New Moon Chris Weitz Interview

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline sat down recently with director Chris Weitz, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, and producer Wyck Godfrey to talk about their new movie, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.”

Director Chris Weitz’s success at adapting books for the screen, including “About A Boy” and “The Golden Compass,” made him an obvious choice for this project, says Wyck Godfrey, who produced both “Twilight” and “New Moon.” “Chris has a history of helming fantasy films with complex effects as well as intimate character studies, and he works well with young actors. But it is his appreciation of Stephenie Meyer’s books and characters that made him the perfect director for “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.”

Melissa Rosenberg is proving to be one of Hollywood’s most versatile and sought-after writers, seamlessly transitioning from television to the silver screen. She wrote the screenplay for the vampire romance phenomenon “Twilight” directed by Catherine Hardwicke based on the best-selling novel by Stephenie Meyer. She also scripted the highly-anticipated “New Moon” as well as the third film, “Eclipse.” Rosenberg is the head writer and executive producer of the popular Showtime original series Dexter.

Here’s what they had to tell us about their collaboration on “The Twilight Saga: New Moon”:

Q: I'm wondering if either you or your brother has ever tried to get your mother (Susan Kohner) to make a cameo in any of your films? She would have been perfect as the grandmother in the first scene of this movie.

CW:  How fun. I think it would have been difficult for me to say, "Mom, we'd like you to play a woman who is so old she horrifies Bella when she recognizes herself in the mirror."  Well, I'm glad that people still remember my mom. For all who don't know who she is, she was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for Imitation of Life. And I think she's put movies behind her for good, and now she just raises me and my brother.

Q: Putting together the syllabus for the cast, what was your thinking behind that? As far as I know, you hadn't done it before. Why did you feel you needed to this time around?

CW:  Well, I knew that I needed to do quite a lot of thinking coming into the movie because I was the new kid. So, all of the actors knew their characters but what often happens with actors, I think, is that they get kind of dropped into a war zone, into a room that they're supposed to have known all their lives, or into a scene with someone they’re supposed to have known all their lives, and they're not quite aware either of where they are, who they're meeting, or indeed what movie they're in.  I mean they know that they're in New Moon, but what I really didn't want was a sequelitis or the idea that we're just cranking out a franchise. I wanted everyone to know what sort of movie we wanted to make and what had already been discussed with Javier [Aguirresarobe], our DP, and with David Brisbin, our production designer, what had gone into the script from Melissa, what kind of thinking had gone into where we were, so that it was a holistic experience rather than the somewhat brutal process that making a film can sometimes be.

Q: There are a lot of hunky guy moments in this movie that the girls are going to go crazy for. Even Laurent gets to show up bare-chested. Can you guys talk about constructing those moments and then delivering on them?

MR:  I wish I could take credit for the moments of Jacob pulling off his shirt and Edward pulling off his shirt. They are in the book and it seemed unwise to leave them out.

CW:  That would be a cut that you would regret. I like to say it's all essentially economics. You see, the Quileutes don't have very high average income and they can't afford the T-shirts they would need, given the amount of times they turn into wolves on short notice and their clothes burst. So, really, they'd have to go to Wal-Mart every 10 minutes. They just go around in shorts for that reason.

Q:  Were you trying to get teenagers’ hearts going?

CW:  Well, yes. I will say that the last scene especially is constructed…Melissa and I talked about it and it's constructed in such a way that it's meant to be one of the most scream-inducing moments - and it doesn't even involve abdominal muscles – in recent film history. I think that there's this wonderful audience that appreciates what we do, wants us to do well, and really wants to engage in an emotional experience. And so to me it made sense to be unashamed of the emotionality of the piece. And there's werewolves fighting each other, vampires fighting each other, vampires fighting werewolves, and all sorts of great stuff for boys as well, but the girls needed to be given their due. And we, I think, deliver.

Q: With Twilight having such a young cast and everyone wanting to know everything about the cast, did your work with the young cast in the American Pie days help you adapt to this film in any way?

CW:  Strangely not. Not in the way that you'd expect because even though the cast on the film is quite young, they'd all been in quite a lot of stuff before, especially Kristen. Whereas with American Pie, most of them were first-timers. So I didn't feel as though I had to do any hand-holding with our young actors. But there was the fun I'd had on American Pie of casting some unknowns in the parts of the young guys who play the Quileutes. And that's lovely. It's really great to work on a movie where you've got Michael Sheen in a scene, an extraordinary professional, then you've got a guy who was walking around and he saw a line of people waiting for an audition and was like, "What's this?"  And they said it's for some movie, and then he decided to stand at the end of the line. And then a few days later I saw the video and said, "That guy's really funny. Let's put him in." That's terribly enjoyable as well.

Q:  Melissa, how do you adapt from a book rather than your own personal experiences?

MR: Very carefully because it is a very beloved book. But the objective is you have to take the audience on the same emotional journey they had in the book. That's the primary objective and, in order to take them on that journey, there's certain plot points you have to hit. You have to have, obviously, Edward breaking up with Bella. You have to have Bella discover the wolves. You have to have Edward attempting to kill himself – all the things that are crucial in the book. So you start with those scenes and then you condense and expand on some things.

Q:  As I understand it in book 2, Edward disappears for most of the book and because of the popularity of his character, you needed him to be in the movie. Can you talk about how you decided to do what you did and whether you were worried your were being faithful to the book and unfaithful to it in this way was going to make people happy or not?

CW:  Yeah. Well, it's tricky. You don't want too much Edward because then you lose the really important sense of missing him. On some level you don't want too little because everyone loves Rob. The fortunate thing about it is reading a book which, I think, takes you about 13 to 17 hours and our film which lasts two hours, actually Rob's not out of the movie for terribly long. I mean, I think the crucial difference between the book and the film is that when Bella hallucinates Edward's voice she also sees him. It's just a nice little flavoring, a little dose of Edward whenever we needed that. But I was very keen that when we presented it visually, it be as subtle as possible. And so it was kind of re-imagining the ghosting effect and trying to come up with something quite special for it. And what we did was, using green screen, we mapped Edward onto the dynamics of a candle flame, so that the way that he moves and flitters in and out is the way that a candle's flame would behave. So it's very subjective to Bella's experience. And I think it's fair to cheat in that because it's one of the powers available to a moviemaker as opposed to a novelist. So it kind of suited the medium.

MR: It's also true that in the book, he's very present in her eyes, every page he's really present, so it makes sense to have him actually appear. It was funny because as I was writing the script I kept on trying to explain what that was, and I'm not a director. I like to give the director something to leap off with, but I had no idea how to write this, other than that kind of Wayne's World do-do-do kind of thing. So I was really grateful we had a visual stylist. I just kind of handed him the thing and said, "All right, it's just she sees him. Go."

WG:  We also talked a lot about the overall design of the series, that we really needed Edward's absence to allow Jacob to become a viable option for Bella. And we really had to fight that instinct to be like, "Oh my gosh, everyone loves Edward Cullen. You've got to figure out ways to put him in." But the whole series doesn't work unless he's absent and Jacob enters into it. And I think Taylor really filled that hole amazingly well.

Q: What about the casting? Was there really a possibility that the role would be recast before this movie started?

CW:  I'd say there was a big possibility that could happen, but I was always convinced that he was going to be able to do it. I think basically because… The doubts came up because he had very few scenes in the first movie. Also because he's described as being 6'5" in the second book, some reasonable facts that we had to come to grip with. But I like the sort of sweetness of this character in the first movie and I knew that it was easier to take an actor in the direction of anger and rage than it was to find someone who is kind of a hunk or 6'5" Native American and somehow turn him into that very sweet-natured persona that Taylor brings out so well to boot.

WG:  It also became less of an idea once audiences identified with Taylor when they saw Twilight. He's in their minds. He is Jacob, you know? So it became less of an idea to recast once people really identified, once the movie opened and people were like, "Taylor is Jacob."  It certainly helped that he had spent the last eight months really working very hard to kind of physically adapt himself to the role.

Q: Could you talk about soundtrack and bringing in more indie artists?

CW:  Yeah. Well, first I owe a great deal to two things. One is the success of the first film and Catherine Hardwicke's version, which made for a soundtrack that was so successful that suddenly anyone was conceivably within our reach. And the other person to thank is Alexandra Patsavas, our amazing music supervisor, who knows everything that's out there. She was able to bring me kind of a basket of music that I could choose from with her. I mean my musical education is formed by my daily drive listening to KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic, so I am an indie guy, if anything. Mostly, I'm a square. But suddenly there were these incredible pickings on offer:  Thom Yorke, The Killers.  And I genuinely think it's one of the best soundtrack albums that's ever been done. The reason I will make this outrageous claim is that it's not music that was already completed. You know, you're always dealing with a known quantity when you're doing needle drops. It's kind of easy to do that. But to be able to risk asking somebody to do a track and four weeks later or so a song comes back, to have it work as many times as it did was really extraordinary.  And I think that if any one of those artists had done a track for our soundtrack, I would have been really proud. But to have all of them is absolutely extraordinary.

Q:  How did you strategize how the wolves transform? Were there movies you turned to for inspiration for that?

CW:  Stephenie was very explicit in not wanting it to be a kind of Lon Chaney-esque or Howling-esque American Werewolf in London-esque transformation which takes a long time. Which is good. Her instincts were completely correct, in terms of the movie, because what we had noticed making The Golden Compass was that a lot of the things that you really worry about, like how is one thing going to transform into another, are really solved by doing it very quickly. There was some worry about volume metrics, which was how do you turn a 180-pound guy into a 600-pound wolf? We had to do some early tests on how you might do that. It became much more doable than we thought. We had Phil Tippett who is legendary and a genius in the effects world. And I was fortunate to have both my former visual effects supervisor, Mike Fink, who won the Oscar for Golden Compass, heading Prime Focus – one of our effects houses – and Susan MacLeod, who was our visual effects producer on Golden Compass, working as our producer. So I was working with people I was very, very familiar with, which speed up the R&D process measurably. And you're dealing with an industrial process which takes its own time with visual effects. It's not just about having an inspiration. You have to have the inspiration, but then you have to have the [resources] to actually execute the special effects. And Wyck knows all about this stuff too because he's done several CG-related movies.  But, yeah, fortunately we were able to do all of our aesthetic development and get all of the shots out in time. But it's always down to the wire, basically.

Q:  Wyck, what are the pitfalls that you have to avoid to continue to make this be successful? And how do you plan to avoid those pitfalls?

WG:  I think the pitfalls are that if people feel like the characters and story aren't progressing and aren't surprising them along the way. Catherine set an amazing foundation and a very distinct style to Twilight that brought people to the movie. One of the choices that Summit and we made was to bring in a director with a different visual style who could approach the same characters, the same locations, but with a different eye. I think that's very important. We, you know, got a different director for the third film. So it's been one of the ways we've tackled that. I also think bringing in new, creative people on every film allows the actors and the writer to kind of regenerate their interest by working with new people.

Q:  Not since the golden age of 1980s hair metal videos has slo-mo been used as lovingly as it is. Was that something that was written in or was it a stylistic choice? And as a follow-up, with the slo-mo, was there ever a concern about making Jacob too appealing?

CW:  I hate slo-mo normally. But, first of all, let's talk about Chariots of Fire. I think that's a better use of slo-mo. You know, we have this issue of vampire speed and how quickly they move, and it was my contention borne out by some early tests that to speed up the footage actually made things look herky-jerky and a bit comical. But to slow down footage and to be able to manipulate the speeds, which is what we can do now, was what was going to be our happy place, in terms of the vampires' speed. You used to have to use something called a Speed Aperture Control which would manually control the speed and shutter setting and iris of the camera. But now you can shoot at 96 frames per second and alter the ramping effect, which is the kind of speed changes within a shot, with computers. And so we were constantly addressing each shot individually in terms of what we wanted it to achieve, and then having special effects do kind of warping time dilution and space distortion effects on top of that. So that's the reason for that.

Making Jacob too appealing… It's a balance, isn't it, in terms of how he's written and how Edward's written, and how they're shot. I think that for the diehard Twilight fans nothing will ever beat Edward and so you've got this kind of very strong, simple fact that they know that he is the one, which allows you to push as hard as you possibly can and make Jacob as winning as Taylor has been able to be which gives me a lot of latitude. We didn't have to suddenly have a scene in which Jacob acted like a creep so that we're reminded that we needed to love Edward. It's just a lovefest.

Q:  Could you address the recasting of Victoria? There was some back and forth when that was announced. Rachel said her piece online. Did she really break contract with you guys?

WG:  It was simply because she wasn't available at the time we were set to make the movie. We found out a little bit too late, in terms of her schedule difficulty, that we couldn't change our schedule. We had a release date for this movie and we had to complete photography by the time we needed to get sort of selling New Moon. Ultimately what we're here to talk about is New Moon, but the truth of the matter is we couldn't move our schedule around to get her in the movie.

Q: But she wouldn't back out of her other thing?

WG: She wasn't able to.

Q:  Your grandmother was in the original Spanish language version of Dracula that was in 1931…

CW:  You've done your research.

Q: Did you feel this was destiny to do a vampire movie? Did you watch that movie again to make sort of a genuflection within this to that Dracula film?

CW:  To be honest, about a week before this was offered to me, I was saying to a friend, "Why are they making so many vampire movies? I just don't get it."  I don't feel fated at all to have done this. The vampire thing isn't really what appeals to me about this series of books. It's the characters, and it's Bella especially. And it's the chance to work with these young actors, and to be honest with Kristen especially. She's extraordinary. So, I have actors in my lineage and I respect what they do, but the fact that they've played vampires is simply a strange coincidence.

Q: Why are they making so many vampire movies? Do you get it now?

CW:  I still don't understand why. I mean I think I usually end up mumbling something about it being a very adaptable metaphor.  In the '80s, it could be about AIDS. In the '90s, it could be about greed. I think now it’s really about the sense that the person that you fall in love with for the first time is something other than you, something higher, something unattainable, transcendent. And also possibly about – I'm going to use this word – sexuality, which is okay to use because really the message of these films is that it's a very important thing. And these are actually quite sort of traditional in their values. And so when Edward is thinking about whether to turn Bella into a vampire or not, he's taking this issue very seriously, the way that you might take sex seriously – or you might ask teenagers to take it seriously.

MR: I completely agree with everything you said and would add also I think really it mainly comes down to writers. Not this writer, but Stephenie. And before her you had television with Joss Whedon. Before Joss it was Anne Rice. When you have this familiar genre but you have a writer like these ladies, and Joss, come in and reinvent it and reinvigorate it, then you have a new young audience being introduced to it. And I think that's true of any genre, whether it be Western or romance. And so initially it is a really creative writer who reinvents the mythology and then it becomes commerce because that's successful. And then people start jumping on the bandwagon and it's sort of overkill when it dies off again, until another creative person comes along and reinvents the mythology. This is why we had so many Westerns at one point.

“New Moon” opens in theaters on November 20th.

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