IAR Press Conference Coverage: 'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1'

Thursday, 17 November 2011 13:36 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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IAR Press Conference Coverage: 'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1'

In 2005, author Stephenie Meyer's first novel kicked off what would become a massive pop-cultural sensation across multiple media with a simple story aimed squarely at young adult readers.  Meyer played with erotic vampire tropes that go back further than Bram Stoker's Dracula, upending them for a tale of quasi-symbolic sexual repression and idealized, melodramatic love that allowed the love story of vampiric Edward Cullen and human Bella Swan to become a publishing sensation well beyond its original audience.

By the time Twilight arrived in theaters in 2008, fans were already displaying an unusual fervor for the material, and the film series from Summit Entertainment caused both the breadth of the audience and its passion to increase exponentially.  Since that first film became a surprise hit, its sequels, New Moon and Eclipse have arrived in consecutive years and the franchise has grossed over $1.8 billion dollars globally, making international superstars out of the young cast pretty much overnight.  The teenage romance became a commercial juggernaut, one that has proven polarizing even as it pervades the culture and rakes in massive amounts of money.

Now, the penultimate installment of the franchise, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1, is about to debut, and fans are characteristically ecstatic.  The new film, adapting roughly half of the final novel in the series by Meyer, is directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter Bill Condon, and takes the story in both more outrageous and more mature directions, as Bella and Edward finally get hitched, forcing them deal with the unforeseen consequences of their union, including a vampiric pregnancy and some very angry werewolves.  At the Los Angeles press day for Breaking Dawn - Part 1, Myer and Condon were present to discuss this latest entry in the series, as were stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner.  Read on to discover their thoughts on this sequel, shooting two movies simultaneously, vampire birthing, imprinting on newborns, and the impending end of the series.

While Melissa Rosenberg has served as the franchise's screenwriter, adapting all of the novels, each entry in the cinematic series has been handled by a different director.  Catherine Harwicke was first, followed by Chris Weitz on the second film and David Slade on the third.  Each contributing something different and also maintained a consistent style, but for the two-part Breaking Dawn, Summit knew that very particular skill set would be needed in order handle the story's emotionally tricky turns.

Bill Condon, whose previous director credits include Kinsey, Dreamgirls, and Gods and Monsters seems at first like an improbable choice, but he was very much aware of the pressures involved in the project, and implied that his challenges were largely the same as those facing his predecessors, saying,  "I think the biggest challenge is that these books are so beloved by so many people, that you want to make sure that you, obviously it is your take on the material, but that it doesn’t betray what people’s expectations are and yet still becomes a fully cinematic experience. I think that is the challenge with all of them."

"Having Stephenie around was incredible," he said of the author, who was uncommonly involved in the filmmaking process. "Before she was there in prep week, we would be frantically going to Twilight Lexicon and other sites because they had a better timeline than anybody else. She, really, any question you had about behavior, or certainly about back story any good actor relies on, she was there to help us out so that was great."

Myer was on set for the filming of one of the most pivotal sequences in the entire series: the marriage of Bella and Edward, an event that has undoubtedly played out in fans' imaginations innumerable times.  "The wedding scene was really emotional," Myer said. "I was somewhat prepared because I had been there for Kristen [Stewart]’s dress fitting. When she came out in the wedding dress there was just that moment where all of us got emotional, which I wasn’t expecting. The dress was stunning. Being at the wedding, it was cold actually and I did not want to be on camera. But Bill [Condon] was like, 'Oh come on, it’ll be great.' He talked me into it and at least I got to hang out with these two. It was fantastic to have the whole group there at the wedding."

The originator of the material was just one several indispensable resources for Condon on the project.  The core trio of actors, Stewart, Pattinson, and Lautner, provided essential insights into all their characters.  "The first people who arrived were Kristen, Rob and Taylor," Condon explained.  "And we spent two weeks sitting in a room like this, and we just talked through the script, every page of the script. I learned a tremendous amount. I think it is true on any movie. It has been true with movies I have written. At a certain point when an actor starts to embody a role they know it better than you ever will, and certainly that was true here."

"For example, I met with Rob a couple of months before we started," he continued. "And we were just having a general talk about everything about Twilight. He mentioned something that I had not known before is that one thing had been playing through out those first three movies was a man who was filled with more than regret, almost a self loathing, because of an episode where he had gone and broken away from the Cullen family, when he was very young, this was in his early thirties in Chicago, and decided to explore what it would be like to kill human beings. He finally went back, and he realized that he had turned into a monster. It was a guilt that weighed on him. He had been playing that across three movies, but it was barley mentioned in those movies. It is mentioned briefly in the novels, but there is an unpublished novel, Midnight Sun, which tells a story form Edward’s point of view, where it is really explored."

"So just a conversation from that, I went back and worked with Melissa Rosenberg and we put that into the beginning of the movie so you sort of understood where Edward was coming from, and then you were able to watch him shed that because the person he cared most about said, 'Okay, I see that, but I accept you anyways.' And then he is able to accept himself. So much comes out of working with the actors."

"I always thought that would be the key ingredient to Edward’s character," Pattinson explains of the self-loathing angle that Condon so embraced. "I mean, he’s a 108-year-old guy who’s never achieved anything he’s wanted to achieve. He’s been stuck in adolescence. I mean, when you’re an adolescent you think nothing is given to you, you think everything’s unfair, blah, blah, blah. And he’s been living like that for 100 years. So, I mean, you’d eventually get to the point of desperation. It’s very difficult to portray that and portray a love story at the same time unless you want to make a very different movie, and so I was trying to push for that angle at the same time."
Pattinson also noted the contradiction of this element's increased role at this point, saying, "And it’s funny but Bill is the first person to say like, 'I want to put this at the forefront,' because Breaking Dawn is probably the happiest that Edward’s been in the whole series. So it’s like choosing the wrong moment to use that. But we did a couple of flashback scenes and stuff like that which kind of reflect his anger, I guess, when he first turned into a vampire."

For Lautner, whose character became considerably more prominent in New Moon, Breaking Dawn represented the most substantial arc for Jacob Black, one that Condon was important in crafting.  "I was really excited about this one because Jacob becomes a man in this one and he has to make a lot decisions," Lautner related. "He’s being torn between his two families. It was really tough, it was by far the most challenging one for me, but I didn’t know what to think going into it. As soon as we sat down — the three of us sat down with Bill — we just dove right into it and we talked about the characters. I really can say that I couldn’t have done it without Bill’s help. He was absolutely amazing and talking to us all the time. I trusted him completely, and it was really special. And now seeing the movie, I’m really happy Jacob starts here and he ends here, and it’s just very exciting to see him in a completely different light than ever before."

Kristen Stewart faced a very particular set of obstacles this time around, as Bella goes  from a dewy-eyed newlywed to an anxious honeymooner to an increasingly withdrawn shell of herself physically and emotionally, due to the vampire baby rapidly growing within her, and finally becoming a mother.  Myer, for one, thinks Stewart rose to the occasion, saying, "She actually didn’t need a lot of guidance because she put so much thought into it beforehand," the author said. "The transformation was cool. We would do it one day where she was human Bella and pregnant, then the next day she’s vampire and we’re in the whole make-up. She was able to switch back and forth so beautifully. She’s got the mother thing. She would come up to Bill and would be like, 'I should be looking at my daughter.' She was so sensitive to that."

Since her Bella's arc across the two films, Stewart was forced to alternate between a broad range of different conditions, often in the space of hours. The actress explained, "Shooting two movies at the same time completely out of sequence with no regard to – it wasn’t something that initially we were concerned about, keeping sequences in tact scheduling-wise. It’s not like we went, 'Okay, we’re going to work on work on this part and then we’ll work on this part.”  It really was everywhere within each day."

"I think what that gave me is that, she’s always either looking into the future and thinking about what she’s going to achieve and ultimately in this movie, she does get what she wants," Stewart elaborated. "Or she’s sort of feeling bad about things with Jacob – for instance, her family. She’s very much in her own head. Basically what I’m saying is that being able to play a vampire, a human, a woman who’s pregnant and a woman who’s about to get married, literally sometimes within the same day or sometimes in the same week, who knows, actually helped remind me more – everything felt more important and more relevant to me. It was sort of like everything felt very close. So I think if we did it more systematically, it just wouldn’t have been the same. Everything was happening all at once.  It was just so overwhelming that it was good. It gives you that energy every day."

Part of Bella's transformation involves her becoming physically emaciated, and when asked exactly how the look was achieved, Stewart replied, "Digital! Totally. I didn’t have time. Everything was so sporadically shot. To do that, we would’ve had to shut down production for a couple of months while I lost the weight or gained it back, whichever we did first."

Though she was ultimately impressed by the result, she was somewhat wary of the effects at first, as she explained, "It does make you feel a little bit like, 'Oh, I hope you guys do a good job,' because I can’t do that part and it can ruin you if you look ridiculous and obviously I don’t. So those guys are amazing at what they do."

The protagonist's deterioration finally culminates with the birth of Bella and Edward's infant, named Renesmee.  The birth scene itself is infamous from the novel, and one of the biggest questions regarding Breaking Dawn - Part 1 has been just how Condon and company would handle the exceedingly difficult, violent scene.

"Well, that is a good example of the challenge," the director said. "Because it is obviously very, very kind of powerfully described in the book, and you want to be true to that experience, but how do you show some of those things? As with a lot of other things, I think the key to doing it and being able to have that experience is to tell it from Bella’s point of view, the same as the wedding. It is the same as walking down the isle. But in that case, just giving myself that kind of limitation that we are only going to see – once Bella is on that slab – we are only going to see what she can see as these things are happening to her, and we are only going to see it through her eyes as she gets weaker as the morphine takes over, all that stuff. It allowed you to – if you know what is happening when Rob goes out of frame, and you hear things; you know what’s happening, and it is kind of intense. But if you don’t, you just think you are watching this more traditional birth scene."

"Oh yeah, the birth scene," Pattinson said. "I read the script before I read the book on this one; it was the first time I’d done that. And so I read that scene being kind of astonished. I mean, I knew it was kind of crazy, the story, but I couldn’t really believe that it was actually written down and we were gonna do it. And it was terrifying going into it. But it ended up being this kind of, I don’t know, it was one of the most incredible scenes to do in this movie. I mean, there’s definitely a kind of R-rated — or maybe NC-17 rated (little laugh) — version of a few scenes in this movie. But it was just incredible to do that."
The audacity of the scene presented the actors, especially Pattinson, with new elements of their characters. "Because of the violence and stuff in it, it gave you a lot of freedom in the scene," he said. "And having every character so desperate, it suddenly it became something very, very different. I mean, especially for Edward, who’s always held back and he’s a pacifist and he’s very objective and logical about everything, to do this thing when you’re suddenly playing Edward stuck between a kind of emaciated dummy’s legs chewing through a placenta and getting cream cheese all over your face (laughing) and strawberry jam and then pulling a 3-week-old baby out, too, with a wig on."

The final result has its authors stamp of approval, as Myer said, "I really liked the birth scene. It was something that in the beginning when we were developing the story, a lot of people weren’t sure and wondered if it was anticlimactic. But I thought the birth scene would be a lot and that we’d be surprised. When we were filming, a lot of times there is not a lot of excitement because you are filming the same thing over and over but there are those days. With the birth scene you could tell that it was so emotional, that this is gory and Edward is losing Bella. Rob’s performance was so heartbreaking that I will admit I teared up. A lot of people were feeling it because you look at the idea of losing the most important thing to you and he made you think about it in that way. I thought the way that was cut together was very emotional. I thought that Bill pulled such a human experience out of it; he has such a gift for that. So I’m very happy with how it turned out."

Though that scene was probably the greatest challenge for most involved, it was what happens after that presented the biggest cause for concern in Lautner's case.  The first time Jacob sets sight on the infant, whom he planned to kill, he "imprints" upon her, immediately feeling a total devotion and love, with absolute an unquestionable loyalty.  It's the sort of sudden internal change that is far simpler to portray on the page than in a movie.

"That was... tough," Lautner said. "Because what is imprinting? What do you look like when you imprint? I mean, those were all the questions going through my head. Luckily we had Stephanie on set the entire time, and trust me I asked her a million times, 'Okay, explain to me one more time what imprinting is exactly?' and 'Did you ever envision what Jacob looks like? What is he doing when he’s imprinting?' It was very, very confusing. So there was a lot of conversation about that. And then it didn’t help that when we filmed it, they put an X on a wall and said, 'This is Renesmee. You’re going to walk in the room, you’re going to look at the X and you’re going to imprint.' And I’m like, 'Are you kidding me?' It was tough, it really was. But now after seeing the final version, I’m really happy with it. It’s emotional. They did a really good job with bringing back cool flashbacks and tying in a voiceover. So it really is a special moment, but on the day it was a leap of faith."

When both parts of Breaking Dawn finally finished shooting, it closed the figurative book on the last several years for the cast and a huge undertaking for the director.  Naturally, the world is curious about everyone's reflections on the whole process.  Stewart mentioned that her fellow cast members were of paramount importance to her during the whole endeavor, saying, "I couldn't have done this – I guess always if you insert different numbers into the equation, you're good to get a different answer – but I can't imagine what this movie would have been if I didn't have really, really solid, and always growing relationships with them. And also another common question is, 'Are you guys a big family?  Do you love each other?  Do you always talk to each other?' It’s like, yeah, but it's more like the idea that when I don't see Taylor for a while, suddenly I go 'Ah!' [gasps] and you take your phone out.  It's not like I see them all the time or every day.  It's just that it's when you work with people like that, you can give so much and you're so comfortable. You can do no wrong, and so they've got you.  I don't really know specifically what those men necessarily brought, I think we all just got along and so it shows."

Obviously, the final scene filmed as part of principal photography is a point of curiosity for many fans.  "The last day was actually the middle of April," Condon said. "And it snowed, and I was like, 'Oh my god, it is hard to shoot in Vancouver,' because, I mean, it was always raining and snowing, but I could not believe it was snowing that late. There were two big moments, one of them was that dance with Kristen and Taylor, and Rob stayed for the whole thing, and we ended at dawn. And I think it took everyone by surprise how emotional that was, that they wouldn't be playing those characters again. And in typical fashion, everyone got emotional, and Kristen cut it with a joke. Because, on the last take I shot, everyone runs off and it is just her and Rob. I call cut. She takes a beat, and then she starts running in that wedding dress into the forest saying, 'Jacob, come back! Come back! I made a mistake.' [Laughs] It was great."

Now, the cast and crew of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn are in a strange, somewhat uncertain place with the series.  Principal photography is long over and Part 1 is making its big debut, meaning that in many respects the process is almost over.  But Part 2 is set for release next November, meaning all involved will still be promoting Breaking Dawn over the next year.

"I’ve been kind of hiding out for a few years," Myers explained. "It’s interesting to be done and not done. We had that final night of shooting but it keeps going. So with the second part of the movie coming out it doesn’t feel like an ending yet it feels like we’re still going. I’m not quite sure how it will be once we get to the end. I know there are a lot of people that I’m just going to miss seeing. Just seeing Kristen, Taylor and Rob today has been great so we’ll see how it feels when it is actually the end."

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn hits theaters on Friday, November 18th.

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