“Scream” Was Inspired By a True Story
Screenwriter Kevin Williamson based the script—originally titled “Scary Movie”—on the real-life Gainesville Ripper murders in 1990, per Nerdist. The Florida-based serial killer Danny Harold Rolling targeted local students, and Williamson first became aware of the story while watching the local news, hence the inclusion of Courteney Cox’s anchor character.
“I was watching this Barbara Walters special on the Gainesville murders,” Williamson explained to CNN back in 1998. “And I was getting so spooked. I was being scared out of my mind. During the commercial break, I heard a noise. And I had to go search the house. And I went into the living room and a window was open. And I’d been in this house for two days. I’d never noticed the window open. So I got really scared. So I went to the kitchen, got a butcher knife, got the mobile phone. I called a buddy of mine.”
That friend started asking Williamson about his favorite scary movies, and Williamson wrote out the opening scene for what would eventually become “Scream.” Only three days later, Williamson had the full script.
Williamson also credited his love of horror films like “Halloween” for inspiring the referential tone of the unprecedented slasher.
While Williamson’s agent feared the film would be a “tough sell” to producers, “Scary Movie” incited a bidding war between Oliver Stone and Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Williamson agreed to a deal with Miramax and Dimension Films, and the Weinsteins offered an additional contract for two sequels. Rumor has it that the Weinsteins also changed the name of the film to “Scream” after listening to the Michael Jackson song of the same name.
Of course, “Scary Movie” went on to become its own parody franchise under the Wayans Brothers, famously mocking the opening “Scream” sequence. Marlon Wayans also worked with Dimension Films, and later reflected on the “evil regime” behind-the-scenes with the Weinsteins. “Scary Movie” producer Bob Zenga alleged to Variety in 2020 that Dimension Films purchased “Scary Movie” solely due to the “Scream” parallel. “The Weinsteins wanted to buy it because it spoofed their franchise of ‘Scream,'” Zegna noted. “I think they didn’t want somebody else cannibalizing their movie.”