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


This week fucked me up! The girls who I thought were at the front of the bus—Michelle, Sarah and Tanedra—were poor to bland in the Director’s Challenge. The girls who I thought kinda sucked—especially Jessica and Lina—kicked it up a notch. I came out of the week wondering if I was going to be able to make any sort of informed decision at all about our Scream Queen, the future star of Saw VI. Were the girls just going to be randomly better or worse from week to week? Or were some real frontrunners going to emerge?

JESSICA/SCREAM QUEENS

JESSICA
I’ll be honest. I went into the week hoping we were going to boot Jessica. At the first director’s challenge—the only real acting challenge we’d had thus far—three girls were far worse than the others: Jo-Anne, Kylah and Jessica. Jo-Anne and Kylah were gone. So I thought week three was going to be an easy decision.

But something weird happened: Jessica rocked in the Director’s Challenge. In the first half, when she was crawling through the glass, crying, trying to figure out where she was, she was magnificent. For the first time I realized she had a charismatic star quality. I think it’s something a lot of you have picked up on at home, watching her in the confessionals—she’s very present and easy to relate to.

But in the second half of the challenge, when she fought the bad guy, her robotic fighting style reminded me a lot of Mechagodzilla, only not in a bulky costume, and not surrounded by three foot high cardboard buildings (though I think I’m coming up with a good giant monster challenge for “Scream Queens 2″…)

That said, it wasn’t really the fighting I was concerned with. All of the girls sucked at fighting. (And I liked watching Shawnee’s high jump competition on TV, but I couldn’t care less whether a girl is able to jump from that high. A star of a film would never be asked to do this kind of stunt, and would probably not be allowed to do it for insurance purposes. Despite all the actresses I hear in interviews claiming to “do their own stunts,” I’ve never actually seen a mainstream actress do a stunt on set.)

What bugged me about Jessica’s fighting was her acting while doing it—her face went all whacked-out Devil’s Reject-y. I was beginning to see some real potential in her, but I wished I could take her crazy out behind the barn and put a bullet in its brain. (I wish I could do this to my crazy as well—so far, no such fucking luck).

That said, Jessica was the second best in the challenge.

LINA/SCREAM QUEENS

LINA
Lina, however, was better, because she was consistently good through the whole scene. And she was incredibly sexy—I never thought I could get quarter-wood watching a girl crawl through glass, but here I was, sitting in my director’s chair, taking a beat before standing up and giving her her next note. Also, both the makeup artists and the crew informed me Lina’s attitude had changed very much for the better. Lina suddenly seemed like she could take the whole thing. And that’s why, in the Grand Ballroom, we gave her Leading Lady.

MICHELLE/SCREAM QUEENS

MICHELLE
Michelle, whom I had loved in earlier challenges, was atrocious. Her performance was so broad I thought she had been possessed by Jerry Lewis from The Nutty Professor. And her Incredible Hulk impression after knocking down the bad guy almost made me laugh out loud, just as it did her fellow contestants watching on the video monitor. I was wondering if we should have Michelle wear a bikini in every scene she did from there on, because, otherwise, she might be cringe-worthy.

In the Grand Ballroom, Michelle started crying and said, “I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging… but I’ve had a really, really great life growing up!” This was her excuse for not being able to access the sadder emotions! This was definitely one of the weirdest things I’ve ever heard. It was so weird, in fact, I had to repeat the line endlessly to Shawnee and John and the rest of the crew for the rest of the shoot. I never tired of it (though I’m certain they did.) It was the first time I had heard a happy childhood being posited as a handicap. And it was bullshit. Life is hard. It’s not easy for anyone. As I said on the show, we all fucking die. You want to get sad? Think about that shit, or your dead cat, or the kid you knew in high school who killed himself. No one escapes horror, whether it be small or large. At a certain point, “looking on the bright side” simply becomes psychotic delusion, and Michelle was at least ankle deep in that particular affliction. Maybe Jessica wasn’t “the crazy one” after all.

TANEDRA/SCREAM QUEENS

TANEDRA
She was good, but, once again, she didn’t stand out to me (maybe because I didn’t see her kickass backflip in the high jump!) She was the least experienced of all the actresses, and she seemed a bit confused about how to relate to the camera.

LINDSAY/SCREAM QUEENS

LINDSAY
Decent, but blah, as evidenced by the shortness of this paragraph.

ANGELA/SCREAM QUEENS

ANGELA
Rather weak. Her choices made sense, and she looked awesome on film, but I didn’t buy her emotions.

SARAH/SCREAM QUEENS

SARAH
It wasn’t that Sarah was as bad as Michelle—she wasn’t. But she seemed a thousand miles away from her emotions, and she simply didn’t improve at all from take to take, despite my notes. As you see in the episode, I took her aside afterwards and told her she seemed to be off her game. What you don’t see is that although Sarah initially made excuses, she immediately got off that and took responsibility for her poor performance. I was extremely impressed by this. I think ownership is a necessary component for growth.

MARISSA/SCREAM QUEENS

MARISSA
Marissa was eager to please, but her performance was bland. At least Michelle made a splash (albeit, a cat-against-the-grill-of-your-Buick type of splash). But the anguish you see Marissa going through on the show was apparent to me on set. It was an unpleasant energy to be around. In the Grand Ballroom, after Marissa complained about our critiques feeling like beatings, Shawnee said to her, “The beatings are good for you—maybe they’ll help you to be less theatrical.” Well… I couldn’t totally agree with that. Like I’ve said before, the Grand Ballroom eliminations are only a few minutes for you guys, but we would be there for a couple hours. My hope was that our criticisms in the Grand Ballroom would empower the performances of the contestants, but I felt like our words weren’t helping Marissa at all any more. And whether it was caused by what the judges said, by the other girls’ cattiness or by the unrelenting eyes of the cameras, Marissa seemed to only get darker and more inside her head and more afraid to express herself week by week. I started to feel like we were hurting her. Although Michelle was the worst, she showed more potential earlier on, and she didn’t seem to be breaking down. In the end, it was a relief (probably to Marissa and certainly to us) to let her go.

In her exit interview—which I only saw on TV—Marissa said she was happy the judges said she was a talented actress. She said, “I know that, and I just needed to hear it from them, too.” This made me a little sad, as I think that need was largely Marissa’s weakness. Despite all of her proclamations of being “true,” it seemed like she was trying to be true just to impress the judges. She lacked the paradoxical ingredient necessary for artistic success—absolute commitment while absolutely not giving a fuck. Her need to impress destroyed her ability to impress.

Thankfully, however, there is life outside of “Scream Queens.” The week before I hadn’t been able to talk to Kylah after the show, because I had a prior commitment. But this week I waited for Marissa to finish her exit interviews so I could make sure she was okay.

We sat side-by-side on the couch in the ludicrously over-colored living room. She proclaimed she was fine and had learned from the experience, but I wasn’t sure I believed her. She certainly seemed to be breathing more easily than she had been two hours beforehand, but the circles under her eyes suggested she was somewhat ravaged by the experience. She still seemed to want to prove to me that she was okay and good, because she didn’t truly trust it was okay and good sometimes to not be okay and good. Still, she had been one of my favorites on the show—she was a bright girl with a life in her eyes I don’t think her years on this planet have caught up to yet. Her potential, whether it’s in acting or something else, has not yet been reached. I looked at her and realized a reality show is a great place for a certain type of actress to flourish and to improve her craft—Marissa, however, is not of that type.

That said, she left me feeling hopeful for her. Things from here, I was pretty sure, would get better for her.

MOVIEMAKER EXCLUSIVE TIP OF THE WEEK
Are you going to shoot a nude scene in your movie, and it’s absolutely necessary? Then shoot it on the very first day the actor is shooting. Why? Because many actors, both male and female, say they are comfortable shooting nude scenes to get a role—but when it actually comes down to it, they aren’t. By shooting on the first day, you’ll see if the actor is actually willing to go through with it. If you’ve already shot many days of your movie with the actor, that actor can hijack a movie and refuse to do the nude scene.

Sound paranoid? It’s not. It’s happened to almost every director I know at one point or another.

And, in the next episode of “Scream Queens”—my favorite and the funniest episode yet—something very similar happens to me.

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