It was only a matter of time before the most powerful brothers in Hollywood got into business together. In the late ’90s, “Scary Movie,” a comedy that satirized slasher-killer movies, brought three of the Wayans brothers — Marlon, Shawn and Keenen Ivory — to the doorstep of Dimension Films, the boutique horror studio run by Bob and Harvey Weinstein.
According to Marlon, making “Scary Movie” with the Weinsteins for a summer 2000 release was indeed a frightening experience. And not just because he was abruptly fired from making the third movie in the franchise, “Scary Movie 3,” on a holiday.
“[The Weinstein’s are] not the best or the kindest people to be in business with,” Marlon Wayans tells Variety. “They’re very much an evil regime, I guess. They do what they want to do how they do it — and it can be rude and quite disrespectful. We couldn’t come to terms on the deal. It’s like, ‘If you don’t want to pay for the jokes, have somebody else do it.'”
He recalls learning that he’d been booted from the third chapter of franchise that he’d helped build. “We read on Christmas Eve that they were going with someone else for [‘Scary Movie 3’],” Marlon says. “We probably could have sued or whatever, but part of us was like, ‘All you can do is allow us to create something new.’ I could write a book on that whole thing, honestly. They definitely still owe us money, lots of money. What they did was really bad business.”
But before we get to the sequels, let’s start with the original. “Scary Movie,” a comedy directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans, satirized late ’90s hits such as “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” — also released by the Weinsteins — and followed in the tradition of earlier spoofs such as “Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun.”
The movie was a massive hit. It grossed more than $157 million domestically on a shoestring $19 million budget, an achievement that surprised everyone in the industry. And it served as yet another reminder of how much Hollywood underestimates the power of Black audiences.
“Scary Movie,” which opened in theaters on July 7, 2000, follows Cindy (Anna Faris), Bobby (Jon Abrahams), Brenda (Regina Hall), Buffy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Ray (Shawn Wayans), a group of high school students who accidentally kill someone, borrowing from the plot of “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” The students are haunted by what they did, as a masked killer (Dave Sheridan), resembling that of the “Scream” villain, emerges to murder them all. Meanwhile, their friend Shorty (Marlon Wayans) is too high to know that he’s in danger.
The cast and crew talked to Variety about their memories of making the comedy.
When producer Bo Zenga first received the idea for “Scary Movie,” the title was “Scream If You Know What I Did Last Halloween.” He worked with writers Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer to punch up the script, and after failing to find distributors, Zenga finally landed on Bob Weinstein at Dimension.
Zenga: I got a phone call from a manager saying that he had a script asked if I would take a look at it. I said, “What’s it about?” and they said, “I’ll tell you the title and you’ll know what it’s about.” I laughed and I said, “So, you just have a title.” And he laughed and said, “The script’s not that bad.” We were turned down by everyone except the Weinsteins. The Weinsteins wanted to buy it because it spoofed their franchise of “Scream.” I think they didn’t want somebody else cannibalizing their movie.
When the Wayans brothers started working on the script, they wrote as many as 10 drafts.
Marlon Wayans: We developed so many different versions of this movie. We worked with our brother Keenen and we wrote a Black draft, a white draft, a high school draft and a college draft. It wasn’t until we really saw “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Scream” that it just kind of clicked for us.
“Scary Movie” was Faris’ first role in a movie. She had no agent, no manager and her mom and neighbors shot her audition tape in Edmonds, Wash. The Wayans had a hard time finding the lead role for Bobby, wanting Jared Leto for the part. Sheridan showed up in full character for his audition, and Jenny McCarthy and Melissa Joan Hart tried out the part of Drew Decker, eventually played by Carmen Electra.
Faris: I started the audition with my mom recording me on one of those big, old VHS cameras hoisted on her shoulder. And then with the second scene I went to my neighbors and I was like, “My mom can’t do this audition with me because it’s way too raunchy. Can you film it for me?” So I sent it in, and they asked me to come down. I packed a tiny bag and stayed on a friend’s couch in Burbank and bummed rides to go down for these auditions. They kept asking me to stay, so eventually I had to go buy some new clothes, which at the time it felt like, “I can’t even afford a cab, I certainly can’t afford a hotel.”
Sheridan: I met Keenen as the character, I did not break. I was in the waiting room as the character and then I walked in and did the scenes, but messed it all up on purpose. Literally, walking up to him with my hands in his face like, “High five!” So then, I left and I got a call about 10 minutes later and I had to pull over and go find a pay booth and they said, “You’ve gotta go back right now, they’re freaking out. They think we sent in a guy that had learning disabilities. You need to go back and show them who you really are.”
Sheridan, who also played the killer, asked the Wayans if he could play two roles.
Sheridan: I said, “I’ll do the Doofy role, but I have to play the killer,” and on their side they were like, “That’s great, that saves us money, go ahead.”
In the closing credits, Sheridan has a scene where he masturbates into a vacuum. There are jokes about date rape and homophobia. The cast and crew are not sure if the movie would have been made today because of the offensive material in the script.
Marlon: I think it would be difficult to greenlight. But I think the reaction’s still going to be the same. What I’ve learned from doing stand-up comedy is the opinions of the people and the taste of the people is not dictated by the politically correct nature of the social political climate. We live in America, and freedom of speech is the First Amendment. With freedom of speech comes freedom of creativity. And I think anybody can do a joke about anything and it’s just who’s telling the joke and what’s your intention? Is your intention to humiliate, or is your intention to make people laugh? Our intention is always to make people laugh.
Abrahams: We had a scene where [Cindy and I] are going have sex and I pull down my pants and a huge pair of balls falls down and they’re glowing and throbbing blue. And they were like, “Yeah, don’t worry, we got a double, you don’t have to do that.” And I was like, “No I want to do it. I want to contribute.” And they’re like, “Well, we really don’t want to see your butt. It’s all good, let’s just use the other guy.” I remember them being very kind in the confines of really outrageous comedy stuff. I just can’t see how that would fly in these times.
Zenga: Anna getting knocked about might get through if it was really sold as, “Hey, it’s a comedy.” There’s a lot of gay humor that I don’t think would make it into a movie today. I don’t know if you could put an erect penis going through the wall and killing someone today.
Faris gets punched in the stomach and smacked in the face, among other physical stunts in the film, and she’d often feel close to tears. It only got worse as the franchise progressed.
Faris: In “Scary Movie 3,” there’s an airplane cart that lands on my face and we shot that the last day. As that cart slammed into my face, I thought, “F— these people. I’m about to break my f—ing nose.”
The Wayans’ extended family members kept joining the cast and crew to help hone the jokes.
Marlon: The nephews will always tell us when they don’t think something’s funny. They give us a real point of view, like, “That’s not funny at all. If they don’t like that, my demographic isn’t going to like that.” It’s cool for the youth to let them learn as well. They’ll learn what I grew up on with Keenen. I was on set since I was 11 years old.
Sheridan: They’re all very funny, you just keep going “How many more fun Wayans can there be?”
The infamous and regularly memed “Wazzup” scene where Shorty talks to the killer on the phone in the basement comes from a Budweiser commercial that became a staple in pop culture. Since the commercial came out close to the end of filming, Keenen still wanted to capitalize on it, filming it after previews had already begun.
Marlon: We were digging into the culture and you know, “What’s popping?” What if Shorty made a phone call with the killer, him and his boys, they were just a bunch of knuckleheads, which allowed them to kind of dip into different spaces and do a lot of inappropriate things for a horror movie that would actually push it.
Zenga: The budget was $19 million and I think because it was testing so well, Keenen wanted to put in a pop culture joke of the moment which was the Budweiser commercial, so then he went to put that in. At that point, we went from being the red-headed stepchild to the movie that’s maybe going to do really well.
The film grossed $15 million on its opening day. Faris didn’t even know if that was good or bad because she was such a young actress. When she saw the movie in a theater, she asked her mom to leave before an inappropriate scene.
Marlon: People were literally in the aisles and you could hear the laughter outside the theater. Like most of our movies, it got critically panned. It always does, but you know, comedy is subjective. And not to say the critics are right or wrong, but that’s just not their brand of humor. Their job is to critique. But our audience, 20 years later, people are still laughing. We don’t try to make a movie, we try to make a classic. And even if you don’t get it at the time, it’s something you go back to and watch it and go, “Man, that was funny.”
Faris: I think there was a feeling that we were making something really, really funny. Keenen knew with such a brilliant quality what an audience was hungry for and that it was time for a spoof movie that pushed boundaries. I had to tell my mom to go to the bathroom before the sperm-spraying scene. I just couldn’t believe the energy in there and how people were going crazy.
Abrahams: When it came out it was the highest grossing R-rated film of all time, and I believe it was the highest grossing Black or African American film of all time. That really set off an amazing legacy, which is that in terms of investment in Black or African American productions. I don’t think by any means we’re 100% there yet. But it definitely helped.
After “Scary Movie,” the Wayans went on to make “White Chicks,” the “Haunted House” series, “Fifty Shades of Black” and built a formidable empire in Hollywood.
Abrahams: It still carries its weight this many years later, which is amazing. It’s a certified classic. In an industry-way, the legacy of that film is celebrated not just by the fans, but by the business because it really did set a lot of things in motion.