Twilight

Director Hardwicke uses the natural beauty of Oregon to frame the budding relationship between Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson). (Peter Sorel / Summit Entertainment)

THIRTY miles outside town, in a wet, stunningly bleak meadow ringed by moss-draped Oregon ash, vampires are playing baseball. They're decked out in a hodgepodge of vintage jerseys, caps and striped socks, presumably collected over their last century of eternal life. They make such a racket with their supernatural abilities that they have to take the field under cover of a thunderstorm.

Catherine Hardwicke, who's directing the scene for her adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's bestselling young-adult novel "Twilight," is excited about the sequence in which balls are hit with the force of cannon blasts and gravity-defying catches are the norm -- and about one gag in particular. In it, two players "are in competition to catch the same ball and have a huge, crazy midair collision 20 feet up in the air when a huge crash of thunder resounds," making it appear as though their clash created the resounding boom. One of them also "totally climbs up a tree crazy-style and catches a ball midair -- like way at the top of the tree. It's a really fun stunt."

Lest anyone unfamiliar with Meyers' "Twilight" series think this is some strange "Lost Boys" meets "Field of Dreams" mash-up, the story concerns much more than baseball. It's about benevolent vampires who struggle with their blood lust in much the same way teens struggle with their surging hormones.

Mostly, it concerns young, forbidden love. And its fans can't seem to get enough.

On the field, a 17-year-old girl named Bella watches as the teams pitch and hit the ball with unnatural force. She's recently figured out that the coolest kids at her school are decades-old vampires masquerading as teens. They drink animal blood rather than human -- jokingly referring to themselves as "vegetarians." They don't have fangs and the sun doesn't harm them (though it does tend to make them sparkle like Ziggy Stardust). One of them -- moody, gorgeous Edward -- is the instant love of Bella's life.

As Bella (Kristin Stewart) watches the game, a nomadic trio of more traditional, human-fed vampires strides into the clearing. One of them, James (Cam Gigandet), sniffs the air and realizes a human "snack" is present. Edward (Robert Pattinson) drops into a protective crouch and snarls.

A soggy set

THIS being March in the Columbia Gorge, which is standing in for remote Forks, Wash., the weather is changing its mind every 20 minutes -- showering a cast slathered in pale vampire makeup with alternating doses of sun, rain and what Pattinson (Cedric Diggory in two of the "Harry Potter" movies) calls "hail globs the size of golf balls."

It's turned the set into muddy quicksand. Production assistants cover the ground with hay. Actors huddle in a heated "fire tent" and stuff Kleenex to their cold, runny noses; they carry hot-water bottles (while PAs hold umbrellas over their carefully made-up heads) and exchange rubber boots for Adidas just before the cameras roll. Two pieces of heavy production equipment, including a Gradall all-terrain forklift, are hopelessly stuck in the muck. A studio light makes a sizzling noise that causes a technician to do a backward leap. (He's fine.) God help you if you drop your cellphone.

"I had the whole crew doing a 'cloud dance' -- shaking their heads, singing to the sky," Hardwicke says.

As you may have gathered, it hasn't been the easiest of shoots thus far. Actor availability and the need to cut a cool trailer-full of special effects mean that the first two weeks of production have been spent on both the action-packed finale, which reportedly gave the stuntmen a proper beating (they're also fine, mostly), and the ballgame. But Hardwicke -- who's something of a troubled-teen expert after helming the gritty "Thirteen" and "Lords of Dogtown" -- is on the hunt for her trademark immediacy, and wants to get as much of the action in-camera as possible.

"Thirteen" in particular -- with its controversial depiction of young girls' angst and reckless rebellion -- suggests that "Twilight," which is slated for a December release, might be a surprisingly good fit for Hardwicke. Despite its (mostly) family-friendly supernatural bent, the material really isn't all that far afield of Hardwicke's well-mined terrain. "Thirteen," after all, concerns a teenage girl who, like Bella, has inattentive parents and falls in way over her head with a rough crowd. If you stretch it a bit, "Lords of Dogtown" also sets up camp in a world of thrill-seeking, physically gifted athletes chasing the troubled immortality of skateboarding fame.

"Even 'Nativity' is about a 13-year-old," says the director, laughing as she stretches the connection further with her "The Nativity Story." "It felt to me like Stephenie Meyer had really captured that feeling of the first time you fall in love and you're head-over-heels intoxicated -- crazy, spiraling, will do anything to be with that person that you love. In this case, Bella would go so far as to become a vampire -- to lose her soul to be with the person she loves."

Hardwicke is once again working with "Thirteen" star and co-writer Nikki Reed, who plays good vampire Rosalie. "It's not a joke, working with Catherine," says Reed. "She's not the kind of girl who's like, 'Let's stick you on some pads and bubble wrap and let you slide in a warehouse.' She's like, 'Nikki -- there's the field. There's your mud. I'll slap a kneepad on you and a butt-pad and you're going for it.' "

"Thirteen" cinematographer Elliot Davis is also back. "One thing Elliot and I tried to do with our other movies is make them feel real," Hardwicke says. "In 'Thirteen,' Elliot almost breathes with the actor. He's so intimate with them with the camera. When they're feeling something, he's so sensitive that he moves in at the right times. . . . That sort of intimacy is what we're trying to accomplish with this film too."

A hot-blooded romance

AFTER THE baseball game is in the can, Hardwicke and Davis get to spend the rest of the shoot focusing on what made "Twilight" such a literary phenomenon: the boiling romance between Bella and Edward.

Meyer's book has sold more than 1 million copies, with 1.4 million more in sales for its two sequels, "New Moon" and "Eclipse." A fourth installment, "Breaking Dawn," publishes Aug. 2. The book has spawned its own sub-genre of young-adult lit imitators. Meyer is a devout Mormon and mother of three, and her novels wind you up with denial: They're chaste, conversation-driven hormonal pressure-cookers.

Peter Facinelli, who plays Dr. Cullen, leader of the vampire family, describes the Bella-Edward romance as "Romeo and Juliet squared. They cannot be together. . . . He has to fight every instinct he has not to eat the girl. It's funny on the outside, but it also makes for a real sexual tension."