Kevin Williamson enjoying reign as king of horror flicks
Web posted on: Friday, August 07, 1998 4:59:47 PM
A NewsStand: CNN & Entertainment Weekly Report
HOLLYWOOD (CNN) -- He's been crowned king of the teen screen. Kevin Williamson has single-handedly resuscitated the lost art of horror, penning the screenplays to "Scream," "Scream 2," and "I Know What You Did Last Summer," which together grossed $500 million at the box office.
The genre of film he has created features more than simple gore -- at the center of his stories are wise-cracking, sexy teens trying to survive slicing plot twists set in motion by maniacal killers.
Williamson has built a cult-like following as teens scream for more. He says horror flicks and teens go hand in hand.
Williamson's roller-coaster ride
"A scary movie is a roller coaster ride. So it sort of hits all the buttons, you know?" he says. "You get to laugh. You get to jump. You get to scream. You can do all those things in one little thrill ride. And it just sort of -- I think it hits the buttons.
"And it's about fear. You know, as teenagers, we're so afraid. And there's something very primal about a scary movie. And there's something very primal about being a teenager. And so I think there's a little connection there."
But Williamson's influence doesn't stop at the big screen. He also created the provocative teen drama "Dawson's Creek," which airs on the WB network. In just one season, it's become the most-watched television show among teens.
"I don't look at teens as teens," says Williamson. "I think maybe that's the whole trick to what I do, is that they're just smart, sophisticated adult characters. And they happen to be 15."
'He's a mega-talent'
Miramax producer Cathy Conrad says Williamson is one of a kind.
"He's a mega-talent," Conrad says. "I mean, he's not only just a writer, which is what everybody knows him as, but he's a creator of great ideas that transcend film."
That's why Miramax signed him to an exclusive $20 million deal.
"He has exploded in the most dynamic way possible, that Hollywood likes to see," Conrad says. "You're going to see a lot of Kevin Williamson."
Williamson is so hot, he's directing his first movie, "Killing Mrs. Tingle," which he also wrote. It stars 19-year-old Katie Holmes, who also plays Joey Potter in "Dawson's Creek."
What does Holmes think is Williamson's appeal?
"I think it's like, people watch movies, they want some kind of a rush," she says. "In the whole 'Titanic' thing, they want to feel something. You know, and when everybody cries, like a cathartic experience, they don't want to go to a movie and be like, 'How does this affect me? Oh, it doesn't.'"
Mining the past
Williamson says trust is an issue he implements in his movies, because it hits home with young folks.
"I think the age of disappointment is coming much earlier, where an adult figure -- a parent, a teacher or something -- truly disappoints you for the first time, at a much earlier age," says Williamson. "I think when I was young, it happened in my late teens. I think today it's happening when you're 8 or 9 or 10 years old. And I think it's everlasting."
Williamson's teen years, the places, people and obsessions of his youth in North Carolina, are interwoven throughout his writing. Not only is his television series named after the real Dawson's Creek, but it's shot not far from there in Wilmington.
His former high school girlfriend, Fannie Norwood, is the basis for the "Dawson's Creek" character of Joey.
"We were friends for a long, long time," Norwood says. "And I guess kind of like that sexual tension was building up a little bit. We took longer than one season, you know, to get together. We were best friends for the longest time. It took a very long time."
Both the good times and the bad inspire Kevin's writing. "Killing Mrs. Tingle" is a revenge, of sorts.
"I had this horrible teacher who told me that I would never be a writer," Williamson says. "I got up in front of the class and I read the short story I had written. And she stopped me halfway through and she said, 'Sit down.' She goes, 'Your voice -- you have a voice that shouldn't be heard. And that's disgusting. And sit down.'
"And I sat down. And I didn't write another word for 10 years. And when I wrote, and the first thing -- 'Killing Mrs. Tingle' is my first script."
'Things are really good'
"Scream" was the result of another real-life episode when Williamson was housesitting, watching the news.
"I was watching this Barbara Walters special on the Gainesville (Florida) murders," Williamson remembers. "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 buddy, David Blanchard, started teasing him about classic horror films.
"He's looking under the beds. He's going out to the garage and looking in the garage. I'm like, "Well, don't go outside. If you go outside, you're going to go outside and the killer is going to sneak in the door while you're outside," Blanchard recalls. "And (Williamson) was like, 'What do you mean? What do you mean, the killer?'"
"One thing led to another," Williamson says. "I went to bed that night so spooked I was having nightmares and I woke up at like three or four in the morning, and I started writing the opening scene to 'Scream.'"
Perhaps Williamson's best storyline is the one he's living now, starving writer becomes multi-billion-dollar writer/director in just three years.
"It's really cool," he says. "My mom is really happy. She's really excited about it all. And I'm really happy too. It's just a good time in my life right now. It's really exciting. And, you know, I know everything's up and down, and it will all fall apart one day. But for now, things are really good, really busy."