Exclusive: 'The Twilight Saga: New Moon' Director Chris Weitz reveals all
The filmmaker discusses the Volturi, the soundtrack and how he approached the massive franchise
When HitFix, along with a few other outlets, had the opportunity to visit the set for the highly-anticipated "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" this past may, one important crew member we didn't have the chance to talk to was the director, Chris Weitz.
Having spoken with the always kind and professional Weitz about his previous film "The Golden Compass" and having worked with him way back when on the online campaign for "Down to Earth," I knew he was seriously busy if he couldn't stop to chat. And considering how frantic the shooting schedule for "New Moon" was, we took the production at their word that he'd speak to us down the road. This week, that promise came to fruition and Weitz was relaxed and open as he took a break from editing the "Twilight" sequel. The entire transcript of the interview is below, but here are some newsworthy items he revealed.
*Even Weitz was surprised with how quickly Phil Tippet's company turned around the Jacob wolf shot at the end of the first teaser trailer. The shot has gone through numerous iterations and is much more photorealistic than that version.
*He'll be submitting a director's cut of the film to Summit within the next two weeks.
*Alexandre Desplat is currently working on the movie's score. It may include hints at Carter Burwell's original "Twilight" theme, but will sound different.
*Thom Yorke and Kings of Leon are interested in contributing to the film's soundtrack.
*A couple of new scenes from the film will be shown during the "New Moon" Comic-Con panel on Thursday, July 23.
*The movie within a movie, "Facepunch," will only be heard -- not seen.
*Shooting in Italy with all of the fans that trekked across Europe to see the production was like Beatlemania.
*His vision of the Volturi is very much like the book and unlike a number of fan inspirations that have hit the web. He also sees them as having gone slightly insane after living for 2,000 years.
*He's met with David Slade and expects the filmmaker's vision for "Eclipse" to be different than what he's doing with "New Moon," but with the same actors and visual effects team.
*He's flattered that fans want him to direct "Breaking Dawn" without seeing "New Moon," but thinks the fans will want Slade to do it by the time "Eclipse" comes out.
*Weitz needs to turn the film in by Oct. 30 to strike prints or if not, they are in "big trouble" to make the release date.
Look for Day One of HitFix's journey to "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" set tomorrow and Day Two on Saturday. Additional interviews with cast members will also be posted tomorrow morning.
Thank you for being interested or pretending to be at least.
Q: The day we were on set you shooting in the headquarters of the Italian vampires.
Yes, that's a gigantic sets.
Q: Just so you know, I purposely don't read the books because I want to enjoy the franchise as a moviegoer...
Many people purposely don't read the books. They are called men. (Laughs.)
Q: Can you talk about that then? What was your interest in coming on board a franchise that predominately been more popular with women then men?
Actually, in that regard my brother and I often end up doing movies whose audiences are predominantly women or tipping point of success relies on a female audience. Even 'American Pie.' I think the thing that distinguishes it more than the gross-out humor, because there is a lot of that going on. The way we tooled it was so that girls could be interested in it as well. And, in as much as the 'Twilight' series has a great appeal to women, I think it really concentrates on the emotions of the central character and romance and I think that unfortunately that the studio system has not been very good at getting boys to be interested in. They think and maybe incorrectly, that the male gender is interested in just thing blowing up. And I don't think that's true. I certainly didn't make this movie towards only girls or women being interested in seeing it. There is a lot for diverse audiences including older audiences than the first one drew. Really, we are drawn to the cast. I thought the central cast were great and I wanted to work with them and it also employed some skills that I picked up along the way including working with special effects and working with younger actors and working on emotionally structured stories.
Q: 'Twilight' is very emotional at its core, but it also has a lot of CG elements. Would you say you are in a comfort zone? Is this familiar ground?
Right, I'm never really in a comfort zone making a movie which is a discomfort zone, because you're always working under pressured circumstances, because you don't have an unlimited amount of time or money to do these things. There were a number of things I was familiar with -- familiar enough so that I could do what I think is really important which is not to foreground the special effects for the action elements, but to make those kind of settle into the story. You never really want someone to watch a movie and go, 'Wow, those were great special effects.' You hope they won't notice the majority of what you are doing. Obviously, people are going to notice horse-sized wolves and realize on some level they are special effects, but they are photorealistic and they should be as expressive as a good actor if possible. So, in terms of kind of wrangling that sort of process it is something I am used to.
Q: In terms of the effects, I think everyone on this call was probably stunned after we'd been on set and we'd talked to the producer and he was like 'We're still working on some of the designs for the wolfpack' and I think it was like two or three weeks later we saw the first trailer and that great shot at the end. Have you ever worked in such a quick process from beginning to end?
It is. I myself was surprised Phil Tippet'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 and Phil Tippet is a complete genius. He's responsible for the walkers in 'Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back' and he's kind of one of the legends of the visual effects community and it pretty amazing what they have been able to do on such short notice. We are working at kind of breakneck speed at the same time as trying to achieve something really quite elegant as well. It's not just Tippet, it's Frantic/CBS (LOOK UP) 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 it came out. So, yeah, working very fast, but we're also trying to work as beautifully as possible to make these effect kind of settle into the amazing cinematography that Javier Aguirresarobe brought us. We are kind of moving at light speed,but trying to deliver something that's really elegant and beautiful.
Q: Just to follow that up, can you tell us how far along you are to completion right now?
I am about two weeks away from showing the director's cut to the studio. I've got some wolves with fur. Some wolves are still invisible basically and some wolves are like -- you've all probably seen the claymation versions. We are still in the light RD phases of what Edward looks like when he's hit -- what the vampires look like when he's hit with light and the diamond effect. Also, the kind of hallucinatory effect Bella has when she hears Edward's voice and she imagines him there. And then we are Alexandre Desplat has just started working on his music for the film. And we are just starting to put together what acts will be on the soundtrack, so it's kind of like keeping ten plates spinning at once, but it's all good because we've got Alexander Desplat who I think is one of the greatest film composers living and because of the kind of the strength of the franchise that I inherited, a lot of bands are really interested in working on the soundtrack and we got visual effects people. And that just leaves me hopefully not dropping the ball in terms of editing together the story.
Q: Sounds like a lot.
It is a lot, and with Comic-Con on the 24th were we are going to show a couple of scenes to whoever can get in that auditorium. And yeah, it's a lot to be getting on with, but it's fun at the same time.
Q: In regards to the music, will Alexander Desplat be using Carter Burwell's theme at all?
I think, y'know, yes, because like any franchise there are certain themes 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 there is some value to having a familiar -- I believe the words are 'light motifs' -- running through the entire series.
Q: Really quickly on the music. The first movie probably made Paramore as a band. Were you surprised by the number of acts wanting to be on the sequel and have you had to turn anybody down?
Well, 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 by some of the bands that have said they are interested. It's kind of great. The criteria will still be what's right for the movie at that given moment, but y'know, Thom Yorke is interested. We might, if we're very lucky, get Kings of Leon to do something. So, it's exciting to have access to this kind of talent.
Q: Can you talk about the mini-movie 'Facepunch' that plays on the three-way date?
Yeah, well, actually nobody is starring in that. The funny thing is I had to come up wit h the name of the movie, within the movie. In the first one I think was named in the book -- I think it's '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. So, I eventually turned in a list of ten to Summit's lawyers and they had to see which ones they could go and clear. "Facepunch" was actually one of two of ten they cleared. And I chose that over "Kill Hunt." I can actually go and make 'Kill Hunt'.' And it was always the joke between me and my brother that there should be a movie called 'Facepunch' which is just about people punching each other in the face. It's kind of a movie within the movie. It's the least romantic thing Bella can go to because her friend essentially asks her on a date and she wants nothing romantic to happen at all.
Q: Did Stephenie give you any thoughts on that?
Well, she gave me a T-shirt with the 'Facepunch' logo on it. She's kind of a fan of popular culture as well or the absurdity of popular culture, so I think she was kind of tickled by the name of the movie.
Q: Will it be on the DVD?
The movie itself? (Laughs.) Sadly, there is no 'Facepunch' although maybe that's something the fans should be left to make. You'll hear the sounds of 'Facepunch' which will be a lot of people being shot and hacking each other to bits. In a way there are a few other imaginary movies that are referred to within this movie in the way that is satirizes other genre films in a very brief and lighthearted way. And this is the example of the stupidest possible action movie imaginable.
Q: Chris, there is a Rotten Tomatoes mention in the book for this scene. Do you know if it stayed in the movie?
I'm afraid it didn't. I don't think the reason would be because of Rotten Tomatoes, but Summit Entertainment got in trouble for using some cards from a casino in the first movie and they are very careful about not quoting any existing property. Probably if we had bothered to go and ask you guys would have said, 'Yeah, that's really cool.' And some lawyer would have said, 'Oh, it doesn't matter' and all that sort of stuff. So, I'm afraid not. It might have been because of the Tomatometer response to 'Golden Compass' as well. (Laughs.) It lowered my overall Tomatometer score.
Q: Was there a lot of pressure in taking on a project that's become a huge cultural phenomenon?
Yeah, definitely there is. It's largely self-imposed because the fans are tremendously supportive and very kind. One of the things thats interesting about the 'Twilight' fans is that they are not like fans boys who start cynical. They actually begin from the point-of-view of being enthusiastic and wanting things to be good and done well. I do feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to the readership than to the movie franchise in a way, because I think that's the core experience you are trying to get at. Someone reading the books for the first time, but just galloping through it for the first time when one reads books when you're younger and you are completely absorbed in it. To try and provide an experience that kind of compliments that. That means keeping in very good touch with Stephenie without trying to second guess ones self. Thinking about things to a degree of loyalty to the fans.
Q: What was your favorite scene to shoot?
There were a lot of fun scenes to film frankly. I really did enjoy the sequence 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, that has to be my favorite sequence because it is kind of the high point of the movie when Bella goes to try and stop Edward from killing himself. We had 1,000 extras in this medieval town square in this little town in Tuscany in the most beautiful country on earth and it's just an extraordinary opportunity to work there. It was also kind of surreal, because every 'Twilight' fan could make it from all over continental Europe and even further and had gotten by hook or by crook to Montepulciano, [Italy] and booked a hotel room. Sometimes in the very hotel room in which the cast and crew were staying. So, there was this weird Beatlemania thing sort of going on in this very small, beautiful hill town. So, for five days it was this bizarre festival atmosphere. And it really wasn't bothersome at all. It was incredible gratifying that all these people would applaud after every take whether or not we'd screwed it up. They had no idea because they weren't close enough to hear. If you looked down any alley in which the camera wasn't pointing you'd see hundreds of these young girls who had come to touch a piece of what they really loved.
Q: Can you talk about what it was like to work with the cast after they'd already played these parts before?
Well I always go into any movie that a competent actor is going to know about as much or more about what their character is about than I will even if it isn't a franchise, because that's their job. But that's especially the case when they have already played these characters falling in love. They have kind of lived with the characters and the franchise for quite awhile. I'm mean you'd have to ask the actors if what I say is true, but my first job is to talk to them and listen to them about what they thought about 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 was going to be a different kind of movie, because in a way I'm a lot more old fashioned than Catherine Hardwicke in terms of my film tastes and in terms of the way the film was going to turn out. So, it was sort of just a balancing act between respecting everything they brought to the table and the characters and what they did and what I thought I could bring. Also, it was kind of great to be with Taylor as he went from a character that had three small scenes in the first movie and only worked three days on the first movie or something to one of the dominant characters in the movie. That was a really fun process because he's a really great guy. Actually, all of the kids as I like to call them because I'm 39 and that sort of makes me twice their age were fun to work with and clever and smart and thoughtful about it.
Q: Can you tell us about the proposal scene at the end of the book? Fans are worried that it's either been altered or cut out of the film. Can you address those concerns?
They haven't been cut out. I can tell you that much. It's not going to hit them the exact way they think it's going to, but I will say -- how can I put it? It's going to be quite special. I could have saved all of my gusto for that moment. I don't think it will disappoint.
Q: Can you tell us about your vision for the Volturi?
No matter how strange one of the characters is in a work of fantasy, I think you have to approach them as people and then so you start to think, 'Oh they've been around for 2,000 years. How would they interact with one another?' The conclusion was that after 2,000 years you'd probably be more than mildly insane. No matter how cultured or gracious you appear on the surface. And I think that's what Michael Sheen managed to portray in portraying Aro, the head of the Volturi, in that on the surface he's terribly gracious, warm, a wonderful host and at the same time he's absolutely lethal and frightening. It's also what Dakota [Fanning] conveys as Jane. She's sort of this in appearance innocent looking, harmless looking almost teenager, but she's absolutely deadly. The first thing I wanted to do was put them in a setting that wasn't Dracula's castle. I feel like that's been done. There have been so many vampire movies and werewolf movies and horror movies where everything has been dark and dreary and everything is blue or green or something like that. Instead, their headquarters is surprisingly light and crisp. And the characters that they play have a kind of a tactile reality to them in spite of how bizarre their situation is really. The whole point is not to leave kind of Forks, Washington where everything has really been quite realistic and then suddenly go to a location that completely throws you out of the movie. So, that's the 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 kind of situations of shooting everything in green screen and adding everything later. 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 had a real sense of existing in a real space.
Q: There is a lot of fan speculation about what the Volturi will actually look like and from what I've read or seen from photoshop manipulations people have done, they are really off the mark. Curious, will we see the Volturi in any of the upcoming trailer or publicity stills or is that secret until the movie comes out?
I think there will be some publicity stills about them coming out eventually and I'm not sure whether they will be in the trailers or not. I think essentially our aim was to make them look like what they look like in the book and not to be too fancy. I think that y'know it was very important to [Stephenie] that the werewolves transform very quickly, they look like wolves and we not have this kind of magical Lon Chaney-esque long transformations and I think the reason behind that is to give a sense of their reality. I think that was important to the Volturi as well. They are not levitating off the ground, they are not surrounded by mystical auroras, they are creatures that actually exist and they are very specific. They are very stylish, they are very elegant, they are very dangerous, but essentially it's very faithful to the book.
Q: Would you talk about these rumors or fan speculation or hopes that you might come back to direct 'Breaking Dawn'? And is there any carryover between 'New Moon,' 'Eclipse' and 'Breaking Dawn' in terms of planning?
Let me see, I think it's really charming that having not seen 'New Moon' people would be enthusiastic about me wanting to do 'Breaking Dawn.' That's really -- y'know I think the proof is in the pudding and they should see it before they decide there is anything else they want me to do. But I would hope to earn that kind of rumor. We haven't really spoken with Summit about that. All I knew is that I would be too tired to do 'Eclipse' and that somebody else take it over as well so that they could put their own imprint on it. Also, the way the films are being shot would have precluded it anyway. In terms of the planning. David Slade came in while we were still shooting 'New Moon' and I showed him everything I could to sort of give him a sense of what direction we were going. He is going to take it into 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 the choice whether he's going to keep them or alter them. So, we have had discussions about -- Tippet is going to do the wolves for 'Eclipse' so there is a continuity for the look of the werewolves and obviously the cast is going to remain the same. Dakota is Jane and all the Volturi are the same people who you are familiar with, but other than that it's sort of David Slade's show to run on 'Eclipse' and by the time that comes out they will probably want him to do 'Breaking Dawn,' not me. I would certainly consider it, but it's funny. I find all my time avoiding the internet, because I end up getting into arguments with 15-year-olds in Germany and I have 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.
Q: Do you think 'Breaking Dawn' would be very doable?
No, it a tough one. I mean, yes it's doable. Anything is doable, but it's a hard one, because the series gets more and more ambitious as it goes along. Yes, it's doable. Anything is doable.
Q: Chris, real quick, what's your drop dead due date that you have to turn the film in to make the release date?
Ironically, I think it's the day before Halloween. I believe Oct. 30 is our drop dead date. It's our time to start striking the prints or we're in big trouble.
"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" opens nationwide on Nov. 20.
Read an exclusive interview with "Twilight Saga" producer Wyck Godfrey where discusses "New Moon," "Eclipse," and yes, "Breaking Dawn" here.
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