The MTV series Scream, based on the hit horror franchise, follows what happens after a cyber-bullying incident results in a brutal murder and the shocking violence stirs up memories of a killing spree from the past. Now, a group of local teens will quickly become victims or suspects, as secrets are revealed that could tie some of them a little too closely a killer who’s out for blood. The show stars Willa Fitzgerald, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Carlson Young, Amadeus Serafini, John Karna, Connor Weil, Tracy Middendorf and Jason Wiles.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, showrunners Jill Blotevogel and Jaime Paglia talked about finding an idea that could work for TV, keeping the viewers guessing about when the next person might die, having a long-term plan while keeping things flexible, their process for designing the new mask, whether they ever thought about bringing back any of the characters from the films, how Emma is a different heroine from Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), and how they might approach that killer reveal. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: How did you guys end up bringing Scream to life for TV, and did it take some convincing for you to realize it could actually be done?
JILL BLOTEVOGEL: Scream has actually been in development with the Weinstein Company, Dimension and MTV for about two years. They had some attempts at different ways to do it, and there were a lot of different ideas for how to do it. I was brought in to take a script that went down a different path that was a little more supernatural. I know that’s what was in all of the early press releases about it. And it really came down, to make it feel like Scream, that Scream is about a real physical killer and the mask that he wears. It was about getting that meta tone down, the humor, and really tapping into the idea of technology and how kids today make themselves incredibly vulnerable with what they expose about themselves on the internet, and how we all wear masks by what we put out on social media, with the photos we put out there and the information that we release.
That was the way I got started, and the way I came at the opening sequence with Nina. Snapchat just scares the shit out of me. It’s so creepy and so exposing. There’s just something about it that freaks me out, so that was where I started off with Nina and her kill. And then, once I got through that, I realized that this opening kill, instead of just being a jumping off point for a blood bath, for a TV series, it really had to mean a lot more. I compare it to the Laura Palmer murder in the opening of Twin Peaks. It’s something that we can dig into a little deeper in TV because we have more time. So, that’s what I pitched. And I also pitched that there was this past incident that had happened in this town, and I wanted to tap into the real mythology of horror movies for this TV series.
And so, once I gave them this idea of something in the past that is powering this killer who’s acting in the present, or is inspiring him or her, all of the people at MTV and Dimension really got excited by that idea. By connecting our main character’s mother to that past incident, I essentially made her the Sidney Prescott of her generation, and Emma is our present-day one. It provided a nice framework that showed them what kind of legs a series could have, instead of just trying to do a horror movie as a pilot. You can’t do that. It’s gotta be Chapter 1. So, I wrote it and we produced the pilot last August in Los Angeles, and we put together a great cast. Ironically, or not ironically, Jaime [Paglia] had been someone that I had worked with on his series, Eureka, and he also had been one of the writers who had been brought in to look at this script that needed to be fixed because of this idea that wasn’t quite working.
JAIME PAGLIA: At the time, I saw the challenges. It didn’t really have the DNA, at that point. I think it was missing the Scream DNA, on the path that they were working on. So, I gave them my thoughts, but at the time, really was not able to work on it. As it turns out, when Jill came on, she had essentially taken the same notes that I had on the original version that they were working from, and then she executed them in a way that I think just really captured what was missing. So, a year after it had come my way, they came back around ‘cause they were looking for someone to partner with Jill. I looked at what she did and was like, “All right, that’s it. It’s possible now.” And then, we spent some time re-conceiving the mythology, and I had brought in some of my own thoughts, based on what she had done on the pilot, to get us some new options to play with. That all became part of how we ended up doing this together.
Is it fair to say that, after that flashy initial killing, we’ll have a bit of a break to get to know these characters before you start killing off more people?
BLOTEVOGEL: We don’t want you to ever feel like you know when the next kill is going to be. I worked on this show, Harper’s Island, where part of the marketing was that you knew, in every episode, that someone was going to die. In a way, that’s an exciting promise, but in a way, you’re waiting to find out who’s going to die in the next episode. With this show, we really wanted to start with the characters and this amazing cast, and get you to care for them and fall in love with them, so you’re rooting for them to survive. A lot of times, in a horror movie, you don’t have enough time to get to know them well enough to care that much. We want to keep that uncertainty. We want to keep people off-balance, so that they don’t know necessarily when, if or how someone might die. It’s been one of the trickiest aspects of this show. As soon as you create characters and you start working with them, you fall in love with them, as a writer and producer, as well. It’s been really hard doing that.
With a TV show, you want to at least plan out your first season, so that you know where things are going. But when you’re turning a slasher movie into a show that could run for multiple seasons, do you have to think even further ahead?
BLOTEVOGEL: Absolutely! That was something that we did have to take some time addressing, before we could even get started on the second episode of the show. You’ve gotta get through the first season to see if a lot of the bigger ideas that you have will play out well, but we definitely have a several season plan and some big signposts on that journey. We’ve also gotta keep it flexible. Once you start production, you see which characters really pop, or you see a new dynamic that really inspires you. We have to adapt, as we go along, while keeping some of the bedrocks in place.
Obviously, one of the biggest stars of Scream is the mask that the killer wears. How much discussion went into what the mask would look like? Did you ever consider using the original mask, or was that never an option?
BLOTEVOGEL: The internet rumor that that option wasn’t available to us because we couldn’t get the rights or weren’t going to spend the money was never real. We talked about it, and if we had decided, creatively, that that’s what we wanted to do, we would have done it. But, part of reinventing Scream for TV is creating a bigger mystery than what existed in any of the individual movies. For us, one of the great things that Jaime came up with, when he came on board, was letting the mask be a part of the mythology. The Brandon James character from the past wore this mask as a protective post-op surgical mask. It’s part of his lore. It’s simultaneously something that humanizes him, because it reminds us that he was a broken kid that they were trying to fix, and demonizes him, in that it does have this monstrous aspect to it that ties into some of the classic horror movie masks that we’ve seen, as well as the original one. I feel like finding the narrative reason to have this mask was a real coup for the series, and for Jaime. It means something now. It’s not just a $1.99 costume picked up off the rack and thrown on to go scare someone. And I completely understand people’s attachment to the original. I’m a huge fan of the original series. It was fresh in 1996, and in the sequels. But Scary Movie wore away at its effectiveness, in a sense, because they played with it and joked about it. For us, we just really felt like we needed to come up with something that, when you first see it in the pilot, it will scare you in the same way that the original Ghostface mask did in ‘96, and you can’t do that, if it’s the same one. There would be a nostalgic joy at seeing Ghostface in the TV series, but we wanted something that could be our own.
Did you go through a bunch of different versions of the look of it, before deciding on the ultimate one that you’re using, or did you have a clear idea of what you wanted it to look like?
PAGLIA: They had actually gone through probably a hundred different designs before I came on board with Jill, after they had done the pilot. The original design that they went with for the pilot didn’t quite have enough of the DNA of the original mask. The story behind it was interesting, but there was the potential to do more. In asking whether we could revisit the idea of designing the mask again, it was definitely a landmine. I know how much time and effort everybody had put into coming up with what they had, but we came up with the idea that this kid had been going through these reconstructive surgeries, and trying to fix it and not being able to. In reality, there are these post-op surgical masks for people who have these kinds of surgeries to wear to protect them. But there’s something really tragic about that, as well as potentially terrifying. So, we did our own take on that real medical technology, and we tied it into our character. We obviously took some creative license because we wanted to keep the DNA of the original mask in this decide. When people see that on a billboard, any Scream fan is going to say, “Oh, my god, that’s Scream!” It’s different. It’s updated. It’s not trying to adopt the old mask and not pay service to the original mythology or characters. It is its own thing, but it does evoke the same feelings for our hardcore fans. Hopefully, they’ll all appreciate that we totally understand how iconic it is and we want people to like the new version. We don’t want to disappoint them, but we want it to be a part of our mythology, for a new story and new characters, in this new series.
Because it always has been such a big part of the story, were you guys prepared for the reaction that you’ve gotten to the mask?
PAGLIA: Yeah, you definitely know you’re walking a minefield there. There will be people who absolutely hate it because it’s changed, at all, or it’s not how they would have done it themselves. There’s no way that we’re going to please everyone. Being huge Scream fans ourselves, our first job was to do something that we felt really passionate about and loved. We also wanted to make sure people like Wes Craven and Bob Weinstein, who really helped give birth to this whole franchise, were happy with it, too. We felt hugely relieved and thrilled that when Wes, who had been skeptical about redesigning the mask, saw the new design was really excited about it, and Bob loves the new design. Hopefully, the fans out there will love it, as well.
Was there discussion about bringing back any of the characters from the films, or referencing them, in any way, or did you want to keep this a separate story that was just connected in tone?
BLOTEVOGEL: When I first came on, the original script had a vague reference to 20 years ago, some things happened in this town, but it didn’t even say Woodsboro. I talked to Bob Weinstein about it for awhile, and he said he just really felt like he wanted to feel like this was a fresh, new world, evocative of Scream, but not connected to Gale and Dewey and Sidney and Woodsboro itself. So, I called the town this all happens in Lakewood because the new mythology is surrounding this lake where a lot of our Brandon James incidents happened. I wanted to find ways within the script to plant some Easter eggs and some homages to the original. In the classroom scene, I wanted to have Jake say, “What about Friday the 13th or the Stab movies?,” and bring that into the world, but Bob was like, “Not even that. I don’t even want a Stab reference.” So, there were things brought up and we considered things, but essentially, it came down to new characters in a new world. I think it’s what works for us. We are still going to be paying plenty of loving homages to the original, in terms of things you don’t say or do in a horror movie. It’s about finding really fun ways. I think it’s almost more fun, if people have to search for those things, and it’s not, “This is Dewey and Gale’s daughter.”
How would you say that Emma is a different heroine from Sidney Prescott?
BLOTEVOGEL: Well, she wasn’t a virgin when we started. We don’t have to play the, “She’s gotta be the survivor girl because she’s a virgin.” She’s actually a normal teenage kid who has a boyfriend and who’s sexually active. In a lot of other ways, she is similar to Sidney. She’s very smart and she’s very resourceful, but she’s got a bigger mystery to dig into, in that the things she’s trying to figure out, over the course of the series, are things that can help her survive, essentially. In the movie, Sidney was just trying to survive and figure out how to go from one scene to the next. It is the spirit of Sidney, but it’s a character who we’re going to have a lot more time to get to know, and who’s got a lot deeper connection to the mythology of what’s going on. She’s not necessarily a more believable teen, but a teen in 2015 is a lot different from a teen in 1996. It’s just a different world for teenagers. In that way, she truly is an updated heroine.
In regard to the long-term plan for this show, can it go on after you catch the killer? Will it get to a point where you let the audience in on who the killer is, but keep the characters in the dark? How do you juggle a mystery like that, and still keep the show interesting?
BLOTEVOGEL: We have plans in place. We have big signposts. Right now, we’re talking about five or six seasons and trying to get our mind around how you would sustain that. We’re going to use some of the things that are used in the Scream movies, like the idea of someone like Cotton Weary, who looks like they did it and gets taken away, or the idea of catching someone who’s doing something bad, but it may not be our ultimate puppet master. It’s definitely a very tricky game, and we’re talking about different options, moving forward. I love the way that Hannibal has shown that you can do a series like that, where the name of the killer is right there in the title. When I first heard about it, I was like, “There’s no way they’re going to make this interesting!,” and they have consistently found ways to come at it from a whole new perspective. It doesn’t necessarily give away too much, or it does give it away, but it makes it so fascinating and finds ways to twist it. I think that’s a really good example for us to look at, in terms of Scream not just being the show that, every season, gives you the movie. We want to dig deeper into these characters, and I think we’re going to find a way to do that, over the course of several seasons. That’s our plan, right now.
Scream airs on Tuesday nights on MTV.