They're sexy, dangerous and live forever -- no wonder vampires have always held a fascination for mere mortals via legend, literature and Hollywood. Dracula, Anne Rice's Lestat, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more recently, the protagonists of TV's "Moonlight" and "True Blood" have added to the lore's allure. But arguably the biggest current vamp-related pop culture phenomenon is the "Twilight" book series, which chronicles the love story between a teenage girl named Bella Swan and the beautiful vampire Edward Cullen.
"Twilight" spent 91 weeks on the "New York Times" best-seller list, sold 17 million copies worldwide and spawned hundreds of fansites. Now, with the release of its faithful film adaptation, attention turns from page to screen. Director Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen," "Lords of Dogtown"), a fan of vampire movies who was "swept away" by the book's obsessive love story, had the difficult task of casting Stephenie Meyer's iconic characters --first and foremost, the romantic leads.
Finding a teenage actress experienced and capable enough to handle Bella was daunting, but Hardwicke zeroed in on Kristen Stewart after seeing her in "Into the Wild." Hardwicke auditioned her and cast her as the heroine. The perfect Edward was more elusive. None of the less than 100 actors she met (of thousands who submitted tapes) were right. "They looked like they could be your next-door neighbor or the cute dude at your school. Edward had to be somebody from another world, someone special that we hadn't seen before," she explains.
Ultimately, she invited five young men to audition with Stewart, and Robert Pattinson (the doomed Cedric Diggory in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") fit the bill and had the best chemistry with Stewart.
After filling out "Twilight's" supporting cast with unknown and semi-known actors (including "Damages'" Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser of "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Ex List," and her "Thirteen" star Nikki Reed), Hardwicke had to figure out how to shoot the movie on a $37 million budget in 48 days almost entirely on location, which meant dealing with highly variable weather. Adding high-wire stunts to the mix upped the difficulty factor. But before production got underway in Oregon, the script had to be right -- which meant meeting the strict criteria set by author Meyer. She'd been burned before, as we'll explain in the following section, and wasn't about to let Hollywood screw up a good thing.
Meyer's Rules: No Garlic, Stakes or Fangs
Stephenie Meyer wasn't vampire obsessive when she literally dreamed up "Twilight's" story one night in June 2003. A self-described "enormous scaredy cat" who can barely handle Hitchcock films, she was a full-time mom to three boys with no intention of pursuing a writing career. But she penned her novel, sent it to the one agent of the 15 she contacted who'd responded favorably, and within two months had a three-book deal with Little, Brown.
Paramount's MTV Films bought rights to the book the following year, but the script commissioned by the studio "had nothing to do with 'Twilight,'" says Meyer, who was relieved when the studio opted out of making it. Unwilling to repeat what she calls a "horrifying experience," Meyer was gun shy when Summit Entertainment approached her, and only relented when the company agreed to contractually abide by her creative rules: no fangs, no coffins, no garlic, no stakes through the heart. And nobody dies that doesn't in the book.
"My vampires don't need fangs. Strong as they are, it's kind of unnecessary. They don't sleep, and they do have reflections. You can take pictures of them. In my world," Meyer explains, "these are myths that vampires spread around so that people would say, 'This person can't be a vampire because I can see them in the mirror, so I'm safe.'"
Meyer worked closely with screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg and director Catherine Hardwicke throughout the process. "They let me have input and took 90 percent of what I said and incorporated it right into the script." She visited the set four times, and was talked into making a cameo appearance in the movie. She's the woman at the counter in a scene between Bella and her dad, Charlie (Billy Burke).
For Rosenberg ("Step Up," TV's "Dexter"), dramatizing a book that's largely the internal thoughts of the narrator Bella was the greatest challenge, along with adhering to Meyer's rules, and that came with pressure. "I didn't want to be the writer who ruined 'Twilight' for a generation of teenagers. I knew that the way to satisfy the fans was to be true to the book," says the writer, who included much of the novel's dialogue. "The voice-over is almost word for word from the book," she notes. "It's about capturing the voice of the book and the characters so the audience is taken on the same emotional ride."
Of course, some things had to be dropped in the service of the main love story, including the back stories of supporting characters, and the nomadic vampires -- the tale's villains -- appear earlier in the movie than they do in the book. Rosenberg also had to find a way to include several chapters of question-and-answer dialogue that explain the vampire mythology. "It was about taking bits and pieces of it and peppering it throughout the scenes."
Director Hardwicke faced the task of making the conversation-heavy novel more visual and dynamic, and that involved a lot of location shooting in one of the wettest areas in the country --perfect for the story, but not so great for production.
"Twilight" Effects: Weather, Wigs and Wires
On paper, Portland's winters were ideal -- cloudy most days out of the month. That proved to be true, for maybe 20 minutes at a time. Hardwicke would shoot a scene from one angle and set up another and it would rain, hail or the sun would come out, so she had to be prepared with a Plan B at all times. "Every single day, the call sheet would have at least three possible scenes that we could shoot every day. I had my shot list done two, sometimes three weeks if not a month in advance. I storyboarded the most complex scenes. We had the backup plan, and the backup plan to the backup plan."
Coupled with having to maneuver equipment, crew and actors into remote locations in the woods, the weather contributed to making the movie a logistical nightmare, says Hardwicke, who nevertheless met her schedule and budget. "We did not go over one day of shooting or post-production," she proudly points out.
The cast found the unpredictable weather difficult as well. Taylor Lautner, who plays Jacob Black, still shivers at the memory of filming a scene with Kristen Stewart on a chilly beach. "It was the worst weather I'd ever been in trying to film a scene. For me that was the biggest challenge," he says. But the itchy long wig he had to wear wasn't a picnic either: The hair "was always getting in my mouth," he recalls.
Most of the "Twilight" actors underwent hair transformations. "If you had blond hair you dyed it brown. If you had brown hair you dyed it blond," observes Peter Facinelli, who fell into the latter category. "It took a good day at the salon, and with the touch-ups, it was high maintenance."
He and his fellow members of the Cullen family -- vampires all -- also had to wear pale makeup. "We had a week of testing of all different kinds of makeup," he recalls. "They had a gadget from Japan, an ionizer, and as they put the makeup on you, if they touched you, you'd get shocked. That would wake you up!"
The actors playing vampires also had to contend with special contact lenses that reduced their vision. "Ours were black with a hint of blood red," remembers Rachelle Lefevre, who plays villainous vamp Victoria. Wearing them, "You have no peripheral vision so you can't walk down steps by yourself. You trip a lot. I fully fell down once -- that was not slick. And I would always end up jumping out of my skin because you can't see anyone come up next to you."
Lefevre had a lot more fun with the film's stunt work, which included a wire rig called the Magic Carpet that creates the illusion that the actors are moving at faster than normal speed. "We did rehearsals in a warehouse. They started really slow, at five miles per hour and then eight miles, then 10, then 12, and they kept increasing the speeds. It was amazing, actually like learning to walk all over again, because first you started on your knees. Landing was really hard. You're supposed to stop in these sick poses, but they would stop and you would like propel forward," she relates. "But once you get it, it's a total rush."
Not all her co-stars share her enthusiasm for wire work, particularly the harness aspect. "It was painful for me," relates Nikki Reed. "It's like a 15 pound girdle you're being strapped into and hooked onto cables. Then they lift you in the air and the camera's not ready so you're chilling in the air, dangling all of your weight. I just felt retarded."
More "Twilight" Stunts, Effects and Sequels
While Jackson Rathbone (Jasper) likens the wire stunts to "getting paid to go to the amusement park," Robert Pattinson found it hard. "Trying to maintain your center of gravity is tough," he comments. "It can look really fake, and I didn't have that much time to practice. They took a pretty big risk letting me do a lot of it," he says, noting that he's "really not an action movie kind of guy at all."
That and the fact that he's British put him at a disadvantage in a baseball game scene, where Facinelli calls his attempts "fun yet painful to watch. He had like a week to learn how to play the game. But he finally got it and he looked great at it."
One of the movie's more dangerous stunts involved Bella and Edward climbing to the top of a very tall tree, shot at the edge of a cliff at the Columbia River Gorge. The actors did part of it, but the actual climb and the overhead shot seen from a helicopter was done by their doubles. "They were wired, but the helicopter got so close we thought they were going to get blown off the tree," Catherine Hardwicke recalls. "It was a pretty badass stunt."
Hardwicke wanted to keep the effects as practical as possible, although visual effects were necessary in some instances. "There are over 200 shots that we had to do something to, but pretty minor," she says, offering sky adjustments and wire and crane removal as examples. Visual Effects also added a third story to the Cullens' house with CG.
If she were to direct the screen adaptation of the second book in Meyer's series, "New Moon," Hardwicke would likely have to employ more visual effects, and would require a bigger budget to cover stunts and locations. "There are werewolf transformations, stunts like jumping off cliffs and motorcycle rides. They go to Italy. We'd have to make a lot of money on this one," she says.
Melissa Rosenberg is writing the "New Moon" script as well as the screenplay for third book "Eclipse," and the actors have all been contracted for two more movies (book four, "Breaking Dawn," hadn't been written at the time). Kristen Stewart, who knew nothing of "Twilight" before she was cast, now feels a close affinity for the character she may be playing for several years to come, "this girl who gets caught up in this extravagant situation. It's a very epic, high stakes, ultimate love story," she sums up the series' appeal.
If all four books make it to the screen, the final one will be the most difficult to adapt, according to Meyer. "One character will have to be done with CG," she explains. Meanwhile, if "New Moon" is made into a movie, it would have to get underway quickly. Teenagers don't stay teenagers, but vampires never age.
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- Catherine Hardwicke, Stephenie Meyer, Melissa Rosenberg, Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Peter Facinelli, Rachel Lefevre, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Edi Gathegi and Ashley Greene interviewed November 8, 2008.