Warning: This story contains major spoilers for “Scream VI,” in theaters now.
Anytime a “Scream” movie drops, it’s safe to assume fans want to see it multiple times, especially to catch all the Easter eggs. The sixth movie, written by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick and directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, picks up plenty of threads from the last film.
This time, Tara (Jenna Ortega) enrolls in college in New York City, attempting to leave the past in the past. Making it hard is her overprotective sister, Sam (Melissa Barrera), who struggles to move forward since the internet is convinced she actually orchestrated the last killings. Along with Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), “Scream VI” also marks the return of Chad and Mindy Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown, respectively) and “Scream 4” survivor Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere), who now works as an FBI agent and comes to New York after hearing about Ghostface’s return.
As Variety has already broken down 50+ Easter eggs — on both the subway scene and in the frat party sequence — the below interview leaves most of that out. Instead, the directors and writers, along with producers Chad Villella, William Sherak and Paul Neinstein, break down the biggest moments of the movie, how they moved forward without series star Neve Campbell, who was under the Ghostface mask for which kill and so much more.
The fifth “Scream” paid tribute to original director Wes Craven in so many ways. This was the first time you guys could really take this franchise into your own hands. Did you feel pressure in doing that?
Bettinelli-Olpin: It was really freeing. It was exciting for us to join hands with the writers, the producers and the cast and be like, ‘We did that one, there was the baton pass and this one is ours.’ So, let’s do the movie we want to. It was exciting and freeing and a little nerve wracking because you don’t know if that’s going to be accepted with fans. Especially a movie like this, you are making it for “Scream” fans. You hope everybody else will like it, but if the “Scream” fans like it, mission accomplished.
Vanderbilt: I think it was more excitement than pressure. We always really want to do right by the franchise and we’re fans first. I went to all of the other movies that I had nothing to do with on opening night. I’m still excited that [original writer] Kevin Williamson knows who I am.
Had you thought of the premise for “Scream VI” during production on the previous entry?
Vanderbilt: We love the idea of leaving it all on the field. With “5,” we wanted it to be a full meal. If we only get one shot at this, we put everything into this bucket. We don’t build it like a set up and pay off two movies later. So, when we started “VI,” we figured out what story we wanted to tell. What’s the full meal we want to serve? That’s how Wes and Kevin did it too. When building “Scream 2,” they weren’t like, “But what’s in ‘Scream 3’?” It’s one at a time and it’s a very creatively fulfilling way to do it.
So, the Chad and Tara romance wasn’t a plan ahead of time.
Vanderbilt: No. One of the reasons we did it was because we knew they were so wonderful in “5.” The crazy thing is I think they’re only in one scene together in “5,” yet they have such great chemistry. The fun thing about writing a sequel is when you know the actors, you know what they’re capable of. You can give them a fastball and they can deliver it.
Let’s talk about the opening scene, choosing to unmask Jason (Tony Revolori) right away? It’s never been done in the franchise.
Vanderbilt: It was pretty early on when we had the idea of revealing someone and then following them for a while and trying to blow people’s minds with that. Kevin got really excited, which is always a great thing! It’s sort of our North Star when Kevin Williamson’s like, “Oooh!” But yeah, we were a little nervous because you’re keeping your main characters off screen for 13 minutes. So, if this doesn’t work, does it stop the movie dead in its tracks before it even begins? But everybody really liked the idea, and we jumped off the cliff together.
Bettinelli-Olpin: That was in the first draft and changed very little because we went into the first read as fans! For all of us, it was basically the same experience — which is hopefully what we were able to replicate with the movie. You get five minutes in and you’re immediately unmoored. You’re out adrift. Everything I was expecting was flipped on its head. That was a moment that we talked about a lot. Honestly for us, watching the cut the first few times, we’re like, “I hope this lands because it is so jarring,” which is what we want! It feels like the movie is going to be about the killer in a different way, which is what we love about that beat where we don’t cut away.
The only thing that really changed about the opening was something that we tweaked in post-production. The call with Laura (Samara Weaving) was Ghostface for a while; we had her talking to Roger Jackson. One of the things that was revealed to us as we watched it multiple times and went back and read the script was how there was a really exciting opportunity to also twist that first call and have it feel like she’s gonna stumble onto somebody being attacked, only to realize that she’s been lured. The voice modulator is being used in a different way. It’s a different layer of anonymity to the caller on the other end of the phone. We brought Tony in and had him do a read of ADR and just live with some of Samara’s performance. So it feels hopefully like a rom-com, like an awkward first date. Then it becomes the most horrific first date of your life.
Well let’s talk about the decision to have five killers —
Gillett: Maybe six! Sam!
I didn’t think of it that way — but she does kill in the Ghostface mask. So, was it always a plan to have six then?
Gillett: The reveal was always three. Then the debate is always, what is the criteria for being a Ghostface? You have to wear the mask, make a phone call, kill somebody in the costume. But then does that make Sidney a Ghostface in the first movie? It’s a fun debate to have. It’s part of what we talk about — you become Ghostface, it’s not the character wearing a costume. It’s when they put the mask and the robe on, you’re imbued with something else. It’s almost like there’s something fantastical about what happens to you when you put it on.
Vanderbilt: Yeah, we argue about this! I don’t know if that rule works. But yes, the idea was always to have the POV of Ghostface coming in, seeing Tara on campus. Then having who we call in the script the “Ghostface Alpha” — with the cracked mask — show up and say, “Who gives a fuck about movies?” Because if the last one was all about movies, we wanted this one to not be about the “Stab” movies. That was always the plan: trying to set the audience on a different course and let them know that we’re gonna take some bigger swings this time.
When mapping it out, do you always know who’s under the mask for each killing?
Bettinelli-Olpin: Yes, but there’s always a debate. Sometimes that’s because there could be two options. Then we basically choose one just so we’re on the same page about it.
Was Bailey (Dermot Mulroney) ever doing the killing?
Gillett: Who attacks Quinn in the apartment? That’s the one that the big debate is around because we love the idea that it’s Ethan. Fun fact, Jack Champion is actually in the costume for some of that. But we also love the idea of Bailey, as Quinn’s father, killing her boyfriend. There’s something really, really satisfying about that idea.
Bettinelli-Olpin: And the Tony kill in the beginning we’ve always said is Bailey.
I assumed the bodega attack, too?
Villella: Yeah, he’s big — and what he was doing with the weapons. He was very equipped with the weapons.
Bettinelli-Olpin: Yeah, there’s a tactical know-how there. It feels like he had to be a cop or something.
Let’s talk about Sam’s therapist and those figurines around his office. Is he a horror buff?
Vanderbilt: We love the idea of, as she reveals who she really is and who her father is, that he’s intimately familiar with that and becoming more and more freaked out.
Bettinelli-Olpin: There’s a longer cut that deals with that even more. That was a much bigger part of his character. Now it’s all sort of subtext, but if you pay attention, you notice it. He’s watching “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” In the last shot when Sam walks out, you can see a Ghostface doll. The scene started with a tracking past all of the dolls, then you found Sam looking at that Ghostface thing like, “What the fuck world am I now?” It felt, for pacing reasons and — this is going to sound crazy — for believability, we needed to tone it down a little bit.
Sherak: There’s some really deep cuts in his office.
Let’s talk about Hayden Panettiere. She said she called to come back to the franchise. What was that conversation like and how did you decide Kirby is in the FBI?
Bettinelli-Olpin: I don’t remember who called who, but we had a conversation with her on “Scream 5” with Guy and Jamie, being like, “We love Kirby. We love you. We want you to be in this movie. We’re not sure there’s a place in the one we’re making now, but if there is, would you be open to it? Or down the road if we’re so lucky to make another one?” She was just like, “Yes. I’m there, I’d love to. It’d mean so much to me, I’d be so happy to be a part of it.” Collectively, we decided after that call not to shoehorn her into this and have her be a cameo or be fan service. That wouldn’t do anything for the character. We felt like we had to do Kirby justice too.
Sherak: She hadn’t been acting when we reached out to her on “5.” It was the sweetest, best Zoom. It was just a matter of figuring out the right way to do it. She was so excited.
Vanderbilt: We wanted her to really be a part of it and really be a suspect as well. One of the things early on that Guy and I talked about is 11 years is a long time. Going from presumed dead in “Scream 4” to 30 years old… We talked a lot about what that experience would have done to her. Did that send her in a different direction in life? We came to that line of, “I didn’t want to be afraid of the monsters anymore, I wanted the monsters to be afraid of me,” and latched that idea to her character. It made sense to us that she would go into a profession where she could protect other people from having the same things happen to them.
Did you have a conversation about what haircut she should have? Or whether she’d bring back the pixie cut?
Sherak: We did.
Vanderbilt: I’m never going to tell a woman what she needs to do with her hair.
Sherak: I’ve unfortunately had to at different parts of my career. I don’t have the luxury of not doing it. But there was a whole conversation about what the right thing was and she felt comfortable with coming back 10, 11 years later. I think we settled on something that she looks great in, was comfortable with and it was the right thing for Kirby today. 90% of it is she has to be comfortable in her skin on set with what character she’s playing. That’s what you want to support — her ability to deliver the performance and that’s what did it for her. She’s a badass!
Were there any Kirby scenes that didn’t make the final cut?
Gillett: There was a brief interaction between her and Bailey in the murder wall scene when they’re standing in front of the whiteboard. Bailey kind of repeats what Quinn told Tara earlier, that his son died, he moved to the city to be close to his daughter, his wife left him because she couldn’t look at him anymore because he reminded her of their dead son. We were steering too into Bailey being a suspect. And it was real estate that was being used to repeat information the audience already had.
There was a great little moment between them, where he asked her if she’s been married. She says, “One and done,” like, married and divorced. He says, “I’m sure there’s someone else out there for you.” And she asks, “What planet are you from?” He says, “The Midwest.” It was a great, tender moment that ultimately had to go when we lifted the rest of that scene, but that was the only one. There’s very little that we left on the cutting room floor with this one. Everything on the cutting room floor, we wouldn’t fight to have it back.
So, is there enough for a director’s cut?
Bettinelli-Olpin: We’ve basically pinched ourselves over and over during this process as we finished the creative choices. This is basically a director’s cut. There were no notes forced on us. There was nothing taken out that we wanted to be in the movie. They even asked us if we wanted to include deleted scenes and we said no. They’re not in the movie because we don’t want them in the movie. It was a really chaotic experience, but it was a really charmed experience.
Let’s talk about the shrine. How did you go about what props to highlight?
Gillett: We got a binder full of kind of possibilities. Our art department and set deck came to us with a massive stack of ideas. And then we went through and X’d out the ones that felt too obscure because you want them to feel consequential and recognizable, but also like the collector has really gone to the dark corners of the franchising and has collected all of the weird bits and pieces of evidence. Everyone is connected to what’s on display in such a personal way.
Bettinelli-Olpin: We wanted to make sure that it was representative of all of the previous movies. There’s the Roman banner in the background from “Scream 3.” I won’t say who, but certain people involved in the project were like, “Are we really doing that?” I’m like, “Yes, we’re really doing that!” We want to be inclusive because that is the fun of “Scream.” Some people love “1,” some people love “3.”
Villella: We also wanted to remind you of all the characters involved in this franchise — Tatum’s wardrobe, Jill’s wardrobe. There’s Mickey Altieri’s winter college class schedule, which was a line in the script.
Vanderbilt: It was all about balance. It was super important for us to have the burnt fax machine from “Scream 3.” It was super important for us to have Jill’s flannel from “4.” The power of the “Scream” franchise is the whole franchise.
So, how did you recreate all of those props?
Sherak: There’s nothing better in our business than when you get into the creative, technical side of production. These artists are so talented. There’s behind-the-scenes footage of close-ups in the theater. We have everything — stuff you don’t see in the movie. They’re remarkable.
Vanderbilt: I love the “Happy birthday, Roman” banner from “3.” It was so good.
Sherak: The fact that Jack Quaid got us some video footage too.
Vanderbilt: Yeah, that’s young Jack Quaid. And he revoiced all of the lines in “Stab” that you hear in that sequence, it’s him pretending to be Ghostface. He did it all for “6.”
Are any of them the actual props from the past movies?
Sherak: The only one from the original “Scream” is the Letterman jacket. From “5,” we had everything — except Billy’s shirt. Billy’s shirt from “5” is hanging in our office. Our costume designer, Avery [Plewes], actually found the original fabric used for the original shirt in “1” and remade it again.
Let’s talk about the TV and Stu. There was a line about the conspiracy that Stu is still alive. Was Kirby pushing the TV onto Ethan and killing him to prove to fans that that killed Stu?
So that’s putting the nail in the coffin!
Gillett: That is scripted, specifically, as a brutal and definitive kill. Guy and Jamie wrote the TV falling on Ethan’s head as a brutal and definitive kill.
Vanderbilt: I just loved that moment. Once we got the idea of her saying, “I saw that in a scary movie once,” we had to do it. It’s the one last pop up! It was more about that than saying anything about all of the Stu truthers out there.
Could Matthew Lillard pop up in a future movie?
Vanderbilt: There’s no good answer, so I will never confirm or deny stuff like that.
Sherak: Anything’s possible.
Neinstein: Characters can come in and out! There’s different ways to do it. It’s such a part of all of their lives; they have an affinity for “Scream.”
The subway scene is also filled with more than 50 Easter eggs, which we’ve fully broken down — including a few of you, a “Ready or Not” costume and the Babadook. What was the planning process?
Vanderbilt: In the script, we mentioned four or five horror icons and then said that it’s filled out with others and then we had conversations, but that was the idea. When we did that, we looked at each other and went, there’s no way we’ll be able to do all that. It’s like, there’s no way, legally, with the rights — but it’d be so cool if we could.
Neinstein: That was a fun conversation!
Sherak: There are deep cuts of horror characters and different movie references. We had so many extras that day all dressed up, some of which you don’t even see in the movie. Walking around set those five days on the subway was one of the funniest weeks of moviemaking.
Fans have been waiting a long time for the call between Gale and Ghostface — which turned into a bit of an emotional one too, with the conversation about Dewey (David Arquette). How important was that?
Gillett: There’s a desire to just see something that, as fans, we’re amazed hasn’t happened yet in the franchise. Gale had to have a big moment. There’s so much energy because we haven’t seen it but also because of the loss of Dewey. We’re still feeling the loss of Dewey!
Bettinelli-Olpin: There was actually a scene that was cut from that — a dialogue between Ghostface and Courteney in the room in the middle of the fight sequence. They kind of paused and were facing off like gladiators. It just felt to us like it was too much outside of the movie. It read great on the page but slowed the pace down.
Gillett: We also had Roger call in. On the other movies, he’s called in before for pivotal Ghostface moments. But it was the first time they got to talk on the phone. I’m sure he helped make it really memorable for her.
Also, Quinn was that Ghostface? She took down Gale’s muscular boyfriend!
Bettinelli-Olpin: After the flack we got for Amber killing Dewey, we’re leaning into it!
Both Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin flash middle fingers as a reaction to those who criticize that choice, laughing.
Villella: That was one of the hardest scenes to shoot logistically. We were in a glass bowl apartment on top of a roof with very limited night hours. Kudos to Courteney for actually going through all the physicality of that scene as well. She did everything. The intensity of that choreography and the history of that scene was very overwhelming and almost emotional.
Sherak: We had that conversation with Courteney and asked if she was okay with it. It’s an action scene, it’s practical. It’s not a built set, you’re moving around real posts which don’t move. They’re cement. She was in. She did the work!
Was there ever a discussion of Kirby or Gale not surviving?
Bettinelli-Olpin: They were always gonna live. On the last one, we kill Dewey — well we didn’t fucking kill Dewey, I don’t know why I’m saying that! That was hard in real life. That was hard for David. That was hard for us. And I know it was hard for “Scream” fans. We didn’t want to do that again. I think a second time it would feel cruel. The first time it’s shocking and it just makes you go, “Oh fuck, these movies really do have stakes and they don’t fuck around.” On this one, we’re like, if we kill Gale, we’d hate ourselves. We’d hate the movie. The movie wouldn’t be fun to watch.
Vanderbilt: Everything’s always on the table every time. Kevin Williamson, really early in “5,” said, “It’s a slasher. Don’t forget that. People die in slashers.” Everyone who appears in our movie at one time or the other are in the jackpot.
How did the choice to bring Dermot Mulroney in — and also make a man who’s led some of the most beloved rom-coms — into a killer?
Vanderbilt: This is our third movie with Dermot. He’s a lovely human being. I’d forgotten he’d been on “Friends.” Our really good friend, Chris Fedak, called me when we cast him and he’d done “Prodigal Son.” He said something like, “I gave Dermot the bloodiest death of his career on ‘Prodigal Son.’ In my head I was like, ‘Wait!’”
Sherak: I called him and was like, we’re going to send you the first two-thirds of the script, because we didn’t send anybody the ending. We said, “You have to trust us!” He’s a very talented actor and he shows up.
I have to ask about Neve Campbell’s exit. Were there any large storyline arcs in place when she decided to leave that had to be redone or reshot?
Vanderbilt: This was always the story we wanted to tell, which is really exciting we were able to do it. The Sam and Tara sister story was always the thing we wanted to be front and center in this. We love Neve and think she’s amazing and had a great experience with her on “5.” She needs to do what she needs to do as a business woman and we totally support that.
Gillett: That happened early enough in the process. Credit to the script, which was structurally solid and changed very little. There wasn’t a huge pivot. I think what ultimately happened was we knew that if anything, in the absence of that character, we had to really dig deeper into the core four and make those relationships matter in a really emotional way. The goal was to try to form a connection between those characters and the audience the way that we formed a connection with Gale, Dewey and Sid. At the end of the day, that’s just about having the time and the real estate in your story to really dig deep. But no, it wasn’t a wildly dramatic pivot.
Bettinelli-Olpin: And there were no reshoots, because it was all very pre-production. I mean, we were panicked, because we’re losing our minds. We’re like, we don’t know what we’re shooting.
Gillett: We were prepping two versions of a movie.
Did you have an idea of how you were going to bring Sidney to New York?
Vanderbilt: Yeah, I don’t want to talk about the woulda-couldas.
Was there ever a discussion to have Patrick Dempsey come on? Sidney’s husband, Mark, is mentioned in both “5” and “6.”
Bettinelli-Olpin: Yes, absolutely. There 100% was, and that would have been incredible.
Did you put an ask in or was that just a preliminary conversation?
Gillett: It was preliminary. What are some of the other kinds of fun textures we can give to that story?
I know it’s not official yet, but is college still the game plan if “Scream 7” happens?
Gillett: True to form, we don’t know. We are being kept on a separate island from Guy and Jamie.
Sherak: We don’t tempt the movie Gods ever!
Neinstein: We will continue to make these as long as they let us.
Vanderbilt: Absolutely! It would be amazing to do this again.
And if so, will we continue seeing Billy (Skeet Ulrich) in flashbacks?
Bettinelli-Olpin: If it means that we get to hang out with Skeet every year for like, an hour! On this one, he shot for 40 minutes. And then he was stuck there for 10 days — for less than an hour of shooting!
This interview has been edited and condensed.