Exclusive: ‘New Moon’ Screenwriter Talks Adapting Empty Pages and ‘Eclipse’ Additions

By  · Published on November 18th, 2009

I realize that not many in our core audience will be shouting Oh Em Gee whenever they see even the slightest bit of Twilight: New Moon news, but I think that most of our core audience (that means you, Darnell) loves the profess of filmmaking. You love the smell of color correction chemicals in the morning and the weight of an apple box in your arms. Or you just love that moment where you look up and a once-empty page is completely filled. With shit that you’re going to edit anyway. But the point stands.

Melissa Rosenberg is a screenwriter who straddles more two worlds in more than one way. The first is obvious: she writes heavily for both television and film. The second is less obvious: she has written three Twilight films (which seem to gain ire from certain sects of fanboys) and she writes for “Dexter” (which seems to get excited squeals from the same sects).

I was lucky enough to get her perspective on writing someone else’s story, the dream of writing, and falling in love with a guy in an L. Ron Hubbard costume.

As usual, I’m in bold.

We were just talking about going home for the holidays.

Where are you from originally?

Corpus Christi, Texas, but now I’m holed up in Austin.

I’m very fond of Austin, and my husband, [“Weeds” writer] Lev Spiro, did his graduate work in Austin for five years. His friends are sort of an Austin circle. In fact we met at an Austin Halloween party. We were out in L.A., and you know, all the Austin people together…

What were you dressed up as?

Well, I’d actually dressed up the week before as Liza Minnelli from Cabaret, but he was L. Ron Hubbard, and he had this volcano on his head that actually erupted when you lit it, and it was quite clever. He was handing out money.

Is that what did it for you?

Yeah, pretty much. [Laughs]

[Laughs] True love. And speaking of that, would you mind getting started by telling me a little bit about your philosophy of adapting someone else’s work?

Well, I’m sure it depends on whose work you’re adapting. With Stephanie [Meyer]’s work, my philosophy was to stay as true to the book as I could. But that doesn’t mean staying true to every scene and every line of dialog. Obviously one can’t do that. I think in some cases of people adapting books, they use it as a jumping off place. An interesting concept. Let’s expand on it and do something else. When approaching this particular adaptation, it was very much about adapting this book and bringing this book to the screen, and staying true to the emotional arc, the emotional journies of the characters.

Was there an urge to stay true to the book for the fans?

For me, honestly, I was fairly unaware of the fanbase. It was really ‐ the book itself lent itself to adaptation. Stephanie has created such a rich mythology and such rich characters that I was compelled by the story and wanted to bring that story to the screen. I didn’t really see a need to go off the path of that. I loved the story. Earlier, you know, the galleys of the book had been optioned by Paramount before it was in print, and they had a different philosophy for this book and used it as a launching pad for a different story. I never read that script, but as Stephanie says, “It was a great script. It just had nothing to do with my book.”

Do you know what it was? You said you didn’t read it, but did you get an inclination of what they included and left out?

I know that the CIA was involved, and the character Bella was a track star or something like that. It’s so contrary to the character Stephanie created. So when Summit approached Stephanie about optioning the rights to the book after Paramount let them go, Stephanie was understandably wary. She was not particularly interested in letting them go for fear of the same thing happening. So she, in optioning the book to them, has very specific things in her contract for things that could and could not happen, and she sort of wrote a brief manifesto of things such as “No canines in the vampires should be longer than normal canines.” You know, fangs. This sort of thing.

When I heard about this manifesto, I thought, “Oh, God. Really? I’m gonna have to work within these restrictions?” I didn’t want any restrictions, ya know?


So I read it. It’s only like a page or two, just a couple of details of what she wanted. And I thought, “Well, I wouldn’t do that anyway.” [Laughs] Because I’m interested in adapting the book. I think if I had been more interested in using it as a jumping off place that would have been more frustrating. But I had no interest in doing that, so it was just a good marriage for me.

Beyond the usual difficulties adapting something, this is the book that involves blank pages to show emotion. How do you adapt empty pages for the screen?

What I did was to show the passage of time and the lack of movement for [Bella]. That was to put her ‐ have you seen the movie?

I haven’t gotten a chance yet. They screen it Wednesday.

Ah. Well, so, I put her ‐ there’s a scene in which that passage of time happens, and it’s her sitting stone-still as time and seasons pass around her, and Chris [Weitz] did some really beautiful stuff visually with that. So that was my way of putting that same sense of blankness, and yet, the time is passing.

You’ve worked a lot in TV. Do you still feel young in film?

I am young in the film world. I’ve had four ‐ when Eclipse is done ‐ I’ll have had four movies made in a very short period of time. Sort of on a television schedule really. Typically movies take years and sometimes decades to get made, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Summit, and they really make movies. They’ve done all four of my movies.

I am young. I’ve worked for one feature studio; I’ve worked for one group of executives. My managers and agents keep telling me, “You gotta get out there and work with some other studios,” but I’m so happy at Summit. I’m really reluctant to go! They are such a great little studio. You hear all the horror stories about working at the major studios and development hell and your work being re-written by five or ten other people. I have no interest in that kind of career. Sounds like hell to me.

No doubt I will get lured in by some fantastic project, and hopefully it’ll be a good experience.

Is this what you wanted to do when you grew up?

I always loved writing, but I also loved performing. I was always into performing, so I think I saw myself as some sort of performer. A dancer. A musician of sorts. I had some talent, and I could have been perhaps good at any one of those things, but I was never going to be great I don’t think. I gave those up and went back to what I’d always loved to do, and not quite realized I could make a career out of it in the form of screenwriting. The next step was to move to Los Angeles, and start working for a film company. I started to get that I could marry my love of the performing arts with my love of storytelling into this one career. That’s when I went for it.

How are Twilight and “Dexter” similar?

Twilight and “Dexter” are similar in that the lead characters are both characters who are passing as humans. And are both in search of, they are studying humanity and moving toward their own humanity. They are both very much The Other. They are outsiders looking in.

And then, of course, there’s the blood.

Looking ahead to the future, are you even thinking about Eclipse at this point?

Eclipse has finished shooting.

It’s done?

It’s in post right now. I wrote New Moon, and then segued into writing Eclipse because they wanted to shoot them very, very close together. They shot New Moon and I think three months later went into production on Eclipse.

So when you say they make movies…

They make movies. Yeah.

I’m surprised. I’d checked out stories about it in post, and I guess it’s my mindset that I couldn’t believe the speed.

Well, there’s another element in that vampires aren’t supposed to age, so you have to stay on top of that one. But it’s also that you want to keep it in the zeitgeist. There’s probably a marketing angle there somehow. But for me it just worked out. I went from one to the other and without any time.

Was there anything in Eclipse that got you energized?

The triangle of the three characters is quite delicious, and a great deal of fun to write, and I was also really excited to write the finale ‐ the battle. What I also got to do was to expand on what was in the book, things she could not have written. The books are all told intimately from Bella’s point of view ‐ you get to see inside her head, and I think there’s a great deal of the appeal there. But what happens is that she’s only hearing about events that happen off-page. Anything that happens with the Volturi or with the evil vampires or the newborn army ‐ she’s only hearing about it after the fact or through Alice regarding visions.

But we as filmmakers can actually go and see that and can develop little stories for those characters. I was able to develop the characters of Victoria and her lover and we could cut away to that, we could cut away to the newborn army to see what they’re up to. Those were fun scenes to write. I love that stuff.

What’s the deal with Breaking Dawn then? Are you interested in writing that?

Breaking Dawn is kind of a No Comment situation. Obviously I’d be a fool not to want to write it and complete the process. But nothing has been decided at this moment so we will see.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.