The Scream franchise is one of the few long-standing horror franchises that’s still putting out quality entries. Say what you want about each individual entry in the franchise, but none are as bad as Jason X or last year’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie. Last year’s Scream — a “requel,” as Jasmin Savoy Brown‘s character would dub it — gave the franchise new life following an 11-year absence from the big screen.
While the franchise’s iconic director Wes Craven didn’t live to see the fifth installment, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett of Radio Silence felt like the perfect choice to try and fill the gigantic shoes he left behind. Hot off the heels of Ready or Not, a film well-equipped with the sensibilities of Craven’s Scream films, the duo took on the tall task of making a Scream movie for a new generation. And boy did they succeed.
It took me a couple of rewatches to fully appreciate how last year’s Scream does everything a “requel” should, and that includes introducing a brilliant new cast of young heroes, victims, and suspects, including Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Mason Gooding, and Savoy Brown. The “Core Four,” as they’ve since been dubbed, were joined by the OG Scream trio of Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and David Arquette. This mix proved to be a successful formula that, when paired with timely motivations on the killer or killers’ part, made for a great revival of the franchise.
But you can’t simply repackage the same story for a new generation, so Scream VI takes the franchise’s biggest jump yet, moving the action from Woodsboro to the Big Apple. Yes, other Scream movies have been set elsewhere, but the city that never sleeps is new territory for the franchise, and for myself as a New Yorker, the Radio Silence duo had a high bar to clear, especially when it came to avoiding cliches of the city. Thankfully, they succeed by scaring up some amazing set pieces, such as the bodega scene and the subway chase, that rank alongside the very best of the franchise.
Above the Line spoke with Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett at the Scream VI junket, where the directors discussed the process of choosing locations in New York City, bringing back fan-favorite characters, the absence of another, and the film’s unique opening sequence.
Above the Line: Now that you both have two Scream movies under your belt, does it feel like you’ve found your footing within the franchise and grown accustomed to its intricacies?
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: I mean, I think no, [but] in a good way. I don’t think we want to get comfortable with it. I think part of what makes Scream so cool is that it has to surprise you. So I think, for us, Scream VI is drastically different than Scream (2022). If there was gonna be a Scream VII, we’d want that to be drastically different than Scream VI.
So I think there is a certain level of comfort working with the actors and each other and all that, but I think part of what we would have to do is make sure that we’re always a little uncomfortable and, like, a little nervous about it, and make sure that [feeling] never goes away.
Tyler Gillett: Yeah. I think that that fear of, like, “Is this the right thing?” is really [what] drives us in [a] pretty significant way.
ATL: You guys reunited with Samara Weaving for this film, and without explicitly saying what her specific role is, was it at all hard to convince her to come on board or was she game from the jump?
Gillett: Not at all. She was game from the jump. It was a three-minute phone call. We said, ‘We’re in Montreal. Come up here, we wanna work with you,’ and she said ‘yes.’ We were like, ‘Do you need to talk to your reps?’ and she said, ‘No, I’m coming up.’ [both laugh]
And she showed up! I mean, it was so wonderful just falling back into that old routine with her. I mean, we had such an amazing time on Ready or Not with her and I’ve been trying to work with her ever since. And so [it] really felt like a homecoming of sorts to have her back on set.
ATL: You also had the responsibility of bringing back a fan favorite in Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby. I read that she had reached out to you about being in the film, but I don’t know when that happened, so did that at all throw a wrench into the plans you already had in place for Scream VI, or was she a natural fit? And did you feel any pressure living up to fan expectations regarding that character?
Bettinelli-Olpin: I mean, we definitely felt pressure from ourselves, mostly, because we wouldn’t want to mess that up. And we actually wanted her in Scream, but it was too late in the process, so we decided instead of doing a kind of “shoved in” cameo, let’s just plant a little bit of a hint [that] she’s still alive and then we’ll let Scream VI be the real return of Kirby.
Gillett: Great title [smiles] — Scream VI: Return of Kirby [laughs].
Bettinelli-Olpin: So we talked to Hayden during Scream, and she was wonderful and super in for whichever version was gonna work out. And yeah, so then when Guy [Busick] and Jamie [Vanderbilt] started writing Scream VI, they knew that she was in, so they wrote it with her in mind and, you know, we’re just thrilled that Kirby gets to come back — it was so much fun.
ATL: My whole family’s from New York, so you guys had a high bar to clear when it came to using the city in a way that didn’t feel cliche, and I’d say you succeeded. I was curious about what was it like to work in New York, not just in terms of choosing locations, but also working in a lot of tight spaces, whether it be a bodega or a subway train. What can you tell me about shooting in the city?
Gillett: Yeah, I mean, it was really intentional to use New York in a way that felt really true to the life of people [who] live in the city, and not the landmark, kind of “touristy” version of New York. It felt like it was a much more real and grounded way of representing that space.
And I think one of the things that was really exciting to us [was] how varied New York is; that you can be in a big, grand, open green space and in a very tight, claustrophobic bodega in a matter of minutes, and so it felt like the journey of the movie, geographically, had a really interesting place to go, and the look of the movie felt like it was really gonna be dictated in a lot of ways by how we evolve all of those different spaces.
At the end of the day, I think it was just [that] we knew there were these really sort of key, wonderful set pieces that we wanted to design, and it was about picking those locations that felt really like the city and like though they couldn’t — those sequences — exist any place else.
The city was actually providing either an obstacle or a means of survival for the characters at all times. And so all of those things were kind of in the mix when we were designing it. But I think at the end of the day, the city just presented us with so many wonderful, fun, new creative opportunities.
ATL: Tell me about working with Jenna Ortega, whose star has only grown since you cast her in Scream, and what it’s been like to see her growth over the last couple of years.
Bettinelli-Olpin: I mean, she’s wonderful. We talk a lot [about] the first [time we met], when we cast Jenna in the first one. It was, like, 30 seconds into our audition with Melissa [Barerra]. They were doing a chemistry read and we were like, ‘Oh, this is wonderful. This is so special, the thing these two actors are bringing to this.’
And then the first day on set, we shot the beginning of Scream, [and] the opening scene was the first two days of shooting, so it was just Jenna and that was it. And we were like, ‘Oh my god, she’s really talented…’
Gillett: [She’s] one of a kind!
Bettinelli-Olpin: [We were like,] ‘This is awesome.’ And, you know, just working with her and becoming good friends with her has just been so special and such a wonderful part of the process. And I think the thing that 20 years from now, we’ll both probably take away from this and the last movie more than anything, is how wonderful all of the actors are as people and how great the friendships are. It’s just so authentic. It’s so real and it’s so special to us. It’s something that, especially as some older dudes, like, you don’t get to make new friends a lot [both laugh], so to really watch the cast become close and then all of us create this family together, it’s really special.
ATL: Speaking of the opening scene, you guys are now two-for-two in my book as far as opening scenes go, and this one feels bigger than the others. Did you feel like you had to start off with a bang here after that great opening scene in the last film?
Gillett: I mean, I think that such a high bar has been set with the opening of all of the movies. I think that it’s one of the defining characteristics of the franchise, that they all open with what feels like a close-ended sort of short film — and I think it’s one of the really exciting opportunities in making one of these movies that you sort of get to make two movies in one, in so many respects.
And I think that the opening of the last one clearly was, in every way, about homage — we were winking and nodding so much to the original. For this movie, the setting [of] New York aside, it felt [like] in order for us to kind of challenge ourselves and get ourselves excited, we knew we just had to do something that was totally different.
And the audiences are really smart, right? They’re super savvy, they’ve watched a lot of movies, and so I think the bar that is set within the audience is that we’ve gotta twist things in a way that’s pretty extreme. And on the page, that opening, for us, was just, like, one of the coolest things we’d ever read. And it was so fun to bring all of that to life.
ATL: This isn’t really a spoiler, since Neve Campbell has been very vocal about why Sidney Prescott isn’t in this movie, but there is a line in the film where a character says that Sidney “deserves a happy ending.” Was that a way to write her out while leaving the door open for a return, or has this franchise closed the book on Sidney?
Bettinelli-Olpin: I think that was, for us, just a way to talk about where Sidney’s at in this movie, you know? We would love to see another Scream with Sidney in it. I mean, that would be a dream. We’re fans first, and we love Neve — we got really close with her on the last one — and yeah, [it] felt right for the characters in this movie to talk about how Sidney is handling this current iteration of Ghostface. But who knows what’s in the future? [smiles]
ATL: What was your favorite fan theory that you saw in the lead-up to this film, if you guys even bother to read them?
Gillett: Yeah, yeah [laughs].
Bettinelli-Olpin: What [smiles]? No, of course not [laughs].
Gillett: I think to be a part of a franchise that’s so meta and so [much] about having a conversation with the audience, we consider it part of the job, honestly, to explore those spaces. I don’t think we go too deep, because they can get scary pretty fast [laughs], but the fan theories are always so fun.
I think it’s part of what’s exciting about working on these movies — there’s a fan base that’s just so hungry for great storytelling and it’s just exciting to get to be a part of that. It’s truly been the honor of a lifetime.
But [in terms of specific] fan theories, I mean, the Stu (Matthew Lillard) one is [great], that’s one that… [laughs]
Bettinelli-Olpin: We just keep poking that bear [laughs].
Gillett: And we will continue to poke that bear [smiles].
Scream VI opens in theaters nationwide tonight courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group.