‘Twilight’ screenwriter says ‘New Moon’ is better than first: ‘I know who I’m writing for’
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‘TWILIGHT: NEW MOON’ COUNTDOWN
In May, Hero Complex contributor Gina McIntyre traveled north to Vancouver to visit the set of ‘The Twilight Saga: New Moon’ and talk to the creative minds behind one of the most anticipated films of 2009. This week, as we count down to the Friday release of the vampy sequel, McIntyre gives us daily dispatches from her trip. Today it’s a Q&A with screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, who was brought in to adapt Stephenie Meyer’s novels.
GM: So director Chris Weitz seems to run an incredibly relaxed set...
MR: This is a happy set. I was with him after delivering the first draft, we had a couple of meetings on the second draft and he was the same guy then as he is here on set. He didn’t suddenly turn into some maniac, stressed out and crazed. He’s really impressive. He’s just capturing every moment with the actors. I haven’t seen one wrong moment with the actors.
GM: What changes did you make to that first draft of ‘New Moon’?
MR: There was a lot of honing down, cutting down and eliminating certain scenes and pulling out certain elements of the story just to have it move faster.
GM: How challenging was it to adapt this book with the character of Edward Cullen being absent for so much of the story?
MR: Going in, that was going to be the issue. Not only Edward but the entire Cullen clan disappears, the vampires who you’ve come to know and love disappear throughout the middle of the book. In the book, Bella very much keeps them alive in her mind. He is a presence and because it’s all inside her mind, the reader is with him. The challenge here was how do I do that in a movie. I think we have found a way to stay true to the tone of the book and true to the intention of the book but to have him remain a physical presence as well. And you’re starting a whole new relationship with Jacob. Yes, there was a relationship with Jacob in ‘Twilight’ but this is when it happens.
GM: What are some of the strengths of ‘New Moon’ on the page?
MR: What’s so great about this story is Stephenie really explores complex emotions. You could boil it down to girl loses boy, finds boy, but she doesn’t do the easy, black-and-white moves that a lot of young romances do. It’s very complex -- [what happens when] you develop feelings for a friend, romantic love versus platonic love. These are very sophisticated emotions that are very real but also very hard to translate into a film where everything is usually very simplistic and easy to follow. How do you keep that sophistication and complexity? Because that’s the book, that’s what makes it interesting.
GM: So, how do you do that?
MR: Examining each moment for the character and keeping alive different facets. Of course, you have great actors who can play a lot of different colors. It’s really bringing to life and translating those different colors. You might have to cut down on a couple of those colors. When you’re writing a book you can have it be that in any one moment, Bella experiences 10 different things and does 10 different actions. OK, well, you’re going to have to choose, in that moment, maybe a couple of those colors and a couple of those emotions. You need to be able to track throughout the movie where she’s going. It’s hard to articulate because so much of it is just sort of instinctual -- does that feel right? I’m very much a structuralist. I think story is structure is story. If you have the correct structure, the moments of the story happen at the right time and you build those characters to those moments.
GM: How many different drafts of the screenplay did you write?
MR: You do so many drafts over the course of a script. I do very, very detailed outlines, like 25-page outlines. I’ll do any number of drafts and get feedback from a very big circle of writer friends and associates. Finally, I’ll have a draft that I think works. Then I give it to the producers and they give me notes and feedback. For me, a lot of the work happens in that outline stage because that’s when you’re going from blank page to here’s what we’re doing. Then, writing the script, you do more drafts. Again, I’ll have 10 different writer friends read it at any one given time. By the time the producers get it, it’s actually been honed quite a bit. It’s a lot like what directors do with test screenings to see how people respond to certain moments. I do a lot of that. I don’t know that all writers do that. It may be a habit from TV, just from working collaboratively with a lot of people, I’m used to getting instant reaction.
GM: You’re also the executive producer of the great series ‘Dexter’ on Showtime. Is the experience of writing these scripts at all like working in television?
MR: It becomes much more like writing for television where ‘Twilight’ was the pilot and ‘New Moon’ is the first episode. For instance, in ‘Twilight,’ I had no idea who was actually playing the roles. I tend to lean toward a lot more humor and I sometimes can go a little bit broad and quippy, or like ‘Dexter,’ the dark one-liners. I had a lot of that in the ‘Twilight’ script and when it got onto the actors it wasn’t right for the tone. Some of that got pared out. I had not quite found the tone for ‘Twilight.’ There was some adjusting that had to be done as we went along. With ‘New Moon,’ it was much closer, the adjustments have not been as dramatic – not that they were that dramatic to begin with – but they’ve been subtler. I hope that for the next one, they’ll be even less dramatic. I think I’ve found my footing and I know who I’m writing for and the tone of the world.
GM: Did that make it easier to adapt ‘Eclipse’?
MR: ‘Eclipse’ was hard – it took a while to break that, but part of that might have been that I was just so tired. I went from ‘Dexter’ overlapping with ‘Twilight’ to jumping back on ‘Dexter’ to overlapping with ‘New Moon’ and doing five days a week on ‘Dexter’ and two days a week on ‘New Moon’ and did that for months and months and went into ‘Eclipse.’ By then I was pretty burned. It took a while to stoke the fire again, and it’s a hard story to tell. You think it’s going to be easy because there’s all this action, but you realize that Bella is reactive a lot of the time. You can do that in a book because everything’s from her point of view so she’s very much present. But in a movie, you can’t have her just reacting. She has to be driving the action. Ultimately it may end up being the best of the three. You never know. I like to think that I improve with every round; it doesn’t necessarily always pan out that way.
GM: Do you feel free at all to take artistic license with the story?
MR: There are definitely scenes of my creation, but it’s become very hard to differentiate because so many of the scenes are compilations of five different scenes condensed into one. I’ll invent a scene and use a piece from something else. Or I’ll use something as a jumping-off point. I couldn’t tell you where the line between Stephenie and me is. I have to dive into the mind-set of her mythology to make sure that if I am inventing, it’s born out of her mythology and it’s not going to violate it. Her mythology is very tight, it’s very well thought-out. When you’re doing sci-fi or fantasy, the rules have to be very, very defined. But within those rules you have tremendous room for invention, that’s why it’s so fun. But that’s the difference between a successful fantasy or sci-fi series and an unsuccessful one is are the rules defined.
GM: Would you say that you have a close working relationship with Stephenie Meyer?
MR: In the first book, with ‘Twilight,’ I don’t think I even met her until I was well into a draft and I was worried about meeting her because she was the 500-pound gorilla, she was the heavyweight. I was really protective of my process. I was afraid. I didn’t know her from Adam, and I was afraid of getting run over and of not being able to create what I wanted to create or in some way have my voice stifled. When I met her, I realized, ‘Oh, that’s not going to happen at all.’ But she was cautious too. She was looking at me going, ‘Are you going to butcher my child?’ By the time I finished ‘Twilight,’ her reaction to it, it was still one of the great moments of my career, having the author say such wonderful things about the script. From that moment she relaxed about can I deliver and I relaxed about inviting her into my process. I didn’t have a director of ‘New Moon’ until I was finished, so on ‘New Moon’ I became much more involved with her, and with ‘Eclipse’ I was getting her notes on the outline. With ‘Eclipse,’ because I was taking some liberties with the storytelling, it was really important to me that I stay true to her mythology, her voice. She gave me notes as far back as the outline and on every draft since. We’re very tight and very much in each other’s world.
-- Gina McIntyre
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PHOTOS: Top, Edward and Bella from ‘New Moon’ (Summit Entertainment). Middle, Melissa Rosenberg last month at 4th International Rome Film Festival (Getty Images). Bottom, Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson at Comic-Con International (Chelsea Warren/Wire Image)