Q&A: "Twilight: New Moon" filmmakers
Chris Weitz (Associated Press photo)
Since the film and “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” Week here at BAM’s Blog are proving so popular, I’m extending my daily coverage of “New Moon” for another week. Yes, it’s “New Moon” Week: The Sequel.
In the second film based on Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling book series, the supernatural love triangle between human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) really starts to develop.
Last week, I brought you features on Lautner, Pattinson and Stewart I wrote after attending the massive “New Moon” press day at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles. This week, I’ve already brought you Q&As with the three leads in the film.
Today, I’m featuring a Q&A with “New Moon” director Chris Weitz, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg and producer Wyck Godfrey, taken from the L.A. press conference, in which they fielded questions from several entertainment journalists, including yours truly. They talked about a variety topics, including the movie’s many shirtless-young-men scenes, the much-talked-about casting of Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black and replacing of Rachelle Lefevre with Bryce Dallas Howard for the series’ third film, “Eclipse.” (The Q&A has been slightly edited for clarity and length.)
Q: Chris, I’m wondering if either you or your brother (fellow director Paul Weitz, “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant”) have ever tried to get your mother (actress Susan Kohner) to make a cameo in any of your films? She would have been perfect as the grandmother in the first scene of this movie.
Weitz: How fun. I think it would have been difficult for me to say, “Mom, we’d like you to play a woman who is so old she horrifies Bella when she recognizes herself in the mirror.” Well, I’m glad that people still remember my mom. For all who don’t know who she is, she was nominated as best supporting actress for “Imitation of Life.” And I think she’s put movies behind her for good, and now she just raises me and my brother.
Q: Chris, putting together the syllabus for the cast, what was your thinking behind that? As far as I know, you hadn’t done it before. Why did you feel you needed to this time around?
Weitz: Well, I knew that I needed to do quite a lot of thinking coming into the movie because I was the new kid. So, all of the actors knew their characters but what often happens with actors, I think, is that they get kind of dropped into a war zone, into a room that they’re supposed to have known all their lives, or into a scene with someone their supposed to have known all their lives, and they’re not quite aware either of where they are, who they’re meeting, or indeed what movie they’re in. I mean they know that they’re in New Moon, but what I really didn’t want was a sequelitis or the idea that we’re just cranking out a franchise. I wanted everyone to know what sort of movie we wanted to make and what had already been discussed with Javier (Aguirresarobe) our DP (director of photography), and with David Brisbin, our production designer, what had gone into the script from Melissa, what kind of thinking had gone into where we were, so that it was a holistic experience rather than the somewhat brutal process that making a film can sometimes be.
Q: There are a lot of hunky guy moments in this movie that the girls are going to go crazy for. Even Laurent gets to show up bare-chested. Can you guys talk about constructing those moments and then delivering on them?
Rosenberg: I wish I could take credit for the moments of Jacob pulling off his shirt and Edward pulling off his shirt. They are in the book and it seemed unwise to leave them out.
Weitz: That would be a cut that you would regret. I like to say it’s all essentially economics. You see, the Quileutes don’t have very high average income and they can’t afford the T-shirts they would need, given the amount of times they turn into wolves on short notice and their clothes burst. So, really, they’d have to go to Walmart every 10 minutes. They just go around in shorts for that reason.
Q: If there a feeling about trying to get teenagers hearts going?
Weitz: Well, yes. I will say that the last scene especially is constructed … Melissa and I talked about it and it’s constructed in such a way that it’s meant to be one of the most scream-inducing moments – and it doesn’t even involve abdominal muscles – in recent film history. I think that there’s this wonderful audience that appreciates what we do, wants us to do well, and really wants to engage in an emotional experience. And so to me it made sense to be unashamed of the emotionality of the piece. And there’s werewolves fighting each other, vampires fighting each other, vampires fighting werewolves, and all sorts of great stuff for boys as well, but the girls needed to be given their due. And we, I think, deliver.
Q: Chris, with “Twilight” having such a young cast and everyone wanting to know everything about the cast, did your work with the young cast in the “American Pie” days help adapt to this film in any way?
Weitz: Strangely not. Not in the way that you’d expect because even though the cast on the film is quite young, they’d all been in quite a lot of stuff before, especially Kristen. Whereas with “American Pie,” most of them were first-timers. So I didn’t feel as though I had to do any hand-holding with our young actors. But there was the fun I’d had on “American Pie” of casting some unknowns in the parts of the young guys who play the Quileutes. And that’s lovely. It’s really great to work on a movie where you’ve got Michael Sheen in a scene, an extraordinary professional, then you’ve got a guy who was walking around and he saw a line of people waiting for an audition and was like, “What’s this?” And they said it’s for some movie, and then he decided to stand at the end of the line. And then a few days later I saw the video and said, “That guy’s really funny. Let’s put him in.” That’s terribly enjoyable as well.
Q: Melissa, how do you adapt from a book rather than your own personal experiences?
Rosenberg: Very carefully because it is a very beloved book. But the objective is you have to take the audience on the same emotional journey they had in the book. That’s the primary objective and, in order to take them on that journey, there’s certain plot points you have to hit. You have to have, obviously, Edward breaking up with Bella. You have to Bella discover the wolves. You have to have Edward attempting to kill himself – all the things that are crucial in the book. So you start with those scenes and then you condense and expand on some things.
Q: As I understand it, in “New Moon,” Edward disappears for most of the book and because of the popularity of his character, you needed him to be in the movie. Can you talk about how you decided to do what you did and whether you were worried you were being faithful to the book and unfaithful to it in this way was going to make people happy or not?
Weitz: Yeah. Well, it’s tricky. You don’t want too much Edward because then you lose the really important sense of missing him. On some level you don’t want too little because everyone loves Rob. The fortunate thing about it is reading a book which, I think, takes you about 13 to 17 hours and our film which lasts two hours, actually Rob’s not out of the movie for terribly long. I mean, I think the crucial difference between the book and the film is that when Bella hallucinates Edward’s voice she also sees him. It’s just a nice little flavoring, a little dose of Edward whenever we needed that. But I was very keen that when we presented it visually, it be as subtle as possible. And so it was kind of re-imagining the ghosting effect and trying to come up with something quite special for it. And what we did was using green screen we mapped Edward onto the dynamics of a candle flame, so that the way that he moves and flitters in and out is the way that a candle’s flame would behave. So it’s very subjective to Bella’s experience. And I think it’s fair to cheat in that because it’s one of the powers available to a moviemaker as opposed to a novelist. So it kind of suited the medium.
Rosenberg: It’s also true that in the book, he’s very present in her eyes, every page he’s really present, so it makes sense to have him actually appear. It was funny because as I was writing the script I kept on trying to explain what that was, and I’m not a director. I like to give the director something to leap off with, but I had no idea how to write this, other than that kind of Wayne’s World do-do-do kind of thing. So I was really grateful we had a visual stylist. I just kind of handed him the thing and said, “All right, it’s just she sees him. Go.”
Godfrey: We also talked a lot about the overall design of the series, that we really needed Edward’s absence to allow Jacob to become a viable option for Bella. And we really had to fight that instinct to be like, “Oh my gosh, everyone loves Edward Cullen. You’ve got to figure out ways to put him in.” But the whole series doesn’t work unless he’s absent and Jacob enters into it. And I think Taylor really filled that hole amazingly well.
Q: What about the casting? Was there really a possibility that the role would be recast before this movie started?
Weitz: I’d say there was a big possibility that could happen, but I was always convinced that he was going to be able to do it. I think basically because… The doubts came up because he had very few scenes in the first movie. Also because he’s described as being 6’5″ in the second book, some reasonable facts that we had to come to grip with. But I like the sort of sweetness of this character in the first movie and I knew that it was easier to take an actor in the direction of anger and rage than it was to find someone who is kind of a hunk or 6’5″ Native American and somehow turn him into that very sweet-natured persona that Taylor brings out so well to boot.
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