Just like our favorite luminous lovers Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, the “Twilight” saga never dies.
That revelation was never clearer than when seven short films inspired by author Stephenie Meyer’s supernatural universe premiered at Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood on Monday night (July 13).
“The Storytellers: New Voices of the Twilight Saga” offered a fun, enthralling glimpse into the imagined backstories of some of the series’ under-explored personalities — all while promoting the importance of females in film. Each mini-movie was written by a female scriptwriter and helmed by an emerging female director hand-picked by Lionsgate, Women in Film, Facebook, Tongal, Volvo, and Meyer herself.
MTV News was there to see the seven winning films premiere on the big screen, followed by a revealing panel discussion with Meyer and the talented women who created them. Here’s what we learned.
There’s just something about Alice.
Three of the seven short films told different stories about the precognitive Alice Cullen, played in the movies by Ashley Greene. In “Groundskeeper,” she’s a human patient at an insane asylum who gets bitten by a vampire groundkeeper in an effort to save her life from Victoria and James. In “Mary Alice Brandon File,” she’s again a mental asylum patient who undergoes electro shock therapy and gets the painful memories of her childhood erased. And in “We’ve Met Before,” she’s a ‘50s pinup girl lookalike envisioning her future with Jasper Hale, whom she has yet to meet.
So what exactly is the deal with Alice?! “Well for us, we see her as this character that’s so loving and accepting and caring of everyone around her. And that’s a really special thing in a person,” said Kailey and Samantha Spear, the pair of sisters who wrote and directed “Mary Alice Brandon File.”
“Yeah, she’s clearly a fan favorite. Everyone wrote about her,” said “Groundskeeper” director Nicole Eckenroad. “But the script spoke to me specifically. Because what’s better than watching her get turned is seeing if she decided that or if that was just something that happened to her. That’s really what I was magnetized by.”
A real, badass woman inspired “Turncoats.”
Ever wondered what “Twilight” would be like with a dose of “Braveheart,” a splash of “Mulan,” and a pinch of humor to boot? No? Well, you’ll find out in “Turncoats,” one of the standouts of the bunch, partly because of the way it so vividly recalled imagery from the original series, like the super speed and the ravenous, bloodthirsty scowls. This one centers on Edward’s adoptive father and patriarch of the Cullen clan, Carlisle. Set during the Revolutionary War, Carlisle is a 141-year-old physician tasked with treating Garrett’s sister, who had been pretending she was a male soldier.
Director Lindsey Hancock admitted she was initially intimidated by the idea of adapting a male-centric story, but soon found a badass new source of inspiration to latch onto.
“Once I found out that I was writing a script about two male vampires — and this being a contest pushing women — I was like ‘how can I make this more about women if it’s about two male vampires meeting?’” she said. “And then I was researching the Revolutionary War and I started coming across several cool stories about real women who disguised themselves as men so that they could be fight, one of them being this lady named Debra Sampson. So I knew that I wanted it to be about Garrett bringing a sibling in who was dying. And I thought a character that was based on this Debra Sampson like character would be an interesting twist on that.”
Jane and Alec’s origin story is just as heartbreaking as you’d expect.
The twins’ backstory comes to life in Maja Fernqvist’s “Consumed,” which kicks off with Volturi leader Aro meeting them when they’re little kids. The story then jumps forward to the fateful night they almost got burned at the stake by townspeople accusing them of witchcraft, which, of course, inspires Aro to seal the deal on making them bona fide coven members.
Jane and Alec (played in the movies by Dakota Fanning and Cameron Bright) were two of the most intriguing characters in the “Twilight Saga,” and seeing them as tiny humans is equal parts alarming and fascinating. Also, it should be noted that the dude who plays Aro gives Michael Sheen a run for his money as the creepiest and most sinister-looking vampire ever.
“We’ve Met Before” is the love story you’ve been thirsty for.
Craving more of that sparkly-skinned Bella/Edward magic? The most lighthearted film of the bunch is easily Yulin Kuang’s “We’ve Met Before,” in which Alice meets Jasper. Set in a diner in Philadelphia in what appears to be the ‘50s, this one’s a cute love affair any Twihard will fawn over (and not just because the dude who plays Jasper is hella fine. But also, that’s part of it).
“I really love shipping. And obviously the ‘Twilight’ franchise has such a great emotional core of romance at it,” Kuang said about what drew her to the script. “I think the Alice and Jasper story is something that’s really interesting because Alice knows all these things that are going to happen before they actually do, so she has a sense of nostalgia for something that hasn’t happened yet. And I think that was just a really interesting way to explore a love story that we haven’t seen before.”
Benjamin and Tia’s love story is also utterly beautiful — and hopefully we’ll be seeing more of it.
Besides “We’ve Met Before,” the other love story that sucks you right in (pun intended) is Amanda Tasse’s “Sunrise,” which chronicles the relationship between Egyptian coven members Benjamin and Tia (played by Rami Malek and Angela Sarafyan in “Breaking Dawn”). Set in 1800 Egypt, this one’s a visually stunning tale that gives us a surprisingly captivating look at two characters whose relationship wasn’t explored much in the “Twilight” saga.
And if it’s up to Tasse, this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of Benjia (yep, just made up that ship name).
“I really just want to promote the Benjamin and Tia story because actually the Egyptian coven has a really fascinating backstory that I’ve learned more about through this process, and I hope we get to see more of that in the future,” Tasse said, prompting a not-so-subtle “hint hint” reaction from the panel.
The wildcard winner was just as amazing as the other six films.
The contest originally crowned six winners, but a wildcard victor was also selected from another round of entries. That seventh film is Cate Carson’s “Masque,” and make no mistake: it’s not inferior to the other six by any means.
“Masque” explores Esme Cullen’s backstory, focusing on how hard it was for her to withstand her cravings for human blood after turning into a vampire. The film is sad, romantic, hopeful, and tragic all at once, and it was shocking to hear Carson reveal they worked with a much smaller budget and managed to film the whole thing in just four and a half days.
Not only that, but a surprising wrench in the works was an unfortunate contact lenses mishap. “We had initially a designer who painted some contact lenses for us, and one of them ended up being accidentally prescription,” Carson said. “And so our actor during the masquerade couldn’t see, but we had no other alternative at that point.”
Each film welcomed a “Twilight” fan to its set.
And the experience turned out to be so much more amazing than anyone could’ve expected.
“Groundskeeper” director Eckenroad said her film’s fan was in school to be an actress, so they used her as a background character during one scene. The fan was so grateful that she cried at the opportunity. “She was so excited. And she just brought a totally different energy,” Eckenroad said. “She helped us slow down and see what we were doing.”
And in a true full-circle example that sums up the intent behind this entire project, the fan on Hancock’s “Turncoats” set was so inspired that she’s decided to pursue her own career in film.
“Our fan was amazing,” Hancock said. “She got to be an extra on the first day. Then she surprised us and came back on the last day of shooting and told us it had been the best weekend of her life. And now she’s decided that because of our shoot, she’s going to go to film school. What more can you ask for?!”
Meyer is tight-lipped about what projects she has in the pipeline — well, kinda.
With all the creativity surrounding a world that she created, Meyer must be feeling pretty inspired herself, the panel moderator pointed out. So what’s next?
“I’m not sure how to answer that question,” Meyer admitted. “It’s just hard because I have [answered it] in the past — when I was first starting out, at signings and things, I would just tell them, ‘This is a story I’m working on’ and sometimes those things don’t get finished. And sometimes they change into something else.”
She did, however, finally fess up to some film projects in the works.
“There’s a lot that I’m working on now in the film arena, which is a lot of fun,” Meyer said. “Kind of like the fan visits you had, my experience on set has really made me love the process of making movies too, and so I’ve been active in that recently.”
Meyer was initially surprised by the deficiency and underrepresentation of women in film — but now she’s a champion of the cause.
“Twilight” was an anomaly of sorts because it boasted a female director and a female screenwriter, but Meyer never thought of that as a particularly exceptional thing until the film was already underway.
“At the time I don’t think I realized how unusual it was. I had no idea,” Meyer said. “I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have. It kind of came as a shock to me… It was like, ‘Really? Why? Why is it so unusual? Because we’re telling this story about a girl. Shouldn’t [women] get to tell that story?’ I think that too often the answer is no.”
As “New Voices of the Twilight Saga” came to fruition, however, she realized just how important the issue really is.
“What was really exciting about this process was that someone was willing to put their money where their mouth was,” Meyer said. “A lot of people talk about this problem and not a lot of people do something about it. So it’s been really, really exciting to get to do something… to try and get some more female voices out there.”