How The “Scream” Movies Perfectly Balance Customer Service And Fan Service

Sometimes, the bigger an organization gets, the worse its service becomes. 

The clientele they start out serving changes from people into numbers. The standards at the beginning are reduced to statistics. And it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Kevin Williamson, the creator of the Scream movie franchise, gives us a template for how to scale without losing the connection to your customers. 

He noticed in horror movies how the first movie’s cunningly sinister bad guy devolved into a comically pathetic joke by the 3rd sequel. From the studio’s perspective, once they knew a character would get people into the movie seats, they’d aim from a broader audience (and a bigger profit margin). 

As a fan of the genre, he hated how it disrespected the characters and the fans, so he set out to do something different. 

Williamson took the logic of horror movies, something he loved (the “rules” about who lives, who dies, how the bad guy comes back after we think they’re gone, etc.) and made his characters as aware as the biggest fans of the genre. 

The simple twist made Scream a massive success. Repeatedly. There are 5 movies as of 2022 (since 1996) and they’ve grossed over $600 million in box office receipts alone. 

One approach is to start with a good idea and then grind out profits from as many people will show up until they stop showing up. It’s a real business model. It’s not the path Scream took.  

Williamson’s approach was to start with a good idea, figure out how to pull more and more people into its meta-aware brilliance, and come up with reasons to keep more and more of them coming back. 

It’s way harder, but the results are way more enduring. 

When we’re building an audience, Williamson’s work reminds us to respect that audience deeply. If they’re the ones who will validate the work we’re doing, stop at nothing to make them smile, sit, and scream with delight. 

h/t check out Connor Lawrence ( @slashonomics + @itsconlaw ) who writes extensively about the economics of the horror genre. I love his work.  

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