‘Scream’ Directors Talk Full Spoilers: The Killer, Who Died, and Secret Cameos

Eric Goldman
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If you haven’t seen the film yet, you’re about to ruin it for yourself! 

After 11 years of dormancy, the Scream franchise has returned in a big way with the release of the fifth installment, simply called Scream – the confusing nature of that title turning into one of many inspired meta jokes within the film itself. Scream had a great opening weekend at the box office, bringing in nearly $34 million over the four-day holiday weekend and proving there are still plenty of eager fans who’d been waiting for a new chapter in the story Kevin Williamson and the late Wes Craven launched 25 years ago.

With Scream now in theaters, I spoke to the filmmaking trio Radio Silence — Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, and Chad Villella (Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are Scream’s directors and Villella is Executive Producer) — for a follow-up conversation in which we were able to dive into all the big spoilers from the film, which they collaborated on with writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick. Among the topics of discussion were a pivotal death, the motive of the killers, the confirmation of one beloved character’s survival, and the hidden vocal cameos of multiple Scream series alumni.

Prior to the film opening, Radio Silence made it clear they’d love to continue on with the franchise to continue the story, and given the film’s success, that seems highly likely to occur, leading to some talk about where things leave off here and what it could mean for the future.

One last spoiler warning, before we dive in discussing a very notable plot point in the film…

Fandom: Let’s start with the sadness of losing Dewey. In general, I’m curious how set in stone the script and its major story elements were when you signed on, so let me ask if Dewey’s fate was always a part of it and then what was it like talking to David [Arquette] about it?

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: It was there when we read the script. There’s a lot of little changes and some inner workings of scenes and stuff, but for the most part, the bigger story is exactly as it was, and that includes Dewey’s death. The two things that were the most debated before we were in production were Dewey’s death and Billy Loomis‘s role. Those were the two that we asked, “Are we going to be this crazy and actually kill Dewey? And are we going to be this stupid and have ghost Billy? Are these the two things we’re doing?” And I think the answer to both of them is weirdly the same, where the DNA of Scream is all about expectations and subversion and how do we do that? How do we push boundaries and make sure that you can never get too comfortable?

Dewey’s death, it just felt like, on a story level, we had to have it, because it’s what brings Sidney back and it’s the emotional engine of the entire second half of the movie. It just does so much for the story and the structure of the actual movie. And then, on a larger level, it does in a lot of ways what the Drew Barrymore scene [in the original Scream] does. We become so invested in this character, and we love this character so much over 25 years, that we don’t expect him to die and we don’t think he’s going to die. And then to kill him in the middle of the movie – not the finale, not the opening, but just in the middle – is the other thing that I think Guy and Jamie did in the script that was so smart, because then you kind of get past the opening, like, “Alright, this is the Dewey show! We’re going to be in this!” And then 30, 40 minutes later, he gets killed.

David Arquette (“Dewey Riley”) in 'Scream'

One of the things that really helped us get comfortable with the idea was that we were gonna give him a hero’s death and it wasn’t gonna be easy. We were gonna treat it with reverence and respect and we really wanted to do him justice. And David was teed up. William Sherak, our producer, teed it up, when they sent the script to David, like, “Listen, he dies in here. We don’t want this to be a surprise. We want you guys to know that going into it. There it is.” And our first conversations with David, David understood that; he got it. He loved the script and he was like, “I don’t want Dewey to die but I understand why he has to die. That sucks but I’m in.” And it was hard! It was hard emotionally for the three of us. I can’t imagine how hard it was for David and I think that’s just a testament to what an incredible actor and a human he is that he would put so much of himself and so much love into this character for so long. And then to see it through like that,  it deserves a lot of our respect.

Fandom: The killers’ motivations are always a big deal in the Scream movies and often tied to what’s going on in the zeitgeist. Did the toxic fandom idea resonate with you guys pretty quickly, just in terms of “Yes, of course. That’s what it should be about today.”

Chad Villella: I think from the very first time we read it, and we read that one line, “How can fandom be toxic?” – It really shined a light for us as to what this movie actually is and where it’s going. And to be honest, we’re looking in the mirror a little bit too. We are fans, we have very strong opinions about other movies that we love and that were made or continued in its lineage and we were very well aware that we were becoming part of that conversation. We were making a movie [continuing a story] that we’re fans of, so the irony isn’t lost on us. But to be able to shine a little bit of a light on it and to be able to open up that discussion as to what is too far, how you can take it too far… Well, obviously killing people is way, way too far!

Tyler Gillett: Hopefully, what the debate becomes [about] is what are the rules of engaging with entertainment? Because the distance between the things that we watch and that we either love or hate and the people who created it has gotten really small. A lot of the consequences of that are really great and fandoms can respond directly. We’ve certainly been the beneficiaries of that and the amount of support and love we’ve had from the Scream fan community has been absolutely absolutely crazy. We’ve also experienced the other side of it, where it gets a little bit scary. The look at this kind of psychology of where we’re at in terms of fan culture to us is just an endlessly fascinating thing to talk about. And again, I think what makes it so interesting to us is that we also consider ourselves a part of it, and that we’re not immune from the criticisms that we’re also lobbing at those communities. That level of introspection that the movie sort of forces you to examine yourself about the way you’ve engaged with entertainment, I think that’s all part of what’s really interesting, and a living and organic kind of byproduct of what these movies are.

Fandom: The Rian Johnson stuff is a big highlight and I noticed he has a Thank You credit at the end. So was there a fun conversation with Rian about how he would become part of Scream and Stab

Tyler Gillett: Yeah, early in post-production we knew we wanted him involved. It was in the script: “Rian Johnson, Director of Stab 8.” Jamie [Vanderbilt] knows him peripherally and reached out to him and he gave us his blessing to be in the movie and kind of use, obviously, his story and what happened on Last Jedi. I think that’s a big turning point in fan culture.

We originally wanted to actually have him appear in the movie. We had this idea of shooting a press junket video for Stab 8 where he’s talking about all the brilliant ideas in it and all the smart choices he made and ultimately we couldn’t do it because he was off making that small little Knives Out sequel. But we wanted to include him because he’s such an icon. We are obviously such big fans of his. I think we’re also all defenders of that movie, but he is like at the center, the nexus in so many ways of that of that conversation. It doesn’t feel like you can have a conversation about fandom and not include him in that in some way.

Fandom: And maybe we can see that junket footage in the future. Who knows?

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: I sure hope so!

Fandom: Sam is revealed as Billy’s daughter, and at the end of the movie, we definitely see her unleashed. She goes kind of all Tommy Jarvis on Jason Voorhees when she kills Richie, and we leave on this interesting little bit of ambiguity with her seeing Billy’s reflection one more time. Is there any cause for concern there? 

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: Well, it’s Scream, so let’s always say maybe there’s a cause for concern, but our approach was that she has now accepted that Billy is a part of her. And while he’s never going to not be a part of her, she has to now carry that forward. We had a cut of the movie where she was still medicating herself at the end and we all — us and the writers collectively — decided it was better to not have her do that and make it actually feel like she’s not just back where she started medicating away her past and that she’s actually able now to accept Billy as a part of who she is… And who helped her murder her boyfriend [Laughs], and then move forward!

Melissa Barrera (“Sam”) in 'Scream'

Tyler Gillett: Naturally! I think what you’re saying Matt, and I think we talked about this, is the idea that almost everyone has something in their past that is scary and can inform who they are in a bad way or a good way. Telling a story about a character who takes some power back from that and makes it her own and owns it and becomes okay with it just was really interesting to us and really satisfying.

Fandom: What was it like working with Skeet Ulrich? You reaching out must have been quite a surprise for him!

Chad Villella: Yes, and he was just as shocked as we were the first time we read the script to receive that call. “Hi, Skeet! You want to be in Scream 25 years later?” Again, it was in the script the first time we read it, and it was another one of those big swings that we took, moving everything forward and making him part of Sam’s life and Sam’s storyline and the way it informs who Sam is and what she has been running from and what she needs to overcome to move forward as a character.

Getting Skeet to set was an absolute blast. It was a day that we were on stage in the Macher house, which is Amber’s house in our movie. And he walked in and he walked through the kitchen and there were tears in his eyes. And we’re thinking, yeah, this is a pretty incredible and surreal experience not only for him but for us who grew up on the movie and love the movie more than anything to be able to stand in that kitchen with Billy Loomis. It was just the meta on top of meta on top of meta and we stand by it being the right choice for the movie and Skeet just honestly took it to the next level for being there one day, in one weekend. Because of COVID, he had to quarantine with everybody and the way he bonded with our entire cast in such a short amount of time and to be able to really build a friendship with everyone so that the trust was there throughout was just remarkable. And he brought a lot, as a ghostly reflection, to our storyline and it’s such a vital part of it.

Fandom: And kudos to him for secret keeping. I interviewed him and Matthew Lillard last fall for the 25th anniversary and seeing your movie, I was thinking “Man, if only I knew he was coming back then…”But I’m glad I didn’t! So let me ask about Richie’s YouTube screen and the Easter egg reveal informing us that Kirby from Scream 4 survived. How did you decide to sneak that in and can we hope maybe we might see her again at some point?

Tyler Gillett: It was always something where we knew there was an opportunity to provide an answer to that question. Certainly, spending time on Twitter and Reddit, we know the “Justice for Kirby” movement is a very real thing. As fans of that character, we all have a real soft spot for Kirby and love the idea that her story didn’t end in 4. We had originally had a conversation with Hayden [Panettiere] and talked about some other ways to answer that question in this movie. I think at the end of the day, what we found was that because of the level of love and respect we have for Kirby, it would have felt weird to bring her back and just do something small and that it would actually distract you. If you had a scene that wasn’t a satisfying Kirby scene, then you’d spend the rest of the movie going, “F**k, when is she going to come back!? When am I going to get the thing that I expect to have from this character?” And so it made more sense to just provide a little nod to her on that YouTube page. And who knows where that character goes next…

I think one of the things that creates a real rich fandom – and again, we’re considering ourselves a part of that – is the offscreen story of these movies and [wondering] what happens to these characters when the camera stops rolling. We’ve always loved thinking about, like, “Where’s Kirby’s life at? What do you do as a survivor after something like that?” Honestly, it was a big question with the legacy cast in this one. It was one of the things we were most looking forward to when we were reading the script. “Where the f**k are Dewey, Sid, and Gale? What are they up to? Where are they 10 years later?” That offscreen story is something that we think is really vital to creating this kind of vibrant universe and certainly is something that we as fans really love to brainstorm on.

Neve Campbell (“Sidney Prescott”) in 'Scream'

Fandom: Sam is the lead character of this movie but what do you think is the future for Sid and Gale as far as the franchise is concerned? I’ve seen people speculate, ‘Oh, well, I guess you could continue without them.’ But they also could easily still come back next time or come back later… There are a lot of options. Have you had those conversations yet? 

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: It’s early days, and we’ll see what it is. But for our money, we don’t think of it so much as a handoff in the way that some franchises have done it. We think of it more as we have new people in the family. For us, whatever’s right for the next one is right. We would love to be able to work with Neve [Campbell] and Courteney [Cox] again. That was truly a wonderful experience and they were just so fantastic the whole time. So TBD, but I sure hope they’re going to be in it if there’s an it to be in.

Fandom: So let me dig into more of the people I noticed got a “Thanks” credit at the end and why that is. Hayden and Rian, we have the context for. And I’m assuming Matthew Lillard is because of that other little YouTube video we glimpse near Kirby’s, pondering whether the “real” Stu survived?

Chad Villella: Oh, no. So with Matt Lillard, we have his voice in the movie. He is the voice of the Stab 8 Ghostface with the flamethrower and then he also has a line in the house that says, “Cool house, Freeman!” at the party when Amber’s walking by.

Tyler Gillett: When you hear it again, by the way, you’re gonna go, ‘Well, f**k, of course that’s Matt.”

Chad Villella: Yeah, it really pops.

Matthew Lillard voices the 'Stab 8' version of Ghostface in 'Scream'

Fandom: [Laughs] Wow, you’re really adding to the lore here! Obviously, Matthew Lillard was nearly in Scream 3 and fans always speculate maybe Stu survived, like your YouTube video Easter egg references. Now, I have to assume some people are gonna say Stu was hiding there at the party.

Chad Villella: [Laughs] Right, exactly. The ghost of Stu at the Macher house.

Fandom: Or was it a ghost?

Chad Villella: Or was it!?

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: And that Thank You list is the people from the toast to Wes. That’s all ADR. Every single person on that Thank You list did a “To Wes!” for the toast at the party as a toast to Wes Craven.* Also everybody who was in the movie did it, along with Kevin Williamson and ourselves.

Tyler Gillett: And then sort of deeper, on another level, Drew [Barrymore] also voice cameos as the principal at the high school. That’s her reading the announcement at the end of the school day. And Jamie Kennedy also voice cameos at the party. He’s the guy who says “Someone’s goofy ass dad is kicking us out” while Mindy and Frances are making out on the couch.

Part of it was, I think, just for us on a personal level, we had this real desire to get to know Wes through the people that he worked with and the people whose lives he changed. We just had a real strong desire to reach out to everyone and let them know “We love what you’ve done, we want to honor it, and we want you to be a part of us honoring it, in every way possible.”

Fandom: The only other folks I wanted to ask about from the Thank You list were Henry Winkler and Adam Brody

Tyler Gillett: In the toast.

Chad Villella: Both in the toast.

*[Editor’s Note/Update: We’ve checked, and along with Rian Johnson and Scream series acting alums Drew Barrymore, Jamie Kennedy, Matthew Lillard, Henry Winkler, Hayden Panettiere and Adam Brody, The Producers Wish to Thank section in the closing credits includes Wes Craven’s wife and Scream 4 Producer Iya Labunka, Scream 14 Composer Marco Beltrami, Scream 13 Editor Patrick Lussier, Scream 23 Co-Producer Julie Plec, Get Out Editor Gregory Plotkin, Black Christmas (2019) Director Sophia Takal, and Child’s Play (2019) Director Lars Klevberg.]

Sonia Ammar, Mason Gooding, Melissa Barrera and Skeet Ulrich pose with fans at opening night of the 'Scream' at the AMC Burbank 16

Fandom: In the original film, there is this last minute reveal that Dewey survived and they famously had debated whether to include it or kill him off, which was what was scripted. In your film, kind of taking that spot are the twins, Chad and Mindy, who we discover both survived in the closing moments. Did you go back and forth on their fate for either of them and did you shoot any different options? 

Tyler Gillett: We knew going into shooting that they were both going to live, but in the original script, Chad did not survive. We cast Mason [Gooding] after having a couple of zooms with him and he’s just the most wonderful person you’ve ever met and his energy is so infectious. It was a little bit like what happened to Dewey. He’s so good in the movie. He’s such the perfect choice for the character that we were like “We can’t kill him! He’s gotta stick around.”

Fandom: I was very happy to see Mason wearing his Woodboro High jacket when he, Melissa, Skeet, and Sonia introduced the movie opening night at the theater I was at. 

Chad Villella: He loves that thing!

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: Every time we see him, I feel like he’s wearing it.

Fandom: Hey, I would too!

Tyler Gillett: It’s an amazing jacket.

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: He wore it on the flight home!

Mikey Madison (“Amber”) in 'Scream'

Fandom: This is a question that I know has followed Kevin Williamson for 25 years and I believe he ultimately has kind of said he doesn’t give it too much thought. But in this movie, do you know who killed each victim, between Richie and Amber?

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: Guy and Jamie did the legwork on that and then we’ve stolen it from Guy and Jamie. But yeah, we know who’s who. It’s mostly Amber. Amber does a lot of the heavy lifting in this murder relationship, which we thought was fun. One of the things we’ve joked about a lot is that it feels like it’s the Richie show, but in reality, it’s probably the Amber leading from behind show and Richie feeling like the big man with the great ideas who was actually just full of s**t. And then Amber’s doing all the killing and it was probably her idea to begin with.

Fandom: These movies need to keep their secrets, sometimes even from the cast, so at what point in the process did Jack [Quaid] and Mikey [Madison] find out they were the killers? 

Chad Villella: That was at production, right?

Tyler Gillett: Yeah, they knew early on. The first draft they read, that everyone read, had the names changed. And then eventually we let Mikey and Jack know that they were the real killers. As part of them agreeing to sign on to the project, they also had to be aware that was going to be a part of the challenge, right? The heavy lifting of their performance was going to be ultimately going to 10 at the end of the movie. Some of the most memorable moments early on in the process was telling the two of them “You’re actually the killer.” Matt has a screengrab of Jack’s face told to him over zoom. And the reveal to him was, honestly, like I think a lot of audience members feel when he finally stabs Sam in the foyer in the movie. He just couldn’t f**king believe it.

Both of them were so committed to doing Billy and Stu justice. We’re really mirroring the end sequence in the first movie a lot in this one and I think that they both really felt a responsibility to do that well. The challenge of those performances is that once you realize who the killers are, the whole movie can kind of play in a new context and the progression of those performances still makes sense. It’s what’s so good about Billy and Stu. They’re so suspicious from the beginning and then you realize that they’re killers and the movie has done so many twists to make you feel like they’re not. In this one – and this is really just kudos to Jack and Mikey – they really understood the nuance of when to be sinister and when to be sweet, and we loved getting as many as many different varieties of takes and as many different textures as we could so that we could build some of that suspicion and calibrate it along the way.

Jack Quaid (“Richie”) and Melissa Barrera (“Sam”) in 'Scream'

Chad Villella: The other really fun thing was we were into post and Jack would message and he’s like, “I’m still the killer, right?? Because I’ve been reading things on the internet that you guys shot multiple endings!”

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: “Stay off the internet!”

Chad Villella: “You’re still the killer and it’s all good.”

Fandom: “Don’t go on the subreddit.”

Tyler Gillett: Fun fact… Jack actually created a character, an avatar, and was posting on the Scream subreddit while we were in production on this movie. It was Stabhead or Stabhead69 or something.

Fandom: That’s amazing. I also have to ask about the strange amusement of this being the second movie to set Mikey on fire at the end, after Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Was this just an accidental coincidence that was already written before she was cast? 

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: It was an accident. A very happy accident that we have now embraced. We love Mikey from her performance in that and then also on Better Things. She’s just an incredible actor and we just love her and we wanted her to be Amber so badly. And to be totally honest, if anything, at first, we were like, “Is that gonna be f**king lame that we’re doing that? Does it come off lame?” And then we were like, “We don’t care because she’s great.” Now I think we really embrace it, that we were the second movie to burn her alive. We’re hoping she has a third, but whatever she’s into!

Fandom: Maybe she spaces out the next one and surprises people.

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: Yeah, she pops up in a movie and they’re like, “Well, I know what happens to her…”

Tyler Gillett: She needs to light someone on fire in her next movie.

Fandom: You have a lot of fun references to the entire series in the movie, but I’m sure you also had to keep in mind that some people are gonna go see this that don’t know all the previous movies and wouldn’t get everything mentioned if it became too specific. Though I will admit, as a big fan, when Sid and Gale are talking in the car about who started this and Gale says it was her with her book and Sid says it was Billy, I was thinking, “Well, really, Roman Bridger started at all.”

Tyler Gillett: [Laughs] That’s fair! Fair criticism.

Chad Villella: Fair, very.

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: They might not know that though! Well, no… Sidney would know that. Nevermind, I take it back. Yeah, I was trying to walk us out of it.

Tyler Gillett: We need to bring this conversation to Guy and Jamie is what we need to do.

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: [Laughs] “This is Guy and Jamie’s fault!”

Tyler Gillett: Honestly, we hope that audiences watching this have the experience that we had watching the first one. That movie, for us, in so many ways, was like a gateway to the genre. And that is because of how referential it is, how it talks about other movies in the genre, and outside of the genre, and how it really has this encyclopedic knowledge of movies. Not only does it feel like the movie just has to have that – that in its DNA, Scream does that and is really a celebration of moviemaking in so many ways – but we hope that it inspires audiences to go back and watch the first four if they haven’t or rewatch them if they haven’t in awhile. And then, of course, all the other movies that are referenced, they’re a rich part of a community that we consider ourselves, so thankfully, to be members of. Hopefully the movie comes off as a celebration of all of these titles.

Fandom: Before I let you go, who killed Wes and Judy? That’s the only one I can’t really figure out.

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: We’ve said that it’s both.

Fandom: Yeah, it seems like it’s one of the only times neither Richie or Amber are accounted for at all. 

Chad Villella: That’s the time when they could do it, yeah.

Tyler Gillett: Yeah. Tara and Wes & Judy are the instances where it could be both.

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: The doubles.

For more on Scream, click the image below to see what the original film’s writer, Kevin Williamson, told Fandom about creating the concept and where the series has gone since. 

Eric Goldman
Eric Goldman is Managing Editor for Fandom. He's a bit obsessed with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, theme parks, and horror movies... and a few other things. Too many, TBH.