Last weekend we sat down with the woman who adapted Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. Check back later this evening when we'll be running interviews with director Catherine Hardwicke and Stephenie Meyer herself, all part of our illuminating Ten Days of Twilight series!
Warning: Potential script spoilers as we talk about a few specific scenes and the Cullen house.
Laremy Legel: What's the math involved in your process? Do you read the book and then break out a spreadsheet? Do you say, "well we've got 45 scenes here and I can do 30?"
Melissa Rosenberg: I read the book, then I set it down and say "What popped?" I start looking for the moments. I look for my framework. I look for my acts. Act one, act two, finale. Then I'll go back over it again and figure out the connective issue. I'm letting it flow as to what I've read. And then I'll start putting it into more detail. At this point I've been doing it for awhile so I'm not necessarily counting scenes. But there's a lot of back and forth with the book.
LL: Do you like the original author to be really involved with you? What's your relationship with Stephenie like?
MR: Our interaction now is quite involved. We meet creatively in the same world. When we first started I was much more protective because I didn't know her and she didn't know me. But when we met she realized I was only about respecting her work and I realized she was only about respecting my creative process.
On Twilight I was probably too protective. I wanted to experience the book without a lot of outside influence so a lot of her notes went through [director] Catherine Hardwicke at the end. If we go forward it's very collaborative.
LL: One of the things that stuck out to me as far as differences was that Bella, in the book, had a trip planned to Seattle, but you changed that to Jacksonville as her excuse for missing prom. Why did you go that direction?
MR: I suspect that I made that choice to keep the idea of Renee alive, the idea of the mother alive. And I was pulling out the idea that Edward was going to go with her to Seattle. It was that kind of thought process, condensing and distilling.
LL: Were there things you wrote that didn't make it in that you're anxious to see on the DVD?
MR: You know it's funny, but not really. There were scenes when we started, when the screenplay was 110 to 115 pages, but for budget we cut it down so we'd have fewer production days. There were some scenes along the way that got cut where I was thinking "I can't do without that!" But then I saw the film and I had to be reminded that the scenes weren't there because I didn't really miss them. It's a fairly tight edit.
LL: When you came along in the process was the film cast? Did you have the actors in your head already?
MR: No, not at all, which was a challenge. You're writing in a vacuum to some degree. I tend to lean toward more humor but this was more kind of quippy back and forth. But when the actors were cast it became very clear that it just wasn't appropriate. Now it leans more towards the dramatic which is much more the tone of the book, I think. There was a lot of discovering what the movie and script were going to be. Some of that I was on strike for, unfortunately.
LL: You work with voice-over a little bit here and I've noticed it in Dexter which you write for as well. Is that a technique you like?
MR: I actually try to avoid it. It can be a real crutch and I think it's used too much in films.
LL: I don't think it's prevalent in Twilight, just a little smidge ...
MR: It's interesting, with Dexter it's really an important thing because who else is he going to talk to? But with Twilight my first instinct was to not have any voice-over. Let's see if we can have this all happen out loud. But Catherine said "I think we're going to need some voice-over." But then my first day writing the script I realized it cried out for voice-over. A little bit in the beginning, and then the end. We got to production and started panning it out. Almost all of it is directly from the book, so that helps keep alive the tone of the book.
LL: How difficult an adaptation was this for you? I know you were up against the strike which couldn't have made it easy.
MR: What made it difficult was doing both that and Dexter at the same time. It just meant I had no life, but everyone knows you have to jump on it when it happens. The number of vacations me and my husband have canceled ... if you really want a job, book a non-refundable vacation. But obviously we're blessed too.
LL: You have a little different experience with Twilight in that the actors have all been through the roller-coaster of emotions, with some people hating the initial casting and now really loving them. But as a screenwriter do you sort of exist behind the scenes of all that? Do you read the message boards?
MR: I tried a little bit. I read like 10 things, because it seemed like everyone was concerned I was going to destroy their book. And I'd read "Oh, she wrote Step Up and Dexter, I love her, she's going to to a great job!" But then you get to the 11th comment and it's like "I HATED Step Up!" I got wounded by it and realized I couldn't do it. Even with a hundred positive ones, it's the negative one that kills you. I'm way too sensitive for that.
LL: Did you write for Party of Five? I love that show!
MR: I did. I was a huge fan of that show and managed to get on it in its last year. It was a great series.
LL: In terms of the color palette used here I noticed Catherine Hardwicke had some sepia and a bit of black and white there at the end. Is that something you called for in your script?
MR: That's all Catherine. She comes out of production design so she has a color palette for the Cullens, for the humans. I thought it was really cool. Very subtle and interesting.
LL: I also pictured the Cullen house a little differently. When I read the book I pictured a more formal southern-style mansion. No coffins or anything, but I didn't really envision the house in the trees with so much light that you went with.
MR: I pictured a modern architectural house. Much sleeker. White walls and windows. As you're writing or reading you see the entire movie in your head so those are the kinds of adjustment one has to make. It's the process every reader is going to have to go through. That's the challenge we're going to have with audiences.
LL: My guess is that 95 percent of your opening weekend audience will be extremely familiar with the book, and these are the people you'll need to pull in their loved ones to make it work. What's it like to have so many people sort of looking over your shoulder? I feel like with Dexter you haven't had to really deal with that.
MR: I hope the fans are satisfied, obviously. I'm just going to have to trust that we really were true to the book and that if things aren't specifically in the movie at least the soul and emotion of the book will be translated. In some ways I'm less worried about the fans than I am people who are coming to it fresh. Everyone has in mind that it's a teen romance. In some ways the fact that it's so beloved by young girls might be limiting to that whole other audience.
LL: I know the actors are signed on for three; are you signed on for the second one?
MR: I can't comment on that. We're all talking about it.
LL: But it's something you're interested in?
LL: When did you start to grasp that this was a big deal?
MR: They were telling me that there was a fanbase and I was like "okay." But the first time I really got it was Comic-Con. It was crazy! I was in the audience up in the front. I wandered around, trying to find the other producers. This girl comes up to me and asks me to sign her book. And I asked "Why?" And she said "I know who you are." And it was like "Whoa, what's going on on here?" Then the cast came out and it was like the Beatles.
The producers in the audience were just overwhelmed. The sound vibrations were ricocheting off Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson. When they showed the clip at the end I had this moment of terror where I was questioning, "Did I use the exact words from the book? Oh no! I didn't!" But thankfully they responded well.
LL: This strikes me as the first fanbase that's grown up with the Internet, and they're experts at communicating almost instantly. So things get really magnified, don't they?
MR: Yeah, I'm hoping the initial response in the theater is good because you realize they'll be texting throughout. It's really new, but very cool if it works in your favor.
LL: Were you pleased with the casting?
MR: Definitely. Particularly with Rob and Kristen. I was amazed and delighted that it was so dead on.
LL: How long did the rough draft take you?
MR: As long as I had. Give me enough time and I'll spend months and months. The first draft of Twilight took five weeks because that was all I had due to the strike. It was insane. Crazy fast writing, no way to have a life.
LL: Do you use Final Draft software to write in?
LL: Do you use the metrics they provide, how many character have lines, how many words for each and such?
MR: No, I haven't. That's interesting; I've never used that feature. That would help when you're trying to balance -- I'll have to check that out, thanks! I'm not very savvy with computers; I'm more into word processing.
LL: Were you on strike when they were shooting?
MR: No I was off strike. They started shooting February 25th. I did a few rewrites here and there. There were a few adjustments that happened while I was on strike too, with the actors being cast. And Stephenie had some notes. But it was still very much intact.
LL: Is this a girl power movie? You've got a female author, screenwriter and director here.
MR: It terms of "women can do it all!" then sure. We direct, we write. And we have a female producer as well -- Karen Rosenfeld is one of our producers. But knowing who a good portion of our audience is, I take that responsibility very seriously. Wanting to emphasize the strength in Bella's character was important to all of us. Hopefully that will translate. You go by the billboard, and you see our three names up there; how often do you see that?
Stay tuned for more interviews, articles, and photos in our Ten Days of Twilight extravaganza!