How ‘Scream’ Put A Show Business Curse On Santa Rosa

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Image: Dimension Films

Wes Craven’s 1996 slasher flick Scream was filmed mostly in Sonoma County. But where it wasn’t filmed makes for one of the most unusual stories in Bay Area horror film lore. And this true story led to the blacklisting of Santa Rosa as a film location that still stands today.

Image: Dimension Films

You’ll notice his line at the end of Scream’s closing credits: “NO THANKS WHATSOEVER TO The Santa Rosa City School District Governing Board.” There is a story behind that, and it explains why major Hollywood movie location scenes are pretty much never shot in Santa Rosa anymore.

Santa Rosa had been a darling for Hollywood movie exterior shots for decades, thanks to its lush backdrop of gorgeous mountainous hills. In recent memory, parts of American Graffiti, The Goonies, Die Hard 2, and Peggy Sue Got Married were shot in Santa Rosa. In Scream, the house in Drew Barrymore’s opening scene is literally right across the street from the Santa Rosa house used in Stephen King’s Cujo (1983).

Image: Santa Rosa High School, Wulfnoth via Wikimedia Commons

Back in 1996 when Scream was being filmed, director Wes Craven had agreed with Santa Rosa High School principal Mike Hanas that scenes could be filmed there. (Much of Scream takes place at a high school, e.g. the Henry Winkler scenes.)

But right as Scream was about to shoot, the Santa Rosa City School District Governing Board doomed the project. They objected to the film’s teen slasher vibe, and its alleged similarity to the Polly Klaas killing of 1993. They pulled out the rug and asserted that Santa Rosa High could not under any circumstances be used as a setting for Scream.

“In a fiery snafu that immediately became a kind of modern film-industry legend, Craven, who had intended to shoot several days at Santa Rosa High School, was thrown into his own personal “Nightmare on Mendocino Avenue” when permission to film was denied,” wrote Metro Silicon Valley. “Shortly before on-campus shooting was to begin, the school district’s governing board took a look at the script–and balked mightily at its gleeful depiction of promiscuous, foul-mouthed teenagers, most of whom are gutted like fish before the closing credits.”

Image: Sonoma Community Center, Sanfranman59 via Wikimedia Commons

The Scream production crew quickly pulled together an alternate location at the Sonoma Community Center, which was nor a school, but they decked it out with the lockers and school props. This cost the production money, and set the schedule back, and it is rumored that Wes Craven put a Hollywood blacklist on shooting in Santa Rosa.

Metro Silicon Valley called it an “alleged anti-Santa Rosa blacklist initiated by horror-movie director Wes Craven after the eruption of a local firestorm of controversy over his filming of Scream,” and reported that “The California Film Commission stepped in, warning Sonoma County that its ‘film unfriendly’ actions might have alienated the industry for good.” Horror documentary filmmaker Daniel Farrands (Scream: The Inside Story) told Horror,com, “Santa Rosa is very high on the Hollywood black list of places not to take your productions.”

Wes Craven never publicly acknowledged blacklisting Santa Rosa. But since 1996, there have been almost no high-profile shoots in Santa Rosa; the only examples are two wine country-themed films Sideways (2004) and Bottle Shock (2008), and a disposably bad 2003 Steve Martin family movie called Cheaper by the Dozen.

We should note that the movie Scream does not hold up well over time. Harvey Weinstein was the executive producer! We now know he raped the film’s co-star Rose McGowan. And there is a ton of toxic male behavior in the film that goes without consequences, much of it unrelated to establishing ‘whodunit’-type suspicions. We hope they update this mentality for Scream 5, which will simply be entitled Scream, and is coming out in 2022.

Scream 5 was filmed in North Carolina, and not Santa Rosa, California.


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Joe Kukura- Millionaire in Training

Joe Kukura is a two-bit marketing writer who excels at the homoerotic double-entendre. He is training to run a full marathon completely drunk and high, and his work has appeared in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal on days when their editors made particularly curious decisions.

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