Producer Greg Mooradian of Maverick Films first read Twilight before the young adult novel gained worldwide acclaim--in fact, before it had even been published. "Part of my job as a producer is to scour the world for new material," says Mooradian. "I read a lot of manuscripts prior to their being published. When this one came across my desk, I just couldn't put it down. The premise of a girl falling in love with a vampire just hit me like a ton of bricks. And the book delivered on every level."
What drew Mooradian to the story was not its exoticism, but rather its universality.
"There have been thousands of vampire films made," he says. "What sets this apart is the love story. Vampirism in this story is simply a metaphor for teenage lust, for that feeling of 'I want you, but I can't have you.' I thought that was such a wonderful metaphor to express teenage longing.
"It's analogous to any young girl who has the opportunity to date the boy that her parents hope she'll go out with," Mooradian continues. "But then there's that other boy who's mysterious and dark and brooding, and there's such a desire to unlock the secrets behind who and what he is, which in this case is a vampire. And that revelation happens at a point where she's already too far in to withdraw, no matter what the consequences are."
Twilight was the first published work by author Stephenie Meyer, who has gone on to create three additional books in the series, with no sign of slowing down. "As a first-time author, I had no idea what normal is," she says. "I still don't. I had no expectations. I was first approached about the movie before the book had even come out. I didn't expect to hear anything about it until it was on the shelves, if then."
Meyer describes herself as a mom first, then a writer, despite her chart-topping sales and prolific output. "For me, writing this book was so personal," she says. "I was surprised that people responded to it so well. It still amazes me to watch how people get into the characters and how important it is to them. I get e-mails from people who feel like my book has actually changed their lives."
A Brigham Young University graduate with a degree in English literature, Meyer says the idea for Twilight came from a dream. "When I woke up, I wanted to know happened next. That first day I wrote 10 pages. When I finished it, no one was more shocked than me that I had actually finished a book."
As Meyer continued to add volumes to her narrative, Mooradian approached Summit Entertainment with the idea of developing the saga into a series of films. Twilight's novel concept and compelling characters made it an apt candidate.
"The idea of a supernatural fantasy as background for a great tragic love story is a great combination," says producer Wyck Godfrey. "Add to that a best-selling book series, and fans already connected to the characters, and we have a really good foundation to open it up to a new audience that may have never heard of Twilight. I think that once they see it, they're going to respond in the same way as the people who have discovered the books.
"There's a huge amount of danger in this movie," Godfrey continues. "There's also just the excitement of a teenager doing things that are verboten. These are things that people connect to. And not just girls--I think that guys will discover it's dangerous, there's action, there's a thriller element to it, and then, ultimately, that it's cool to be a vampire."
As soon as she read the book, executive producer Karen Rosenfelt says she was immediately intrigued by the "Romeo and Juliet" aspect of the storyline as well as its sustained sexual tension. "I think we all think we're Bella," says the former Paramount Pictures production president. "As a character she's very accessible and identifiable. We all feel outside of the in-group and want to feel we're marching to the beat of our own drummer."
Meyer was excited about the possibility of seeing her work translated to film, but only as long as the filmmakers remained true to the books. "All of us have seen books ruined as movies, and I had a lot of things that I wanted to protect. My stipulations were pretty basic: You can't kill anyone who doesn't die in the book. The Cullens have to all exist by their right names and in their right characters. Things like that. I wanted the groundwork to be there." The filmmakers were sensitive to her concerns and committed to remaining as faithful to the book as possible. "The book is a bible for so many young girls, we needed to tell the story as written, as much as possible," says Mooradian. "Stephenie loved the script. But at the same time she had some very specific ideas, and we implemented nearly all of them, much to the benefit of the film. For example, we had slightly changed a passage from the book, 'And so the lion fell in love with the lamb." Stephanie suggested we go back to the way it was, because so many girls had tattooed that line on their ankles. I thought she was joking, but no."
The producers tapped Catherine Hardwicke to direct the film. Hardwicke had segued a few years earlier from production designer working on films including Laurel Canyon, Vanilla Sky and Three Kings to writing and directing her debut film, the award-winning Thirteen, a sensitive and controversial look at a troubled teen's relationship with her mother.
"By no means were we exclusively looking at female directors,' says Mooradian. " But the core readership is young females, and we wanted to get somebody who understood that perspective.
Catherine has really embraced that age group. She connects well with teenagers, and given her filmography, it was a natural fit. We did feel it was a plus for someone to be able to say that they've walked in the shoes of Bella, in terms of having that first crush on a guy, and that decision to go after the wrong guy, and the consequences that would come thereafter. We were fortunate to have found a great female director, as well as a great female writer to carry out the mission."
Rosenfelt adds: "What Catherine demonstrated with Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown and The Nativity Story--all very different films--is that she can create a world that feels organic and not manufactured.
That was really important in bringing Twilight to the screen." "When I read the book, I was swept away with the whole obsession--that ecstasy," says Hardwicke. "Stephenie writes with such an authentic voice. Twilight had the potential to be so visual and cinematic and to capture that feeling: how it feels to be in love for the first time, and loving somebody so much that you'd literally be willing to turn into a vampire."
Melissa Rosenberg came to the table with considerable experience writing for the film's primary audience of high school age girls. In addition to the television shows "Party of Five" and "The O.C.," Rosenberg wrote the screenplay for Step Up, an enormously successful teen romance between a ballerina and a street dancer, also for Summit Entertainment. She is currently a writer for the provocative Showtime drama "Dexter," whose romantic hero is a serial killer. "Twilight is really the marriage of both my love of writing for teens and the sort of gothic-ness of horror," she says. "When they called me, all they had to say was teens and vampires and I was there."
The book's devoted following put a great deal of pressure to remain true to its spirit, says Rosenberg. "Knowing how important the story is to millions of fans, and how personally they take it, I knew we had to stay very close to the book to win them over. It is a gift to be given such rich source material. I had no intention of ever going anywhere other than the world of the book.
"Twilight is a romance between a girl and the ultimate unavailable boy--a vampire," adds Rosenberg. "The enormous obstacle is he could kill her at any moment. I loved the chemistry between Bella and Edward. That pull is a very universal experience. Anyone who has been a 17-year-old girl knows what it's like to see that wonderfully mysterious and unavailable boy across the room and just feel that longing. The book takes that universal experience to the next level of the fantasy playing out. If I only ever write for teenage girls, I'll be perfectly happy, because when they love something, they embrace it with all of their heart. It's a great audience to write for."
ABOUT THE CASTING
Twilight's devoted following has spawned more than 350 websites and cult-like dedication, making casting a delicate process. "If you go on the fan websites, every single person who read the book has already cast the film for you 20 times over," says Mooradian. "We did take a look at their ideas and we decided we were never going to please everybody, so what we had to do was go with our guts. The actors we cast are the actors we feel best embodied these characters
"It took us forever to cast this movie, but once we found Bella and all the Cullens, I realized we finally had it. When I actually got to see them all together, performing in a scene, it took my breath away, and not because I didn't expect them to work. I did. But I lived with this book for several years. To actually see all the actors in front of me at one time blew me away."
Finding an actress to play Bella was paramount. "We are asking a young girl to carry the weight of a franchise on her shoulders," says Mooradian. "It's an incredible task. We had to find someone to physically match what we wanted her to be, but also somebody with the depth as a performer to be able to hit all the nuances. The list was very short. Kristen Stewart's body of work really speaks for itself. In a strange way, she was almost an easy choice when we really looked at it from that perspective."
Only 17 years old when Twilight filmed, Kristen Stewart has already appeared opposite Jodie Foster in The Panic Room, Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild and Dennis Quaid in Cold Creek Manor.
Stephenie Meyer was immediately impressed with the young star. "Kristen has an amazing number of movies already under her belt," says Meyer. "Bella has a lot of drama going on. Kristen's experience came into play there. She has a devastating vulnerability about her that's so perfect for Bella."
Before auditioning for the film, says Stewart, she was not familiar with the series. "Then suddenly, everywhere I looked, there was something about Twilight. I was, like, how did I miss this? Everybody I knew had read it."
As for playing a literary icon for a generation, Stewart says, "I want everybody to be happy. Everybody's going to see things differently. So many girls are obsessed with the books and want to be Bella, which does make it difficult. I hope, really, really sincerely, that everybody likes it."
Meyer says that casting Edward was the most difficult task, because, "He has to be everything. He has to be beautiful and dangerous and angst-ridden and intelligent. A lot of guys were pretty, but they weren't dangerous. Other guys were dangerous but not pretty enough. Rob Pattinson has both sides."
The onscreen electricity between the two stars was also critical, says Godfrey. "Kristen auditioned with Rob and that was really when people looked at the two of them together and said, 'That's the right package.' Edward's been basically sleepwalking for a hundred years up until Bella enters his life and, and part of the beauty of the story is watching Edward come to life when Bella comes into his life. Our two leads have a wonderful chemistry."
Pattinson, who played Cedric Diggory in two Harry Potter films, says that Edward is caught unaware by his attraction to Bella. "From Edward's perspective, he has nothing, really," says Pattinson.
"He's spent his entire life fixated on wanting to be human or die. And then Bella comes into his life and destroys any stability he's been able to create. He initially starts the relationship to test himself. But when he gets to know her realizes this girl has reawakened him to some kind of life."
The actor has tried hard not to let himself be affected by the task of taking on such a beloved character. "It's always an added pressure when you've got a lot of people with their own opinions of something, and everyone who's read the book is going to have an idea of what they expect the film to be like. It kind of makes you a little bit more cautious about maintaining your own take on a character."
The Cullen clan--parents Carlisle and Esme, and adopted "children" Rosalie, Emmett, Jasper, Alice and Edward--are unique in the vampire culture. Carlisle was a vampire hunter 300 years ago. He was bitten and transformed while leading an attack. "Carlisle hated what he had become so much that he forced himself not to feed on humans," explains Peter Facinelli, the actor who plays him. "He found he could survive on animals--kind of like a human being living on tofu. It's not quite as appetizing but it provides enough nourishment to get by."
Greg Mooradian says of the Cullens, "Compared to other vampires, they treat their state as a curse, but one that they've learned to manage. If they live this certain way, and they live in a group where they can sort monitor one another, they can do it."
Elizabeth Reaser, Ashley Green, Kellan Lutz, Jackson Rathbone and Nikki Reed portray other members of the clan. Each of the actors is keenly aware of the responsibility that goes along with playing characters this well-loved.
"I'm a reader," says Reaser ("Grey's Anatomy"), the movie's Esme Cullen. "Sometimes I have ideas in my head and when they turn into a movie, it can be horrible. Or it can be amazing. So you hope that people will make the leap with you."
There was no script available when Green, who plays Alice Cullen, initially auditioned, so she quickly got hold of the book. "I read it within a day and a half to get ready for the audition," she remembers. "I can see why people are so fanatical about them. It's a great series and the first vampire film that I've come across that concentrates more on the love story than killing and mayhem."
Despite the book's popularity, Lutz ("90210") says he had no idea what he was getting into when he signed on to play Emmett. "I feel quite blessed that Stephanie Meyer wrote Emmett the way he is and I was born the way I am. I really don't have to do much to portray Emmett, and I think the audience and the fans will enjoy that and see that I am really like Emmett in a way. Okay, I don't have the super powers and I can't run up trees and do crazy stuff like that. But I'm a jokester in real life, I love having fun and having such a big family with brothers and sisters."
Rathbone, whose previous credits include roles on television's "The Cleaner," "The O.C." and "Beautiful People," plays conflicted family member Jasper Cullen. "I'm always interested in characters that push me to extremes of my own personality, my own psyche," he says. "The rage element of suppressing all of your natural desires is what attracted me to Jasper. The thing about an iconic character is you have the responsibility to fulfill the shoes of the imagination. A lot of the work is already done. It's from the mind of Stephenie Meyer and it's all laid out there in the books."
In addition to Sarah Clarke (Thirteen) and Ned Ballamy (Lords of Dogtown), Reed is another mem er of the cast to have worked with Hardwicke previously. In fact, she made her screen debut in Thirteen, which she co-wrote with the director, and later starred in Hardwicke's skateboarding drama Lords of Dogtown. "It's definitely not coincidence that I've worked with Catherine three times now," says the actress. "We work very well together and we're inspired by each other. Catherine is great one-on-one
with actors. She even likes to go through wardrobe, hair and makeup with the actors to make sure that we're all living and breathing the same person."
Twilight's appeal, says Reed, crosses the boundaries of age and gender because of its universal themes. "There's a deeper side. What's amazing to me is that the books appeal to so many different age groups. Both my parents have read all three books. It's very rare that my father and I find ourselves living in the same book world. I think it has a lot of adult themes and ideas like unconditional love that human beings in general long for."
On the other side of the vampire divide lurk three very different lost souls: James, Victoria and Laurent, the nomadic vampires who encroach on Cullen territory and threaten Bella's life. "I don't really think of them as bad vampires," says Meyer. "I think of them as your average vampire. They don't think anything of killing a human because that's how they live."
Edi Gathegi ("House"), who plays Laurent, brings a soupcon of savoir-faire to his role.
"We get to leap far and run fast and kill people, we have super sight--it's kind of thrilling," he says. "Laurent is French and he's 300 years old, so he's got some style and he's got some class. These vampires have been around for a long time. They've got the best fashions, they've read the best books, and they're highly evolved and highly sophisticated superior beings."
Rachelle Lefevre ("Swingtown") plays Victoria, the femme fatale of the nomadic vampires. "I sat down and wrote Catherine a three-page handwritten letter about why I needed to play this part," she confesses. "I talked about how I loved the book, and why I loved vampires so much. I told her that I thought our desire to live forever devalues existence. It's the ultimate 'Be careful what you wish for,' because what gets traded is that everything that had value then has no value. Time doesn't matter; the fragility of your life doesn't matter. You get to live forever, but then you lose the value of life."
The third nomad is more dangerous to Bella than the others combined. James, played by Cam Gigandet (Never Back Down), is a tracker. He hunts for the joy of it and his attention is fixed on Bella, the ultimate prey because she is under the protection of the Cullens. "I love playing bad guys," says Gigandet. "If I had a choice I would always go with the bad guys. There's just more to grasp onto."
Meyer admits to doing very little research on vampire mythology as she was creating her supernatural characters. "I've never been into horror. I haven't read vampire books or watched vampire movies. I really don't know the popular views on them. I just wanted to write about my vampires; I didn't want to taint that with other stories."
But the author has not completely reinvented the creatures, says Mooradian. "It's more a matter of subtle differences. These vampires reflect in the mirror. They can handle the sunlight. It has an effect on them, but it doesn't reduce them to ashes. The stake to the heart doesn't work. She has played with different notions like that, but generally stuck to the mythology of what we perceive to be vampires."
For Lefevre, the biggest difference is dental. "The first thing that always comes to mind is the fangs," she points out. "These vampires don't have any fangs and that is such a classic image. The victims always have the perfect puncture marks and our victims don't look like that. Our victims look like you had to use the incisors you were given. It's messier. And they don't sleep, so there's no lying in the coffin, or hanging upside down in the bat cave."
Godfrey points out that not only are the vampires themselves different, so is Bella's reaction to them. "The contemporary spin that Stephenie put on it is that when Bella finds out Edward is a vampire, her response is more in tune with what I think young adults might feel. We're so used to the gothic portrayal of vampires and the fearful response that humans have to the creatures of the night, and in this, her reaction is "Hmm, that's kind of cool." I think that's part of the fun of it. Stephenie has redefined vampires for a contemporary American world."
READ MORE: THE LIFE OF A VAMPIRE - SHOOTING THE FILM
THE ART OF ADAPTATION