Writers Guild Of America Interview Melissa Rosenberg
Work Hard, Twihard
Written by Dylan Callaghan
In her tenure as sole scripter on the entire Twilight franchise, Melissa Rosenberg has experienced the screenwriting equivalent of the heady, harrowing arc of Bella Swan, the beloved human heroine at the center of the spectacularly popular teen vampire bestsellers-turned-blockbusters. Even as the franchise’s third installment, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, hits megaplexes everywhere and Rosenberg slogs through a marathon junket promoting the film, she’s already neck-deep in adapting the fourth and final book, the 900-page bone-rattler Breaking Dawn, into two separate films simultaneously. The twin closer has already set Twihards across the globe into a frenzy of speculation as to how the film will depict Bella’s visceral, nearly fatal half-human-half-vampire birth and her (SPOILER ALERT!) transformation to immortality.
Rosenberg has maintained her breakneck pace since late 2007, two months before the writers strike, when she was tapped to adapt Stephenie Meyer’s maiden book in the series, Twilight. Not only did she turn that first script around in a little more than two months to beat the strike deadline, but she’s written the franchise while juggling her co-EP-ship of the hit Showtime series Dexter. Time and the enormity of writing two scripts at once for Breaking Dawn drove her to leave Dexter behind, a show she counts as the best of her television career.
In a junket day chat with the Writers Guild of America, West Web site, Rosenberg discussed this new penultimate book and film, Eclipse, which grapples with Bella’s choice between her vampire love Edward and her werewolf friend Jacob, the challenges its action-heavy third act presented, and how she feels about life after Dexter and Twilight.
(Melissa Rosenberg will discuss her career and field questions on writing for film and TV at the Writers Guild Foundation’s Writers on Writing event on Tuesday, July 13. Go to WGFoundation.org, for tickets.)
You’ve said you thought this current film, Eclipse, would be easy at first. Was that partially because you knew Breaking Dawn, your two-part adaptation of the final films of the Twilight series, was coming?
That was actually from the outset, separate from Breaking Dawn. Looking at the first three books, it seemed like it would be easier just because it had all this action. Of course, that was wrong. Thinking anything in writing is going to be easy is always…
Always a mistake. It is never easy. Writing is hard. If it wasn’t, everyone would do it, right?
True. So Eclipse has a lot of action, but it’s mainly in the third act.
Tell me what you had to do with those first two acts to lead up to that big conflict.
It was about taking that threat and building on it to the third act conflict. The entire book is from Bella’s point of view, so anything that happens in the book, she hears about after the fact, [when] she’s not actually present. With the script, I don’t have that restriction. I could actually go away from her point of view occasionally, so I was able to build a few of those scenes that she hears about after the fact and invent a few to help build to this conflict, which, hopefully, helps to keep that sense of threat impending and growing throughout [the first two acts].
This Twilight phenomenon has happened really fast, but it’s also been, what, three and half years now that you’ve been ensconced in this?
Yeah. It was about two months before the strike.
In all that time, has your process for breaking down these books remained the same?
I’ve used the same system that I’ve had from the beginning. The only thing that’s changed a little is that I’ve involved Stephenie Meyer a little more in my process. I’ve used her as a resource more and more as I’ve gone along… and our relationship has developed over that time.
You must start to feel some sense of ownership as an author, too…
I’ve certainly become very invested, but I give all props to Stephenie. I would not have the career I now have without her, so I take nothing from that, certainly.
Of course. And going back for a minute, can you encapsulate what your process has been for these breaking these books?
The first thing I do is read the book and sit back and let what comes to mind pop. What I’m looking for there is structure; what emerges as the mid-point, what the arcs of the characters are and how best to structure them. I let the scenes wash over me to decide what the big moments are.
Then I start building from there. The way I do that is to put into a very abbreviated few pages what the key scenes in the book are, chapter by chapter. Once I have my structure of what the basic acts are, I start filling in the muscle and sinew.
Did Eclipse take comparatively less or more time than the others?
Well, to some extent, it’s [been a matter of] how much time I have. I did have a little bit more time with Eclipse. With Twilight, we were fighting the strike deadline, so I slammed that one out. With New Moon I had more time, but I was juggling Dexter at the same time.
How fast did you do Twilight?
I think I outlined for about a month, while simultaneously working on Dexter, and then it was five weeks to write the script.
And then with New Moon you had…?
New Moon was over the course of about six months, but you gotta understand, that was two days a week.
Right, because you were doing Dexter…
So it was two days a week times six months.
No one’s sayin’ you’re a slacker here, believe me.
And then Eclipse was done when Dexter was on hiatus… I did rewrites when it came back.
So for this one you were luxuriating in time, relatively speaking?
Yeah, although I had to take a few months off to just regenerate a little.
Did it actually make it harder, having the luxury of a little time and being able to focus on just the one script, not being completely under the gun?
Well, I was still under the gun with Eclipse because I knew Dexter was coming back, and I had to get it done. But with Breaking Dawn now, I have that for the first time. I left Dexter. I had to knowing that Breaking Dawn was probably going to be two movies. I can do one Twilight and Dexter, but I couldn’t do two.
So I very sadly left Dexter, because that show was my favorite television experience to date, and I’ve had many.
But it’s true that, when I don’t have time pressures, I don’t use my time as wisely. It’s a so much nicer way to write, and it allows me time for creative contemplation, which is great, but sometimes I find myself just kind of surfing the Web, and I’m like, “Wow, three hours just passed.”
On the one hand, perhaps I’m coming up with more ideas because I have time. Maybe the work is better. Then again, maybe it’s not because I’m not as disciplined.
And looking ahead to Breaking Dawn, where are you with it now?
Deep in the center [laughs].
Now that you’re in the midst of this final couplet of films and the end is in sight, what are your feelings contemplating this being done?
Well, it’s interesting. For the past four years I’ve been writing Dexter and one Twilight or another. Both projects have been amazing experiences, the best of my career. I know both of these worlds really well, I know the characters’ voices, [and] I’m comfortable living in their worlds. That has been hard-won. I’ve spent many, many years trying to find a home, and then I found two.
So that’s hard to leave. It’s a nice feeling; confidence is a nice feeling. And yet I’m excited to see what’s next – nervous about it, but very excited to see what I can do next.