The MTV series Scream is back for Season 2, picking up when Emma (Willa Fitzgerald) returns to Lakewood after several months away, in an attempt to recover from the horrors she survived. With everyone walking on eggshells around her, questioning whether she has truly gotten over the Killer’s crimes, Lakewood’s murderous past is once again brought into focus, as another Killer’s psychotic mind-game becomes intent on bringing the heroes down.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, new showrunners Michael Gans and Richard Register talked about their love for the Scream franchise, looking back at Season 1 to move forward, brutal storytelling, developing a kick-ass cold opening, balancing the horror with the humor, how the gore of Season 2 compares, and why they see this as a never-ending story. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
MICHAEL GANS: We were just really lucky to get this. It’s an interesting journey for us. We started out, many years ago, on MTV, writing a show called Celebrity Deathmatch, and now we’re right back there, killing people again. The way we got it is that we heard the job was available this year, after [the Season 1 showrunners] departed. I think they had seen a bunch of people, and we were working on a show called Recovery Road, at that time. We didn’t know if we could do it, but we reached out to them and they were very excited to hear from us. For the last few years, we’ve had a very strong relationship with the franchise. We have a great love for the original film that launched it, and we do a live musical version of it, every year at Halloween. I don’t know if that’s why they called us in. I think they just wanted to hear our take on it. We went in and we’re huge fanboys of the material and the first season, but more so everything Scream, from the beginning with Kevin Williamson, and the remarkable impact that the film and the film franchise had on horror movies, in general, and slasher movies, in particular, and Wes Craven’s contribution to scary movies, all over the place. We had intense enthusiasm to carry on that tradition in this piece, and it blew their minds. We were lucky. When we walked out, we honestly looked at each other after the pitch and said, “Did that go as amazingly as we thought it did?”
RICHARD REGISTER: We were like, “If we didn’t get this job after that, we are just leaving the business.” It was the best meeting of our career. Plus, we loved the first season.
GANS: With any show, it’s necessary always, from season to season, to be able to blow the walls off of the previous season and rebuild them, and then do it again, in a whole new way. But at the same time, you can’t throw out the original foundation. You have to love it. We wouldn’t be able to do it, if we didn’t love the idea of the mythology, this crazy little town, and the performances [from the cast]. They’re all geniuses. We inherited this gorgeous landscape filled with amazing people, and there’s no greater landscape than that. And we get to make it even bloodier.
REGISTER: The first table read of the first episode of Season 2 was very surreal. We’d studied Season 1 within an inch of its life, and then to finally meet the cast and have them read a script that we wrote was completely surreal.
GANS: And that they liked it was absurd. It was their world and we were stepping on it.
GANS: Anyone can die. That’s the truth. You get to kill people, but you also have to kill people. It’s very hard. You have to kill them because the story tells you to kill them. It’s brutal storytelling. If the story is brutal, you have to be brutal, but sometimes it’s hard. There are people who die this season that you’re not going to want to have die.
REGISTER: There are characters that we’ve killed with huge remorse.
GANS: And then, you actually get to see them being killed in front of your eyes.
REGISTER: And you have to break the news to the actor that you’re killing.
GANS: When you write a character that’s a new character on this show, it isn’t like another show. People have to die, and many will. By the time you get to the end of the season, there’s going to be less people that exist in your world. But every time you write a character, you can’t write them to die. You have to write them to live. If you write them to die, they come in dead already. So, every single person has to be written with the thinking that they’re never going to die.
When you were figuring out where to go with Season 2, did you look back at Season 1 to see what worked and what didn’t, so that you could build from there?
GANS: We did have to look back at Season 1. We’re the same show, so we had to not divorce ourselves from it, but we also have to surprise you. That’s what slasher movies do, and it’s a surprisingly amazing thing to get to do that in television. This show is different than Scream Queens and American Horror Story. So, what we did was look at it and say, “How do we surprise people this year? How do we change it?” We said that we wanted viewers to not know what they were tuning into, each week. The storyline wants to follow through and the emotional beats have to be completely solid, in regard to the characters, but we wanted viewers to not know what they saw and have it be totally different than what they had seen before. So, we knew we had to take it and surprise viewers this year. We had to figure out how to twist it up from the first season and surprise viewers with this year. I hope that we’re doing that because it’s vital. We have to keep meta alive without doing it exactly like it was done last year.
REGISTER: We took all of the facts from Season 1 and said, “How can you twist and twist to say, ‘You knew that, but how about this?’”
One of the things that the Scream franchise has become known for is its amazing cold openings, and you have a pretty great one that kicks off Season 2. How did that particular sequence come about? Were you talking about a bunch of different things before that one?
GANS: We had a couple of different ways in. We always loved the idea of having a movie theater and having one of the characters work at a movie theater, and Audrey was the perfect character. It fits into the story because she’s a film buff. She met Rachael on a film site. She uses her camera. It’s the perfect place for her to work in. So, we wanted to put it in that place to make it exciting. But, there were other incarnations. There was a supermarket kill, at one point, with a great, “Hello, shoppers,” moment with the killer on the sound system. That didn’t happen, but it may happen, at some point. There was also a house kill. There were other versions, but we wanted to do something new, and the movie theater was just so perfect for us. We liked the idea of winking at Scream 2. There’s something to the delicate art of homage. We had to also think about how you bring this franchise into the contemporary era, as they did so well in the first season, and I think that was a cool way to do it. Film still exists in movie theaters. There’s a very modern person, with Audrey, in that movie house, which is an old, vintage place. We thought it was cool and it just felt like Scream to us. We also knew that we wanted a strong twist to that opening sequence that would be a surprise.
How tricky is it to balance the horror with the humor?
REGISTER: The movie franchise was legitimately horrifying and legitimately funny, at the same time. You’re always trying to make sure that you’re knocking people off, all the time, so that you don’t know what to expect, and they use comedy in that way. You’re like, “Why am I laughing at this? I shouldn’t be laughing.” Same with the romance. You’re using it to keep the audience guessing. You’re constantly spinning that wheel.
How will the gore compare this season? Do you go bigger and bloodier, or do you have to get more creative?
GANS: We go a little wild. I think we take it beyond just the blade. The way that people die is theatrical without being campy, in any way, shape or form. It’s very real and very frightening. Whoever is doing this is doing it for the world to see. There’s a big presentation about it that’s happening. It’s careful, violent, strange and perverse. That’s the way we go to it. We’re big fans of murder and horror stuff, in general, so it’s also real. It’s not based on actual events, but on the knowledge you gain from actual murders. As a piece, it’s metaphoric and a sexy morality play, on a lot of levels.
REGISTER: This killer is completely wicked.
GANS: And the violence is extreme.
The first season answered some questions, raised some new questions, and gave us some hints as to where Season 2 would go. Are you approaching this season the same way? Do you already have a plan for Season 3?
GANS: We do have a plan in the works for the future, not just Season 3. We have a plan for where we’re going. It’s a giant organic monster that constantly changes and morphs, but we know where we want to go with it. The one thing that we think is true about it is that the series, to us, is never-ending. People wonder how you keep something like this going, but I think you just have to have faith in the genre. If you think about the original material, the guy who created this franchise in script form wrote Dawson’s Creek. You have this crazy marriage of a guy that knows how to do brilliant serialized storytelling that could last forever, with the tone of horror, humor and smart stuff, all mixed together in a sexy world. I don’t think that should end. I don’t think you have to worry about that. When you go into it, you try to think of it as endlessly as possible. The one thing you have to do is constantly trick the audience into a new head game.
REGISTER: There is a new character in Episode 1 of Season 2 that is into comic book horror. He talks about the never-ending storyline, and how it’s just always a climax and a twist, but that the story just never ends because there’s another one and another one. So, we’ve put the idea that it never ends in the first episode of Season 2.
Scream airs on Monday nights on MTV.