'The Twilight Saga': We talk to screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg
Melissa Rosenberg has been Stephenie Meyer’s big-screen translator since the first Twilight movie debuted back in 2008. With a new director coming on to each film, Rosenberg’s constant presence has helped ensure Meyer’s story stays constant throughout the saga. Also, in Eclipse, since director David Slade isn’t a writer, all the words spoken by your favorite characters came straight from Rosenberg’s computer. We checked in with the screenwriter, who recently left her day job as showrunner of Showtime’s hit series Dexter to direct her attention completely to the Twilight series. The California native took a break from pre-production on Breaking Dawn to chat with us.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did writing Eclipse compare to the last two books?
MELISSA ROSENBERG: For me, Eclipse was my favorite book of the first three, for sure. The triangle comes to a head and that creates some really tense conflict, which is always good when you’re trying to write scenes. This is the third act of the story because Breaking Dawn goes off into completely new territory. That, and the huge battle we build to throughout the movie, was compelling. What was funny was Eclipse ended up being the hardest to write. That big battle happens in the third act, so it was all about pulling some of the conflict and danger forward to lace throughout the story. It became quite the challenge. But in the end, it was quite fun because I got to fill out some of the mythology, such as the character of Riley, the newborn army, Victoria, and everything that was going on that you can’t do in the book because it’s from Bella’s point-of-view.
Was there conferencing with Stephenie for those scenes?
Do you write and then show her, or do you talk to Stephenie ahead of time?
A little of both, actually. One of the things she did that helped me with enormously was she let me read The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner in advance, and that was really useful in terms of what was going on outside [Bella’s world], so I was able to imagine it. I would come up with stuff and bounce it off of her and she gave me the short story and I pulled a few ideas from that.
How did you keep the momentum going throughout the story since the battle is at at the end?
It was about threading all the danger and the threat through the beginning and the middle of the story. It was a real challenge. It was also a challenge because Bella is our way into the movie. Bella is our point of view. Because of the two guys fighting over her in the story, she’s so reactive. Which is fine for a book. It works beautifully. For a movie, you can’t have your lead just standing there reacting. It was a lot about how to keep her active in the middle of this tug-of-war.
How did you make her more active?
Small things. In the book, Jacob shows up at her workplace and talks her into getting on the back of the motorcycle. He sort of steals her away. In the movie, it’s really Bella that decides to do this, and she initiates that in front of the school. It’s a small change. But these moments add up. In the book, there are some scenes of her being affectionately kidnapped by Alice. That was pulled out to keep her strong and keep her active.
Have you experienced celebrity from being a part of the franchise?
People don’t recognize me in the street, so it doesn’t really change my life. But people know my name, and it helps me get great restaurant reservations in New York. That completely surprised me. When I most feel it is when I go to an event of some sort, and it’s lovely. Screenwriters are so rarely acknowledged for what they do. Most people don’t understand what we do. So it’s just great, and always surprising.
How was working with [Eclipse director] David Slade?
In all honesty, it was terrific. Now, I’m working with [Breaking Dawn director] Bill Condon on the next one. I think someone just chooses well. I had a really great collaboration with all four directors.
What was this collaboration like?
There was more of a collaboration because David is not a writer, so he kept me more involved throughout the production. Basically with Chris [Weitz] on New Moon, I handed him the draft and moved off to Eclipse. He’s a terrific writer so he was handling production rewrites. Same for Catherine [Hardwicke]. But with this one, I was much more involved, for better or worse. Pretty much every word up there is mine. I shouldn’t say that, they’ll know who to blame it on. [Slade] is very, very respectful of the script and kept everyone on the page. He planned in great detail ahead of time. He wants it all on the page locked before he starts shooting, so he can really design some great shots and great sequences. My favorite part was he did a lot of storyboarding in advance. I’d have a script, it’d have an action sequence. He would then take that sequence and storyboard how he wants to see it. He would then walk me through the storyboards, and I’d put it back into the screenplay the way he wants to do it. So, it’d be on the page and it would be this back and forth. He’d be sorta acting it out. He’s a very animated guy! He thinks in visual terms. So, it was a lot of fun.
Do you have a favorite moment of the film?
I have a couple of them but one is a small moment. It’s one of my favorites: When Bella tells Charlie, her dad, that she’s a virgin. I just love that! Their chemistry together is fantastic. That Billy Burke is so funny!
Do you find it challenging to deal with the religious overtones in the books?
What’s always kind of amazed me is that Stephenie and I probably are polar opposites in terms of our political and spiritual beliefs. I’m raised in a hot tub from Marin County, [Calif.]. I couldn’t be further left. She’s a very religious Mormon. In truth, we’ve never talked politics. We’ve never talked religion. We just haven’t. It hasn’t come up. The only thing that comes up is that I swear like a truck driver and she doesn’t. And I drink and she doesn’t drink. But she doesn’t ever judge me for either of those things. It’s important for me that I not violate my own beliefs and I won’t write something that does. It was interesting that within all of these movies, certainly within Breaking Dawn, you can peel away some of the stuff that is more to the right and some of the anti-choice stuff and there is a core, real human experience. You don’t have to go there. You can tell the story without doing that. That was important to me, but I had to respect her beliefs as well. I can’t violate her beliefs. It’s kinda where the blue and the red come together. At the core of it, it’s about a woman choosing to have a child. That is as pro-choice as you get. That doesn’t violate anything that Stephenie believes in, and that doesn’t violate the story. It’s about finding the common ground. What’s really important: These are Twilight movies. This is entertainment. It is not the forum to be making political commentary. It’s just not. Nobody wants to turn this into a referendum on abortion. It’s inappropriate.
Do you think the scene with Edward refusing Bella enforces the conservative views?
Yeah, but you have the other side of that. The other part of that conversation is Bella asking, “What are you, a dinosaur?” She has her own values that are every bit as legitimate. She doesn’t admit he is right, and she isn’t ashamed to have asked him to do that. It comes down to you can be who you are. There’s nothing wrong with someone believing that. It’s only when you start forcing other people to believe the same thing. It’s about a girl who is embracing and embodying her own sexuality. She’s unapologetic about that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a portrayal of a young girl who has sexual desire. I think that’s something we avoid a lot – this concept that girls are actually desirous. So I’m pleased to have this character who’s um…you know…randy! There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a very healthy place to be.
How has your relationship with Stephenie evolved over the years?
It’s been great. When I started out, I was nervous. She’s the author of these books. I was really worried she was going to subsume my process. So I kept her at bay for the first half of the first one. In the middle of writing it, I met her and went, oh, wow, my fears are completely unfounded. She is someone who is really collaborative and not precious about the work. If there’s a better idea out there — if I saw a scene different then she saw it, she’s really open to it. Which is…shocking. Once I got that about her, I began to use her as a resource a great deal more. Since then, that’s only deepened and expanded. She’s been a great collaborator, I’d have to say one of my favorite collaborations, ever. She’s one of my main sources. Whenever I’m stuck on something, I’ll call or email her for ideas.
Were you hoping there would be two Breaking Dawn movies?
Initially, I went back and forth. At first, I thought one. Then, when I got more into the story and thought, you know what, this is two. It’s a lot in one book. We would have had to cut out so much to do one movie. The nature of the book is sort of two movies. There’s before she’s a vampire and then after she’s a vampire. We’d be giving short shrift to both sections to try and do it as one.
How will it feel to leave the Twilight franchise?
I left Dexter after the fourth season, too. Twilight and Dexter — they’ve been my worlds for the last four years or so. Part of me is very excited about doing something new. I’m ready to branch out and explore other worlds and characters. The other part of me is sad to leave them and a little bit nervous. I’m comfortable in these worlds. I know I can write Dexter and Twilight. It’s always anxiety-provoking to go into new worlds and have to get to know a whole new language.