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Hot on the heels of a largely positive critical response (see our own Meagan Navarro’s glowing review here) and an opening weekend performance that has broken franchise records, Scream VI‘s cast and crew are no doubt riding a high right now. The “sequel to the requel” follows the surviving “Core Four” from 2022’s Scream—Sam (Melissa Barrera), Tara (Jenna Ortega), Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), and Chad (Mason Gooding)–as they leave behind the suburban backdrop of Woodsboro and venture to New York City to start anew.
Yet again helmed by Radio Silence’s Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, Scream VI also welcomes back franchise staple Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), Scream 4 fan-favorite Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere), the iconic voice of Ghostface (Roger L. Jackson), and a host of new potential Ghostface victims, including veteran actor Dermot Mulroney (Copycat), Liana Liberato (The Beach House), Jack Champion (Avatar: The Way of Water), Devyn Nekoda (Ginny & Georgia), and Josh Segarra (She-Hulk: Attorney at Law).
Like 2022’s Scream, the sequel is again produced by Project X Entertainment, Spyglass Media Group, and Radio Silence Productions, and distributed by Paramount Pictures. Following its premiere in Manhattan last week, I was fortunate to sit for a chat with two-thirds of the Project X Entertainment team, including Scream VI writer/producer James Vanderbilt (who co-wrote the two latest installments with Guy Busick) and producer William Sherak. Longtime franchise fans, Vanderbilt and Sherak were excited to give their perspectives on maintaining the franchise’s integrity, navigating the Scream fanbase, and favorite moments from the latest installment of the smash slasher series.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Note that while no major explicit spoilers are revealed, some general plot points and themes are discussed.
Readers who have not yet caught Scream VI should beware!
Though likely a little-known bit of trivia at this point, the founders of Project X proactively sought to take the franchise mantle from late director and horror icon Wes Craven once the franchise rights were ultimately acquired by Spyglass Media Group in 2019. Despite many fans’ beliefs that the franchise would not be able to continue without Craven after 2011’s Scream 4, all was in fact not lost. “We felt the same way after Scream 4, so we were right there with you,” Vanderbilt shares. Sherak adds, “When the opportunity presented itself in the right moment for us, it was one of those… kismet, planets aligned, we could go get it [moments]. It was equally as exciting.”
Despite Project X’s faith in the franchise, Vanderbilt admits that it took a bit of time before the studios fully understood what they still had on their hands. “One of the things that we, right from the jump, were saying to [the studio] was that… you don’t understand how much love there is out there for these movies,” he states. “We wanted to bring them back and we really wanted to do right by them, for the fans and for ourselves. And other people, sort of in looking at it were like, ‘Well… will people care if there’s another Scream movie?’ There was a lot of that going on. And we were very much like, ‘Oh no, you don’t understand!’ Then as we […] made five, and as we started to sort of release stuff–stills and trailers–different people and the studios saw the responses, and they were very excited. It’s not that they didn’t believe it, but it truly is ‘seeing is believing’ with this fandom, I think, in a really amazing way.”
Sherak spoke especially highly of the major role franchise creator, screenwriter, and producer Kevin Williamson (whom they refer to multiple times as their “north star”) has played in guiding the team in developing the fifth and sixth franchise entries over the last few years. “When Spyglass first allowed us to take the reins with them and develop [the new films], the first thing [we decided] was this only works if we bring Kevin back into the fold,” he states. “His brain is amazing, right? He’s really, really good at this. [laughs] We’ve been fortunate that, not only did we bring him back, but we built a relationship that’s past business… [he] is a friend. And I think that that is, to us, one of the biggest pieces of this, because he’s just so good at this and he really does know what he’s doing more than most. [… Vanderbilt] worked really hard at making sure on that first pitch that Kevin understood it, heard it, and blessed [it].”
Vanderbilt further admits that, even as a long-time writer, he still managed to get starstruck by Williamson’s reactions to the latest installment. “When we were in New York for the premiere on Monday, Kevin was sitting right behind my father and I. Kevin’s seen the movie a bunch of times and loves the movie, but I could hear him laughing at the movie. It was such an amazing, surreal moment for me as a writer to hear Kevin Williamson laughing at lines I had written in a Scream movie in real time! He’s the best.” Both Vanderbilt and Sherak were also vocal in their praise of Craven’s long-time producing partner Marianne Maddalena, who, like Williamson, served as a producer on 2022’s Scream and an executive producer on Scream VI. “[She] has been nothing but incredible. I mean, Marianne was the one who found the original Ghostface mask on the first one! So it’s just been a pleasure to work with both of them all throughout this process.”
At this point, it likely goes without saying that the Scream fanbase is quite the vocal community, especially online via platforms like Reddit and Twitter–for better and worse. This was clearly acknowledged via the meta plot turns in 2022’s requel, as Vanderbilt, Busick, and the Radio Silence team have also paid close attention to fan conversations around the franchise over the years. This didn’t change as the team began work on Scream VI. “From my perspective, and I think with Guy Busick, we’re aware of [fan conversations] and we absolutely find… I don’t want to always say inspiration in it, but we’re absolutely aware of it. But also, you know… storytelling, I think, so much is trying to give the audience what they need, not what they want. ‘Cause sometimes you want Dewey Riley to make it all the way through the movie, but… the story needs him not to. So I think it’s a balance in a lot of different ways, and what’s most important to us is telling the best version of the story that we think is a great one. That’s what we really tried to do on [Scream VI] as well. You know, if five is Woodsboro and feels very much like a classic Scream movie, how can six sort of subvert that and still be a Scream movie, but make some moves and do some things that you haven’t seen before, that you won’t expect.”
After a beat, Vanderbilt adds, “I think we’re coming at it from a place of love and, you know, all you can do as a filmmaker is tell the best version of the story that you can. […] My experience has always been that if you’re coming from a place of fear, if you’re coming from a place of not wanting to offend anyone or not wanting to piss anyone off, that’s not a good way to tell a story. You know? I think the best stories come out of, ‘Oh, this is a really cool idea and I want you to come and sit by the campfire with me and let me spin you this tale. And it’s gonna surprise you, and it’s gonna scare you, and there are gonna be moments in it that make you uncomfortable. And you may not like every single one. But I promise you, by the end of the tale, you’re gonna have had an amazing time.’ That’s how we sort of look at these movies and look at storytelling in general. And so, you know, being afraid of that is never a beneficial thing.” Speaking to navigating fan theories, gripes, and wishes for the continuing franchise, Vanderbilt found comfort in Williamson’s advice early on. “I’ll just go back to something that Kevin said to us at the beginning of five when we were first starting out. We were talking about what the story was, and Kevin sort of said, ‘Never forget that these are slasher movies. […] At the end of the day, that’s what they are, and people die in slasher movies–even if these [characters] have amazing fans. That’s what these are.’ And I’ve never forgotten that. Again… he’s the north star!”
Sherak adds: “I think on top of that, once you go to shoot it, you kind of embrace the fact that we decided the movie we’re gonna make. And then you keep your head down and you go make that movie. You don’t then lift your head up and go, ‘What are the fans saying while we’re doing it?’ You embrace the movie you all decided on and then you go make it because otherwise you end up with mish-mosh, right? And I think we’ve all done a really good job of that. […] The second you start taking opinions while you’re shooting… that’s a recipe for a bad outcome.” In addition to decidedly maintaining a sense of focus on the story at hand among the filmmaking team, Vanderbilt and Sherak both expressed a sense of comfort in the process knowing that many of the actors involved in both recent installments are also major franchise fans, including Gooding, Champion, and Dylan Minnette (2022’s Scream). “The fans exist in so many places, and are also multi-generational. Some of these kids weren’t alive when the first one came out! [laughs]”
Speaking on the direction of Scream VI, Vanderbilt states that he and Busick knew early on that they wanted the relationship between the Carpenter sisters and their struggles navigating the world after the events of the fifth film to be the grounding focus of the story–a core idea very much in line what many fans have long appreciated about the previous Scream films. “I think one of the tricks of a great […] Scream movie or a great any movie is that even if the events are heightened, there has to be some emotional relatability. And so the idea of two siblings–with one thinking the other one is hovering too much [and] the younger one [wanting] to go out on their own–that’s a very relatable story. […] It felt really organic to us and exciting. And then, you know, as with anything, you put that pot on a stove and you turn up the heat under it and see what happens. […] Without giving too much away, we talked a lot about the idea of family in the movie and what family means and how family comes from many different directions.”
In addition to an emotional anchor, Scream films are also widely known for their meta-commentary on subjects ranging from the horror genre to the film industry to toxic fandom. Up front, Scream VI sees a focus on the court of public opinion, particularly with Sam’s arc as a survivor following the 2022 Woodsboro murders. “[These] movies should feel rooted in the year they’re made in a real way,” Vanderbilt states. “So, you know, 2011 and Scream 4 was really the rise of ‘I don’t need friends, I need fans’… [it] was perfectly encapsulated. So there’s some stuff in this movie that, with the idea that people believed Sam was responsible for what happened in Woodsboro… that felt very 2023. Something like that could happen and people online could go, ‘Well, I mean maybe it’s a false flag operation or maybe she did the whole thing!” […] That felt like something that would not happen 10 years ago… that would never happen to Sidney Prescott, but it would be something that happened to Sam Carpenter. So, I think reflecting where we are culturally is always sort of […] the secret sauce of these movies, past and hopefully present.”
Given the high level of awareness of fan discourse behind the scenes, Project X and company were set on giving fan-favorite characters their moments to shine (and scream) in the latest installment. In addition to the return of the Meeks-Martin twins from the previous installment–nephew and niece of franchise favorite Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) and children of Martha Meeks (Heather Matarazzo)–the latest film also welcomes back Panettiere’s Kirby, who was seen in Scream 4 presumably near death but was canonically confirmed as having survived via an easter egg in last year’s entry. “Listen, Wes said she was alive so that was good enough for me,” Vanderbilt says with a smile. Sherak adds, “We had Zoomed with Hayden on five just to see what her thoughts were of acting again. You know, she had taken some time [off]… and she had told us that she was really into it so we knew going in that she would be receptive to being part of it. And when Jamie and Guy delivered a script with that character–Kirby being Kirby, which was just awesome–we went to her and she was great. She’s a pro. She’s been doing this forever, since she was a little kid. That camera turns on her and she’s magical! She’s really good at it and loves the character.”
Cox, whose Gale Weathers returns following the death of her franchise love interest and best friend Dewey Riley (David Arquette), was also game to step back into the killer’s path in the New York City setting. Vanderbilt and Sherak have nothing but love for the veteran actress, particularly for warmly welcoming the new cast members and crew with open arms on the set of the fifth film. “Courtney is such a gamer,” Sherak gushes. “She gets there, she is the sweetest, most professional… like couldn’t be nicer. And then the ability to bring her back was so much fun.” As audiences are now aware, one particular sequence in Scream VI puts Gale face to face with the killer in a manner that is much more threatening–and physically taxing–than she has experienced in many of the past films. By Sherak’s report, Cox was all in. “We said, look, here’s the sequence… you good with it? And she was good with it! […] She did it, and I mean she really did it. That is a practical location. We blocked it out, she ran through it… like, that is not a set. She did the work and she’s… she’s a joy to have on set!”
While the prospects for a seventh Scream installment are still up in the air at the time of this publication, there are unsurprisingly already fervent demands for another film among fans and speculation about where the story could go next. Still, Vanderbilt and Sherak appear content with enjoying the process one day at a time and reflecting on their own favorite moments from Scream VI for the time being. “I’m gonna give you two answers,” Sherak says. “Reading [the script], it was always the subway. It really was. It was always the subway. And I think that scene delivers in spades. But I think that, for me, watching it, I actually think it ended up being the ladder scene. […] That scene to me encapsulates everything that Jamie and Guy did in six, in one scene from start to finish.”
Vanderbilt appears to favor the film’s quieter moments upon reflection. “It’s crazy ’cause you focus on the set pieces and you focus on all of that stuff. But then, for me… it’s just some of the character moments. It’s actually them sitting around that table. You know what I mean? And one of the wonderful things about being able to make a sequel is you know who you’re writing for and you know what they’re capable of. And so being able to give [Barrera, Ortega, Savoy Brown, and Gooding] more to do and know they could park it and then watching them park it is incredibly fulfilling. That by the time you get to the ladder, you actually care if someone’s going to fall or not–not because it’s scary to fall, but because you care about the characters. That’s the thing I think I’m really proud of.”
Scream VI is now playing in theaters everywhere.