Melissa Rosenberg, the screenwriter behind the entire Twilight series takes us behind the process of penning this latest sequel
The wait is finally over for those fans dying to see the latest romantic entanglements between Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), her vampire fiance Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), and third wheel out, werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 hits theaters this Friday, November 18th.
To celebrate this release, we caught up with screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, who has penned all five of the Twilight movies for the big scren. She takes us behind-the-scenes, and offers a look at the process behind bringing Stephenie Meyer's popular novel series to life.
Here is our conversation.
What sort of challenges did you face in adapting this particular chapter of the Twilight Saga? It contains some pretty crazy stuff...Or did you just leave all of that in there, and let director Bill Condon sort it out?
Melissa Rosenberg: The crazy stuff wasn't the hard part. This is a very different story than the first three. This is a very grown up story. It is dealing with very complex emotions and themes. You really have to dig deeper when you are dealing with that particular world. The crazy stuff came as a relief. I was like, "Oh, good! Now I get to do some whacked out birthing scene!" It's the human part, the character part, that I worked really hard on. How I approach it was...How I approach every action scene, or wild scene like the birth...Once you get to actually shooting it, they are going to be relying on the stunt coordinator and the EFX team. All of that. What was important to me, and why I will choreograph certain things on the page...I understand specific choreography won't wind up on film...Probably not...The reason I do that is so that the story of the action is clear. What the character action of the drama is supposed to be. The action of the scene. In this particular case, let's say, with the birth...I approached that the way the book does. From Bella's point of view. Then, from there, it is up to Bill Condon to deliver that scene on screen. He, of course, was involved in every aspect of everything. He has to deliver on what is in the script. "Here you go, Bill! Go have fun!"
As a forty year old man, I'm not going to yell in the isles the moment Jacob rips off his shirt. But I might shout a quiet "Yah!" When Charlie pops the top on one of those tasty Rainier beers. That is perfect casting. And Rainier has been there since day one. It's survived so many directorial changes as this franchise has gone on. Was Rainier written into the script? Or was that just good casting on Catherine Hardwicke's part?
Melissa Rosenberg: In the book, Charlie is quite the beer drinker. That element goes way back. But the Rainier is a direct production choice. And that probably came from Billy Burke saying, "Hey, I need a beer, here!" I didn't write that into the script.
Going back to Jacob ripping off his shirt. In the theater, this one scene is deafening. How choreographed are those moments. How calculated is that moment where one of the characters goes topless, eliciting this loud response from, not just the young women in the audience, but also the moms and the gay men?
Melissa Rosenberg: The shirt removal is something that I do write into the script. A steamy look from Edward? Not necessarily. For me, it's not about playing to the audience. It's about bringing the characters to a certain apex. It's about following the emotional journey. Its not, to me, about these moments where the audience is going to scream. I know they're going to scream. But it's not about achieving that reaction. It's about the feelings this story is delivering.
Was it more or less challenging for you to take this one book and turn it into two movies, as to what you've previously done in making just one movie per book?
Melissa Rosenberg: Definitely more challenging. Particularly with this first movie. Part 1. It is such a small movie. It is more akin to the first Twilight, than the other two. The second half has a lot more action. There is a lot more going on. This one posed a challenge in that it's about the internal workings of a marriage, really. It becomes, very much, a character drama that turns into a horror story. That was definitely a challenge.
How did you find the break in the two movies?
Melissa Rosenberg: It was a natural, organic break, that cam mid-section. When you read the book, it seems natural. The first part being where she's a newlywed, and we deal with the pregnancy. The second part is about her being a vampire and a parent. This is a natural breaking point, really. When you first read the book, you hit upon that. You can see that. I think we all felt that way. We played with it a little bit, we tried pushing it into the first act of the second movie. We wanted to see if that played. Ultimately, we didn't like it. So we did what we did.
As you wrote each new screenplay for the five films, did you take into consideration that the audience is growing up along with these characters?
Melissa Rosenberg: Honestly, I don't write to an audience. I have never tried that. The minute you write to an audience, you've lost them. Its as though you are pandering to them. Thinking that you are speaking to them. On all of these, for me, it has been about the characters and telling an authentic story. It is about a vampire. But it resonates, and it's a compelling story. I think that starts with Stephenie Meyer. She has hit a chord with people. Then we follow that. The books have been doing this long before there was a film audience. We have to follow that, too, you know what I mean?
When you sit down to write a Twilight screenplay, do you need to be in the rainy, cold mindset of the North West? To get in the mood? Or is it all sunshine and beaches as to where you actually sit down and write these movies?
Melissa Rosenberg: (Laughs) Hardly. I have a very strict regiment of showing up at my desk at a certain hour with my cup of green tea. It is very quite. I don't like having a lot of atmosphere around. But what I get into rather than the environment that the characters are in, is...I get into the character's minds. That is as easily as intense, to get into this mindsets, as well as this setting...
Do you consider yourself the primary resource for all that has happened, and will happen in this universe?
Melissa Rosenberg: No, no, no, no, no! That is definitely Stephenie Meyer.
You have to have a pretty good idea, though...Right? You could win a trivia contest, if it came to that...
Melissa Rosenberg: Yes, for sure. But Stephenie is the keeper of all the mythology. That much is for sure.
How hands on is she with you when it comes to writing the script? Is she there with you the whole way? Does she come in at the end to offer advice and notes concerning certain changes?
Melissa Rosenberg: I begin with an outline. During that process, I will email her, or call her. I throw ideas at her. I have space to do my thing. The outline goes to Stephenie and the studio. They will come back with notes. Then I go away and I write my script. When I come back, I give them the draft. She is as involved with it as anyone, if not more. She is a producer on these films as well. But if I run into a problem, I will definitely give her a call, and we will throw around ideas.
Despite the fact that this franchise has had four different directors, the movies have all really flowed together as one piece. How has it been for you to work with each new director that comes onto the series?
Melissa Rosenberg: This is not a new thing for me. I have been working in television for quite a long time. In television, the writer is the constant, and the director is rotated in and out. I am very use to dealing with people's methods. And perspectives. What is great about it...I thought this was so smart for this series...Each director does bring something new to it. That keeps it fresh. You have the consistency of myself, and Stephenie Meyer, the producers, and the cast...But what you bring to it is this new energy and visual sensibility. That was a really smart choice by the studio right from the beginning.
What did you feel that Bill Condon brought to this universe that maybe was absent from the past three films?
Melissa Rosenberg: They have all brought something to it. They have all brought their own sensibilities. All four of them were very lovely to work with. In very different ways. They all had very different approaches. Bill Condon, I must say, may have been one of the best professional experiences of my life, collaborating with him. He, himself, is an Academy Award winning screenwriter. He is a storyteller first and foremost, so we speak the same language. We approach things always from the story. He was more excited, from the beginning, about this fourth movie, more so than the fifth. He loves the character of it. I was more interested in the action. He pushed me further. What he brought to this project, aside from a love of the craft...He has such a delicate touch in this movie. He brought all of the actors up. And he certainly brought me up in my work. He has an appreciation for emotional complexity and the human experience.
Stephenie has said that there could be a spin-off revolving around Jacob Black and Renesmee. Has she ever discussed that with you? Do you think we will see more movies set within this universe after Breaking Dawn Part 2?
Melissa Rosenberg: I hope we do more. Because I am a fan. We haven't talked about it, because we are always talking about the project at hand. I think there is so much rich mythology in this world that she has created. She could take any one of these characters, and have a spin-off. Down to the smallest wolf. They all have these complex histories that she has created. I hope she does do more. I would love to see it.
Is there one particular secondary character that you would love to focus on?
Melissa Rosenberg: I would love to see the continuing story of Leah Clearwater, the female wolf. I want to see what that backstory is going to be. There is so much complexity there. Jacob and Renesmee. The Volturi. Wouldn't you love to travel with those guys for a while? They are all so nutty. And then, wait until you see the last movie...Any one of their stories could be interesting.
Having worked in television, do you think there could ever be a Twilight TV series?
Melissa Rosenberg: You would think so. But there are a lot of vampires on the air. It would have to find its time.
As we are learning, I think there is room for all sorts of vampires.
Melissa Rosenberg: (Laughs) There may come a time when it's reached its tipping point. Maybe...
Anne Rice, once again, came out against the vampires in Twilight. I think it's so stupid that anyone would have a problem with any one type of vampire. I mean, the more the merrier. At least people are being original and thoughtful with these new interpretations. They're not just regurgitating the same old thing we've seen a million times.
Melissa Rosenberg: I completely agree. That's one of the things that drew me into this to begin with. Stephenie Meyer had a completely new take on this mythology. I completely appreciated it. Sometimes, I will read on a blog, and it says, "It's a fact that vampires don't do that! It's a fact!" I think, "What? Since when is it a fact?" (Laughs) Its absurd. People should really just relax. Get a life.
Did you see the Bevis and Butthead premiere? With Twilight?
Melissa Rosenberg: No, I didn't.
I wasn't sure how you all felt about that...
Melissa Rosenberg: I did see a little bit of it. I love all of that stuff, though. It's all in good fun. We never take ourselves too seriously.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 was released November 18th, 2011 and stars Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene, Billy Burke, Anna Kendrick, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone. The film is directed by Bill Condon.