Kevin Williamson was at his lowest ebb. The N.C. native was trying to hustle his way into Hollywood in the early ’90s, but he was jobless, broke and housesitting for a friend. While walking his friend’s dog, Williamson would see another young man doing the same thing.
“I’m a writer,” Williamson said. “I’m an actor,” the other guy said. They wished each other luck.
Eventually, things would work out pretty well for both. Williamson hit it big as the screenwriter of 1996’s “Scream,” and the teen-drama series “Dawson’s Creek.” That other guy was Jon Hamm, star of AMC’s “Mad Men.”
Williamson’s greatest successes came in the late 1990s, starting with “Scream.” He had a fallow stretch, but is back with two shows on the CW network – “The Vampire Diaries” (which wraps its third season on Thursday) and “The Secret Circle.”
To that lineup he’ll add a show in development. Settling into an easy chair in his Hollywood home, Williamson offered a visitor candy from a bowl on a glass-top coffee table held up by a boat propeller (a nod to his family of fishermen). Along with the expected assortment of lollipops and chocolate drops, the bowl contained a bunch of plastic eyes.
“My new show on Fox is about a serial killer who removes eyes,” he said. “So to congratulate me on selling it, a friend of mine gave me a bunch of plastic eyes as a gift.”
After graduating from East Carolina University in 1987, Williamson moved to New York to try to break into theater.
‘Scary Movie’ to fame
By the early ’90s, Williamson was in Los Angeles housesitting for his friend. One day, Williamson discovered an open window one night and became convinced someone had broken in. He dialed a friend as he searched the house, and they bantered about serial killers and slasher movies.
There was no intruder, but soon after that, Williamson locked himself away for a weekend and wrote a screenplay he called “Scary Movie.” As inspired by that phone call, the opening scene showed a young woman on the phone with a serial killer who eventually burst in to murder her.
“I was so broke I had to borrow $15 to get a cartridge to print it out,” he said. “But things happened fast.”
A bidding war broke out for “Scary Movie,” and the Weinstein Brothers bought it for $400,000. Retitled “Scream,” the movie was a huge hit when it reached theaters in 1996, grossing more than $170 million worldwide.
Williamson was off and running. “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” based on a script Williamson adapted from the Lois Duncan novel, followed in 1997. Then came “Dawson’s Creek,” which debuted in 1998.
Williamson named the series after a creek near Oriental – the place where high school kids would go to party – and he based many of episodes on things that had happened during his own life.
“My 20s were slow and starving,” he said. “That all changed as soon as I hit 30 and wrote ‘Scream.’ That’s the overnight part, and it was bang-bang-bang for a few years. Then there was a spiral downward because I was so overworked and overtired. I went crazy. I was creatively spent, couldn’t write. I’d get wrapped up in projects I didn’t care about, and they went south. I did not have the mojo to get it done. I also had to deal with my personal life. My mom got sick; some relationships went sour. Life got in the way.”
Boring but it’s life
After a nearly decade-long funk, redemption arrived from an unlikely source. The CW network wanted Williamson to take a crack at adapting a book series called “The Vampire Diaries.” Though he was skeptical, Williamson decided that working through personal issues by creating a show about people coming back to life was something he wanted to do.
Where Williamson describes his 30s as “glamorous,” nowadays he leads a more sedate existence.
When he’s not writing and developing shows for television, Williamson is content to spend his time watching them.
“Nothing beats laying on the couch watching TV every night,” Williamson said. “I’ve got a good core group of friends, we go out to dinner, and then I come home and watch TV. It’s boring, but it’s life. I’m not good at highs and lows. The bottom is too far to climb out of, and it’s too easy to fall from the top. I’d rather be comfortable in the middle, so I’ll just try to keep it there.”