It’s Wednesday, December 2nd (and incidentally this scribe’s birthday), when I arrive to the set of VH1 and Joke Productions’ reality series “Scream Queens 2”. The show is shooting in a foreboding manse made infamous by its use in Rob Zombie’s Halloween (and across the street from the house Wes Craven made iconic in People Under the Stairs) off Western Avenue in Los Angeles, CA.
I’m greeted by co-showrunner Biagio Messina (who with his wife and producing partner, Joke Fincioen, is in the midst of the series’ twenty-four-day shoot). Scheduled to air in eight parts on VH1 next spring/summer and hosted by director Tim (2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams) Sullivan, “Scream Queens 2” will feature ten aspiring actresses vying for a role in Lionsgate’s next entry in the Saw film series, Saw VII 3D. Actress Jaime (My Bloody Valentine 3D) King will appear as a mentor to the hopefuls, with acting coach John Homa putting them through their paces as Sullivan directs them through a series of genre-specific hurdles involving the staples of horror: creatures, blood, stunts, and screams. (Given, though, that this is a reality show, Dread is unfortunately unable to reveal the identity of the actresses involved at this time or any details of the challenges they will face).
The always personable and enthusiastic Sullivan – taking over host duties from last season’s James (Slither) Gunn – is seated in a makeup chair prepping for pre-roll, and given his historic love of horror, he’s unsurprisingly passionate about the project. Producer Biago is happy to have him on-board.
“Tim comes from a very low-budget, guerrilla filmmaking mentality and has a very ‘get-it done, no-frills, I will make this movie come hell or high water’ attitude,” says producer Messina, “which I think is really great for our girls, because he’s reminding these ladies that being a scream queen isn’t necessarily glamorous. Especially when you are first starting out, you aren’t doing this because you want to be a celebutante; you are doing this because you want to enter a genre where you can be the best actor you can be, and the fame and the success will come later if you give a great performance. Tim has told them, ‘Ladies, there is no harder acting job on the face of the earth than being a scream queen, so embrace everything single thing you can learn from the horror genre’.”
“I think one of the reasons we love this show so much,” chimes in Fincioen, whose passion for the project is apparent – there’s no sense on set that the genre is being exploited, “is because a scream queen is really one of the only actresses that is required to play every emotion. Sometimes it’s sexy and innocent – sometimes it’s absolute abject terror or sadness. I think that’s why the horror genre lends itself to a reality show; we do legitimately test these actresses on all of those different emotions because those are all of the things required of a scream queen in the horror genre.”
What level of talent, then, can viewers expect to see in Season 2?
“We are really lucky this year because of the success of last year’s show,” Fincioen says of this year’s contestants (last year’s winner, Tanedra Howard, went on to portray ‘Simone’ in Saw VI, and is returning the reprise her role in part seven). “The girls are much more ambitious, and we are giving them more complicated scenes in terms of blocking and hitting their marks, and we are throwing everything at them. They are really stepping up. We are looking for the best actors – not the prettiest movie stars – so they have to be willing to do the work and get in there and get it done.”
As for creating environments that will allow the show’s actresses to immerse themselves, the producers have brought on reality show production designer Kenny Davis, who’s put to good use the production’s access to Lionsgate Films’ set décor .
“We have some fun stuff in the house (where the girls are sequestered as well), but for the screen tests we’ve really tried to make it bigger and better than last year,” says Fincioen. “We are testing the girls on pretty much everything: every emotion, every look, kind of costume, and makeup, and things they have to deal with, from creepy-crawler co-stars to nasty conditions to campier characters – that’s the thing about the horror genre, it allows for such a wide spectrum (of challenges) from straightforward torture porn to what Tim calls ‘schlock and roll’ so it gives us a lot to play with.”
The producers’ focus remains here on the actresses’ performances as well, in that the ‘reality’ aspect of the show has been structured to be as organic as possible.
“The drama can be anything from a girl missing her family to a girl failing miserably at a screen-test she thought she was doing fantastic at to a girl who’s trying to psyche another thing out, because that’s her game plan,” conveys Messina. “These aren’t things that we’re guiding them in though. We are just letting the cameras roll, but are absolutely making sure that when a great story happens we are covering it, and that is 100% our mantra when we aren’t shooting the screen-tests. We’re shooting it (the reality aspect) more vérité.”
l to r: Biagio Messina, Tim Sullivan, Joke Fincioen
There will be drama though.
“You put ten girls together in a house, stuff is going to happen,” says Fincioen, “and their emotions are right on the surface. We don’t have to manufacture drama. The pressure and the intensity of the competition, and the bubble we have created – they have no contact with the outside world, just each other and the competition – heightens everything for them.”
Fincioen points out though that on the flip side, the opportunities inherent are without equal. “These girls literally get to go to acting summer camp,” says the producer. “They don’t have to worry about bills, or laundry, or what’s for dinner, and all of those things that cloud our days. They are able to come here and focus on their craft 100% – something they are passionate about and feel that they cannot live without. This experience isn’t something someone can buy, no matter how rich you are.”
Dread will be bringing you further exclusives from the set so stick around, and you can follow Sullivan, Biagio and Joke (@timsullivan22 and @jokeandbiagio, respectively) on Twitter. They are planning on tweeting during the airing of the show with “behind-the-scenes” goodies.
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