The ads for “Red Riding Hood” show Amanda Seyfried dramatically cloaked in a cape, the better to see her in the snowy woods that serve as the backdrop for a story loosely based on the classic fairy tale. But, as the trailers hint, everything is not as it seems.
The movie is also a print novel that was being written even as the filming progressed. It is also a multimedia e-book that leverages the latest technology to enhance the story of a teenage girl torn between two male suitors, one of whom may be a werewolf.
The book debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times children’s paperback bestseller list when it was released in late January, serving as a sort of multimedia prequel and pump-primer for the film, directed by Catherine Hardwicke. As an e-book, “Red Riding Hood” includes video interviews with Hardwicke and her many collaborators, an animated short film, audio discussion about the set design and props, costume sketches and Hardwicke’s hand-drawn maps of the world where “Red Riding Hood” takes place, among other things.
“I was realizing as we were prepping for the movie that I felt sad for the back stories of these characters. I wanted to know more about those people,” Hardwicke said of her decision to transform “Red Riding Hood” into a book.
Hardwicke was inspired by her own success as an author. Her “Twilight: Director’s Notebook” was an instant bestseller when it came out in 2009, four months after the hit film she directed based on the megahit book by Stephenie Meyer.
To novelize “Red Riding Hood,” Hardwicke got the OK from her publisher, Little, Brown. She just needed an author to write it. For that, she turned to a 21-year-old graduate of Barnard College’s creative writing program named Sarah Blakley-Cartwright.
Cartwright has appeared as an actress in each of Hardwicke’s five films, including the new “Red Riding Hood,” where she makes a cameo as a villager who’s swept up in the mass hysteria over the werewolf.
Blakley-Cartwright specialized in realistic fiction at Barnard, but “Red Riding Hood,” she said, “is obviously not.” The actress-turned-author “wasn’t afraid because I was around her,” she said, rolling her eyes toward her mentor during an interview on the Warner Bros. lot. “Catherine’s the person who taught me that having a work ethic could be fun and fabulous, and I really buckled down.”
Blakley-Cartwright first got to know Hardwicke during filming for “Thirteen.” Like that 2003 breakout hit, which Hardwicke co-wrote with its star Nikki Reed when Reed was just 14, “Red Riding Hood” relies on the energy, drama and input of talented youth.
While Hardwicke was on set shooting, Blakley-Cartwright would spend as many as 14 hours each day writing, occasionally taking a break from her typewriter to visit the set or interview the characters for inspiration.
“Sarah was really focusing on the story and the lead character, so sometimes Sarah would catch things or give me insight I was too rushed to see,” Hardwicke said. “I could put that in the screenplay or add that to the scene.”
Filming began last June and took 45 days. The book was written by August and printed just three months later.
“I was so excited when the script came to me,” Hardwicke said in early February, taking a break from the Burbank sound studio where she was considering different iterations of the wolf’s voice.
Dressed in leather riding boots and Ray-Bans, a wolf-tooth necklace dangling in a mass of gold chains around her slender neck, Hardwicke is 55, but her energy is kinetic — akin to the teens she’s been drawn to as the director of such films as “Thirteen” and “Twilight.”
Hardwicke is constantly in motion, multitasking. As she answers questions, she uses a pile of dog-eared books with passages highlighted in yellow, and an e-reader, as well as her assistant’s laptop, even her own iPhone as a sort of show and tell to demonstrate the many components of her latest project.
As a movie, “Red Riding Hood” is a thriller set in a time that could be medieval — or post-apocalyptic. Simultaneously rustic and debauched, it’s almost a renaissance fair retelling of the fairy tale, one that pulls from references old and new.
Sketches for the costumes and some of the art that inspired the film and book are among the many pieces of the e-book, which only came together because Hardwicke pitched it to the publisher.
“I didn’t know that much about e-books,” Hardwicke said. “I just thought it would be cool because we had a lot of artists that were very involved.”