‘Twilight’ screenwriter says ‘New Moon’ is better than first: ‘I know who I’m writing for’

Nov. 16, 2009 | 1:27 p.m.


In May, Hero Complex contributor Gina McIntyre traveled north to Vancouver to visit the set of “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” and talk to the creative minds behind one of the most anticipated films of 2009. This week, as we count down to the Friday release of the vampy sequel, McIntyre gives us daily dispatches from her trip. Today it’s a Q&A with screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, who was brought in to  adapt Stephenie Meyer’s novels.

Edward and Bella in New Moon

GM: So director Chris Weitz seems to run an incredibly relaxed set…

MR: This is a happy set. I was with him after delivering the first draft, we had a couple of meetings on the second draft and he was the same guy then as he is here on set. He didn’t suddenly turn into some maniac, stressed out and crazed. He’s really impressive. He’s just capturing every moment with the actors. I haven’t seen one wrong moment with the actors.

GM: What changes did you make to that first draft of “New Moon”?

MR: There was a lot of honing down, cutting down and eliminating certain scenes and pulling out certain elements of the story just to have it move faster.

GM: How challenging was it to adapt this book with the character of Edward Cullen being absent for so much of the story?

MR: Going in, that was going to be the issue. Not only Edward but the entire Cullen clan disappears, the vampires who you’ve come to know and love disappear throughout the middle of the book. In the book, Bella very much keeps them alive in her mind. He is a presence and because it’s all inside her mind, the reader is with him. The challenge here was how do I do that in a movie. I think we have found a way to stay true to the tone of the book and true to the intention of the book but to have him remain a physical presence as well. And you’re starting a whole new relationship with Jacob. Yes, there was a relationship with Jacob in “Twilight” but this is when it happens.

GM: What are some of the strengths of “New Moon” on the page?

Melissa Rosenberg of Twilight

MR: What’s so great about this story is Stephenie really explores complex emotions. You could boil it down to girl loses boy, finds boy, but she doesn’t do the easy, black-and-white moves that a lot of young romances do. It’s very complex — [what happens when] you develop feelings for a friend, romantic love versus platonic love. These are very sophisticated emotions that are very real but also very hard to translate into a film where everything is usually very simplistic and easy to follow. How do you keep that sophistication and complexity? Because that’s the book, that’s what makes it interesting.

GM: So, how do you do that?

MR: Examining each moment for the character and keeping alive different facets. Of course, you have great actors who can play a lot of different colors. It’s really bringing to life and translating those different colors. You might have to cut down on a couple of those colors. When you’re writing a book you can have it be that in any one moment, Bella experiences 10 different things and does 10 different actions. OK, well, you’re going to have to choose, in that moment, maybe a couple of those colors and a couple of those emotions. You need to be able to track throughout the movie where she’s going. It’s hard to articulate because so much of it is just sort of instinctual — does that feel right? I’m very much a structuralist. I think story is structure is story. If you have the correct structure, the moments of the story happen at the right time and you build those characters to those moments.

GM: How many different drafts of the screenplay did you write?

MR: You do so many drafts over the course of a script. I do very, very detailed outlines, like 25-page outlines. I’ll do any number of drafts and get feedback from a very big circle of writer friends and associates. Finally, I’ll have a draft that I think works. Then I give it to the producers and they give me notes and feedback. For me, a lot of the work happens in that outline stage because that’s when you’re going from blank page to here’s what we’re doing. Then, writing the script, you do more drafts. Again, I’ll have 10 different writer friends read it at any one given time. By the time the producers get it, it’s actually been honed quite a bit. It’s a lot like what directors do with test screenings to see how people respond to certain moments. I do a lot of that. I don’t know that all writers do that. It may be a habit from TV, just from working collaboratively with a lot of people, I’m used to getting instant reaction.

GM: You’re also the executive producer of the great series “Dexter” on Showtime. Is the experience of writing these scripts at all like working in television?

MR: It becomes much more like writing for television where “Twilight” was the pilot and “New Moon” is the first episode. For instance, in “Twilight,” I had no idea who was actually playing the roles. I tend to lean toward a lot more humor and I sometimes can go a little bit broad and quippy, or like “Dexter,” the dark one-liners. I had a lot of that in the “Twilight” script and when it got onto the actors it wasn’t right for the tone. Some of that got pared out. I had not quite found the tone for “Twilight.” There was some adjusting that had to be done as we went along. With “New Moon,” it was much closer, the adjustments have not been as dramatic – not that they were that dramatic to begin with – but they’ve been subtler. I hope that for the next one, they’ll be even less dramatic. I think I’ve found my footing and I know who I’m writing for and the tone of the world.

Taylor Lutner Kristen Stewart Robert Pattinson of New Moon

GM: Did that make it easier to adapt “Eclipse”?

MR: “Eclipse” was hard – it took a while to break that, but part of that might have been that I was just so tired. I went from “Dexter” overlapping with “Twilight” to jumping back on “Dexter” to overlapping with “New Moon” and doing five days a week on “Dexter” and two days a week on “New Moon” and did that for months and months and went into “Eclipse.” By then I was pretty burned. It took a while to stoke the fire again, and it’s a hard story to tell. You think it’s going to be easy because there’s all this action, but you realize that Bella is reactive a lot of the time. You can do that in a book because everything’s from her point of view so she’s very much present. But in a movie, you can’t have her just reacting. She has to be driving the action. Ultimately it may end up being the best of the three. You never know. I like to think that I improve with every round; it doesn’t necessarily always pan out that way.

GM: Do you feel free at all to take artistic license with the story?

MR: There are definitely scenes of my creation, but it’s become very hard to differentiate because so many of the scenes are compilations of five different scenes condensed into one. I’ll invent a scene and use a piece from something else. Or I’ll use something as a jumping-off point. I couldn’t tell you where the line between Stephenie and me is. I have to dive into the mind-set of her mythology to make sure that if I am inventing, it’s born out of her mythology and it’s not going to violate it. Her mythology is very tight, it’s very well thought-out. When you’re doing sci-fi or fantasy, the rules have to be very, very defined. But within those rules you have tremendous room for invention, that’s why it’s so fun. But that’s the difference between a successful fantasy or sci-fi series and an unsuccessful one is are the rules defined.

GM: Would you say that you have a close working relationship with Stephenie Meyer?

MR: In the first book, with “Twilight,” I don’t think I even met her until I was well into a draft and I was worried about meeting her because she was the 500-pound gorilla, she was the heavyweight. I was really protective of my process. I was afraid. I didn’t know her from Adam, and I was afraid of getting run over and of not being able to create what I wanted to create or in some way have my voice stifled. When I met her, I realized, “Oh, that’s not going to happen at all.” But she was cautious too. She was looking at me going, “Are you going to butcher my child?” By the time I finished “Twilight,” her reaction to it, it was still one of the great moments of my career, having the author say such wonderful things about the script. From that moment she relaxed about can I deliver and I relaxed about inviting her into my process. I didn’t have a director of “New Moon” until I was finished, so on “New Moon” I became much more involved with her, and with “Eclipse” I was getting her notes on the outline. With “Eclipse,” because I was taking some liberties with the storytelling, it was really important to me that I stay true to her mythology, her voice. She gave me notes as far back as the outline and on every draft since. We’re very tight and very much in each other’s world.

— Gina McIntyre




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Stephenie Meyer breaks silence on “Oprah”

Vampy sounds: Todd Martens reviews “New Moon” soundtrack

‘Twilight: New Moon’ exclusive: Three dozen photos from the set

Stephenie Meyer is immortalized…in a comic book

Stephenie Meyer and the future of ‘Midnight Sun’

Robert Pattinson talks about his career ‘back-up plan’

‘Twilight’ fans can be a bit … intense

PHOTOS: Top, Edward and Bella from “New Moon” (Summit Entertainment). Middle, Melissa Rosenberg last month at 4th International Rome Film Festival (Getty Images). Bottom, Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson at Comic-Con International (Chelsea Warren/Wire Image)


8 Responses to ‘Twilight’ screenwriter says ‘New Moon’ is better than first: ‘I know who I’m writing for’

  1. chrissy ane says:

    I cannot wait for NEW MOON, I already got my tickets for the 12:01am show on Thursday, in the mean time I am getting my Edward fix by looking at these hot images. He is so gorgeous, ahhh I can’t wait to see the film!!

  2. The first film was s says:

    The first film was soooooooo boring. This has to be an improvement.

  3. Dear Editor:
    As a mainstream publication, the Los Angeles Times likely has a sizable following among naive young women.
    As a veteran observer of paranormal scene, I feel compelled to offer these young women a timely heads-up:
    In the real world, teen male vampires are nothing like handsome and dashing Robert Pattinson.
    The latest research indicates that teen male vampires have hellishly bad skin conditions due to their idiosyncratic diet. Bright, red/yellow pimples and oily blackheads pepper their faces from jawbone to hairline. The pimples grow, burst and regenerate in an endless three-hour cycle.
    Their half-human/half monster anatomy causes them to be extremely awkward, as if their opposing parts are constantly fighting for control. It is not unknown for teen male vampires to suddenly "go spastic" like they are attempting to imitate the actions of a 3rd-billed network sitcom actor.
    This impasse also affects their digestive system, resulting in urinary incontinence and alternating bouts of scream-worthy constipation and firehose-strength projectile diarrhea.
    Lastly, teen male vampires are functionally illiterate. Caught up in their own inner turmoil, few have the interest or energy to hit the books, so to speak. They generally score in the bottom 10 percent of any literacy tests.
    Thank you for the opportunity to present a brief overview of the present state of teen male vampire research. The entertainment industry has a mutli-billion dollar stake in maintaining the image of them as romantic creatures.
    If, via this letter I am successful at convincing even one young woman that her fantasy of dating a teen male vampire is, at best, ill-advised, I will consider myself successful.
    Doc Paranormal

  4. Shane says:

    Lestat Says Relax

  5. amy says:

    I really hope this screenwriting is better for this one. I think it's what made Twilight an almost B kind of movie. Spider monkey? Spider man? Really, not good stuff. The books were written much, much better.

  6. annamorphos says:

    Hey Doc Paranormal,
    In the real world..vampires don't exist!

  7. ironaero says:

    What I don't think the screenwriter realizes is that she is doing an injustice "taking liberties" with the story. It is not her story to tell. She was worried that her voice would not be hear but it is not her voice that the fans care to hear. It is Stephanie's. He job is to take the word and adapt it for the screen. Don't change, embellish, or add to the story. The first movie was a butchered mess. The best lines were cut and crap like "hold on spider monkey" were added. I wasn't even convinced that the characters were in love. I am excited for the movie New Moon, however, I fear that once again the essence of what Stephanie Meyer created will be destroyed, important elements will be lost and left out and extra fluff will be added. Listen Melissa Rosenburg, realized that the creative license that you believe that you have is limited. You are leaving die-hard fans cringing and wishing for a re-make.

  8. toooldtobeatwilighte says:

    Regarding the quality of screenwriting for Twilight, no doubt as a die-hard fan you have watched the movie on the DVD with narration from Hardwicke, Pattinson, and Stewart? If so, then you should recall that Hardwicke says about the "spider monkey" comment that at the last minute she decided she wanted a bit dialogue there and so SHE (not Rosenberg) wrote that line, and a few others, and then let Pattinson choose which one to use. This type of last minute insertion, or even outright improvisation, can't be blamed on the screenwriter. In that particular instance, I rather like the spider monkey comment as it made Bella giggle…something that otherwise doesn't happen in the movie. And with all the "chuckling" (to use one of Meyer's favorite words) that happened in the novel, there ought to be a little bit of laughter on the big screen.
    I was so relieved with how Twilight turned out, feeling that it did a really great job of capturing the essence of the book. Seems like Stephenie Meyer agrees. Furthermore, I appreciate Rosenberg's synthesis of the work. My own imagination creates a full and vivid Twilight world that is the exact translation of the book, I don't need a screenwriter to try to do that on-screen (even if it were possible to do without it being 6 hours long). Thanks to Rosenberg, Hardwicke, all the actors (and now hopefully Weitz)I get a second version of this lovely mythology to play over in my mind.

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