Having never read any of the "Twilight" books, it's sort of odd that I find myself in select company. I'm one of the few journalists who has had the opportunity to visit both the sets of "Twilight" and its highly anticipated sequel, "The Twilight Saga: New Moon." And yes, "Twilight" fans, I don't take this responsibility lightly, but boy have times changed.
When I first visited the 'Twilight' set in 2008 while writing my former column for MSN (an offer a number of outlets were dumb to turn down) it was a much less dramatic affair. The trip consisted of just myself and a genre magazine reporter bused out to a small town outside Portland, Oregon where we had as close to a private visit as you can get. The scene I saw being filmed found Bella, after completing an evening literary escapade, being rescued from some thugs by Edward. That evening we talked (or perhaps hung out would be more appropriate) with Robert Pattinson outside his trailer for 45 minutes. As he casually smoked, we chatted about his band, some little movie he'd just done called "Little Ashes" and how he wasn't even sure he wanted to be an actor. Unless this writer ends up becoming the editor of Vanity Fair within the next few years, it's hard to imagine ever getting that much time with the global superstar ever again. And fair warning, that was one of the true disappointments of our journey to Vancouver to explore the "New Moon" set: R-Patz wouldn't chat with us. Yes, sad but true. And as for his lovely co-star Ms. Kristen Stewart? Shoot, she wouldn't talk on the set of the first "Twilight" when she was just that girl from "Into the Wild" (claims of needing to stay in character). Therefore, I didn't expect it this time around and it was a correct assumption. That said, the rest of the visit was pretty magnificent even if you were purposely going in blind like myself.
It was Thursday, May 7 and after arriving at the Vancouver studio for an afternoon "New Moon" visit, we entered the soundstage and immediately found one of the key scenes in the movie unfolding before us. While the interior of the set was completely closed off, the monitors revealed Edward (Pattinson), Bella (Stewart) Jane (Dakota Fanning), Alec ("Birth's" Cameron Bright) and Aro (Michael Sheen) acting out the first meeting between our human hero and those pesky Italian Volturi.
In almost completely black suit, with the only color on him coming froma gold necklace and with slicked back hair, Sheen deliciously pronounces, "Let's see if she's immune to all of us. Shall we Jane?"
A much more detailed description of the Volturi's hall will come in a few paragraphs, but it's not dark and dreary as you'd expect a vampire headquarters to be. As director Chris Weitz noted in an interview earlier this week, "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. 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."
Suddenly, it's time for a break to change camera angles, and much to the excitement of our posse, as they head to their trailers, Stewart and Pattinson walk right by us. They completely ignore us of course, but the moment certainly provided future dinner conversation. (Ah, how nice to be so forgettable after interviewing Stewart three times up close over the past year.)
While we couldn't see him in the set, one of the writers notices Jamie Campbell Bower, best known for his role in "Sweeney Todd," but will further be recognized as Casius for the next two films. Like Sheen, he's decked out in a suave black suit and his face is covered with white makeup to make him paler than he already is. It turns out we'll have a fun conversation with him on our second visit.
The break is a short one, however, and before we know it filming has resumed and once again Aro is the center of attention. Listening in to the video playback we hear the following dialogue as he descends down some steps:
"What a happy surprise! Bella is alive after all. Isn't that wonderful. I love a happy ending. They are so rare."
Pausing, he notes to Edward as he surveys Bella, "Her blood appeals to you so much. It makes me thirsty. How can you stand to be so close to her?"
Edward replies, "It's not without it's difficulties. But now you know everything, so get on with it."
"Fascinating," Aro says, "I'd love to see if you are an exception to my thoughts as well."
A dramatic moment as he tries to read Bella's mind. And then disgust as he realizes he can't. "Interesting. I see nothing."
What happens after that? Sorry fearless readers, another tease for Day Two's report.
The scenes is shot in a number of different ways including close ups on Sheen and a longer shot of almost all the actors on the stage. As we watch the different set ups and Sheen perform the dialogue at least ten different times we notice Ashley Green, who returns as Alice Cullen, sitting at the monitor speaking to none other than the brainchild of this whole world: Stephenie Meyer herself.
Taking a break in the action, we step outside in the drizzle to speak to screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg. The writer is doing amazing double duty writing all three "Twilight" franchise screenplays and expanding he role as a co-executive producer and writer on the acclaimed TV series "Dexter." She admits adapting the second and third books has been a much more relaxing experience.
"I knew the mythology more intimately so I didn’t have to constantly question myself as much," Rosenberg says of writing "New Moon." "And I had a stronger communication with Stephanie to back me up on that. So it was a comfort level that, you know, I just felt like I could take some more risks in some ways and so I think what I learned from 'Twilight' is how to write serious and how to write what the tone is. I just felt comfortable in the world and I feel safer."
To read much more from our 30 minute conversation with Rosenberg, click here.
After a few hours, the production changed sound stages to shoot a completely different scene allowing us to explore the stunning set that was the Volturi Liar.
Completely enclosed and the masterwork of production designer David Brisbin ("The Day the Earth Stood Still"), the Liar looks as though it's made of white marble with an accent of green limestone creating borders through an authentic-looking Italian design. Three chairs sit on the top of a landing a few steps up from the Liar's floor. The middle one is Aro, but the black chairs all have lions heads at the end of each armrest. Additionally, the chair to the far left has a backing designed with an illustration of black vines and the chair to the right of Aro features thorns. There is a domed roof, partially of blue screen and six windows circling above the center of the hall.
The set actually expands with an outer hallway adjoining one half of the exterior of the hall. This walkway is older and uses a bone-colored fake marble or stone instead of the rich white marble of the interior hall. It also features fake statues, greenery and a seductively warmer enviornment before leading to the big brown doors of the Liar itself. There is also what one fellow writer described as the "reception area" from the book before you enter the hallway itself.
After soaking in the impressive set, we walked across the lot to a different stage where Pattinson was shooting a blue screen set up.
As many "Twiilight" fans are already aware, Edward is not in a large portion of the "New Moon" novel. Rosernberg and Weitz have come up a with a device for the popular Pattinson to stay on screen by having Edward's "shadow" or "voice" follow Bella through her own personal journey without her true love. This tracking shot that will composite Edward's image into a previously shot scene where Bella gets on a motorcycle with a stranger.
Pattinson wears a grey suit jacket and slacks with no tie and stands still as the camera slowly backs up to the instructions of both Weitz and the CG supervisor. He doesn't seem to say anything (we are on the other side of the camera track), but he looks crestfallen even at this distance. During a break, Rachelle Lefevre, who plays Victoria, introduces her niece to Pattinson who gives her a warm smile. He then segues to Weitz who is watching the playback of the shot mixed with the Bella image on a monitor.
Almost wishing, Pattinson says, "Hey, it's done! It's a wrap!"
"Nope. Gotta do it again. One more time," Weitz says.
While the takes continue, Lefevre spends some time chatting with us. She's back as Victoria, one of the vampires hunting Bella and looking for revenge after the death of her own beloved James (Cam Gigadent) in the first movie. While Pattinson and Stewart have spent most of their time recently on soundstages like the one we're on today, Lefevre has been almost exclusively in the woods doing stunts in the trees day after day. She admits it's not her favorite place to be.
"It’s scary for me because I don’t like heights so there’s a really interesting thing that happens which is that I am absolutely terrified when I’m up there and then they go okay, we’re rolling. And something happens and you’re like wow, I don’t know where I’m going to bring myself to jump from here—this freefall leap—and then they said “action” and you just do it," Lefevre says. "It’s just one of those things that happens to you, so as me I’m afraid and as Victoria I kind of just do what they tell me to do."
Lefevre was pretty close to finishing her work on "New Moon," but was looking forward to returning in the fall for "Eclipse," even if it meant succumbing to her fate in the book which results in her, um, loosing her head. In fact, it's a fate the fans continue to remind her of time and time again.
"I cannot tell you how many times I’ve signed the page where I lose my head," Lefevre says exhasperated. "'Really? This is the page you want me to sign?' It’s either that or the scene where we get introduced for the 1st time. So I’m always signing copies of 'Twilight' or 'Eclipse.' And at one point there was time when I knew the pages."
To read more of our chat with Lefevre including her recollections of watching Stewart in a dangerous water stunt, click here.
Before we know it, however, our time with Lefevre is up and Weitz is yelling "good. We're good. Let's move on to the next one."
It was only halfway through the cast and crew's day, but that was our cue to take our leave. Until the next day that is.
Look for Day Two's set visit tomorrow with a dramatic clearing of the set, an intense Volturi scene, some newcomers to the franchise and a hello from Stephenie Meyer herself.
To read Day Two of our "New Moon" set visit, click here.
To read Rotten Tomatoes story of the 'New Moon' set visit, click here.
To read Fandango's account of the "New Moon" set visit, click here.
Check out an exclusive chat with Cameron Bright (Alec) on MSN here.
Read an exclusive interview with "New Moon" director Chris Weitz here.
Read an interview with Taylor Lautner from the set of "New Moon" here.
Read an exclusive interview with "Twilight Saga" producer Wyck Godfrey where discusses "New Moon," "Eclipse," and yes, "Breaking Dawn" here.
Check out an exclusive chat with Rachelle Lefevre where she talks about weeks of stuntwork and watching Kristen Stewart in a dangerous water stunt here.