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."
"My screenwriter [Melissa Rosenberg] and I only had two or three months before the writer's strike to really try and boil this down into a tight story," Hardwicke says. "In the book, Bella and Edward ask each other lots of questions. . . . We try to distill those down to the three pages that are the most potent.
"In the book, for example, where Bella reveals she knows he's a vampire, it was in a long conversation, just driving in a car. We're doing that scene by the Salmon River, which is this beautiful, crazy, vivid, wild stream, and it's got this ancient tree just wrapped around this huge rock that they're standing against in the most beautiful forest you've ever seen."
Hardwicke's pump-up-the-visuals approach extends to the costuming. In the book, the nomadic trio of human-feasting vampires are described as being "dressed in the ordinary gear of backpackers." Hardwicke re-imagines them as evil rock stars. Gigandet wears a leather jacket festooned with what he jokingly calls his "flair" -- trophies from victims, ranging from police badges to wedding rings to schoolgirl baubles. Edi Gathegi, as nomad leader Laurent, rocks some dreads. Rachelle Lefevre, playing wild-huntress vampire Victoria, is decked out in a massive fur coat that would do Mick Jagger proud.
In another part of the field, hidden from the first unit behind some camouflage, second-unit director and stunt coordinator Andy Cheng, a frequent Jackie Chan collaborator, films the nomads' entrance with five cameras. They stride out of an artificial fog bank on a leaf-covered moving catwalk dubbed "the magic carpet" -- a 200-foot sled pulled by high-tension cables. Gigandet, Gathegi and Lefevre look like they're effortlessly strolling into the clearing at about 30 miles an hour, and it looks '80s-music-video cool.
Beware the blog floggers
AFTER HE was cast as the ne plus ultra of gorgeous male vampirism, Pattinson says he faced "this torrent of [online] abuse at the beginning that my mum made me aware of -- she sent me this link to this petition that said, 'Please! Anyone else apart from him!' "
That rabid fan base has surprised the "Twilight" crew -- and a few jaded film writers. On April 20, SlashFilm's Peter Sciretta reported (in a post that read like a cocked eyebrow) that " 'Twilight' is actually the 14th-most-searched movie on the Internet according to IMDbPro's moviemeter. 'Twilight' ranks higher than 'Sex and the City: The Movie,' 'The Incredible Hulk,' 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,' 'Speed Racer,' and even 'Indiana Jones 4.' Even more surprising is the film's 18 listed cast members make up most of the top 30 searched stars on the web."
It is perhaps instructive that Sciretta's post on this matter has since received more than 1,400 comments -- several of them written by passionate fans who apparently type with one elbow on the exclamation key. Hardwicke says she's paying attention: "I don't go online every day, but certainly my assistant looks and tells me things."
Fans have been referred to as "Twilighters" or "Twi-hards." (A post on the MTV movies blog asking which nickname fans prefer has generated more than 2,500 comments.) They gather online on dozens of fan sites including Twilight Moms,Twilight Teens and His Golden Eyes (a reference to the Midas-colored irises of the good vampires). The Twilight Moms (who bill themselves online as married women who balance "family, work, home, marriage and . . . our Twilight obsession") crashed one set last week, looking for Pattinson's autograph. Another popular fan site, TwilightLexicon.com, tracked one of the actors down on his MySpace page -- for which he uses an alias.
Pattinson can see where that passion comes from.
"A lot of these teen adaptations just fizzle away," he says. "The books don't fizzle away, so why should the films? There's something mad about that. I mean, even if this doesn't get made into a trilogy -- and I think it probably will be -- this story is so perfect for a film. It just needs to have the right elements emphasized."