Episode Five: Behind the Screams of James Gunn’s “Scream Queens”


MOVIEMAKER TIP OF THE WEEK
Never hesitate to fire someone! One crap cog in a production can bring the whole thing down. If a cast or crew member starts showing some problems—whether it be bad acting or the inability to put together a budget or a prosthetic FX artist whose dragons look like Kermit the Frog—those problems will likely only get larger and worse as time goes on. This is where hope can kill you on set: You hope they’ll get better and things will be okay. Sure, sometimes they do get better. But four out of five times they don’t. Statistically, you’re better off getting rid of them immediately. Sure, it’s difficult to fire someone, and even more of a pain-in-the-ass to replace them. But it’s nothing compared to the problems the poor performance of a team member can cause.

My Pain Is Your Pleasure, I Suppose

All photos by John Sampson. From L to R: Michelle, Lindsay, Jessica, Sarah, Angela, Tanedra.

This week on “Scream Queens” sucked for me. Sure, you guys may have enjoyed the episode, but for me it was torture.

First of all, the cockroach challenge was more difficult for me than it comes off on TV. It’s true, I did laugh when the girls were merely ooked out by the cockroaches. But some of the girls—especially Angela and Sarah—seemed to go from ooked out to on the verge of having panic attacks. I, in turn, started to panic, due in part to a memory from my filmmaking past…

On my first feature film, Tromeo & Juliet, there was a dream sequence featuring the lead actress, Jane Jensen, in which she grew a huge pregnant belly which exploded. Out of the belly came popcorn, followed by rats and, finally, maggots. Jane expressed many times that the rats didn’t bother her—they were actually cute as hell—but she was freaked out by the maggots (which were actually just mealy worms, but I kept calling them maggots to mess with her—I didn’t know how serious she was about being freaked out). When the cameras started rolling and the prosthetic belly full of popcorn burst, we threw the rats on her, followed by the “maggots.” Jane was crying and screaming at the top of her lungs.

I thought, “Wow, Jane’s acting is really incredible in this scene!” And then I started to realize she wasn’t faking it. After a moment, I stopped the scene.

Jane broke down sobbing. She had had a panic attack. She was white as a ghost and hyperventilating. The mealy worms had gotten into her underwear and were wriggling around in there, which fucked her up. She was an emotional wreck for the rest of the day and had to go home.

There was nothing emotionally unstable about Jane. She had been a trooper for the entire rest of the shoot and had to put up with giant penis monsters, being covered in cow head prosthetics, nude scenes with men of questionable body odors and so on. But she had a phobia of the little critters, and that really can’t be helped. If I had to be covered in a vat of dead squirrels (which many of you know I hate), I would freak the fuck out, and probably react similarly.

I felt very guilty about the incident, and still do to this day. Not only was I the one to fuck with Jane beforehand, getting her worked up by teasing her about the “maggots,” I was the one to throw the creatures on her. & And, embarrassedly, I did hesitate before stopping the scene because the footage we were getting of her freaking out was so good. I had my filmmaker’s blinders on, where nothing matters but getting the shot, and a small part of me momentarily forgot about the emotional health of my friend. I DID stop it, but maybe a few moments later than I should have. Ugh. I still feel bad about it today, and that was over 10 years ago.

Anyway, I pretty much didn’t think about that episode during this Director’s Challenge until Angela looked like she was about to hyperventilate. Then it all came flowing back to me, my guilt and upset over the incident, my memories of Jane’s fear, and I saw it all in Angela. In the episode, you see me crouched outside the tent, telling Angela how important the scene was for her. What you don’t see is me talking her through it slowly for a good five minutes, trying to get her to concentrate on the process instead of the tickly little legs skittering over her face and neck and arms. The bug wrangler dude had already worked her up telling her the cockroaches might crawl into her vagina and whatnot, just like I had with Jane. I really was afraid she was about to emotionally collapse in the same way Jane did. I almost cut the whole thing and pulled her out a few times. Honestly, the bugs were mostly for you sick bastards at home—what I mostly cared about was the acting before the bugs, at which Angela had already excelled.

In the end, she didn’t break down. I’d like to think this is because I’m a better director and more compassionate person than I was 10 years ago, but she probably wouldn’t have anyway. Still, after the scene with Angela, I was emotionally off for the rest of the challenge.

That was the first, and lesser reason this episode was difficult for me. The second reason was I hated kicking off Sarah. She was definitely my favorite at that point in time. Some of the Scream Queens have complained in their blogs or in the comments here that I had my favorites. In some ways this was true—but I think that I kicked off Sarah proves that it wasn’t overly affecting my decisions.

I had an affinity for Sarah and found her funny from day one. If you see episode five again, you can see enormous bags under my eyes in the Grand Ballroom. This is because I couldn’t sleep the whole night before, an emotional wreck unable to make a decision. It was the first week it wasn’t fairly clear. My opinion was revolving continuously between Sarah, Jessica and Lindsay. I really couldn’t decide. In the end, I had to rely on the expert opinions of my fellow judges to help me make a decision, and that decision was Sarah. It honestly still bums me out writing about it now.

Oh, and one more interesting tidbit about this episode—you don’t see any shots of me or Homa in the last few minutes of the show. You know why? We were both teary-eyed, sad about losing Sarah. The only difference between me and Homa was that I looked pretty masculine while crying, while he looked very much pussy-ish. And I liked to remind him of this for the rest of the “Scream Queens” shoot. I found the way to help me make it through the pain of being on a reality show: Fuck with Homa.

“You were a fucking older brother, weren’t you?” he asked me the next week, when I was amusing the crew with tales of his extremely feminine crying. “Yep,” I told him. “I can tell,” he said.

Anyway, this was an extremely important week. I realized I had only seen the girls act by themselves for the entire run of the show. Usually, in a film, you have a scene partner, and this week they had a chance to show me they could work with one. Here’s a rundown on the contestants and my feelings about them this week


ANGELA
In the midst of my darkest week yet, came one of my brightest moments of the entire show—Angela’s growth. I could tell the minute she came on set that something had changed. She looked lighter, happier, sexier and more beautiful. I don’t know what it is about dealing with your life issues, but when you do you tend to shine.

But her real changes came in her performance. In weeks before she seemed fake, all outward choices and no interior life—but in the tent, before the bugs arrived, she became natural and fully alive. The moment in which she pinches Tanedra and giggles wasn’t in the script—it was something she added and it seemed very real and in the moment. I loved it. Perhaps my favorite acting moment in all of the challenges thus far.

When I talked to her and gave her notes, she listened, was fully present and made the changes I requested. Just a few days beforehand, she had only a single line of dialogue and seemed incapable of taking my notes.


And her and Tanedra’s interaction was by far the most believable of all the girls. They seemed like friends. Tanedra had always been a present and natural actress, but now Angela was right there with her.

In all truth, Angela’s performance shocked me. I couldn’t believe she had grown so much in a single week. I had actually never seen an actor anywhere grow that much in such a short period of time. It was an awesome and wonderful thing to see, and it made me feel good that I may have been some small part of that in addressing her straightforwardly the week before. Unlike some of the girls, Angela had let down her defenses, took in the judges’ criticisms, and used them to her benefit.

And though I was going through a very hard week on the show, I was able to see in her the possibility of positive changes that can occur as the result of something even as silly and disposable as “Scream Queens.” It’s one of the reasons I signed on to do the show, because I liked the positive vibe of what the producers had done on “Beauty and the Geek.”

I’m still very grateful to Angela for being unafraid that week and making the changes she did. It affected how I attacked the show for the rest of the season.


TANEDRA
Tanedra fucking ROCKED IT this week! Like all of the other girls (well, except maybe Jessica), she was freaked out by the cockroaches. But you could hardly tell. She moved through it like a warrior. I remember seeing the movie Feed years ago, which had footage of Bill Clinton when he was going through his Gennifer Flowers ordeal while he was running for president. As difficult as it must have been for him, he walked through it like a warrior. The look on Tanedra’s face when she was covered with those bugs reminded me of Clinton in Feed. Tanedra was the Bill Clinton of “Scream Queens!” She was a warrior!

But it wasn’t only her focus that impressed me. Tanedra was a natural actress. Now that she was becoming a little more used to acting for the cameras, her face was becoming the great instrument it was capable of being. She was naturally emotive, and didn’t need to do much to share with us her fear.

She was far and away the best for the week, and easily deserved the role of Leading Lady.


MICHELLE
Michelle defied her critics once again by turning in the week’s second best performance. I was worried about her beforehand, as Michelle’s lifelong passion of looking in the mirror may be better training for the solo exercises she had done so far as opposed to actually relating to another human being. But her work her was solid despite having a difficult partner in Lindsay.

Michelle would still skid off the tracks with a clunker of a line every now and again. But overall her performance was strong and believable.


JESSICA
Oh, Jessica! If we were judging by first takes only, Jessica would have gone home this week. She and Sarah were both terrible on their initial run through. Whatever their kooky exercises had been made them read their lines as if they were channeling Abbot and Costello doing “Who’s on First?”—not exactly a great choice for a horror film. Also, her and Sarah seemed to be acting in completely different movies. There was no apparent relationship between them at all.

I never want to see an actor fail. But, on the first run through, it was a little bit of a relief. The decision that week was going to be easy—we’d send home Jessica.

But after I gave her my notes, she got better and better and better. She improved drastically. The light in her eyes and her natural charisma emerged the more relaxed she became. <
AND she was the only girl who didn’t seem freaked out by the cockroaches. I personally find a girl who can giggle as she throws handfuls of cockroaches onto her face a bit of a turn-on—there’s no way that this is not a fun chick. Some of you folks at home have labeled her crazy. I have a different label for that: Fucking awesome.

Jessica didn’t kill the scene in the same way Tanedra, Michelle or Angela did. But she did a good job. I definitely considered sending her home. And John and Shawnee and I discussed it. But, because of her work for the week, we couldn’t justify it.


LINDSAY
I was becoming worried about Lindsay. Undoubtedly, she had more knowledge of her craft than the other Scream Queens, and she had talent. But I was afraid her nerves were getting to her. I had seen it in the audition process the week before and this week in the Director’s Challenge. Both times she started somewhat strong and grew increasingly worse. I saw what had happened with Marissa when her mind became her enemy, and I didn’t want to see that happen again.

I talked to Lindsay about it after the scene. Like Sarah the week before, she admitted to her poor performance. She told me she was only bad in auditions, and she saw the bug scene and the whole show as an audition. The way I see it, EVERY acting role is an audition for the next acting role. The pressure of doing a big movie like SAW 6 seemed as stressful as standing in front of me auditioning. So I didn’t find much comfort in this explanation.

In the end, Lindsay just barely got a call back.


SARAH
Ahhhgghhhhh! Sarah knows I love her. Why? Because I told her in the Grand Ballroom, a lot of which wasn’t shown. And I told her after she got kicked off the show (more on this later). I just liked her a lot as a person, and as an actress. You’ve gathered by now that some of the chicks on this show are pretty fucking weird. And Sarah was, too. But she was weird in a way I could relate to. And, frankly, I was going to be more lonely on the show without her. That alone was a reason to despise kicking her off.

And I really did despise kicking her off. Did I make that clear to you guys yet? Even as I write this blog I still wonder if I made the right decision (though I’m not necessarily talking about the decision between her and Lindsay, but between her and all of the girls…)

If you would have asked me first week who was going to be the final two, I would have said Sarah and Michelle. But by now I was pretty sure Sarah wasn’t going to make it to the end (and after Michelle’s power-dump, she wasn’t the shoo-in I had originally thought either).

Still, I didn’t have a firm decision on who I thought should go. Every week I had made my decision, essentially based on how the Director’s Challenge had gone, plus their overall performances in past Director’s Challenges. Luckily, up until that point John and Shawnee had always agreed with me.

This week I didn’t know what the fuck to do. To make it worse, Homa and Shawnee didn’t know what the fuck to do either. In the end, though, for the first time we really took into account how the actresses had performed in the other challenges that week. Sarah hadn’t done well in any of them, especially in John’s rather emotional exercise. Lindsay, on the other hand, had.

< This wasn’t a matter of me not making a decision and letting other people do it for me. It was a matter of using the experts around me to help you make the best decision she can. If I was choosing an actress for MY movie, it may have been a different decision. But I wasn’t. I was choosing someone for the director and producers of SAW 6. In the end, Shawnee, John, and I stood united and sent Sarah home. I waited for Sarah to do her final interviews, and then met up with her to talk. Although she was bummed about being kicked off, she was vibrant and excited to see her friends and family. I told her she had been my favorite, and we talked about doing something together in the future—and you’ll definitely see her showing up in a future James Gunn production.
She’s also the only Scream Queen I’ve seen since the show ended, as she was at one of Terra Naomi’s shows at Hotel Café in Hollywood. I think this might go against my contract with VH1—I don’t think think I’m supposed to talk to the girls until after the show has aired completely. But what was I supposed to do, see her and run away in fear?

Sorry, VH1. In return, I’ll write a bunch of blogs for free promoting the show.

Anyway, I was happy to hear Sarah say the show had been a positive experience for her (hopefully she still feels this same way after the show has aired). I was also happy to hear that she and Jessica had cleared the air between them in regards to Jessica’s “look Jewish” crack and that she thought that Jessica was a great person.

That said, her absence from the show was a difficult one for me. I would have to seek out and find a new favorite. Who was it going to be? You’ll have to come read this blog next week and find out!

Next week’s show is an extremely emotional one, with John Homa’s most fucked-up and interesting acting exercise—and I hate him for having the best scene yet on “Scream Queens.” Shit! I can only comfort myself with the knowledge that God gave John the best scene, but that he also made him shed tears in a much more pussy-like fashion.

Next week’s episode also features a challenge with my good buddy, Michael Rooker. That’s right, the star of SLiTHER and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is going to manhandle each of the girls. And better yet, he’s going to drive me fucking crazy. Because Jessica’s a bedrock of sanity in comparison to Rooker.

Until then, if you want to say hi in person, drop by:
THE TERRA NAOMI SHOW THIS THURSDAY NIGHT
Hotel Café
1623 N. Cahuenga Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA
8:00pm – 9:00pm

It’s going to be an awesome time. Terra is going to play two brand-new songs for the first time, which I think are perhaps her best yet!< Until then, go fuck yourselves, James SUBSCRIBE TO THIS BLOG at: http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.confirmsubscribe&friendID=58119776&Mytoken=A461BA68-682B-4917-A0196C6F29DC6C14234420275

You can still watch JAMES GUNN’S PG PORN: NAILING YOUR WIFE at:
http://www.spike.com/video/pg-porn-pg-porn/3041858

For extra “Scream Queens” info, go befriend me now at Famous VH1 Friends:
http://www.famousvh1friends.com/personality/92162/james-gunn

I’ll answer any and all questions you have in the Q&A section in the James Gunn Appreciation Society:
http://www.jgas.org/

Know when I’m drinking a cup of coffee, taking a shit or having Pete Alton setting off all the fire alarms in my house while shooting our XBOX series on TWITTER:
http://twitter.com/james_gunn

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