Whistler Film Festival 2012: Melissa Rosenberg shares Twilight Saga screenwriting stories

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      It took a 12-year-old girl at a fan convention to hammer home the true magnitude of the Twilight Saga series that screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg was working on.

      In conversation with Variety executive editor Steven Gaydos at Variety's 10 Screenwriters to Watch event on December 1 at the Whistler Film Festival, Rosenberg talked about how she was unfamiliar with the books when she was first contacted to work on the series.

      But after completing the first film, she attended a Twihard-packed event at Comic-Con. And it was there that she came to fully comprehend the impact of what she was getting into.

      "This little 12-year-old girl comes up to me with her book, Twilight, and she asks me for my autograph. And she leaves and she goes, [whispering] 'I know who you are'," Rosenberg said. "But then the actors all came out and it was—it was—the Ed Sullivan Theatre when the Beatles showed up. And you could see the vibrations, the energy from the audience, the screams literally kind of reverberating off the actors. And it was all at that moment we were sitting in the audience going, 'Holy shit'."

      Gaydos, who called the Twilight Saga more than just a blockbuster series but "a cultural phenomenon", observed that "what's really fascinating is if you know the whole Hollywood food chain, and where the writer fits in and how disposable and…usually it's the writer shuffled off to stage left, and in this case, you're the one consistent person…." He pointed out that there have been four different directors over the course of five movies.

      However, Rosenberg said she established a good working relationship with author Stephenie Meyer. When the project began, Rosenberg said she was worried that Meyer would take over her creative process while Meyer was afraid Rosenberg would "butcher her child".

      However, after the completion of the first film, those fears were laid to rest.

      "After Twilight was made, she, I think, came to respect what I did, and I came to realize actually she's a really terrific collaborator," Rosenberg said. "She's not precious about her material. She wants the book adapted."

      In adapting the book to the big screen, one of the challenges Rosenberg said she faced was transforming the character of Bella (played by Kristen Stewart) from a passive, introverted character (which works in books but not in film) into an active protagonist.

      But with such a fervent fanbase, it was a delicate process. That's an understatement—it was pretty much a life-or-death situation.

      "[If] You changed things in that book, you take life into your own hands. Because those fans, if you change one little thing, you're liable to have people coming at you with knives."

      Of course, Rosenberg had the benefit of being a veteran in the business (now 22 years of experience), having worked on films like Step Up and TV series such as Dexter and The O.C.. Television remains her favourite medium.

      "I love it," she said. "This is why I will never leave television. It is the place a writer wants to be. It is. In features, unless we're directing our own work, we have no control over it. I'm now moving toward producing in film but…directors kinda carved out film as them being the authors of the film, which they aren't. But they established that. And so we write…and we kinda hope that what comes back is what you imagined. In television, we write it, we produce it, stay on top of it. As a showrunner, I'm making every decision from literally the eyelashes, whether false or natural, on the actors to the final cut, and every single little detail. And it's incredibly gratifying."

      She's also no stranger to Vancouver as she's been shooting the crime-drama TV series Red Widow in our fair city over the past year.

      For her work on the insanely successful Twilight Saga series, Gaydos awarded her the Billion Dollar Screenwriter Award at the Whistler Film Festival awards brunch on December 2.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig.