Interview: 'Twilight' scribe Melissa Rosenberg talks 'Breaking Dawn' and ABC's 'Red Widow'
How does the screenwriter expect viewers to respond to a key new scene?
It's been a busy couple weeks of "Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2" content on this blog.
I've posted video interviews with stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner and Elizabeth Reaser & Nikki Reed and Kellan Lutz & Jackson Rathbone and Michael Sheen, as well as director Bill Condon.
Closing the week, on the day of the film's premiere, my last interview is with Melissa Rosenberg, the franchise's lone screenwriter dating back to "Twilight" in 2008.
Hardly an unknown when she landed the "Twilight" gig, Rosenberg's credits including "Birds of Prey" and "The O.C." on the small screen, as well as a little dance film called "Step Up." Still, Rosenberg has achieved a new level of prominence for transferring Bella and Edward and Jacob from Stephenie's Meyer's books to blockbuster effect.
And with that new level of prominence has come a new level of scrutiny, as Rosenberg has felt the love of "Twilight" fans when she perfectly captured Meyer's key moments and the outrage when she changed punctuation or a hair style. With "Breaking Dawn - Part 2," she's ready for both reactions, especially for a key late scene that may surprise even devoted readers.
That prominence has also led to more big-ticket writing gigs, including ABC's midseason drama "Red Widow," starring Radha Mitchell.
In this interview, Rosenberg discusses her connection to the "Twilight" franchise after scripting five films, as well as her expectations for audience reactions to The Scene We Can't Discuss in Detail.
We also talked a bit about "Red Widow," which will bring a very cable sensibility to wherever ABC decides to slate it this spring.
Click through for the full Q&A.
HitFix: At the press conference for the movie, Stephenie Meyer was talking about the emotional ownership she feels for these characters and this world. Your investment is obviously different, but after five movies and and all of these years invested, what is your sense of ownership or proprietary feeling for this franchise?
Melissa Rosenberg: You know, honestly I feel like we're all just guests in Stephenie's world, that applies to virtually everyone. This world is so definitively hers and I'm genuinely just feeling glad to be a part of it and along for the ride. I take great pride and have a deep commitment to these stories, but I can't claim ownership. In the moment when I'm writing it, it's entirely mine, you know? It's entirely mine and it has to be, but then it has to go back out into the world.
HitFix: Has that changed over the years? Obviously there could have been a different writer coming in for each movie and it just could have passed from hand to hand, but it's been you for the whole time...
Melissa Rosenberg: Well, because it was such a great creative collaboration -- not only with Stephenie, but with the studio and the producers -- it just was sorta a natural to keep going. It's like we found our groove and the main thing is that we all wanted to tell the same story, we wanted to tell the story of the book. Any time you bring in a new element, you start all over again. We had really just begun our relationship, really, after the first movie and it was kinda like, "Let's just keep going with this. This is working really well." So I was super-pleased to be part of it.
HitFix: As you say, over the years you've been writing to the books and writing to that story, but as the films have progressed, have you been writing more to the actors?
Melissa Rosenberg: Absolutely. The characters change as the actors embody them. The actors inform the characters and the characters inform me and I inform the actors and visa versa. It becomes a very interwoven exchange between everyone. I just get better at writing for them and I get how they might be in that scenario and we've all kinda grown up with this project.
HitFix: How has that applied to the three leads in particular?
Melissa Rosenberg: As they grow and feel comfort in these characters, they know the characters so well. It's really about all finding the same page, about all coming together to tell the same story. You're putting together hundreds of disparate elements into one film and you see complete films. Everyone's gonna look at the first two or the first three or four made and kinda go, "Oh. OK. I get the rhythm of this. I get the storytelling and how that evolves." It just becomes a smoother process and a more seamless process and better storytelling all around.
HitFix: Do you ever look back at the first movie and play the "What if?" or "This is how I would write this differently" game?
Melissa Rosenberg: Oh sure. Absolutely. Absolutely. I think I would probably do some very different things in the first movie, now. I would be able to find other things in it.
HitFix: For example...
Melissa Rosenberg: I think I would probably find some richer moments, other ways to dramatize certain things. One of the things we ran into on the first movie is there's this entire middle section in the book where Bella has just found out that Edward's a vampire and there's pages and pages and chapters of kinda her finding out what a vampire is and what that means and with the first movie, I was coming up with all of these different scenarios, things that they could be doing while she's learning this. They involved all sorts of wild stunts and things that are very, very expensive to do and ultimately we can't do them and it ends up being two people sitting there talking, which for me is less interesting and it doesn't tell the story as well. If you're doing something visual, something physical, you have to say less because you're seeing it. I would have liked to have found another way of doing that. If we couldn't afford it, "OK. There's gotta be another way other than two people sitting a rock talking." There's that kinda thing that in retrospect you go, "Oh, I could have anticipated that and come up with something else."
HitFix: Have there been changes over the years in that "Can we afford it?" department? Were there limitations and restrictions that you had to write around in those first films that you don't have to anymore?
Melissa Rosenberg: Well, we're always doing these movies for a price. Now, the price has gone up and up over the course. We had the smallest budget for the first movie, so you'll see definitely that the special effects have improved and stunts and all of that, there's more money to do all of that. But the writing of it, I think I've just gotten better. I can't think of any more specifics about things that I've sorta dialed back in order not to do a major stunt. For instance, when I was doing the honeymoon for "Breaking Dawn 1" and as I was writing, I'm going, "What are they doing on this island? What's going to be the montage while Edward's holding out sex on Bella and she's trying to seduce him?" And I started coming up with these different scenarios and I'm like, "OK, what if they climb up a cliff and then he dives off with her," realizing that that was thousands of dollars just to do that one special effect and I figured they'd come back to me and say, "Oh, we can't do that." They didn't come back to me. They actually did it. I'm like, "OK. Wow. That's pretty good." So it's always surprising what can and can't be done.
HitFix: This film doesn't lack for drama, but we've moved beyond the teen angst that has driven the story for so long. I know you were writing it in tandem with the first part, but was there a sense of liberation to getting past the love triangles, to getting past the celibacy, to just get to have fun with it to some degree?
Melissa Rosenberg: It's not so much getting past the teen romance of it as it is arriving at Bella's empowerment as a vampire. That's fun. A lot of humor comes out of that. Seeing her kick Jacob's ass and really beginning to embody... Those are just fun, liberating moments. In fact, it becomes more of a storytelling challenge when her and Edward are just kinda happy together. Conflict is drama. If you have no conflict, it's just not as interesting. So the fact that they were actually all happy together was a challenge, but we got to make up for it by having fun with Bella's new vampire-ness.
HitFix: Much of the discussion as the movie is released and after it's released is sure to be about The Scene We Can't Discuss and the changes from the book. How much trepidation and how much excitement are you feeling as you await reactions to that?
Melissa Rosenberg: After being on these films for five years, I anticipate fans being both ecstatic and furious, because they're ecstatic and furious about virtually every scene in every movie for the past five years. We have the great good fortune to have an extremely passionate fanbase. That comes with the flipside, which is that they're a very passionate fanbase and not particularly forgiving of anything that's different from the books. But I would certainly say that there's nothing in this movie that isn't in the book, interestingly.
These books are written all from Bella's point of view. [Take] the scene where Jacob goes to tell Charlie he's a werewolf. In the book, Jacob comes to Bella and says, "Hey, Bella I told your dad I'm a werewolf." Stephenie can't see that scene, she can't write that scene because it's from Bella's point of view. She can hear about it, but you don't actually get to see the scene. I get to go and do the scene. And this book is just rife with that -- Going to collect all the vampires and then the end is an extension of that as well. It's in the books, but she can't tell it because it's not Bella's point of view. In the movie, we get to break that point of view and it's great fun for me as a write to get to go and do those scenes and Stephenie was a very close collaborator on all of that.
HitFix: Seeing the ways fans have reacted to other, seemingly smaller, changes, if you had to guess the percentage of outrage to happiness...
Melissa Rosenberg: [Laughing] I think it's going to be 50-50. It's always kinda 50-50. And even the outraged ones still go and see the movie three times, just to see how outraged they can be.
HitFix: Eventually -- and by "eventually" I mean "any second" -- they're going to be looking for ways to reboot, extend, however-you-want-to-put-it this franchise. Would you want to be involved with that?
Melissa Rosenberg: Oh, I'd be involved with anything Stephenie did. It's entirely up to Stephenie. All of it. Any aspect of it is up to her. And if she wants to move forward on something, I'd be delighted to participate in any way she wanted me to.
HitFix: You reckon the Powers That Be will be able to be that respectful of Stephenie?
Melissa Rosenberg: Honestly, they have no choice. They don't own it.
HitFix: Ah. I wasn't sure if she had full control going forward, or only partial control.
Melissa Rosenberg: Full control. Absolutely. She's had full control pretty much every step of the way. When she says she had ownership of the characters, that's literal.
HitFix: You were a very well-established TV writer when this franchise began. Have you seen the career changes that you expected to and hoped to see in terms of your professional options going forward?
Melissa Rosenberg: Honestly, I could not have anticipated what an extraordinary change it's made in my professional career. I dream really big, but this is beyond even what I had fathomed. This has provided me with so much opportunity moving forward. My production company, Tall Girls Productions, just signed an overall deal with ABC, we're going to still be housed there. I have a series for ABC that's airing at midseason, called "Red Widow," which is based on a Dutch format. And the sort of creative control I'm allowed is quite extraordinary and lovely, because I just thrive with control. Gimme control and I'm happy.
HitFix: OK. So I liked the pilot for "Red Widow"...
Melissa Rosenberg: Oh you saw it? Fantastic!
HitFix: Yup. I write a lot about TV, too! But my impression of the pilot was that it felt very cable-y. Is that a negative from your point of view? Or do those distinctions really not matter in the way they might have in the past?
Melissa Rosenberg: The fact that it feels cable-y is why I came on board to do it. When ABC first showed me the Dutch series, I saw it and I went like, "That's not a network show. That's a cable." But Paul Lee, who's the head of ABC, he was so enthusiastic about this project. He talks about wanting to bridge the gap between network and cable and this is very much *that*. It has that kind of feel. I'm hoping that ABC audiences will embrace it. There's so much about it that is very, very classic ABC, very traditional ABC -- It's still a female lead fighting for her family and that sort of empowerment -- but it's also very edgy in its storytelling, extremely edgy. The only thing that's missing from it that would make it cable is the swearing and more blood and maybe some more physical violence. But what the storytelling actually is is quite edgy. I'm hoping the audiences embrace it. I hope to tell these stories for another five or seven years.
HitFix: How are you approaching the first season in terms of what the arc is and how individual episodes will play?
Melissa Rosenberg: That was the challenge as soon as we got the pickup, was "What now?" The Dutch series provides the stepping stones to telling the story, of where the stories go, but the Dutch series was eight episodes and I used up three of them in the pilot. European pacing versus American pacing are very different obviously. So every episode was a sorta new discovery for our lead character, played by Radha Mitchell. Marta is, it's the journey of her being pushed from this moral woman in a very immoral world having to make some very challenging decisions. I mean, she's importing drugs in the first three episodes. This is a mother of three, a soccer mom. So it just becomes a really fascinating character and then the relationship just continues on, her relationship with [Goran Visnjic's] Schiller.
HitFix: And, again, I can completely imagine how this sort of character would play on Showtime or FX or on HBO, but I do wonder how she plays out on ABC. Does ABC put any restrictions on you regarding the things a heroine can do?
Melissa Rosenberg: No. I can be really honest here. No. None whatsoever. Every time I think, "They'll never get away with this" it's like, nope, "Absolutely." I swear to God, I was on "Dexter" for years and I had absolutely as much free rein as I have now now. In fact, there's been a couple times where I'm like, "We've dialed this back because so-and-so" and they're like, "No! Go for it!" So they're really embracing the edge of the storytelling. I'm telling you, this is why I signed an overall deal with them, because the relationship has been that gratifying.
HitFix: I know what the holes in ABC's schedule sorta look like. Are you hearing anything about a premiere? Do you have anywhere you think you'd fit?
Melissa Rosenberg: There are various spots. I know "Private Practice" is ending Tuesday at 10 p.m. and we're definitely a 10 p.m. show, so it'll be one of those slots and I know that one is kinda hanging out there open, but there are a few others.
"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2" is now in theaters.