Finale: Behind the Screams of “Scream Queens”

MOVIEMAKER TIP OF THE WEEK: Move to Los Angeles!

People around the country often ask me what one thing they should do if they want to be a successful moviemaker. My answer almost always pisses them off, because it is as follows: MOVE TO LOS ANGELES. If not L.A., New York. Yes, you can be a successful moviemaker in other cities. But you increase your odds of success by a hundredfold with this one simple act. People who really want to make money in the film industry need to commit fully—and that usually requires a move to the places where movies are made.

OKAY, SO I’M NOT ENTIRELY HONEST…



All photos by John Sampson (except the blurry iPhone photos at the bottom). From L to R: Michelle, Tanedra, Lindsay.

I promised you when I started writing these “Behind-the-Screams” blogs that I’d be as honest as I could possibly be. And, being as honest as I can right now, I have to admit I haven’t been entirely honest with you all along the way…

You see, I thought Tanedra was likely going to win this competition from about week four. Now, I wasn’t absolutely certain; I thought that some of the others— especially Lindsay and Michelle—could pull it out and win the whole thing. But the truth is Tanedra dominated this competition. She didn’t always turn in the Leading Lady performance, but she was, overall, consistently great. So, for your enjoyment of the show, I didn’t share the numerous times I thought, “Holy fuck, Tanedra is going to take this thing.”



Not only that, I kept from you a lot of conversations I had with other folks involved with SCREAM QUEENS. In the mirror challenge, Rooker told me that he thought Michelle performed the best but that Tanedra was the best actress. In the auditions for REFORM SCHOOL ZOMBIE SQUAD, Sean said that Tanedra was “by far” the best actress (especially when you included Lindsay’s nerves). My fellow judges and I were constantly trying to guess who would win or be in the final two—Tanedra was almost always a part of that final two.

The main reason I think Tanedra felt ignored by me at times was because she’d rock out the scene, and I’d rather spend time helping a girl who had a chance of getting sent home that week.



A few weeks ago, Tanedra commented in this very blog that her feelings were hurt by my comments on the page and my brother Sean calling her “bland.” In full disclosure, I actually contacted her at that time and let her know that, although I wasn’t lying in these blogs, I was going to be highlighting some positives by others and some negatives by her—I’m an entertainer, and I didn’t want to give away who the winner was going to be.

I was trying, in as subtle ways as possible, to lead you all to believe that I would possibly pick Michelle in the finales. I wanted to trick all you little fuckers—for your own enjoyment, of course.



None of this is to say I didn’t love Michelle. I did. Not only did we get along extremely well, but her talent was incredibly underrated by the other girls as an actress. I’ve been accused a lot, by the other contestants and by you guys, of playing favorites with her. This is to some degree true—I was oftentimes her defender among the judges and producers. But I also played it up a little in this blog because I thought it was funny.

And I think it’s important to say that the “bitch” you see on TV was never a bitch to me in the slightest. Also, if you watch the show, Michelle rarely mistreats the other contestants other than battering them around with her enormous ego. I think most of her meanness is in the confessionals. I think Michelle is a master of getting attention, and she figured out the way to get a lot of screen time was to play the villain. Frankly, I found it to be some of her least convincing acting on the show.

Whatever the case, I think Michele has a lot of potential on TV and in films. And if this was 90210 QUEENS, she’d have it in the bag. But we were casting for SAW VI, and I was never sure she had the grit necessary for that series (that said, her acting is her final scene was better than most folks actually in the SAW series).



And then there’s Lindsay. I think Lindsay is a terrific actress and a quality human being, and I was so, so happy to see her start living up to her potential in the last couple episodes. In watching the series (and in seeing her constant Facebook updates), my fondness for her has grown. I think, overall, Lindsay was better in Homa’s and Shawnee’s challenges than she was in mine. She might be able to tell you better than me why this is the case, but my guess is that the pressure would sometimes get to her. In the last couple of episodes Lindsay really started to feel like herself while she was working with me—like the professional actress that I knew she was. The only thing that sucked was that I got to see so little of it before we let her go.

TANEDRA’S TANTRUM



What they show on the episode is a very watered-down version of her tantrum after the Grand Ballroom in Episode 7.& I think the editors didn’t want our Scream Queen to look too Jessica-tastic.

Tanedra explains in her blog that she was upset because I said she was “flatlining” for the last few weeks, and that I didn’t explain until then, when she really didn’t have much time to change. The truth is, I only noticed she was flatlining in that moment; it took a few weeks to establish a trend. I wanted to get a fuller, more passionate performance out of her in the finale (which I got). The mirror challenge was also, by far, Tanedra’s weakest Director’s Challenge.

Also, still being honest, I knew I needed to give Tanedra some sort of criticism so it didn’t seem like she was going to have an easy go of it in the Finale. I am in the entertainment business, after all.

THE GAUNTLET CHALLENGE



Essentially, all three of the girls were great. I was having a hard time coming up with too many criticisms. Michelle was manic and unfocused at first. If you notice she’s sitting down when I’m giving her notes—I asked her to do that so she would chill the fuck out. Lindsay initially had a hard time owning the scene—as evidenced by her stopping when she knocked down the door (which was awesome!), but they both improved greatly with direction.

Tanedra’s performance in the challenge seemed roundly the best, but we had a very difficult time deciding between Michelle and Lindsay. In the end, I think Michelle’s performance on the show had been better overall, and that was factored in to some degree.



In watching this episode, I saw for the first time that Tanedra had been upset with me. I was like, ‘Fuck! I don’t want to be a PART of the drama of this show!’ On SCREAM QUEENS, I like being this lofty celestial observer/commentator—sort of like the Watcher in Marvel comics.

However, I do remember the breakthrough, where Tanedra took responsibility for her own performance, made our communication a two-way street and started asking questions. This improved her performance 1,000%.

The Gauntlet was all done in one shot. Adam, the director of photography, had the camera in front of the girls. He would run away from them as the villain chased them. Tanedra’s mistake had been a very simple one—she was basing her movements upon where the villain was behind her (which she couldn’t see), as opposed to where the camera was in front of her, so her timing was always off. Once she got this, she was incredible. (It should also be noted that while filming the Gauntlet more takes were messed up by the dude playing the baddie than our three contestants).

After the end of the Gauntler, I told Tanedra how great she had been. It was the happiest I had seen her on the show: at one point, she broke down crying in my arms. I could tell she had been upset about what I had said to her in the Grand Ballroom, and seemed to be relieved that I didn’t hate her. I tried to explain that she needed to take my criticisms not as an assessment of her overall. Overall I thought she was a talented actress. My criticisms were just meant to help her improve the few places where she wasn’t great. She seemed to get it, and it was the closest I had felt to her during the entire show.

I also remember there were some sort of problems with the sound or something when we shot us kicking off Lindsay. So, after the girls left, John, Shawnee, and I had to reshoot our dialogue to them without them being there. It was very late at night, like 2 in the morning, and we were exhausted. We were saying our lines to Dale, the A.D., the producer Biagio, and the cue card guy Jerry. We were looking at something like this:

I think Dale was pretending to be one of the girls, which started me laughing, and I couldn’t stop. Which made Dale and Shawnee crack up and they couldn’t stop. All of this happened, of course, while John was trying to get through his lines. He was tired and grumpy, and got pissed off at me and Shawnee.

LINDSAY FELTON



Kicking off Lindsay sucked. It was anti-climactic. Perhaps it was easier for her, doing it late at night on the rooftop, tired as Hell, without the formality of the Grand Ballroom around us. But it seemed dreamlike and instant. We didn’t spend two hours leading up to it like we did with the other girls. It happened in a few minutes. Again, it was probably actually easier for her, but it seemed dismissive to me.



I waited around to say goodbye to Lindsay. Unlike most of the other girls, who seemed to want to hang for a while and chat, Lindsay seemed like she wanted to get the fuck out of there!  I’m not sure if she was just eager to go home and see her loved ones, if she was sad and didn’t want to share it, if she was still just nervous around me, or if she hated my guts in that moment for kicking her off. Whatever the case, we talked for about a minute total before she darted off.  

I pretty much assumed it was because she hated me! Since then, I’m fairly sure that’s not the case. She’s said nice things about me to others, which I’ve appreciated. And she befriended me on Facebook and MySpace (sure signs of close, personal intimacy—like my other 26,000 pals here).



Lindsay has gathered a BIG fan base off of this show. I know: I get messages from many of you, including a lot of folks in the horror business. I know many of you were disappointed when she was kicked off. But there’s an easy way to make it up to her—cast her in your movie!

Lindsay’s great. I’m sure I’ll see more of her in real life, both in person and in the media.

THE SAW III CHALLENGE



I pushed both these chicks hard. If I was going to expect them to go all out with their performance, I had to take an equal risk in my directing of them. I felt like I owed them everything I had. Our working together became musical, and, by this time, the trust and intimacy we had established was strong. When I tugged, they moved forward, when I pushed, they fell back. When I asked them to go deeper, they dug, and when I told them to let go and forget about anything but the moment they were inhabiting, they did that too. In the end, they weren’t only the most fulfilling Director’s Challenges on the show—they were fulfilling in comparison to most stuff I’ve done period.



I was extremely grateful to both of them for making my job easy. But, in the end, Tanedra was nearly perfect. Any worries we had about “dynamics” were gone as she was able to easily match Michelle’s roller coaster intensity.

I do think the role was slightly more suited for Tanedra. Michelle was a bit young for the role of a doctor with kids (Doogette Howser, maybe?) But, even forgetting that, Tanedra was more able to go to that deep place and convey it to us the judges, and, I’m pretty sure, all of you at home.



And we can’t negate Homa through all of this. His work with them in the personal training was stupendous. You’d have to be blind not to see how far both of them came while he worked through the scenes with them. We were lucky as hell to have an acting coach like John Homa. He’s one of only a handful in the world who are that good, even when he’s getting you to blow a banana or fuck bread.



John and Shawnee were blown away by both Tanedra’s and Michelle’s performances in the Director’s Challenge. I’ll always remember how proud all three of us were watching their scenes in Shawnee’s dressing room on judgment day. And I’ll always remember how much John complimented my work, which touched me deeply.

THE FINAL GRAND BALLROOM



I’ve watched the finale twice now, and both times I’ve cried. Finally, they actually have both me and Homa teary-eyed on the show. I think all of you can now agree that Homa looks far more like a giant vagina than I do while crying. Every time I see it I’m really quite embarrassed for him. And quite taken aback by how virile I look in contrast!!



In all honesty, it was a moving night. What touched me the most in the Grand Ballroom is perhaps what touched me most during the entire show – it was when Tanedra admitted the reason she shuts down sometimes is because “it comes from sometimes me being a little bit embarrassed.” I found it to be a remarkably honest and aware thing to say. And it was Tanedra’s honesty, and her awareness, and her willingness to be embarrassed that won her the role of Scream Queen. We couldn’t have chosen a better person. I was so proud of her in this final episode, and so proud of the job we as judges had done in choosing her.



Seeing her break down was beautiful and, of course, an amazing reality-TV moment. Right after that, we all ran up to stage and hugged Tanedra, and shared that moment with her. I’ll remember it forever.

MICHELLE GALDENZI



Of course, I talked to Michelle before she left. She of course was excited about winning her role in HUMANZEE in Episode Four, which, let’s admit it, is better than a role in SAW VI. She seemed to have no qualms about losing to Tanedra, who I think she realized for a while was a versatile actress.

It was sad saying good-bye to Michelle. But watching her growth over the show was rewarding. Week by week she consistently got better. After her power-dump in Episode Three she almost never stumbled, all the way until the end. I have no reason to think that growth will stop once she’s off the show.

As I said earlier, her personality on TV can be noxious at times. But, in person, it was her personality as well as her talent and not her looks that made her a delight to work with week after week. There were LOTS of gorgeous girls on the show, but only one MG.



And, whether you loved her or hated her, I think you have to admit she really made the show. It’s hard to imagine it without her.

P.S. My Dad loved Michelle. He just called me pissed off that she didn’t win.

TANEDRA HOWARD!!!



Tanedra and I talked for a long time after she was done with her final interviews. We hung out with the producers, Biagio and Joke, in the mansion bedroom. Biagio’s agent was there, and I’m pretty sure he wanted to sign Tanedra right then. I didn’t want to be a dick, but I was sort of like, “Uh, Tanedra, maybe you should wait on that… I’m pretty sure you’re going to have a lot of interest soon.”

I swear to God, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a happier person in my entire life. And I know she’s been bursting to let the world know SHE DID IT.



And she did. She came in from the beginning and owned this competition. I learned a lot from her along the way. She was unfailing in her efforts and in her perseverance. She doubted herself at times, but she didn’t let that doubt inhibit her actions whatsoever. And, yes, she’s a sensitive girl. She gets her feelings hurt easily—including from reading these blogs. But it’s that sensitivity which makes her such an incredible talent.

Tanedra, you’re awesome and you’re blessed. In all the time since leaving the show, and in watching all the episodes, I haven’t had a single moment of doubt that John, Shawnee and I made the right decision in making you our SCREAM QUEEN.

ME AND SCREAM QUEENS: A WRAP UP



When I was offered the SCREAM QUEENS pilot, many of the folks in Team Gunn (my representatives and other business partners) did NOT want me to do the show. I’m not sure they wanted me associated with a reality show, and—a bigger factor—I got paid for the entire series roughly about what I get paid for a couple days of writing. But I decided to do it because I was a big fan of BEAUTY AND THE GEEK, which the producers worked on, because I really wanted to understand what it was like behind-the-scenes of a reality show, which I knew nothing about, and because I thought it was good advertising for James Gunn related enterprises—like the HUMANZEE plug in episode four.





But in the end it was worth doing because I had a blast and I loved the people I was working with. In this world, there are few things more important than aligning yourself with folks you love and respect.  



I cannot stress enough, the greatness of Joke and Biagio, the creators and Executive Producers. The atmosphere of a set almost always trickles down from the top, and Joke and Biagio made the show an absolute joy to work on. Every time I had a problem, they were there listening and doing their best to make me comfortable. Just as important, I loved John Homa and Shawnee Smith—I would pay VH1 money just to sit in a room with Shawnee giving John shit for eight week—instead, they paid me to do it. VH1 in general was amazing to work with, our onsite producer Dave Hamilton, and especially Jim Ackerman, who always listened to anything I had to say, and who was willing to answer all my stupid questions and theories about reality TV. The crew—our A.D. Dale, our director Claudia, our 2nd AD Ryan, our DP Adam, our writers Dan and Rob, our cue card guys Jerry and Jeff, and all those I don’t have space to mention here—were awesome. They made me want to stay out of fictional storytelling forever. Either that, or bring them all with me.



And, of course, the contestants. Joanne, Kylah, Marissa, Lina, Sarah, Jessica, Angela, Lindsay, Michelle, and Tanedra. I love all of you guys (yes, even Lina), and I’m sorry to those of you who left early, whom I didn’t get to know as well, and that you weren’t able to show folks your full potential. I’m sorry that I’ve made so many jokes at your expense. I promise, if there is a SCREAM QUEENS II, I will make even more jokes at their expense in retaliation for you guys. How does that sound?

And thanks to all of you guys, the audience, for watching every week – so many of you have written that you’re watching it even though you’ve never watched a reality show before. I appreciate you too, and your comments to the blog.  

Me: I’m not going anywhere. Now it’s back to writing blogs about me getting raped, my fear of dead squirrels and human-chimp hybrids. I’ll see you here soon.

Now fuck off,

James

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