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'Twilight': Who will direct the sequel?

The speculation behind Catherine Hardwicke’s departure, Taylor Lautner’s uncertain future in ”New Moon,” and who they’ve approached to take the reins

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Hollywood’s hottest new hit franchise has already seen its first major behind-the-scenes casualty. On Dec. 7, Twilight‘s Catherine Hardwicke announced that she would not helm the sequel New Moon — and now Summit Entertainment is hustling to find a replacement. The studio has tentatively slated Nov. 20, 2009, for Moon‘s release, a date that would require any director who signs on to be in Vancouver by Dec. 15 to begin 12 weeks of preproduction before a mid-March start date.

Reports have speculated that Hardwicke was fired for being difficult on set, but sources close to her suggest Summit’s aggressive production schedule turned her off. ”She’d love to do the sequel if she could do it better than Twilight,” says one. ”It became clear that Summit didn’t have those same priorities.” Indeed, at press time the second movie appeared to have little more than a rough first-draft working script. As Summit’s production president Erik Feig told EW during Twilight‘s record-busting first weekend, ”There is that first…script. All the finesse that turns a screenplay into a movie hasn’t happened yet.” Two weeks later, Summit is saying it’s happy with screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg’s progress.

Another of Hardwicke’s primary concerns was that hunky vampire Edward remains MIA throughout New Moon‘s middle portion. In her own opening-weekend interview, she told EW, ”You have to get the chemistry as strong between Jacob and Bella as it was between Bella and Edward. You also have to do something with that arc: She’s in love with somebody, he disappears, she falls in love with someone else, and the first guy comes back. Movies like Pearl Harbor have tried it. It absolutely didn’t work.”

With or without Hardwicke, Summit faces other snags. Two sources tell EW the studio doesn’t want to rehire baby-faced Taylor Lautner as Jacob, though Lautner’s agent has apparently reached out to the imaging company behind The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in an attempt to demonstrate to Summit how a digitally bulked-up Lautner could work. (Summit says it won’t make a decision until a new filmmaker is on board.) There’s also the matter of finding a cast of Native American actors to play Jacob’s werewolf clan — a difficult challenge Hardwicke was also faced with before settling on Lautner, who isn’t completely Native American. And with a slightly increased budget of $50 million — much of which is assumed will go to leads asking for heftier paydays, location shoots in Italy, and ramped-up F/X — Summit will have to scrimp somewhere.

So what director would want to take on such a big headache? Well, at press time, an offer was out to Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass), who put Summit on the map years ago when its foreign sales operation made tons of cash off of his first film, American Pie. (One source says Weitz has already had conversations with below-the-line crew for New Moon.) ”We are in a recession,” reminds one Hollywood insider. ”It’s a hit franchise. Whoever steps into it is guaranteed a $100 million gross. Everyone wants this movie.” Adds an exec at another studio, ”You’d have to have a very high standard for art, hate the movie business, and hate money to walk off this sequel.”