Robert Pattinson is having an Obi-Wan Kenobi moment. Inside a soundstage where "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" is shooting, the lanky English heartthrob stands in front of a tall, wide green screen murmuring a tender admonition, "You promised me nothing reckless." Motion capture cameras hurtle toward him across a length of track affixed to the stage floor, while a team of technicians studies his stance and the tilt of his head.
The plan is to digitally insert Pattinson, who plays swoony good guy vampire Edward Cullen, into a scene that was filmed much earlier -- one in which he appears as a spectral vision to his costar, Kristen Stewart, cautioning her headstrong character, Bella Swan, against hanging out with some unsavory-looking biker types. For the effect to work, Pattinson's image will need to be dropped in at exactly the right position, so despite the cast and crew nearing the end of a very long early May day, perfectionism is still the standard.
The team working on this sequel to last year's Catherine Hardwicke-directed "Twilight," which brought in an unexpected $365 million worldwide for Summit Entertainment, is moving quickly to sustain the momentum of the sexy, youth-oriented franchise.
Between takes, Pattinson chats with the crew while director Chris Weitz stands several feet away, his arms folded behind his head. Visual effects, "that's not my thing," he concedes with a wry smile.
What does interest him is literature. Due in theaters Nov. 20, "New Moon" will mark his third consecutive literary adaptation after having directed "About a Boy," from the Nick Hornby novel, and "The Golden Compass," the big-budget fantasy based on the first chapter in author Philip Pullman's award-winning "His Dark Materials" series. It was his experience making that film -- which should have been a dream project really, given Weitz's reverence for the source material -- that made the idea of taking the reins on the second "Twilight" film so appealing.
During post-production on "Compass," Weitz was unable to persuade New Line Cinema to allow him to move forward with the ending he'd originally planned for the $180 million film, one that was decidedly grim but faithful to Pullman's vision. The movie was released with an alternate ending that the studio felt would be more satisfying to audiences, but something about the project failed to connect; it earned only $70 million domestically, though it did fare better overseas.
"It's one of the great sadnesses of my life that it didn't turn out the way I intended it," he says.
"New Moon," a story about surviving the ultimate heartbreak and loss, is Weitz's chance to heal his wounds and find a new creative path. It's a path that winds through the gloomy forests of the Pacific Northwest and the Italian village of Multipulciano. The last three days of the shoot will happen there, but before then, Weitz needs to complete the complicated camera maneuvers that will enable him to transform Pattinson's Edward into an apparition.
For anyone unfamiliar with the world of "Twilight," a primer: In author Stephenie Meyer's first tale, 17-year-old Bella Swan moves to Forks, Wash., to live with her small-town sheriff father. She soon falls for the mysterious Edward Cullen, a vampire who, like the rest of his extended "family," abstains from drinking human blood. In "New Moon," Edward opts to leave town to protect Bella -- whose proximity to these powerful supernatural creatures places her in almost constant danger -- but his decision leaves her broken and inconsolable.
She begins to regain her bearings spending time with her friend Jacob, but it's not long before his unrequited feelings for Bella and his own otherworldly nature become a source of real tension between them.
The film's success, driven by the unrelenting support of Meyer's fans, most of whom are teenage girls (but whose ranks also include some young men and moms), catapulted 19-year-old Stewart and 23-year-old Pattinson to a stratospheric level of stardom that seems to make both actors deeply uncomfortable.
Their reticence about fame is understandable: The nature of their off-screen relationship has become the subject of frequent tabloid speculation and, earlier this summer, Pattinson was grazed by a taxi in Manhattan where he was shooting the indie drama "Remember Me" after an overzealous mob crowded him, pushing him onto a city street.
These days, they've taken to declining a number of interviews, politely refusing to answer questions posed even by journalists visiting the set. Taylor Lautner, 17, who plays Jacob, hasn't experienced exactly the same sort of frenzy, but with his character moving to the forefront of the action in "New Moon," he soon might. There is, after all, an entire camp that argues that Bella should wind up with his character rather than the brooding Edward.
"I don't know if you can get used to it," the baby-faced Lautner says of the ardor the series inspires. "We have seen the passion and dedication in the fans. We wouldn't be here without them, but they're everywhere.
"You're always experiencing the fans," adds Lautner, who spent months in the gym training for his "New Moon" role. "Sometimes it does get a little overwhelming."
Many hours have been spent waiting for the sun to emerge from Vancouver's perpetual cloud bank. This week, Weitz and his team have been trying to film one of the few outdoor sequences that require bright natural light, but since the notoriously difficult British Columbian climate has refused to cooperate, the "New Moon" cast and crew are about to spend the better part of a 12-hour day inside the elaborate fiction of an Italianate marble hall complete with columns and engravings in Latin. Where else, after all, would the Volturi reside?
Today, that vampire ruling council is ruminating over the fate of Edward and Bella. Walking forward with his arms extended, Aro, played by British actor Michael Sheen, sporting blood-red contact lenses, offers a vaguely sinister greeting to his reluctant guests. The scene is replayed over and over, with Pattinson at one point leaving the set to consult with Weitz about a particular line of dialogue.
Standing by the monitors, the pair runs through a number of options while Stewart sits on the floor looking a little bored as she waits for the cameras to resume rolling. After several minutes, Pattinson, wearing a long, red robe and fake bruises painted beneath his eyes, returns to his mark and filming resumes.
"I promised the actors that no matter what, we would have time to discuss every single line," Weitz explains. "There was a line that he felt was repetitive and Rob wasn't feeling where he was in the scene. We worked it out and came up with some alternate dialogue. I can work on the fly a bit because I'm a writer-director, which is helpful. I don't feel stuck or panicky when an actor is not down with a particular piece of dialogue."
After this film, Weitz will depart the "Twilight" saga; director David Slade -- known for his edgy-with-a-capital-"E" feature debut "Hard Candy" and the bloody horror outing, "30 Days of Night" -- will helm the third film in the franchise, "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," which goes before cameras Aug. 17 and is set for release next summer on June 30.
Producer Wyck Godfrey says changing directors while maintaining the same actors and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg will bring a different energy to each "Twilight" movie without disrupting the overall continuity. Weitz was brought on after Hardwicke opted out of doing "New Moon," citing scheduling conflicts, but Slade's selection raised some eyebrows. The heart of the story is the romance between Edward and Bella after all, and Slade doesn't seem like much of a romantic.
Godfrey points out that "Eclipse" is darker in tone than the stories that precede it and more action-packed, making Slade the right choice.
"Ever since I saw 'Hard Candy,' I was obsessed with him as a filmmaker," the producer says. "That's a female point-of-view movie, and it's very different than the average female point-of-view movie. He's also done tons of videos that are female friendly, and he has some teeth to him too, which I think is good."
A bigger question mark hangs over what is the most adult entry in Meyer's series, "Breaking Dawn." Godfrey was mum as to specifics, saying only that everyone involved fully intends to make what would be the fourth movie. (The website IMDb.com lists "Breaking Dawn" as in development with a tentative 2011 release date.)
"We're shooting 'New Moon,' prepping 'Eclipse,' doing all the marketing -- it's a little overwhelming to really think in a detailed manner of how we're going to crack this, but we have every intention to," he said of "Dawn."
Much at stake
It's now July, and Weitz will face 6,000-plus screaming fans as he unveils never-before-seen footage from "New Moon" at Comic-Con International in San Diego on Thursday. At last year's convention, months before "Twilight" was released, the delighted squeals were nearly deafening.
Driving home from a day of post-production, Weitz says he understands what's at stake. There are 450 visual effects shots to complete, in addition to the score and the movie's soundtrack, which he says will feature songs from Radiohead, Muse and Band of Skulls, among others. But the sequences he's readying for the event -- one, an action scene that will feature some of those effects, the other, a love scene sure to elicit hysteria from the crowd -- will be done in time.
With so much on the line at Comic-Con, where word of mouth can often make or break a project, Weitz is feeling fairly confident that the reaction will be positive, especially since many of the cast members will be there.
"It's a rare and wonderful feeling to know that people are going to want to see what you're making," he says. "The fear sometimes when you're making a film is that you've gotten everybody all dressed up with nowhere to go. Certainly, there is the possibility that I can drop the ball . . . . But at least people are going to go and see it."