‘Twilight’ Screenwriter Cautious Not to Kill Stephenie Meyer’s Child
By now you must have seen it in the air or heard it in the wind — a preview, a poster, a blog, an Entertainment Weekly cover (or ten), hysterical girls, a Today Show appearance, and women, from their early teens to late thirties, flailing and wailing at the mere mention of the name Edward Cullen. It’s Twilight mania, and it hits full fury this weekend — as if we had to tell you. We caught up with the film’s screenwriter and Dexter producer Melissa Rosenberg, who had the daunting task of adapting author Stephenie Meyer’s sprawling saga to the screen, without losing the book’s appeal or inciting bloodlust from legions of fans.
Did you have any idea how passionate and massive the fan base was when you agreed to do the adaptation? I didn’t know. I could see they had a fan base, and I went online and tried to check it out, and I kind of got a hint of it. But the minute I got a taste of it, I was just like, “Oh, I don’t want to know.” I just didn’t want it to make me nervous, so I kind of shut that out.
Are you in California right now? Did you go to the premiere? Yes, I was at the premiere, and it was an amazing scene.
Were there a lot of teenage girls screaming everywhere? Teens came, and moms, and some guys as well. The volume and pitch level was quite extraordinary. My hearing is just only now coming back.
Do you feel like it’s more of a teen movie, or is there something for everyone in there? Oh, I absolutely think there’s something for everyone in there. And it’s funny because, knowing the people that went to the premiere, some of them had never read the book, didn’t know anything about it, there were men over 50, guys in their 30s or 40s, and they all really loved it. So I have to say, it was quite a surprise. And I had a friend come up and say “Well, that was great.” So clearly, not just for girls.
Do you think you’ll pay much attention to the reviews that come out, or is that something you try to stay away from? I have someone pre-read them for me. And they’ll let me know if I should read it or not, because if it says something negative, I just get too wounded too easily. I think one must be careful of what one takes in. I know when I was writing the script, and after I went in to a few fan sites, and they’d be discussing whether or not I’d do a good job. And so I’d go in and I’d read the first ten, and they’d be like “Oh my God! I loved Step Up (which she wrote) and Dexter is so amazing, and she’s gonna do a fantastic job!!” And it’s like, “Oh, this is great.” And then I get to number eleven, And it’s someone going “Ugh, I hated Step Up, I hated it, and she’s gonna just destroy it and ruin it”. And that was it, I get to eleven and then stop. And of course, that was the only one I paid attention to, so I had to just stop reading them. You know, it was just way too sensitive.
Did you find this project particularly more challenging than creating your own fiction? Nothing is more challenging than creating your own fiction. The challenge here was for Stephenie. She had to create this world and this mythology, and had to be a complete bull, that I could play around in. And starting with a blank page is the hardest thing that anyone, I think, in this industry does.
What was your relationship with Stephenie throughout this whole process? It seems like there has to be a certain level of trust between you and the author, because as Stephenie has said, this is her baby. One of the most important things for me was that Stephenie not feel like I killed her child. That would have been devastating, if I was the one who killed not only her child, but the beloved book of so many fans. So one of the most gratifying moments of my career was when Stephenie expressed how much she loved the screenplay. But with Twilight, it all kind of happened so fast, because we were fighting the writer’s strike deadline, which was October 31. I was really just writing it in record time. So I had met Stephenie and she was really, really helpful in terms of giving me some insight into Bella’s character, and some of the other characters and relationships. But I did my draft mostly bouncing off of Catherine (Hardwicke, the director) and her giving me instant feedback. Then I slammed the draft to the studio two hours before the strike deadline, and then I was on the picket line. So Stephenie’s notes for Twilight went through Catherine, and I just kind of heard them after the fact. But then moving forward, Stephenie and I became extremely tight.
So you guys kind of had each other on speed dial then. Yes. And she’s a tremendous collaborator. She’s not precious about the work. I was afraid going in that she was going to limit me in some ways, and she is such a celebrity writer. I thought, “Oh my gosh, you know she’s going to completely overshadow my own creative process, it will get drowned out.” I was worried about that. But she was tremendously respectful of my process and is a tremendous collaborator, and is really the best partner you could have.
And your relationship with Catherine Hardwicke, did she have to jump in while you were out on the picket line? Well she’s a Writer’s Guild member as well, so she’s acting as a director on the set but she wasn’t able to write on the set — no one was. So they did some dialogue changes, and they had the rehearsals for the actors, and the actors would kind of improvise, so we would change that kind of stuff. Then after the strike was over, we’d do adjusting for Stephenie’s stuff as well. The changes were very subtle but important.
The book is written from Bella’s perspective, and there’s something very self-deprecating about her self esteem when she first moves to Forks, and throughout the book. Will the movie follow closely to that perspective? Absolutely. It was interesting. I initially approached it thinking, you know, I’m not going to do any voiceovers, because oftentimes a voiceover can be used as a crutch, but then Catherine was actually the one who said, “I think we’re going to need to do a voiceover.” And so I said, let me try it without. And so I wrote fade in page one, and thought “Oh my god, we need a voiceover!” And so we threw some in there. She thinned it out and then we actually ended up putting more in there throughout the actual movie. But it’s more than a voice over; it’s seeing the world from her point of view, and managing to externalize her internal life. And Kristen (Stewart) just really conveys that so delicately and beautifully.
In the book, Edward is extremely attracted to Bella’s smell/scent, and it is a huge part of her appeal for an otherwise “ordinary” girl. How did that translate to the screen along, with Edward’s ability to hear thoughts and his ice-cold touch? How does the person sitting in a movie theater experience that, as opposed to the reader? I think the actors did a beautiful job, and they just did a really spectacular job of conveying that their senses were at work. There are the scenes in there where they’re using their senses, and there are really cheesy ways of doing that, or there are really artistic ways of doing that, and they did the latter.
It was such a young cast, but they brought a certain professionalism to the table? Yes, they’re very, very talented really, and I give them all the credit. And Catherine for finding them, and picking them.
You didn’t have a hand in casting, but did the actors fit closely to your vision of who would play Edward, Bella, or Jacob? For some, I didn’t have a specific idea, but absolutely the two leads, and mostly with all of them, I thought it was just perfect. I had not imagined anyone specifically, but then when I saw them it was absolutely right.
So are you Team Edward or Team Jacob? Well, it’s interesting. When it comes to the writing of it in Twilight, it’s Edward. But in New Moon, it’s taken over by Jacob, so we have to see more of him. Jacob is certainly fun to write I would say … he’s just so irreverent and fun. But of course, there’s always an appeal of the bad boy (Jacob), but then there is also the appeal of the elegant, artistic intellectual (Edward).
Speaking of New Moon, will you be on board for that project? Yes, it was leaked in the press … not my doing, but it was announced in the Hollywood Reporter that I will be doing both of the two sequels.