Bill Condon Discusses 'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2'

Thursday, 15 November 2012 13:10 Written by  iamrogue
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Bill Condon Discusses 'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2'

Bill Condon was never the obvious choice to direct The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, the two-part adaptation of the final novel in Stephenie Meyer's phenomenally popular young adult novel series.

Granted, the list of directors associated with the Twilight franchise is an eclectic one, from Catherine Hardwicke on the first film to Chris Weitz and David Slade for subsequent sequels New Moon and Eclipse.  Even so, Condon came as a surprise selection to close out the hugely successful franchise in blockbuster fashion.  An Academy Award winner on account of his Chicago screenplay, Condon is the writer-director behind films such as Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls, and Kinsey.

The director finishes his Twilight duology this Friday, November 16th with The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2.  The climactic entry in a five-film franchise, Breaking Dawn - Part 2 finds Kristen Stewart's Bella adjusting to her new life as a vampire alongside her husband, Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen, and her daughter Renesmee, played by Mackenzie Foy.  When the vampire ruling clan, the Volturi, are mistakenly informed that Renesmee is a dangerous "Immortal Child," the Cullens recruit allies to defend their family, including Jacob Black, played again by Taylor Lautner.  When the Volturi arrive in Forks, Washington, the stage is set for a vampire throwdown of epic proportions.

At the Los Angeles press day for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2, IAR was one of many entertainment outlets from all over the planet on hand to talk with Bill Condon about the conclusion of Stephenie Meyer's vampire love story.  Condon, a loquacious and enthusiastic presence, discussed his love for genre film, the tonal balancing act between Part 1 and 2, worshiping at the altar of Kristen Stewart, creating the climactic battle sequence, and sending off the series in a manner that would please fans.

As evidenced by Gods and Monsters, which focuses on original Frankenstein director James Whale, Condon is an unabashed geek for horror movies from all eras.  His love for for cinematic scariness was part of the appeal in tackling Breaking Dawn, and though it wasn't as apparent in the first film, it shines through in this installment.

"I hate to say that's what drew me to Twilight when I first saw it was I just always love vampire movies," the director said. "And it was interesting because if you look at the Breaking Dawn - Part 1, there's not one mean vampire to be seen. It's just the Collins there. If there's any conflict it's with the wolves so I love the fact that this came full circle and really is what it started out to be, a very cool, original vampire movie. The fact that they do have these special powers just gave it I don't know, I find it like talking about the book now, it's just very, very original."

Though Breaking Dawn would seem to be simply one giant movie cut in half, the two different parts have contrasting tones, and the difference is represented, according to Condon, by the actor playing Aro, the Volturi leader.  Condon said, "It's got a different tone and Michael Sheen, to me, perfectly embodies that because I think he's crazily scary, but also there's something that's very enjoyable at the same time. In terms of the tone I think that the first act of this movie, the first half hour up to the point where Charlie gets reintegrated into their lives is very much part of that first movie. It really is the completion of Bella's story. And then you're right, the whole plot that takes over and arena and the reintroduction of the vampires, really made it into a different kind of you know it's an epic action movie with vampires and really some of them have to be funny because they're so strange."

At the conclusion of Breaking Dawn - Part 1, Bella had finally been turned into a vampire by Edward, marking a leap for the character that the new film spends plenty of time exploring as Bella transitions from humanity to vampirism.  "It's no secret I worship at the altar of Kristen Stewart," Condon said.  "[Bella's] arc wasn't that big an arc across the first three movies. And the beginning of part one of this movie, she's in a spot where she'd been, you know she fell in love, she's a high school now graduate who fell in love with a guy who she's gonna marry. But I've always said we've made this as one movie and I feel like if you look at these two movies together it really speaks to the achievement of Kristen Stewart because she starts as the Bella we've known from previous movies, she obviously becomes then pregnant and initiated and loses her life and [begins] as a vampire. It's an amazing art that she has across this and it's so important for people to remember that we shot all that at the same time. So she would go from being this badass warrior in this movie in the morning and then she'd be initiated in the afternoon. It was really an incredible thing to watch."

Both halves of Breaking Dawn were filmed simultaneously, as one giant production, meaning that any given day could involve shooting scenes from opposite ends of the story, with Bella human in one and vampire in another.  While such a schedule was demanding of everyone on the cast and crew, Condon said that it was particularly challenging for Stewart, given the extremity of Bella's arc.  Nonetheless, his leading lady rose to the occasion, as he explained, "She has this extraordinary energy. She really is so focused when she is in something. I was really worried when we looked at the schedule like, 'How are you going to do this?' It was this added challenge that she actually kind of got excited by when I...And I think mostly she was dying to play the vampire when she said before she watched everybody else and said, 'Oh I can do that better.' So this is her chance to prove it."

With the Cullen clan traveling all over the world recruiting vampires to act as "witnesses" to their familial cause, joining the Cullens in the final action scene, which finds vampires and werewolves uniting against the Volturi in a snowy clearing.  Condon praised his cinematographer as he described the practical challenges of building towards the battle, saying, "Guillermo Navarro is the cameraman who did a beautiful job. Throughout this obviously is a film that goes around the world and we did go around the world so that we created that little bit of Egypt in Baton Rouge and London within New Orleans and all that with shots we picked up from places. The feel right from the start, right from reading it I really you know it was an option to go back to the feel that had been in previous movies, but I really did see it as this vast expanse of snow of white. And to make it very formal like they were maybe it was almost inspirational from the book cover, but it was like chess pieces moving across a board and the kind of power and majesty of the Volturi against the Collins who were just kind of defenseless and outnumbered. You widely reflect that in the landscape."

The recruitment sequences allowed the director to expand not only the onscreen universe, but also the already-crowded Twilight ensemble, introducing a host of new vampires who assist the Cullens.  "Each director has gotten to introduce new chunks of people and this is the movie where I got to do that and work with all these wonderful new actors. Part of the casting process was realizing that everyone had to pop in a very short time so by the time you got into that field you kind of knew who everybody was and what they could do. It's a very interesting challenge because they don't get introduced until forty minutes into the movie and then a half hour later they have their final scene," Condon said. "So I attribute that all to the gifts of the actors, they all took it so seriously, they all had complete back stories that they brought to those moments that they have. And I think they all stressfully manage to make their characters pop."

More than any previous entry in the series, Breaking Dawn - Part 2 is a showcase for the almost superheroic powers possessed by Meyer's vampires.  While the novels could present each power through simple description, Condon was forced to find visual equivalents that made each cinematic without forfeiting the author's intent.

"That was a real challenge," he said. "These are mental powers. You know, building a shield, for example, is something that nobody sees or Alice's power, but early on again that's one of the adaptations when you work in a visual medium I thought it can't just all be something that gets adjusted, but take Bella's power. [We] really wanted to make it as subtle as possible so that it really felt like is it there or isn't it? It's sort of animation. It really if you watch it the first time it comes off her you see a bit of her shake. It feels like it's something that's part of her. But I didn't want it to be this kind of Wizard of Oz bubble rounder or anything like that. So all of them presented specific challenges, [especially] Alice's power. I felt like that was the darkest power so we really made it feel like a hard – like a hammer – hard and really went for it as a really nasty thing. And throughout I think we were trying to err on the side of subtlety."

Aside from fleeting glimpses throughout trailers and television spots, the final battle is being kept very much under wraps.  Without spoiling any details, the director explained how he and stunt coordinator Jeff Imada were able to create an action scene without many of the mainstays that usually define such conflicts onscreen.

"That sequence we're not supposed to talk about was the biggest challenge of either movie," he explained. "Battle sequences are hard. Here's what's harder: Usually in a battle sequence you get horses and big flags with banners and you get weapons. You don't have any of that here. These people are almost impossible. You can't puncture their skin, the only way you can kill them is by pulling their heads off, so that became a big thing. How do you do endless variation of [decapitations]? Yes, working with was amazing to try to you know just create the ballet of all that. We did a previous film of this that we worked on constantly across six months so that yes and then it was odd going back and forth between first and second unit, but then I had to say, you do all that and then the real work starts."

Twilight is one of the biggest, most fervently followed film franchises going, yet Condon said that the actual process, even with huge action sequences, isn't strikingly different from his previous experiences, explaining, "When you're actually making it, it's the same experience. You're working with your collaborators and the actors and it's all about making it as good as it could be. But yeah, around the edges of how you put it together, there is this awareness of and it was an interesting thing. I liked it actually. There's, first of all, the fanbase and the fact that this seems to be the most interactive franchise where you're very aware. The first scene we shot was on a street in Brazil, man we were in a mad dash and there were paparazzi there and there were pictures online I would say twenty minutes after we got our first shot and Kirsten didn't have her wedding band on and suddenly that was like you know going around the world with this, 'Oh my God, what's going on?' We quickly scrambled to fix it, that's how kind of connected the base is. I found that really kind of actually kind of great the whole time. There's sometimes tension because you're not literally true to details of the book, but mostly it's been I've been very aware on this movie as opposed to other movies that you are making it for people who love it."

Those people who love it are behind a very specific production measure that Condon found counter to the spirit of the story. "There are these additional expenses that are crazy," he said.  "I think there's over a million dollars in something called set containment, which is just people making sure people can't get in. That wouldn't have been true in the first movie, but I think it was really it was always the spirit of this film was that it is a fantastic story, but it is a very intimate one too. And I think it would've betrayed it to somehow become something with 300 people putting scenes every day. I think it's the way they make movies."

Despite the issues of building huge effects scenes and set containment, Condon said that the focus was always on ensuring that The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 was an appropriate conclusion for the series, saying, "I thought the real challenge was to make sure it was a satisfying climax.  So I was very aware of not only the two films that I made, but the three that came before. For example, the film opens with an overture of all the main themes from all five movies put together. At the end I don't want to talk about it too much, but I did add this thing that sort of brought you back into the spirit of all the other movies and kind of I think acts as a tribute to the whole phenomenon."

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 arrives in theaters nationwide tomorrow, Friday, November 16th, with special early screenings beginning tonight, November 15th, at 10:00 pm.

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