Romance IS Dead in Director Catherine Hardwicke's Twilight

In the highly-anticipated feature film Twilight, romance certainly isn’t dead, even if some of the major players are. Based on Stephenie Meyer’s best selling young adult novels, Twilight puts a supernatural twist on the old Romeo and Juliet scenario when century old vampire (although teen in appearance) Edward Cullen and teenage Bella Swan fall for each other. Calling from her hotel room in Texas, director Catherine Hardwicke ("The Nativity Story", "Lords of Dogtown") spoke about biting into such a beloved literary series, and bringing its teen angst and forbidden love to life for an eager audience.

Newsarama: Catherine, when you initially received the script for Twilight, what impressed you about the material?

Catherine Hardwicke: Well, I didn’t receive anything like the script we made. When I went to Summit Entertainment last January, there were five projects and they wanted to see if I was interested in any of them. This Twilight script was a very different draft from a different studio. It was interesting enough, but I went and read the book. I went to the studio meeting and said “This book is so much better than this script. You have to throw it away and start over.” After that, we worked on making it more similar to the book.

As for what impressed me about the book, of course you can be skeptical because it’s vampires but if you let yourself go, you can get absorbed into this amazing world of obsessive love, beautiful images, and hot vampires. I just liked that. You had only seen vampires in the dark alleyways or London and Paris. You never see them out in nature with this gorgeous pale skin or their connection to the natural environment like the Olympian rainforest. There is that sexual tension they manage to maintain too.

Newsarama: Having discarded the original draft, how did you approach adapting a 500 page book into a two hour movie

Hardwicke: Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg and I worked on that. There are some scenes that are totally essential and then there’s figuring out how to condense or combine some together. Also, the big thing was to make it as visual, dynamic, and cinematic as we could. If there were long passages in the book where you are in Bella’s head or where she and Edward would be sitting and talking, we would try to tighten them up and make them as fun as we could.

Newsarama: What blew you away about Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson for the leads?

Hardwicke: Well, Kristen I had seen in "Into the Wild" and I thought she had been excellent in that movie. It’s a small part but she’s very powerful. I felt this intense longing, emotional yearning, and the vulnerability. I said I wanted to meet Kristen and audition her to see if she would be the right person for this. I flew to Pittsburgh and we worked on scenes. I looked at them later and thought “Yes, she is really good.”

Then we had to find the guy that would have the chemistry with Kristen so that was a challenge. Finally, we narrowed it down to four or five guys and they came to my house in Venice. We did about three scenes to see if Kristen had chemistry with these guys and Robert was by far the best. They had an immediate fascination with each other. You could just feel it; it was electric!

Newsarama: How important was it to have author Stephenie Myers on set while filming and what kind of input did she offer?

Hardwicke: She came on set three different times for maybe two weeks. She was writing two other books, is the mother of three, and they are all in school so she couldn’t just sit there with us. She’s in the movie with her one little cameo too. Since she visualized this whole thing, I think it was really fun for her to see how it all came together. Stephenie definitely was not trying to micromanage. She did not lean over my shoulders going “She should be holding the cup in her left hand!” It was nothing like that. Stephenie is way too cool for that.

Newsarama: I understand she did weigh in on the pivotal kiss scene though.

Hardwicke: After we shot the kissing scene, Stephenie felt it was too sexy and steamy so I used the exact same shot but with a second, tighter camera. You are really more intimate with the actors but it’s just as steamy.

Newsarama: There are some cool visual gags in Twilight. What discussions did you have over the vampire’s movement and Edward’s sparkly shiny skin?

Hardwicke: That was the thing that gave me the most anxiety because it’s tough getting a grown man to sparkle. I had a lot of visual effects companies drawing different things. Finally, we went with ILM, George Lucas’ company, and we kept going too big or too little. How far do you go and exaggerate it? It was a very delicate balance.

For the vampires, what we did when they walked out of the forest was, first of all, we didn’t have a big budget on the movie. Everybody is looking at this as if it’s a blockbuster movie, but it wasn’t done on a blockbuster budget. Our stunt coordinator had a creative idea of getting these sheets of plexi-glass, fastening them together, and pulling them along the ground. We didn’t do green screen work so that was pulled along the ground and they walked on that. We named it the magic carpet. A lot of other times when we see the vampires running, the actors are really running, but their speed is enhanced by pulling them by a wire which we then painted out using CGI.

Newsarama: Why did you decide to flesh out that final confrontation between James and Edward?

Hardwicke: From the very beginning, that was one thing I was interested in because in the book, you miss pretty much of all of that. You are really in Bella’s mind and once she gets bit by the venom, you lose all that. I remember going through the book wondering what happened or whether I missed a page. While I was reading it, I thought “I’d want to see that.” It could be interesting because these vampires don’t try to punch each other since it doesn’t hurt them so what are they actually trying to do to each other? Is it rip each other’s limbs off? The stunt coordinator would get into wrestling and then it all had to be worked out with storyboards. We had to have exact placement with “They have to hit this column and the wire needs to go from here to here to lift him over there.” It was very choreographed, but a lot of fun.

Newsarama: It was reported you went back for some reshoots. What did you feel needed touching up on?

Hardwicke: We shot some new scenes and minor things like the flashbacks to the wolf legend. When we shot the kissing scene the first time, we didn’t get to do it all. We didn’t get to do the stunt where Edward pulls away or where he stays over with Bella which is a big thing in the book. He stays the night and they bond. I really wanted to do those better so we thought it would be easier to film the whole thing over. Otherwise, you can’t match the lighting exactly. We didn’t have the set anymore so we did that whole thing from beginning to end.

We had another problem with the piano scene. The song wasn’t written since the composer’s deal was just being made and he hadn’t written Bella’s Lullaby. Robert just faked it on the piano, he improvised, and the fingers didn’t match. Since he is a fantastic pianist, I just begged him to do it where he is really playing the song. I didn’t want that cheat, where it was the hands of somebody else. I wanted to really see him play it.

Then we did the scene of Jacob coming to the prom which was completely new.

Newsarama: You’ve mentioned sexual tension a few times so how did you draw that out of these young up-and-comers?

Hardwicke: It’s really embarrassing to do any kissing scenes at any age. I was on "Vanilla Sky" where Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz had to do stuff. It’s tough. You don’t want to try and be sexy with other people watching you or telling you “Move here. Don’t look up there.” As a director, what you try and do is make them as comfortable as possible and be supportive.

Newsarama: I’ve read Robert was especially serious about his portrayal of Edward. Did that help him get into character?

Hardwicke: I wouldn’t be the person to say “If this works for you, don’t do it.” Of course, I want people to do what helps them feel good. Robert had a lot of time there because as soon as he got the part right after Christmas, he came out to Portland where we put him on this weight training and exercise regime. He learned to play baseball, which the Brits don’t do, or drive a car. He had a lot of time to think about the character on his own. He really deeply considered what it would be like to have your humanity taken away from you against your will, then to be struggling with that for 80 years, and how to connect with others. Those are pretty heavy questions to be thinking about. How would you feel about “the father” who turned you into a vampire and what’s the relationship with your new brothers and sisters. Robert would write letters to other cast members in character. It was pretty great.

Newsarama: Finally, in this day and age, have you already considered what extras will be included on the Twilight DVD?

Hardwicke: I have already turned over the deleted scenes or there were scenes that went twice as long so for pacing, we trimmed them down. I’ve turned all that footage in. I’ve made some other fun little montages I wanted everyone to see. We love a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes stuff like ILM working on the sparkle effect or the composer in London doing the score.

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