EXCLUSIVE: It was with great sadness that I learned yesterday that Wes Craven had passed away. Over the few decades that I had worked with him, I got to experience his artistry first hand and more importantly on a personal level. I am happy to say over the last several years we became close friends.
In 1994, I created Dimension Films specifically to produce and distribute genre films. As fate would have it, in 1996 a script arrived called Scary Movie, written by Kevin Williamson, we would later rename it Scream. It was everything I was looking for: smart, diabolical, funny and above all scary as all hell. The only person that I thought of to direct this movie was Wes Craven. Wes read the script immediately and we had our first meeting. His demeanor could not have been any more opposite of what I expected from a “horror director.” As anyone who knows Wes personally, he was gentle, professional, polite, and when it came to horror, a true master. To my surprise, he passed, saying that he wanted to do something with less comedy and that was from beginning to end much harder-edged. My heart dropped. I tried to convince him but to no avail and he wished me well.
I had no other choice but to seek out a director who could bring Scream to life. Over the next six weeks, I went out to a who’s-who of great and capable directors who either passed on their own or who I had to reject knowing they did not fully understand the script that was in front of them. During those six weeks, I took the opportunity to ask Wes two more times if he would reconsider and he politely said he was going in another direction. Weeks later, when I was down to the last several people on my list, out of the blue came a call from Wes asking if he could meet with me. The meeting took place and he explained to me he had re-read the script several times and had now come to clearly see the movie in his head. He asked if the opportunity was still available and if so he would like to take the job. Faster than the speed of light I said yes. The picture went on to become a huge box office and critical success and I can honestly say there is no one who could have done a better job at bringing it to life.
Right now, in the marketplace, there is not a week that goes by where there is not a new horror film opening, but in 1996 the genre almost died out. Wes Craven brought the genre back with the start of the Scream franchise. It is considered a seminal film in the anthology of horror movies and the overwhelming credit goes to the master Wes Craven.
A small anecdote: I asked Wes why the Drew Barrymore scene was so particularly brutal, bloody and horrific in the opening of a movie because I feared where could he go to top that. His response was that it was well premeditated on his part and his experience was if you scared the sh*t of the audience at the top of the film, that everything that followed — be it the opening of a window, or a door, or someone even sneezing — would have the audience at the edge of their seats. He clearly knew the genre like no one else. On an aesthetic level, I always marveled at how he could frame an actor usually from behind walking into a room and the feeling of that deadly presence of tension. This has been a signature of every horror movie ever made, but when other lesser directors did it you wouldn’t feel it. Yet, when Wes created that shot, all you felt was the impending dread. I could analyze the differences between shots for a lifetime, but I’ll leave it to the fact that the reason Wes made it work was that he had an artist’s eye.
One of my proudest moments of my partnership with my brother Harvey was when he gave Wes the opportunity to direct Music Of The Heart in which Meryl Streep would get a Golden Globe nomination. Harvey could see through the horror genre that Wes lived in and realized that his talent as a director exceeded any particular genre. In a business of type-casting, Wes through Harvey was given the opportunity to take a step outside of his comfort zone and I am so proud to say he delivered a beautiful film. Over the last several years I came to know that the master of horror was a gentle soul at heart, a great father and a loving husband to his wife Iya and, I kid you not, an avid bird watcher which I’m still trying to wrap my head around. I’m proud to say we shared a great journey together and I am most proud to say he became my friend.
He will be missed but never forgotten.