Can the author's vampire novels do for moviegoers ?what they've done for readers? The first book in the series comes to ?theaters in December. EW was on the set
Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart, ... | Covens collide: Bella, Edward, and Jacob are joined by naughty vamps Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre) and James (Cam Gigandet).

On a March day in Oregon, the sun’s as bright as a California morning. That’s great news for the locals, but it sucks if you’re a vampire. For two weeks, Twilight, the $37 million film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer‘s best-selling novel, has been shooting outside Portland — a location chosen, in part, because the skies are often overcast. Vampires, in Meyer’s universe, can go out during the day but have to stay out of direct sunlight. Hence, today’s problem. Director Catherine Hardwicke (Lords of Dogtown) has had to scrap an exterior shoot, and, because tomorrow’s weather looks annoyingly cheery too, she’s been forced to rush into an intense romantic scene between her two young stars. ”We were building a bedroom in 24 hours,” Hardwicke says later. ”We were just sweating it.”

Fans have been sweating it too. Not since Harry Potter has a book-to-film journey inspired so much enthusiasm — or so much anxiety. The movie will follow the novel closely: Pretty but awkward 17-year-old Bella (Kristen Stewart) moves to a small town in the Pacific Northwest and falls in love with Edward (Robert Pattinson), a heartbreakingly beautiful vampire. Edward also falls for Bella, but his desire for her barely controls his instinct to devour her. It’s this combination of passion and danger, of course, that surrounds this teen romance with a halo of epic, doomed love. The girls who have gone crazy for the book have been vivisecting the film’s development online. Two girls from the Make-A-Wish Foundation even requested roles as extras. ”You can’t make this up,” Hardwicke says. With a fan base like that, all of Hollywood should have been jousting for the film rights. In fact, the movie almost didn’t happen.

In April 2004, Paramount’s MTV Films optioned Twilight, but then developed a script that bore little resemblance to it. (It featured night-vision goggles and transformed Bella into a hip track star.) ”They could have put that movie out, called it something else, and no one would have known it was Twilight,” Meyer says. Fortunately for devout fans of the book, Paramount put the project into turnaround. Then, in 2006, Erik Feig, president of production at Summit Entertainment, tried to make a deal with Meyer. The author had been burned before and resisted. Feig drew up a contract, guaranteeing the writer that the film would be true to her vision, including a promise that ”no vampire character will be depicted with canine or incisor teeth longer or more pronounced than may be found in human beings.” That did the trick.

Twilight, which will hit theaters on Dec. 12, is no garlic-and-fangs monster tale. It’s more Buffy than Nosferatu. Hardwicke, who made her directorial debut with the raw indie hit Thirteen, seemed an ideal match for the material. ”When I read the book, I could almost feel Bella breathing,” Hardwicke says. She hammered out a script with screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (Step Up) in six weeks, then faced the daunting task of casting. The wrong choice would throw Twilighters into a tizzy. Hardwicke also wanted to cast an actual teenager to play Bella, which meant finding a teen who could convey Bella’s emotional depth and carry an entire film.

NEXT PAGE: Robert Pattinson’s audition consisted of a love scene with Kristen Stewart on Hardwicke’s bed. ”The room shorted out, the sky opened up, and I was like, ‘This is going to be good.”’

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