that she needs to be killed after answering some horror movie trivia. Instead, Tara survives, but not before lecturing Ghostface on The Babadook and the concept of elevated horror. It's a topic which characters keep coming back to, name-checking Jordan Peele along with It Follows and a few A24 films. Would you consider Scream elevated horror?


GB: I don't know about that. First of all, we love all those films, so we would never take a swipe at them. But 'elevated horror' is a term we've always found a little funny, and it seems to be a divisive one among fans and critics who want to separate so-called 'art' horror movies from the rest of the pack. To us, it all falls under the same umbrella. Obviously, some horror films have different ambitions than others, or have something more on their mind to say. But it's always been funny that you'd divide horror into these two camps: 'This is elevated, this is not.'

We certainly didn't intend to make an elevated horror movie, because we don't even know what that means. But we are saying something in the movie, there is an ethos behind it. We wanted to tackle the relationship between studios and franchises and the fans, as exemplified by the killers and their motives. So if having a talking point makes something elevated, then sure. But it's certainly not a label we'd give ourselves or anyone else.


JV: I think we are, as one of our characters puts it, a 'Meta-slasher Who Done It.'

GB: That's it.

There's an implication that 'elevated horror' involves a level of deeper analysis, not just for the audience but the way a film examines its ur-text. Instead of saying 'Here are the rules for surviving a horror movie,' the new Scream asks what it even means to BE a horror movie.


JV: Yes, and that's very intentional.

GB: All of the Scream movies in our mind have done that; they've all commented on the state of horror movies at the time. So we knew that was part of the DNA of the franchise, and we were really excited to embrace it in this one.


The buzz about the film has been almost uniformly positive, with a lot of reviews mentioning how this film manages to 'honor the legacy' of Scream, for exactly the reasons you're saying. But no one is talking about the huge differences: like the victim in the cold open lives, but one of our Legacy characters doesn't. Gale and Sidney don't even make an appearance until the second act, and at no point do all three share a scene together. How early on was the decision made to break from tradition in a franchise that's so dependent on the logic of its rules?

JV: Well, first of all, thank you for noticing that, because as much as we love the third act in Stu's house, we were just as excited to take it apart. Like the fact that 25 years ago, the Drew Barrymore opening sequence blew people's minds because she died. We're now at a point where of course the opening character is going to die, so how do we subvert that? Well, what if she lives? What if she goes on to become a main character in the movie? We were excited to take these big swings. In subverting some of the things Scream has done, we were trying to match what Wes and Kevin did originally, when they were subverting other horror movies. Our goal was to stay ahead of the audience, surprise and excite them, while still honoring the spirit in which they were made.



I read last week that you've gone on record to say that Billy Loomis is NOT a ghost, and that he's a projection of Sam's psyche. Which is a very funny thing to have to come out and literally say. But just for the doubters, was there EVER a pass where the ghost of the killer from the first film was roaming around, or are we saving that for the STAB movies?


JV: (laughs) Yeah, there was no pass where there was ever something supernatural. I can be very clear on this: there was never a supernatural element. Billy is Sam's brain messing with her; it's that voice in the back of your head telling you to do the wrong thing or the bad thing. I think it's something we all have, whether it's from your childhood or past or whatever. The chance to dramatize that with such an iconic actor in such an iconic was like 'Oh wow, this could be great. It could also be a trainwreck, but it could be great.'

So in the world of Scream, the fictional movie franchise about the events in Woodsboro, Stab, has gone totally off the tracks. We learn that a previous installment involved time travel, and that the latest, Stab 8, was hated by the fans and directed by Rian Johnson, director of The Last Jedi, a magnet for toxic fandom outcry. So pitch me on Rian's next Stab movie.


JV: Do you think Rian stays with the Stab franchise? He doesn't go off and make Knives Out 2?

GB: My imagination Rian was one and done. He came in, blew everything up, and made an elevated horror movie with social commentary. He made a really divisive movie, then he dropped the mic and said, 'I'm out!' Some of the fans got it, and some—the Richies of the world—


JV: And Amber! Let's not participate in Amber erasure!

GB: No, of course, and Amber. That's what she and Richie got together on the subreddit about, because they felt this ownership of the franchise, like this movie pissed on their childhood. You know, all the lovely things people say about these movies.


JV: Honestly? I think Rian is doing just fine and in Greece writing Knives Out he should be.

If you can't get enough Scream, a sequel was just officially announced, we've got gobs of Ghostface goodies in our latest issue #14 and some spoilery behind-the-scenes human easter egg tidbits for you.