Exclusive Interview: 'Twilight' Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg

Can't get enough on Twilight? Neither can we. So Premiere.com cornered the film's screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg to talk about adapting Twilight, balancing TV and film and women writing in Hollywood.

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in Twilight

Courtesy of Summit Entertainment

Dancer-turned-screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg didn't really know what she was getting into when she took on the adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's best-selling novel Twilight, which hits the big screen Nov. 21. "I have to admit, I hadn't heard about Stephenie Meyer's book," she says sheepishly. But she sure has now. We chatted with the writer about Twi-Hard trauma, sequel talk, balancing film and TV work — she's a co-executive producer on Showtime's hit "Dexter" — and breaking down the doors to Hollywood's old boys' club. Plus, we got the inside scoop on whether she's Team Edward or Team Jacob!

First things first, how did you end up on the Twilight adaptation?
Well, Summit Entertainment and I had done Step Up together, and it was a really cool, collaborative experience. And then they asked me to do "Step Up 2," and I was unavailable, so I thought, "Great, I just destroyed my relationship with a great company." But then, a few months later, Eric Feig at Summit called again and asked, "Well, how do you feel about teens and vampires?" And I was like, "Oh my God, I love teens and vampires!" It just so happens that I was a huge, huge fan of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." I would go as far as to say it's one of the all time greatest series ever on TV. Plus, it's highly likely that I've seen every movie featuring a vampire in it. Okay, maybe not every single one, but you know what I mean. So I was really excited to get that call. But I have to admit, I hadn't heard about Stephenie Meyer's book before Summit approached me. In fact, when I got the call, I was at a friend's house. And when I asked my friend, "Have you ever heard of a book called Twilight?" my friend, like, jumped up and pulled it off his bookshelf. So that was convenient. So I sat down and read it immediately. And I was hooked. Stephenie came along and takes on this overused genre and completely reinvents it with a wonderful fresh new mythology. How lucky am I that I got to play in her world?

So did you end up reading the books before you met with Summit about the adaptation?
I did not read any of the books besides Twilight itself, because the adaptation was supposed to be of the first book. In fact, I didn't read them until I was done with the script because I wanted to approach the screenplay for Twilight as any reader or audience member would. I wanted to stay true to the first book; I didn't want to leak what happens next. For example, Jacob in the first book is very different from Jacob in New Moon or the other books, so I wanted the movie version of Twilight to be a complete story on its own. But I was nervous going into that first meeting because the director, Catherine Hardwicke, was going to be there and I'm a big fan. But I was confident because my take was that it was a great book and that we should stick to the book as our bible. And I think that's what they were hoping for because there was actually an earlier version at Paramount that they threw out. I remember Stephenie saying it was a great script; it just had nothing to do with the book. And with a project like this, you can't really veer away from the book. So my pitch was to stay close to the book but really shape it into a movie.

So how did you really shape it into a movie?
Well, in the book there's a lot of rich internal dialogue, [but] it's really in Bella's head. It's hard to do that in a movie. And I wanted the movie to be from Bella's perspective, but at first I really struggled with how to get into her head without using voiceover. A lot of it meant making her have conversations with others in which that internal dialogue could be externalized. It was really about unfolding how she figures out that Edward is a vampire. Who could she have that conversation with? I think I was pretty successful in doing that.

When did the voiceover come into play?
You know, it was Catherine that suggested I use voiceover. Because, you know, for screenwriters, they always say voiceover is a big no-no, although we do use a lot of voiceover on "Dexter." But voiceover, anywhere, is really hard to write. But it was Catherine who said, "I think you should use it." So we started using it very sparingly, because in the movie you really need to know what is going on inside her head and bring the audience along with her.

Also, with a script, you also need to keep moving really fast and have conflict in every scene, so it ended up being a lot of condensing of the novel. So when I pitched, I said, "Here's what we condense, and here's what we pull out to structure the story on." And also, you don't really see James and the other villains until to the last quarter of the book, which really won't work for a movie. You need that ominous tension right off the bat. We needed to see them and that impending danger from the start. And so I had to create back story for them, what they were up to, to flesh them out a bit as characters.

How much collaboration with Stephenie did you have during the writing process?
Really, none at all, and in a way, every word. I had very little contact with Stephenie during the adaptation process because I had to bring my own vision to it, to really see it as a movie that exists separately from the book. But obviously, every word I wrote came directly from her imagination. So though we had very little contact, we danced together on the page. The one thing we really did discuss during my writing process was the setting.

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