Jill Blotevogel, creator and executive producer of the TV version of Scream, tells Michael Pickard how she brought the iconic horror franchise to the small screen.
When Scream was released in 1996, it slayed audiences with its mix of scares, gory killings, sense of humour and its awareness of classic horror movie tropes.
The film was credited with revitalising the horror film genre and – like other classics before it, such as Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street – it spawned several sequels, most recently with Scream 4 in 2011.
Now the film franchise is winning new fans after being adapted for the small screen.
US cable network MTV greenlit a pilot in April 2013 and, produced by The Weinstein Company’s Dimension Films, it was subsequently ordered to series in October last year. The show, which had earlier been teased online after the first eight minutes of the pilot were released, debuted in the US on June 30 this year.
The cast includes Willa Fitzgerald, Amadeus Serafini, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Carlson Young, Connor Weil and John Karna.
Scream’s creator and executive producer Jill Blotevogel, whose credits include CBS murder-mystery Harper’s Island, was brought to the project to write the pilot script and she says Scream is part of a renaissance currently being experienced in TV at the expense of the movie industry.
“It’s a great time to be a writer in Hollywood,” she says. “Features have really become polarised. They only do a few big tentpole movies and some indies so writers who used to be able to express themselves a lot more in features have been flocking to TV, and you’re also seeing this amazing calibre of actors and actresses coming to TV.
“I think it’s a real renaissance in TV and the rise of cable networks trying to make their mark has been the drive behind that.”
Blotevogel says the idea of a Scream series hadn’t initially occurred to MTV executives when they were looking through Dimensions Films’ back catalogue for possible adaptation ideas: “MTV had been speaking to Dimension and Bob Weinstein about properties to develop from his film catalogue. MTV had just done Teen Wolf and had great success with it. They talked about various things and then jokingly said, ‘What about Scream?’ and they both laughed and said, ‘You can’t do that.’
“Then they thought about it for a bit and said, ‘Maybe we can.’ That was the beginning of a two-year journey, where various writers came in to pitch ways to do it.”
However, MTV was yet to find the right fit for its version of Ghostface, the killer clad in the iconic white mask and black robes. Previous writers had brought in supernatural elements to try to bring a new edge to the franchise, but Blotevogel explains that it was essential that what made the original film so popular remained at the heart of the television series.
What she did do, however, was insert contemporary issues, such as the dangers of social media, which she could mould into a modern-day horror story.
“They brought me in a year-and-a-half ago to read the script and pitch what my take would be, and I just said you have to go back to what works about Scream,” she says. “It is a human character, it’s a very visceral thing. You can’t have a ghost in the machine for Scream. It’s a story but it’s not Scream.
“So for me it was finding a way to make what they did in 1996 feel fresh for 2015. Certainly a lot of it came down to how teenagers make themselves vulnerable to technology and social media, and how they don’t even realise how much they’re putting things out there that could be used against them or could open up their lives to someone who they may not want knowing so much about them.
“In the pilot, the idea of putting a sequence in a glasshouse where there’s no place to hide was part of the metaphor we were going for of teenagers making themselves vulnerable and wearing masks.
“We all put out these images of ourselves on social media that may not be our true selves and that was a really good jumping off point for the story, looking to create a big diverse cast where they all have secrets, they all have stories they’re trying to keep hidden.”
With Scream’s success as a slasher film, seeing a large proportion of characters die during its feature-length running time, one of the main challenges to overcome in the adaptation process was keeping true to the spirit of the original without killing off the entire cast.
Blotevogel explains: “The killer is not just slashing and piling up bodies. On a TV series you’ve got to have a longer-term mystery. Your killer has to have a long game in mind, rather than just running round racking up bodies. You can’t have the FBI descend and place a curfew on the town in episode two because then you can’t have the Friday Night Lights part of it, you can’t have the teen drama.
“That’s been the biggest balance taking a slasher movie to TV – finding a way to keep the world normal enough to keep the teen dynamic and your soap opera elements, but also reminding people that it’s Scream.”
Blotevogel’s blend of horror and drama has obviously impressed MTV executives and viewers alike, as last month, midway through Scream’s debut run, the cable channel renewed the show for a second season.
It also revealed that season one had attracted more than 21 million viewers and another 7.9 million streams online.
Announcing the renewal, Mina Lefevre, MTV’s executive VP of series development and head of scripted programming, said: “It has been a wonderful experience working with Bob Weinstein and his team, who are such connoisseurs of this genre, and we are thrilled by how our viewers have responded to the reinvention of Scream. We look forward to another season filled with suspense, horror and more twists and turns.”
Weinstein added: “The Scream franchise has been such a huge part of our history and to watch it evolve, find a new generation of fans and succeed at MTV makes this all the more sweet. We promise even more scares, surprises, romance and of course kills in season two.”
Blotevogel says the show has been mapped out to feature the same story with the same characters in the same town over several seasons.
“You get to go deeper into the story (in every season), but we are going to give you satisfying revelations at the end of every season,” she says. “There are things that will satisfy you and keep you coming back.
“If you think about a show like (AMC drama) The Killing, how that ended its first season was not very satisfying. People did not get the answer that they were looking for. I think a lot of TV shows have learnt their lesson from watching what happened there, and you now know you’ve got to have an ending for season one that still has the potential for the future, and the realisation that it’s not completely over.
“Because we have two levels of mythology in our show – we have the things that happened 20 years ago and the things that are happening in the present day – we have a lot of places to go to. We’ve built in a lot of possibilities knowing we’re going to extend this world.”