Katie Bain – Hollywood.com
Chris Weitz is the, um, male director with the epic task of bringing the achingly romantic New Moon to the big screen. He explains how — plus, his thoughts on taking on the fourth installment, Breaking Dawn.
What was your interest in coming on board a franchise like this, that has predominantly been more popular with women than with men?
Chris Weitz: Actually, in that regard, my brother and I often end up doing movies whose predominant audience is either women or whose kind of tipping point of success relies on a female audience. Even American Pie.
In as much as the Twilight series has a global appeal to women, I think it reflects that it really concentrates on the emotions of the central character and romance. And I think that’s something unfortunately that the studio system has not been very good at getting boys to be interested in. They think, maybe correctly, that all the male gender is interested in is things blowing up, and robots and that sort of stuff. I don’t really think that’s true. I certainly didn’t make this movie with an eye towards only girls or women being interested in seeing it. There’s a lot for diverse audiences, including older audiences.
But really, frankly, I was drawn to the cast and I thought that the central cast was great, and I wanted to work with them. And it also sort of employed some skills I had picked up along the way, including working with special effects, working with younger actors and working on kind of emotionally-centered stories.
Twilight, as you said, is very emotional, and of course, it’s got a lot of CG elements and action elements. Would you say that you’re in a comfort zone? Is this familiar ground for you? Obviously your early work was very character-driven.
CW: I’m never really in a comfort zone making a movie. I’m in a discomfort zone, because you’re always kind of working under pressurized circumstances because you don’t have an unlimited amount of time or money to do these things, but there were a number of things I was quite familiar with, and familiar enough so that I could do what I think is really important, which is not to foreground the special effects or the action elements, but to make those settle into the story. You never really want someone to watch a movie and say, “”Wow, those were great special effects.”" You hope that they don’t notice the majority of what you’re actually doing.
Obviously, people are going to notice horse-sized wolves and realize on some level that they’re special effects, but they’re photo-realistic and they should be as expressive as a good actor if possible. So in terms of kind of wrangling that sort of process, yeah, it is something that I’m used to.
When we were on set and talked to the producer, he was like, “”Yeah, we’re still working on some of the designs for the Wolf Pack,”" then I think it was two weeks or three weeks later we saw the first trailer and that great shot [of the wolf] at the end. Is this the quickest you’ve ever worked?
CW: It is. I myself was surprised that Phil Tippett’s company was able to turn out that wolf shot. And I think they kind of did that as a matter of institutional pride that they could. Even that shot that was in the trailer has gone through 20, 30 iterations since then, but they have done a really extraordinary job. Phil Tippett is a complete genius. He was responsible for the walkers in Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back, and he’s kind of one of the legends of the visual effects community. And it has been really amazing what they’ve been able to do on very short notice.
We’re working on kind of breakneck speed, at the same time as really trying to achieve something quite elegant as well. And it’s not just Tippett, it’s also Frantic Studios as well, which is headed up by Mike Fink, who is my old friend who was the visual effects supervisor on Golden Compass, which won the Oscar the year that it came out. So, yeah, we’re working very fast, but we’re also trying to work as beautifully as possible to make the effects kind of settle into the really amazing cinematography that Javier Aguirresarobe brought us. We’re kind of moving at light speed, but still trying to deliver something that’s very elegant and beautiful.
Can you tell us about how far along you are to completion right now?
CW: Well, let me see. I am about two weeks away from showing my director’s cut to the studio. I’ve got some wolves with fur, and some wolves are still invisible [laughs] … basically. Some wolves are still kind of like, you’ve probably all see the ones that are kind of claymation versions. We are still in the late R & D [research and development] phases of what Edward looks like when he’s hit with sunlight, what the vampires look like when they’re hit with sunlight, the diamond effect and also kind of the hallucinatory effect that Bella has when she hears Edward’s voice, and she imagines him.
Alexandre Desplat has just started working on his music for the film. And we are just starting to put together what bands are going to be on the soundtrack, so it’s kind of like keeping 10 plates spinning at once. But it’s all good because we’ve got Alexandre Desplat, who I think is one of the greatest film composers living, and because of the kind of great strength of the franchise that I inherited, a lot of people are really interested in working on the soundtrack, and we’ve got great visual effects people. That just leaves me hopefully not dropping the ball in terms of editing to gather the story.
Sounds like a lot …
CW: It is a lot. Then we’re going to Comic-Con on the 24th [correction: July 23rd] where we’re going to be showing a couple of scenes to whoever can get inside that particular auditorium. It’s a lot to be getting on with. It’s fun at the same time.
Since you mentioned the music, will Alexandre Desplat be using Carter Burwell’s theme at all, or any variation?
CW: Yes, because it’s like any franchise, there are certain things that become familiar. I suspect he’s going to transpose it in some manner, and most of the music will be entirely new to the franchise, because his style is somewhat different from Carter Burwell’s. But I think that there is some value in having some familiar — I guess the word is leitmotifs — running through the entire series.
Were you surprised with the number of acts wanting to be on the sequel? Have you had to turn anybody down?
CW: Fortunately, I’m not at the stage where I have to turn anybody down yet, because everything is still kind of up in the air. But I am surprised and pleased at some of the bands that have said that they’re interested. It’s really kind of great. The criterion will still be what’s right for the movie at that given moment. Thom Yorke is interested. We might, if we’re very lucky, be able to get Kings of Leon to do something. So it’s exciting to be able to have access to this kind of talent.
Can you talk a bit about the mini-movie Face Punch?
CW: The funny thing is, I had to come up with the name of a movie within a movie. And the first one, which I think was named in the book Crossfire, or Crosshairs, or something like that, couldn’t be cleared because it had already been used. And you’d be shocked at the number of stupid action-movie names that have been turned into movies.
I eventually turned in a list of 10 to Summit’s lawyers to see which ones they could go and clear, and Face Punch was one of two out of the 10 that could actually be cleared, and I chose that over Kill Hunt. So now somebody can go and actually make Kill Hunt, but Face Punch is ours. There was a joke between my brother that there should be a movie called Face Punch, which was just about people punching one another in the face, but it’s a kind of movie within a movie. It’s the kind of least romantic thing Bella can think of to go to, because her friend asks her essentially on a date, and she wants nothing romantic to happen at all.
Did Stephenie give you any thoughts on that?
CW: Well she gave me a T-shirt with the Face Punch logo on it. She’s kind of a fan of popular culture as well, the absurdity of popular culture, so I think she’s kind of tickled by the name of the movie.
Will it be on the DVD?
CW: The movie itself? [Laughs]. No. Sadly, there is no Face Punch. Maybe it’ll be something the fans will be left to make. You’ll hear the sounds of Face Punch, which will be a lot of people being shot and hacking each other to bits. There are a few other movies, imaginary movies that are referred to within this movie and the way it satirizes other genre films in a very brief and lighthearted way. This is the example of the stupid-as-possible action movie imaginable.
Was there a pressure for you in taking on a project that has become a huge pop culture phenomenon?
CW: Yeah, definitely there is. I think it’s largely self-imposed because the fans are tremendously supportive and very kind. One thing that’s interesting about the Twilight fans is that they’re not like fanboys in the sense that they start cynical. They actually begin from the point of view of being enthusiastic and wanting it to be good and to be done well.
I do feel a tremendous amount of responsibility, more to the readership than to the movie franchise in way, because I think that’s the core experience you’re trying to get at. The experience of someone reading the books for the first time, or the second or third, fourth time just kind of galloping through it the way that one reads books when you’re younger and you’re completely absorbed in it. To try to provide an experience that kind of compliments that. So that meant kind of keeping very good touch with Stephenie, without trying to second-guess oneself, always thinking about things with a degree of loyalty to the fans.
What was your favorite scene to film?
CW: There were a lot of fun scenes to film, frankly. I really did enjoy the scenes in the Volturi headquarters, although it’s a tremendous logistical headache. In a way, it’s the scenes that you dread the most, because they are so time-consuming and you have to get it just right, which is like the stuff in the Volturi headquarters, or the stuff that was shot in Montepulciano. I suppose that has to be my favorite scene, because it’s kind of the highpoint of the movie, when Bella goes to try to stop Edward from killing himself.
We had 1,000 extras in this medieval town square in a hill town in Tuscany in the most beautiful country on Earth. It’s just such an extraordinary opportunity to get to work there, and it was also kind of surreal because every Twilight fan who could make it from all over continental Europe and further had gotten by hook or by crook to Montepulciano and booked a hotel room, sometimes at the very hotel at which the cast and crew were staying. And so there was this kind of weird Beatle-mania sort of thing going on in this small, beautiful hill town, and so for five days it was kind of this bizarre festival atmosphere. And it really wasn’t bothersome at all. It was incredibly gratifying that all these people would applaud after every single take. Whether or not we had screwed it up. They had no idea because they weren’t close enough to hear, but if you look down any alley down which the camera wasn’t pointing, you’d see hundreds of these young girls who’d come to kind of just touch a piece of what they really loved.
Can you talk about what it was like who had all sort of established these characters, and to come in as a new director. Did you learn anything by talking to anyone else, or did you just sort of go your own way?
CW: I think that I always actually go into any movie knowing that a confident actor is probably going to know as much if not more of what their character is about than I will, even if it isn’t a franchise because that’s their job, but it’s especially the case when they’ve played these characters falling in love. They’ve kind of lived with these characters as well as with the franchise for quite awhile.
My first job was to ask them what they thought of the script and what they thought their characters would be up to and to kind of work along with them. Obviously, it was going to be a different experience for them, it’s going to be a different kind of movie because in a way I’m much more old-fashioned than Catherine Hardwicke in terms of my film taste and in terms of the way the film was going to turn out. So it was sort of a balancing act between respecting everything that they brought to the table knowing the characters as well as they did, and what I thought that I could bring.
And also it was great to be with Taylor Lautner as he went from a character who had three small scenes in the first movie, he only worked three days in the first movie or something like that, to one of the dominant characters in the movie. That was really, really, a really fun process, also because he’s a great guy. All of the kids, as I like to call them, because I’m 39 and that kind of makes me twice their age, were fun to work with and clever and smart and thoughtful about it.
Talking about the proposal scene at the end of the book. Fans are worried that that might have been altered or cut out for the film. Can you address those concerns?
CW: It hasn’t been cut out, I can tell you that much. It’s not going to hit them in exactly the way they think it’s going to, but I will say that, I gotta put it: It’s gonna be quite special. I kind of saved all of my gusto for that moment. I don’t think it’ll disappoint.
The Volturi. Can you talk about your vision for this new group of characters?
CW: No matter how strange one of the characters is in a work of fantasy, I think you kind of have to approach them as people, and so you start to think, well, they’ve been around for 2,000 years. How would they live? How would they interact with one another? The conclusion really was that after 2,000 years, you would probably be more than mildly insane, no matter how cultured or gracious you appear on the surface.
I think that’s what Michael Sheen really managed to convey in portraying Aro, the head of the Volturi, which is that on the surface, he’s terribly gracious, warm, a wonderful host, and yet at the same time he’s absolutely lethal and frightening, and it’s also kind of what Dakota Fanning kind of conveys as Jane. She’s this, in appearance, very innocent-looking, harmless-looking almost kind of a teenager, but she’s absolutely deadly.
The first thing I wanted to do was to put them in a setting that wasn’t sort of Dracula’s castle. Because I feel that’s been done, there have been so many vampire movies and werewolf movies and horror movies where everything is dreary and dark and everything is blue or green, and instead for their headquarters to be surprisingly light and crisp, and then the characters that they play have kind of a tactile reality to them, in spite of how kind of bizarre their situation is. And the whole point is not to leave kind of Forks, Wash. where everything has been very realistic, and then suddenly go to a location that completely throws you out of the movie.
So that’s kind of a difficult balance to achieve. And the set, although it’s huge and grand and magnificent, actually kind of feels like a real place. One always has the option in these kinds of situations of shooting everything in green screen and adding the set later, and I’ve done that before, but in this case, it felt really important to actually build something that surrounded the characters, that they could interact with and that had a real sense of existing in in actual space.
There’s a lot of fan speculation about what the Volturi will actually look like, and from what we’ve read and seen, they’re really off the mark. Will we see the Volturi in any of the upcoming trailers or publicity stills, or will that be top secret until the movie is released?
CW: I think they’ll be some publicity stills coming out about them eventually. I’m not sure whether they’ll be in the trailers or not. I think, essentially, our aim was to make them look like what it says they look like in the book and not to be too fancy about it. It was very important to [Stephenie] that the werewolves transform very quickly and that they look like wolves, that we not have this kind of magical Lon Cheney-esque long transformation, and I think the reason behind that is to make sense of their reality. And I think that that was important to the Volturi as well. That they’re not levitating above the ground. They’re not surrounded by mystical auras, they are creatures who actually exist, and they’re very specific, they’re very stylish, they’re very elegant, they’re very dangerous. But essentially, it’s fairly faithful to the book.
Would you talk about all these rumors or fan speculation or hopes that you might come back to direct Breaking Dawn? And if anything is being talked about now or if there’s even any carryover between Eclipse to Breaking Dawn in terms of planning?
CW: I think it’s really charming that not having seen New Moon, people would be enthusiastic about me wanting to do Breaking Dawn. I think the proof is in the pudding, and they should see New Moon before they decide they want me to have anything else to do with their series. But I would hope to earn that kind of rumor.
I haven’t really spoken with Summit about that. All I knew was that I was going to be too tired to do Eclipse and that it was better that somebody else take it over as well so that they could put their own imprint on it, and also kind of the way the films are being shot would have precluded it anyway, but in terms of the planning, David Slade came in while we were shooting the end of New Moon, and I showed him everything that I could to kind of give him a sense of what direction we were going.
He’s going to do whatever way he wants to because he’s his own guy and will have his own style and particular take on things, but just as I was inheriting certain things from Catherine Hardwicke, he’s going to inherit certain things from me and make a choice as to if he wants to keep them or alter them. Tippett is going to do the wolves for Eclipse, so there’s a continuity in terms of the look of the werewolves and obviously the cast is going to remain the same. So Dakota is Jane and all the Volturi are the same people that we’re familiar with, but other than that, it’s kind of David Slade’s show to run on Eclipse. By the time that comes out they’ll probably want him to do Breaking Dawn, not me.
But for the time being everybody wants you to do it.
CW: It’s kind of like, you know, yes, I have unlimited potential at the moment.
So you would make all the fans happy by saying you would consider.
CW: I would certainly consider it. It’s funny. I spend all my time avoiding the Internet because I don’t want to get — I end up getting into arguments with 15-year-olds in Germany, and it’s kind of like I’ve got to concentrate on making the movie, so I don’t even know the positive rumors out there. I don’t know the negative rumors; I don’t know the positive rumors; I’m just trying to do the best job I can, but it’s really sweet that people would like me to do that. I think that’s very cool.
Do you think that Breaking Dawn would be very doable?
CW: No, it’s a tough one. I mean, yes, it’s doable. Anything is doable. It’s a hard one, because the series gets more and more ambitious as it goes along. Yes, it’s doable; anything is doable.
What’s your drop date that you have to turn the film in to the studio before opening?
CW: Ironically, I think it’s the day before Halloween. I believe October 30 is our drop date. When it’s time to start striking the prints or we’re in big trouble.