With 100 million copies of Stephenie Meyer’s four Twilight novels sold in nearly 50 countries, and the film adaptations only heightening that international popularity, it is no surprise that The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer. With director David
At a press conference to promote the upcoming release of the film, director David Slade, screenwriter Melissa
Q: David, what did you do to prepare for Eclipse? How did you bring your own style to the film?
David: There’s a cinematic vocabulary to each of these films, and it doesn’t come from that much premeditation. It comes from seeing the film in my head before we go out and make it, and being very clear about that and planning it, and then it’s about what’s right for the scene and the character. I believe the most interesting thing to look at, in the world, is the human face. That is why I tend to be a little closer to human faces than maybe other directors will be.
Wyck: When David was first talking to us about the movie, he had said that, by letting the background fall out of focus and really focus on the characters, in the dangerous scenes, it creates a heightened sense of anxiety. You feel like you don’t really know what’s back there. And, in the romantic scenes, it creates an incredible sense of intimacy. You really feel like you sense these two people in that world. And, I really think that was effective.
David: With close-ups come selective focus, and it is to focus the viewer and point them in a direction. In a sense, you get a close-up, which has very little amount of focus in it, but you’ll see medium shots and wider shots that will bring the audience’s attention to a specific place that is completely intentional.
Q: Why should someone go see Eclipse?
David: If there’s nothing worth seeing on TV, and you’ve not got any plans, I think we’ve got six or seven decapitations. If there’s nothing much going on that night, it’s a good night out, as long as there’s nothing else on, or any other movies you want to see. No. Being serious, I think it’s the most mature book, and I think we made the most mature film. Certainly, there’s a great deal of romance in the film, but there’s also other things. Vengeance is a very big theme in the film. Our action sequences are built out of character, so they’re not just events. They’re built out of a need to get to a place. And, I think it’s a film for everyone.
Q: David, you were working with a ready-made cast for Eclipse. How did you help establish what would be expected of their characters for this film?
David: What I did was see each one of the actors, individually. We had one-on-one meetings. The first time, I would just listen to everything they told me about their characters and everything they thought about their characters. Then, we’d meet again and talk about the script, also one-on-one. Then, we’d meet a third time and a fourth time. By that time, we were talking about all the ideas that we were incorporating into that character and story. And then, the final stage was to go into an ensemble rehearsal, where all the actors came together, and we didn’t talk about character anymore. We talked about content and story. That was how I chose to go about it.
Q: Melissa, how difficult was it to adapt this novel into a two-hour movie?
Melissa: To begin with, it took me by surprise because I actually thought this would be the easiest adaptation, since there’s so much conflict in it, and you have this huge battle that you’re building toward. But then, once I got into it and was actually breaking the story, I realized that all of that happened in the third act. So then, it was about looking at what was going on in the first two acts, other than conversation, leading up to the third act. What I found was that, in a movie, we can cut away to another perspective, but in the book, it’s all Bella’s perspective. So, it actually ended up being the most fun to write, in the end, after I got over the incredible disappointment that it wasn’t going to be easy, as if anything ever is.
Q: David, were there any expectations for you to maintain the style and tone of the first two films?
David: You know, I think the only thing that really was expressed to me was continuity. Different films are expected when there are different directors per film with different visions for the film. I was given a great deal of freedom, in terms of the aesthetics. I inherited the sets, but I went into the kitchen set and we made it bigger, and we went into Bella’s room and made it four feet wider because I was going to shoot with a different lens than the way they shot before. So, the answer is that I was given freedom, only just to respect what had come before. There were no mandates.
Wyck: I think, if anything, one of the chief reasons we hired David was for his visual style, and that it was different from the first two films. He had really worked with young actresses and gotten performances out of them that were incredible, and we felt he understood them. Something we’ve always wanted was for each director to bring his own individual style.
David: I tried not to focus too much on the other two films. I tried to just keep this one in my mind, and people like Wyck were there to give me a nudge, if I was doing something that was going to invalidate something or cross a line, which hardly ever happened, really.
Wyck: Every now and then, he’d have Edward walk through the sunlight and we’d be like, “Oh, wait, he has to sparkle.”
David: Let me tell you, the sunlight was our biggest enemy in Vancouver. We had the sunniest time. Every day, we’d spend more time in the sun than we did in the rain.
Wyck: No one likes to hear that you’re not shooting because it’s sunny.
David: It would have been perfect for any other movie.
Q: Can you talk about the decision to replace Rachelle Lefevre with Bryce Dallas Howard?
Wyck: It all happened really quickly. Rachelle became unavailable three weeks into shooting, and we had to react very quickly. Bryce was somebody that early on, even from Twilight, had been on a list and was unavailable. We were up against it and had to pick quickly, and were really fortunate that we sent Bryce the script immediately and she decided she wanted to do it. So, the process of replacing Rachelle and finding the right actress was actually smooth because Bryce was the first person we went to and she said yes.
David: One of the slight misconceptions about these films is that they’re these giant, huge-budget blockbusters. These films are made more like independent films, so our schedule is so tight. We shot this film in about 50 days. Most action movies are shot in double or triple that. We had a schedule that had been put together like a jigsaw puzzle, so we basically had no other choice.
Q: Melissa, do you get intimidated having Stephenie Meyer so involved?
Melissa: Regarding Stephenie, I’m really grateful she’s able to spend the kind of time on set that she does. She and I are the people on the page and we see things in a way that I hope is valuable to the director and the producers.
Q: Are you on the set during shooting?
Melissa: Because I’ve been juggling Dexter and Twilight for all this time, and have gone right from one Twilight to the next, I’ve been unavailable to be on set and, frankly, I don’t know if I could have been much use. If David needed a rewrite, I’d get a phone call.
Wyck: Also, Melissa and Stephanie work so closely together in the outlining and script stage that, by the time we’re shooting, there aren’t really any surprises. And, if anything comes up, Stephenie can answer questions that we have that aren’t in her books, like, “Would that character ever do this?,” and she’s like, “No, that character was born in 1702.” She rattles it off and it really just fills out the screenplay.
David: She has all of these backstories for everybody. I remember Melissa and I getting on the phone with her about Riley and the cave because we had no idea, and we said, “What is all this?” And, Stephenie was like, “Well, it’s obvious. This is how it happens.” We wouldn’t have known, but she knew because she’d written the story in her head.
Q: What is the most important aspect of the adaptation process?
David: I think sticking to the emotional character arc was the most important thing, yet we had so much story to tell and it was a great story. I think the hardest thing was combining those things and figuring out what the hell we were going to cut. The Jasper story is a movie in itself, and we wanted to have all the salient points, but not detract from the main story, and still pay respect to the source material. It’s the dichotomy between such great content and story, and how you shave off.
Wyck: The genius of Melissa Rosenberg is that she’s able to distill a book down to its essential qualities. In each movie, she’s done an amazing job of that. And, Stephenie can go, “I really think you’re going to miss this, if we don’t have it.” It’s a back and forth of figuring out how to accommodate some of those scenes. We’ve been able to distill the film down to its emotional essentials.
David: I hate to use the word dichotomy twice, between this film and the last, in terms of vampires, but what was so attractive to me about the Twilight films, after doing the horrific film I’d done before (30 Days of Night), is what Stephenie had done was so cleverly package all that is so dangerous and sexy into this purity, and then surrounded it with family and make it acceptable.
Q: How was it to do the Jasper and Rosalie flashbacks?
David: They were great fun to do. Eclipse has these great backstories. It was great to do a Western, a ‘30s period piece, a 1600's historical piece and a contemporary film, all at once.
Wyck: It was also great to see Rosalie and Jasper as human.
David: One of the horse-riding sequences had to be shot with a second unit because I wasn’t available, and I was like, “How do we get his face here?” People had to know he was human because the rest of it was going to be nighttime and I wanted people to see Jasper’s face as human. It was important.
Q: David, what were the specific changes you wanted to make, going into the film?
David: With Edward, I really wanted to make sure this character was dangerous. In the last movie, he had played a different character arc, but in this movie, I wanted to bring out the carnivore in him. That had to come throughout the film, and he hadn’t really done that so much. That was the main thing. I tried to look at every scene, with that in mind. Underlying everything is danger. That was the intention.
Q: Do you have any special features or extras planned for the DVD?
Wyck: There’s the nude scene we shot that wasn’t in the book. No. I don’t know. With any film, you go through the process of editing it down to its fighting weight and, ultimately, you’re going to have some scenes that didn’t end up in the movie.
David: There were a number of scenes which just felt excessive, in terms of beating the same story, but some of them were really nice.
Wyck: There was a great scene with Angela (Christian Serratos) and Bella (Kristen Stewart) that is really just two girls talking about guy troubles. It’s really, really sweet, but it took place in a section of the movie that we really had to cut.
David: What happens is that the film has its own momentum from the script. When you start going, by the time you hit the third act, you’re just blasting along, and that scene just came to a stop. But, it’s a beautiful scene that’s beautifully performed, and it’ll be a nice little bonus for fans of the book.
Wyck: I think there’s going to be a lot of classic behind-the-scenes stuff, where you’re going to get to see how we did most of the action and stunts in the movie, and a lot of the CG process. That stuff will flesh out the experience for audiences that do like to go behind the camera and see how it’s all done.
Melissa: It’s interesting, when I did the first Twilight movie, I actually wrote it before it was cast. I was writing in a vacuum, and it actually had a lot of humor in it. And then, we realized, as we got it on actors, that it just wasn’t appropriate. But, now the actors are more comfortable with it and I think the story lends itself to that. Wyck actually came up with the best line in the movie, “Does he own a shirt?” There’s a confidence level in the storytelling now.
Wyck: There’s a comfort level that people have with each other. When you first meet someone, sometimes you’re less able to go to the comedic place than you are when you’ve known each other for a while. And, as an audience member, you want to experience the progression of the characters, as well as appreciate when they are starting to be easier with each other and more casual in the face of heightened drama, which Eclipse certainly has.
David: You look at the performances before, and you look at someone like Billy Burke, and Billy can improvise. Everyone else can tell me what they want to change and we can talk about it, but Billy just has natural comic timing. All those expressions he has, you have to capitalize on that.
Q: Melissa, how is Dexter going?
Melissa: I finally had to leave, after the fourth season, because I couldn’t do Breaking Dawn and Dexter, at the same time. It was very sad to do that. It was the best TV experience of my career.
Q: Are you not still on as a producer, in some capacity?
Melissa: No, I had to bail out, and they were gracious enough to let me out. Someone else is running the show.
Q: What do you think of them bringing Julie Benz back for one scene, even though Rita is dead?
Melissa: Oh, it must be a flashback, or something like that. I have no idea.
Q: Do you miss it?
Melissa: I already do miss it. All my friends were going back into the writer’s room in February, and I was home working on Breaking Dawn, going, “Aww.”
Q: Did that give you empathy for Stephenie, seeing your characters get passed on to someone else?
Melissa: Absolutely! But, coming up in television, when you’re a staff writer, you have the experience of people taking your material and rewriting it. There’s not a writer alive who feels like their own draft isn’t better.
Q: What will be the biggest challenge of splitting the movies for Breaking Dawn?
Melissa: They’re very dense with mythology. There are a lot of characters and a lot of detail, and it’s just really about who you choose to pull forward. It was a lot of the same stuff that I had to do with Twilight.
Q: Are there more backstories to come?
Melissa: There are more backstories to come, and there is an expansion of the mythology. All these different characters are being introduced, and Stephenie has developed a really intricate mythology that is very detailed, which is why it’s so much fun to play in her world.
Q: Some people have said that Breaking Dawn is unfilmable and not as good a book as the others. How do you approach it to make it work?
Melissa: I believe it is filmable and I believe there is a great story to be told in that. It was a very bold move, what Stephenie did and where she took her characters. She had them grow up, get married and have children, and had Bella realize ultimate potential of becoming a vampire. It was a very bold move. I think it lost some of the audience who wanted to continue the fantasies and the desire. Now, she’s got it all, so what do you do with it? It’s a very different kind of movie and a different kind of story. There’s definitely material enough for two movies, but for the first time, there is also a little breathing room. There’s room to explore a little bit and to expand. I’m excited about that.
Q: What do you think is the appeal of this series?
Melissa: I think it taps in so deeply to desire. First of all, you’re coming in from Bella’s point of view, who is the every girl. We can identify with her. She’s the every person. And then, you make her the most desirable human being on the face of the earth, and there’s a vicarious excitement to that. There’s a fantasy element to it. And, we all have had those experiences in our lives of that first love. That’s certainly attractive.
Q: With the wealth of backstory and appetite for more Twilight, would you see doing movies on Alice or any of the other characters, with Stephenie’s approval?
Melissa: I think she’s going to do that. I would look at anything she wrote. If this series is going to expand, it will be by her doing.
Q: Will it always be book first?
Melissa: I would think it would be. I haven’t even thought of it, but I would think it would have to be book first.
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse opens on June 30th.