A preview of next Monday’s episode
It’s surprisingly a lot colder than you’d expect for a December morning in Los Angeles, but the brisk air does little to deter both this Shock writer’s excitement, as well as that of director Tim Sullivan’s as we both walk into the world famous backlot of Universal Studios, to the same spots where Hollywood legends such as Clint Eastwood and John Wayne shot some of their classic Westerns for this week’s new acting challenge on VH1’s reality competition Scream Queens. Sullivan reminds me that we’re standing “in the same location where Boris Karloff had chased villagers as Frankenstein”, which for life long horror fans such as ourselves made this set visit both extra special, and also truly surreal.
It’s the mid-way point of Scream Queen’s second season and the competition has been fierce thus far. 10 aspiring actresses are put through a series of weekly challenges that run the gambit of everything you could possibly expect to run into on the set of a horror movie; blood, gore, FX, bugs, snakes, you name it. Hell, this second season even boasted a stop animation challenge. It’s a crash course into the world of indie horror filmmaking that these actresses will have to endure and master if they want a shot at winning the grand prize, a role in Lionsgate’s upcoming SAW 3D. Sullivan, a genre veteran having directed both 2001 Maniacs movies, as well as Driftwood and also penning Snoop Dogg’s Hood Of Horror, is one of this season’s judges alongside legitimate scream queen Jaime King (My Bloody Valentine 3D, The Tripper and the upcoming Mother’s Day) and acting couch John Homa returning from the first season.
This week’s acting exercise is a little different for the girls. Rather than having the actresses repeat and give their interpretation of a specific scene as previous challenges have entailed, this week the entire crew is on the backlot of Universal Studios gearing up to shoot a faux trailer for “Vampire Outlaws”, an epic vampire Western. “Last season we did a trailer for the Reform School Zombie Squad as a challenge,” explains executive producer Joke Fincioen, who returns this season with partner Biagio Messina. “That was actually written by Caleb Emerson who wrote Die You Zombie Bastards! The girls really loved it because they all got to play different characters for a change. Since everybody had such a great time on that trailer last season, we decided to do something similar here.”
In fact, according to the producers, devising all of this season’s challenges has been a collaborative effort between them and judges. “We would sit down with John and Tim and Jamie and discuss, OK, what do you want to do? We’d ask Jamie what one of the most difficult things she’s had to do has been? With Tim, what challenges do you face on every movie set?” says Fincioen. “How can we make it authentic,” interjects Messina. “The most important thing is you have to be a great actress. We’ve always tried to respect how hard it is it be a scream queen. The horror genre allows us to do a competition, find great actresses, but also have fun with it. Because for horror, you have to be able to hit all those emotions but have fun with it.”
“I made the big mistake early on of telling Joke and Biagio that I would never ask an actor or actress to do something that I wasn’t willing to do,” laughs Sullivan. “Cut to me draping an 80 pound albino python on my neck last week, which was no problem after drinking half a bottle of Jack Daniels. That said, I’m really proud of how much cool stuff we’ve been able to pack into every episode.”
This Shock writer can’t help chuckle as we pass a sign on set that names the town “UN-Deadwood.” “Honestly, I wish we could just shoot the whole damn movie!” confesses Sullivan. I ask the director what it’s been like to direct these particular 10 aspiring actresses for this season thus far. “It’s been fascinating, especially as the show has gone on and each week we lose a contestant. What was very interesting to me as a filmmaker and what must be incredibly interesting to the audience watching the show at home is that you can have the exact set, the exact lights, the exact camera angle, the exact camera movement, but it becomes a different scene with each actress. Literally 10 performances gave it 10 different vibes and having directed several feature films now, you learn as a director that actors come from different backgrounds and different training grounds. Sometimes you have someone who never studied but is a natural talent â they require different handling then someone who comes from theater and is very disciplined. Some actors want to get into their back stories, other don’t. Some want you to tell them verbally what to do.”
“That’s something I’ve always prided myself on is being able to quickly access what each actress can do and what they need from me. I was really rooting for every single one of these girls, and as the show progressed, I really wanted them to give their best. As I said to the contestants and will say to anyone who watches, just because you didn’t win Scream Queens doesn’t mean you’re not a good actress or you should give up your day job. God bless Diane Keaton but I wouldn’t exactly cast her as Laurie Strode in the original Halloween. Does that mean she’s not a good actress? No, it just means she’s better suited to play Annie Hall. I would say to the contestants âyou may not be the scream queen, but you may be the scream queen’s best friend’ or the âscream queen’s nemesis’. Carrie is a perfect example. You’ve got Sissy Spacek, but then you had Amy Irving, PJ Soles, Nancy Allen. Every single one of those actresses had incredible careers in the horror genre, but only one of them was the scream queen in that film, which was Sissy Spacek.”
On most of the other challenges, as Sullivan explained, all the actresses were each giving their unique take on the material. The sets, script, lighting and camera angles were all pre-determined. But for the shooting of the “Vampire Outlaws” trailer, lines and scenes were improved, the frantic crew had 42 set-ups to try to snag in one day and it felt very much like it had the true run-and-gun indie spirit, something Sullivan is accustomed to on his own feature films. “This day was using all my experience from an independent filmmaking background but being able to do it on a studio lot, which was amazing. For a director, it was like a playground. For me, this has been the peak of this experience. And I think for the girls too. When they found out what they were doing, you could see all their eyes light up. Everyone brought their A game today and it’s going to be a real tough week to say goodbye to somebody. Honestly, there were a lot of winners today.”
Producer Messina also personally considers this particular day the highlight not only between both seasons of Scream Queens, but of his entire professional career. “My first job in California was a tour guide for the Universal tram, so to have them drive by and introduce our show while we were shooting was just so surreal and amazing.”
Catch the latest episode of Scream Queens Season 2 Monday nights 10/9c on VH1!
*Set photos courtesy of John Sampson
Source: Rob G.