What Made Shooting Scream 4 So Tough For Wes Craven

This post contains spoilers for the entire "Scream" series so far.

With "Scream" (2022) being a major financial and critical success (spawning a sequel that's already wrapped up filming), it's easy to overlook "Scream 4," the standalone entry that failed to revive the series. The 2011 film was a box office disappointment, and with very few new characters surviving, it put the eventual sequel in a tough place. The fifth "Scream" had to establish a whole new set of teen characters all over again, and it tried its best to get us to care about them once it was time to start killing them off. 

Despite the fact that "Scream 4" failed to spawn a new trilogy of Scream movies, it's still a worthwhile addition to the franchise. Its main killer is perhaps one of its most surprising and compelling characters the series has had to date, and the movie's skewering of reboots was delightful the whole way through. "Scream 4" continued the series' trend of avoiding having any clear-cut "bad" movies in the franchise, making this one of the most consistently good horror series of all time. There may be some rough spots here and there, but every "Scream" movie so far has had something compelling to say.

"Scream 4" seems even more impressive when you learn how difficult the production was for director Wes Craven, who had to deal with major script changes and scheduling conflicts for several of the main actors.

Limited Courteney Cox and an ever-changing script

As Craven (who passed away in 2015) explained in a 2011 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, "We had two key people, Courteney [Cox] and Kevin [Williamson], who were tied to [TV] shows." Those TV shows were "Cougar Town" for Cox, and "The Secret Circle" for writer Kevin Williamson. This meant that Gale Weathers' scenes in the movie had to be scheduled precisely, because Cox had limited availability. There was also some awkwardness around the fact that Cox and David Arquette (who plays Dewey in the series) were separated at the time and were heading for divorce, but by all accounts both actors handled this smoothly and professionally.  

According to Craven, Williamson attempted to have his TV show pushed back a little to make time for his work on "Scream 4," but the network wasn't allowing it. "The network basically said, 'We'll sue you,'" Craven said, "So we lost Kevin. And we brought Ehren Kruger in." Although Craven clarified that "it's definitely Kevin's story, frame, characters," it was definitely a messy process. It was reminiscent of the chaotic behind-the-scenes script changes of "Scream 3," which didn't exactly bode well for this new movie. 

And while I'd certainly argue that the final product was a success, there are definitely some disappointing aspects that seem to be the result of all the script changes. Most notably, the treatment of Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) left a little to be desired.

Kirby's limited role

Kirby's become something of a fan favorite in the past decade, because like Randy in the first two films or Mindy in the latest one, she's a funny, genre-savvy character who's easy to root for. In Williamson's original script, however, she's even better. 

Kirby's most memorable scene — the one where she wins a high-stakes trivia game with Ghostface — goes on for longer in the original script, and her performance is far more impressive. (Sidney's also with her for the game, so we get a lot more interaction with the two than the movie itself gives us.) The other big difference is with the ending: where the finished movie ends with Sidney surviving and killing Jill at the hospital, the original script ends with something far more ambiguous. There, Jill successfully pulls off her scheme, except at the last moment Dewey and Gale learn that there's been one survivor in the massacre: "A woman." Dewey asks if it's Sidney, but the script ends before he gets an answer. 

Considering Williamson's plans for the next film at the time, which involved Jill going off to college, it seems more than possible that the one woman left alive was intended to be Kirby. But while the script left Kirby's fate somewhat ambiguous, the final product seemingly made it clear that Kirby's been killed. Yes, we never see the exact moment where the lights leave her eyes, but we do see her get stabbed multiple times and she's never mentioned again. The implication's clear. 

Fixing Scream 4's mistakes

The lack of resolution with Kirby put the new "Scream" in an awkward position, because they'd have a lot of explaining to do if they wanted to bring Kirby back. Instead, the requel settled for a quick cameo that confirms her survival, which helped to give skeptical viewers time to make peace with the (admittedly clumsy) retcon before "Scream 6" comes and (presumably) gives us the real explanation for what happened with her. 

There was a lot of conflict over the fourth movie's script (which Williamson has been fairly vague about beyond acknowledging the conflict existed), but it seems to have been based around two competing visions for the movie. One was that the story would be a total deconstruction of reboots, one that literally kills off the entire new generation of survivors (who viewers expected to take over the series) and reaffirms Sidney/Gale/Dewey as the irreplaceable core of the franchise. The other vision seems to be that of a story that paves the way for the franchise to go in a fresh new direction centered around new characters, and an ending with Jill and/or Kirby still alive would've achieved that. 

In the end, we've gotten a messy mix of both. Jill was definitively killed, but Kirby ended up being alive after all, and "Scream" (2022) gave us another handful of survivors to connect with longterm. More than a decade after "Scream 4," the franchise is now firmly set up to move beyond the main original trilogy characters. And the fourth film itself is far, far better than it had any right to be.