29 May, 2008

Bringin' Your Bling: Films and their budgets

I got into an interesting conversation with Wyck Godfrey and Greg Mooradian on the set of Twilight about budgets for films and how that can affect the overall scope of a film, so I thought I’d explore that a little bit more informally here.

Generally when you are first told about a film ‘in the biz’ it seems like you find out who is directing, who is producing, who the big actors are, and what the budget is. From these few pieces of information, an expectation for the film is born. For example, if you hear that Johnny Smith is directing a film produced by Jennie Smith, the main actor is Susie Smith and the budget is $2,000… you’re not going to have many expectations. That can sometimes work to your favor; you can be blown away by an independent film made on a tiny budget with no-name actors; it can rock the film world and make you open your eyes in different way. On the other hand, it’s probably not going to be a big money maker, you have no idea if any of the people involved in the film have any talent whatsoever, and if it’s one of those rare films that does shake up the film world- well then, that’s great… but that’s probably .001% of films. Conversely, if you hear that Harrison Ford is starring in a film directed by Stephen Spielberg, produced by George Lucas and has a budget of $125 million… you most definitely will have certain expectations. You know their track history, you know the work that they put into their films, you know, even if it’s just subconsciously, how they spend their money (big name actors? special effects? props? music? locations?) and judging by this list, you’ll know that I’m referring to the most recent Indiana Jones, and that title brings with it a whole new set of expectations.

All of these variables go into what makes up a film; how it is developed, how it is made, how it is marketed, and how the fans receive it. While a film isn’t necessarily dictated by its budget, it seems that it is often led by it. I think it's hard to remember as a fan of film that it is actually a very serious business, and every single thing revolving around it costs money... even just thinking on a really small scale: think of the cost for the batteries used on a film set! Then add in the expenses for all of those rolls of duct tape! Now don’t forget about the coffee, water, and granola bars. That’s a lot of money added up, and that’s just the inconsequential costs. Now add in the cast’s salaries, the director and the crew’s salaries, the catering bill for lunch every day for upwards of 100 people, car rentals and hotel rooms for the duration of the shoot, electricity costs to keep the generator running around the clock, costumes, lighting, and walkie-talkies!

And I’m still just on the shoot! I haven’t even added in the post-production stuff like editing, special effects (oh so costly), music and marketing. There are so many avenues for expenses that, generally, it is the budget that tells you what you can and cannot have in a film. I read a quote somewhere that “a large budget can allow you to be creative, but a small one will force you to be creative.” That stuck with me because you can see how different films choose to spend their money, and where their priorities for the film lie based on those choices. Greg called this, “deciding where to bring your bling.” Filmmakers need to decide where they’re going to spend the most for the “money shots.”

My own opinions of Eragon aside (I’m not a huge fan of the books, and I found the adaptation seriously lacking), it is a good case study for how a budget can affect the adaptation of a book. When I spoke to Wyck Godfrey about his work on Eragon, he focused heavily on the budget constraints of the film, and the intentions of the studio that alienated the original work. He was brought onto the project rather late, as he has a lot of experience and the Powers That Be seemed to hope that he would be able to help get the project back on track. When he joined, the budget had recently been cut nearly in half. This is huge. Imagine Indiana Jones, my previous example, the budget of which was $125 million, suddenly finding out that they only had $62 million to work with. An actor like Harrison Ford can cost $25 million alone (that was his reported salary for K-19: The Widowmaker, 2002). How on earth are you supposed to create a believable world in the Amazon, special effects like spaceships and man-eating ants, pay the cast, crew, extras, rentals etc. etc. on $40 million?

The answer for Eragon, whose budget hovered around $100 million, was to cut scenes, and play up the “money shots.”

Wyck tried to get them to focus more on the story, making Eragon a bit younger (the studio wanted someone around 25, he argued for a younger teen as Eragon was supposed to be, and they settled on Ed Speelers, 17 at the time), and Wyck wanted to include the scenes that are integral to the plot should the sequels be created, in order to have correct continuity. Apparently this was not very plausible in the filmmaker’s and studio’s eyes, as they pretty much disregarded the book, and decided to make it a “spectacle” film for a holiday release. They drifted away from the plot, and focused on the money shots like those of Saphira, the dragon. “Every time that dragon was on screen, it cost a fortune,” Wyck described, “but that’s where they wanted to put their money. They got rid of Angela, the cat…a lot of stuff, so they could have more shots of Saphira.”

As most of us know that didn’t work out so well for Eragon in the States. Fans were in an uproar, and Christopher Paolini, the author, who was not involved in the adaptation process, appeared disappointed and Wyck got the feeling that Paolini wouldn't be likely to sell the rights to his other two books in the Inheritance Trilogy any time soon. In the international market, however, the movie did just what the filmmakers hoped it would do: it made a lot of money. The book is not as popular worldwide as it is in the US, so there was less of a fervent fan base to disappoint. While Eragon only made $75 million in the States, it made $245 million in the foreign markets, and with a budget of $100 million… that is a sizable profit. Thus the studio got what it wanted, but they created a less than satisfactory work in the opinions of the fans of the novel.

The other thing that Greg expanded upon is that if you have a $200 million budget, then you have to be able and willing to bring the film up to that level. The bar is so high with films like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings now that if you are creating a fantasy adaptation of a known book, you can’t half-ass that big adaptation; it’s irresponsible, or as Greg says, “you can’t bring a knife to a gunfight. You have to be able to ante up. If you want to produce something big you have to have the chunks to do it.” He emphasized that even if the film is as successful financially as Eragon was, it’s not a wise move these days to ignore the original work because the author may publicly disassociate with the film, the fans won’t support the project and they’ll shun the movie. It could end up that you don’t have a good film and the fans, the one group that might have been able to promote it fairly well and show their support, have been alienated (Think The Seeker, the adaptation of Susan Cooper’s brilliant book The Dark is Rising… they completely alienated the fan base by not respecting the original work. Susan Cooper publicly shared her disappointment in the film and did not support it, so therefore her fans did not support it either).

With Twilight, Wyck and Greg both verbalized their excitement to work on the film because although it has a smaller budget, there aren’t many places that they need to “bring their bling” and they are confident that they can ante up and not disappoint fans and moviegoers. There are certainly some special effects in the film (the magic carpet which makes actors appear as though they are walking at 35mph, wire work, explosions etc.), but there isn’t a huge dragon, there isn’t a spaceship, there aren’t hundreds of thousands of troops to create… it’s a very real film. Once you believe that some of the main characters are vampires, the rest of the film is quite believable, and they didn’t need any bells or whistles to emphasize that fact. Greg and Wyck seemed pleased by this fact because that meant that they could focus on the story and include the scenes that they wanted to include that added to this story, as that's where the true tension and excitement of the film is. The fights will be exciting, the explosions impressive, and it should all satisfy and perhaps even impress the typical male going to the film… but the filmmakers didn’t need to worry about bringing all of that superfluous "bling" to the screen; instead they could actually utilize the book, involve Stephenie Meyer, and focus on the story of Bella and Edward, as it is that story that has ensnared so many readers. We as fans aren’t obsessed with the books because they’re shiny, shoot off sparks, or come with 3D glasses… we don’t need gimmicks; we need the story, and Greg and Wyck seem to realize this. And luckily so does the rest of the cast and crew!

I don’t know Twilight’s budget, but Summit advertised that they hope to make quality films in the $20-60 million range, so even if Twilight is at the top of that scale, it’s still far less than some of the other big -budget films out there (Harry Potter= $200 million, The Golden Compass= $180 million). It’s definitely neat to see how a film of this size, scale and budget (generally smaller all around) is creating this much buzz already. It will be great to see the finished product and finally realize how every little piece I’ve studied and analyzed up to this point fits together to make a comprehensive, and I hope a very successful, film. I hope that this film is appreciated equally by the Twilight fans and the people who have never heard of the Cullens before, and that it may serve as an example of how to appreciate the fans, honor the author, and still create a good and successful film, so that all of the many adaptations that still lie ahead in the world of film may have a better shot to instill the same feelings and excitement as the original work, and our beloved vampires don’t turn into FBI agents, or our adolescent heroes become middle-aged wash-ups.

Hmm… I’ll keep pondering this, but there are the thoughts for now.

14 May, 2008

Twilight Semi-Formal, May 10, Duxbury Free Library, Duxbury Massachusetts

On May 9, I drove to Duxbury Massachusetts to witness a Twilight themed semi-formal organized by the Duxbury Free library and involving three neighboring towns. This was certainly an adventure. I doubt I’ll be able to use any of the information I gathered academically, but personally it was very interesting to see this aspect of the Twilight phenomenon. It was good to see how much this series of books inspires people and encourages them to share and interact with each other… while I feel the edges of obsession often in my life, it’s not usually something that becomes a group activity for me; it’s generally an internal thing that I certainly talk about a lot with people around me to the point of driving them crazy, but I don’t tend to share with others who have a similar obsession. I think I was always a bit too territorial to share; they were my obsessions, so I never joined the Harry Potter fan clubs, The Dark is Rising reading group or the Lord of the Rings Online community. It was great to attend this event as an observer and see a bit more of what life can be like in the throes of fanaticism shared with friends and peers.

There were a number of events planned for the evening to encourage and maintain the group’s enthusiasm. The library staff encouraged the attendants to dress as their favorite Twilight character as there was going to be a look-alike contest near the end of the evening, they planned a fan fiction reading, a trivia contest, showed a student-made Twilight film (put together by Logan Brown, and it was quite fun; they showed the final battle from Eclipse between the newborns/Cullens/werewovles, and as that wasn’t written in detail in the book they were able to involve a lot of people and plan it out as they wished without the constraints of remaining loyal to the book… I imagine this is a glimpse of what the creative team of the Twilight film felt when they decided to show the final fight in the ballet studio and realized they had a little more freedom as it was an unwritten scene!), and there was also a fan art display. The main room was decorated with black and red streamers, and artificial evergreens spotted the room, which I assumed was to replicate the feeling of the Olympic National Forest that surrounds the town of Forks, WA.

The enthusiasm of the teens was tangible. Girls squealed over each other’s costumes and bickered good-naturedly about who made the best Bella (my personal favorite was the one in a hospital gown, accompanied by ‘Dr. Cullen’ who wore a sign proclaiming, “I’m here for the Danger Magnet”) and the guys (yes, there were a surprisingly large amount of guys there, and every single one of the ones I spoke to had read all of the books), who were mostly dressed as werewolves, growled, howled and tackled each other like the wolf pack that they were impersonating. Dancing was the main event, but every now and then there’d be a break from 'Soulja Boy' and something Twilight-y would occur.

I spoke with a number of the teens about their love for the books, and their thoughts about the film. The conversations were mostly screaming and squealing with enthusiasm about their love for the books, whether they were on team Edward or team Jacob (which also became an interesting conversation... as they felt that Edward had a huge advantage being 90 years more mature than the rebellious teenage werewolf... I don't think age had anything to do with Bella and Edward's love, but there you are...), but between those outbursts they had clear answers for what appeals to them about these books. Dennis White said that he thought one of the main draws was that it had a "supernatural charm but from a human perspective, so you could get caught up up in that good story." They shared what they were most excited to see on film, and what they feared would change. The general consensus was that the film makers would depict something differently than how they pictured it in their mind and it would take them out of the story. Sadly, this is inevitable as no film maker can make something look right to everyone as each person pictures things differently. This group of young, avid readers want to keep Twilight as the pure story that they hold in their imagination, and while they are certainly excited about seeing certain things on screen (the baseball game, the meadow, and the ballet-studio fight were the most popular), they don’t want it to taint their favorite work or distract from the pictures that they have imagined. They also expressed a fear that people who would just go and see the film, and who had never read the book- a fear that is also inevitable in some movie-goers as I’ve heard way too many times, “No, I haven’t read Harry Potter... but I've seen the movies,” and I don’t feel that is a generally well-accepted answer.

Yes, there will certainly be a number of people who go just to see the film, and I’m going to hope that they are entertained and think it a decent film. But to the true fans, the people who have read Twilight and hold a special place in their hearts for Bella and Edward, I hope that they realize that many things will have to change for this printed story to translate to the screen, but I hope that they are also aware of how much effort, love and care went into this adaptation; it’s more than I’ve seen for most of the other works that I have studied. They made changes when necessary to make it a better visual experience, but they never compromised the integrity of the story… at least that’s the feeling I get; I haven’t seen a whole script yet nor seen the whole film in action on the screen, so we’ll have to wait until December 12 to see; but from what I’ve read, heard from the creative team and witnessed myself on set, I don’t think this film will disappoint fans. Yes, there will be changes. No, every line that is loved in the books will not be in the film. Yes, the love story is still central and the driving force of all action. No, every character and every moment from the books will not be there.

I hope that it’s a film that is a great extension of my interest in Twilight; that I can see visually some of the things that I have imagined, and if it’s not exactly how I pictured it, I hope that I can respect that it is how Catherine Hardwicke, Wyck Godfrey or Greg Mooradian pictured it. I can let them share their vision with me and think that it’s neat, but that I'd be satisfied that I still have my own images in my head that is different from theirs. Neither of us is wrong for having these different visions, it’s just different. That’s how it works. I also hope it’s a film that inspires more people to go out and get the books, as that also inevitably happens. I forget the exact numbers, but The Lord of the Rings sold something like 35 million copies from 1960-2002, and sold something around 25 million copies from 2002-2005 due to the films. There will always be those people who don’t read the book and think the film was good, and those who read the book and think the film was a huge disappointment. Hopefully, however, the film can just be taken as the adaptation of this group of fans (as that’s truly what this cast, crew and creative team of Twilight are- fans) that is visually stunning, a successful film and as true to the novel as was possible and reasonable, and that it inspires a whole new group of people to go out there and read Twilight and discover some of the extra magic that comes from the reading and not just the seeing.

Huh… I didn’t mean to get up on my soapbox there, but these are the thoughts rolling through my head.

So the Duxbury event was great. It was a neat group of smart, thoughtful and passionate kids celebrating something that they love- books and the characters in them. Props to Ellen Snoeyenbos, the children’s librarian at Duxbury Free Library and the mastermind behind this event, and the Twilight reading group who helped to organize it. Ellen also made the most beautiful cloak I have ever seen (leant, kindly, to a girl dressed as Jane for the evening), so she gets a gold star for that!

Take a look at all of the pictures here.

09 May, 2008

A Few Notes

Wow. The responses I've been getting are incredible. Do you know that this blog started with just my parents and a few friends/family reading it? Then my department obviously started reading it as it's for my PhD work, but even then... maybe 10 people a week looked at it. Now it's 10 people a minute and your comments are flooring me. They're so appreciative, thoughtful and well-formed. I've always been the groupie that obsessed and poured over every detail emerging about my current fixation of the day/week/year/decade, and I'm well chuffed (British slang for really proud) that I am getting a few people interested in some of the things I've been thinking about and doing. So thanks!

Now to respond to a few of the things mentioned...

1) Debbie said: "So many people have commented on other sites that after they saw the teaser trailer that they hoped the movie would be just like the book. I'd love to tell them to come read your blog. They then would understand more about the differences between the book & the movie."
- please tell them to read my blog! I'd selfishly love you to spread the word! I think you're right though; this is a good forum for me to work through my thoughts as a film student, share realizations and ideas... and I'm grateful that other people are benefiting as well! I'm so glad you guys are seeing some of what I'm seeing about the adaptation process. Like I said before, I have always balked at anything different from the book; it felt like a sacrilege, and the phrase, "Oh the book is always better..." rolled off of my tongue so easily; but now, I'm simply coming to realize that its just a different way to tell a story... that they can never be the same. They can be equally as exciting and enjoyable, but in very different ways. One might seem better because it has a more effective impact- I'll always like reading better because I get to create the universe; I become godlike and picture everything perfectly....perfect because it's my imagination and who's to say it's wrong? But that doesn't mean that I don't obsess over films for showing me that universe and letting me observe and live in it for a time, and films can give me the landscape to let my mind continue the story (hello fan fiction? sequels? artwork inspired by films? the list goes on...) I'll continue to hash this topic out for the next, oh, three years! But we all have to start the thinking process somewhere.

2) I'm sorry guys, as of right now I have no idea how you can get to work on a film. I can't hook you up with agents, and I don't know how you can get a job on the Twilight set. I'm still trying to figure that out myself!

3) Fireandice- I did get a chance to talk to Wyck Godfrey (Twilight producer) about Eragon, and will be posting about that sometime in the near future :)

4) kevinandnatalimckee- I'm sorry about the webshots troubles! I'm not really a huge fan of that site either, so I may look into other ones.

5) Shauna- obsessive tendencies are what got me here! Granted I went through years of indecision and uncertainty, but it's working for me now. I really think all of my undergrad work, and my MA work was just to get me to this point... and I never went into it with this goal in mind, it's just rolling out this way. I'm seizing whatever opportunities come my way, and hoping to gain some focus along with my crazy experiences to take into something resembling a career... until then, yes, the nomad life works well for me :)

6) Sarah b said, "why were you unable to talk to Rob about the UK...did it just not come up or did you think it made you one of those "crazy people?"
-I didn't bring up the UK stuff because it just seemed a little awkward at the time; I wish Rob and I had met properly from the start and gotten that out of the way, but I wasn't about to do anything to 'rock the boat' so to speak. With a producer and a creative executive from Summit sitting right there chatting with us it would have been weird to interrupt the conversation and be like, "Hey, I'm Maggie, I live in the UK too! Aren't we cool?!".... yeah, that definitely would have entered the realm of awkward! So I'll just remain pleased with the pleasant experience that I had.

7) I have a question to ponder; I'm pondering it myself and am curious of others' thoughts. When HP: Goblet of Fire came out, I read everything I could get my hands on, watched all of the teaser clips and everything else. While I enjoyed the film, I thought it took some of the magic out of the experience to see so much information before the actual film. So for HP: Order of the Phoenix, I didn't watch anything except the trailer before I saw it and I had a marvellous time. I don't know if one was better than the other, but I do think that they were very different experiences.

I think I'm beginning to enter the realm of 'I'll never be able to enjoy a movie just for the movie's sake' because I'm now dissecting it: thinking about the shots, the production, the lighting, the catering, where video village is, who is standing around the propane heaters, the shrubbery masters... but I was thinking about all of the press and information that has been released regarding Twilight, and I wondered what it does to the audience's expectations of the film? All of these on set pictures, interviews, clips, mtv Twilight Tuesdays... and when you think about HP: Half Blood Prince which is also filming now and very, VERY few things have been released (a few photos, scant interviews, and the one mention about ONE scene being added to the story caused an uproar in the fan community), I wonder if I'll experience Twilight differently than Harry Potter?

I think it will be interesting to see both of these films, as I'm studying both of these films, and see how the different approaches in film making and marketing affect the reception of the actual movie...

...more than likely I'll just be swooning for both of them and still love both of them obsessively, and I'll continue pouring over every Twilight item released! :)

More soon- the thoughts are reeling, so while they are I shall write them down! I may not have totally Twilight themed stuff for all of my posts, but Twilight will probably be my frame of reference for most things for awhile! I'll start working in my other works as well though, and see what ideas flow.

07 May, 2008

Twilight Set, Day Three: Vernonia OR, Forks scenes

Thanks for the patience guys, not to mention the cheers! Here's the set report for day three!

I didn’t get back from filming in St. Helen’s until about 2am, so needless to say, I slept in the following morning. I knew I was going to be up all night for the final day/night of shooting, so I tried to sleep as long as I could and be lazy for the time that I was actually awake. So I stayed in bed, typed up my notes from the previous day, and organized everything for the long day to come. The cast was called to be on set around 2:00, but filming wasn’t likely to begin until 3 or 4, and even then it was driving scenes- which means I definitely couldn’t sit and watch the scene being filmed, as there’s not much room in a moving vehicle for even all of the crew, and there wasn’t a video village set up yet, so I didn’t rush to get there. I took my time driving to Vernonia Oregon, enjoying the unseasonably warm and sunny day- again, a very nice change from the downpour of a few days before! Vernonia is about an hour and change north of Portland, and I took the same road there that I took towards the coast on Wednesday, except well before I got to the mountains, I took a right turn onto a smaller highway that wove through the valleys. It was a beautiful road. It felt very similar to my drive through the Olympic National Forest in Washington as I approached the real Forks, WA, so it was appropriate that I was now approaching the ficticious one. On this road in Oregon, just like the one in Washington, there were big pines and cedars on either side of the road, sharp curves with a stone wall on one side and an impressive drop off on the other, and as I was approaching the town of Vernonia, there in front of me was a giant sign that said, “The City of Forks Welcomes You!” It was brilliant. It was an exact replica of the actual sign welcoming you to Forks in Washington. I noticed this attention to detail a few weeks ago when, looking at set photos (thanks bellaandedward.com for the thoroughness of your galleries!), I saw that the crew had created the Forks High School sign exactly like the real sign in Forks, and now again with this “The City of Forks Welcomes You” sign. This further proved to me that the crew was taking their job seriously, and were willing to spend a few extra bucks and put forth a little extra effort to have the details that will mean so much to the author, fans and residents of Forks, WA.

The attention to detail continued as I drove into downtown Vernonia and saw signs for 101 North (101 does run through Oregon, but nowhere near Vernonia, and it’s the main highway that goes through Forks to Port Angeles, so these signs were planted for extra authenticity), Forks City Hall, Forks Hardware, Forks Police Station and general signs that would be placed in downtown Forks. ‘Downtown’ may be deceiving as it was really just one street with a couple of bars, a bank, some antique shops and a mini town-square… it was very, very small, but so is Forks, WA. If you look back to my post about the Twilight Pilgrimage, you’ll see a vivid description of Forks, and Vernonia did a fine job of playing the role of a tiny town in the Pacific Northwest. I parked my car on one of the side streets between base camp and the main street where they were filming, and went in search of Greg, Wyck or Gillian. I didn’t find them easily but it wasn’t pressing for me to do so, so I once again stayed out of the way and took in all of the action going on around me.

They were filming general background shots of Forks to use in panning, intro shots etc. Again, it was supposed to be a rainy day in Forks and Mother Nature wasn’t helping, so the monstrous water truck repeated its action of wetting down the street every few minutes to give the appearance that it had just rained. They were about to yell ‘action’ so I ducked into an alley to get out of the shot and ended up talking to a girl named Catherine, who was one of Bella’s photo doubles, for a bit. She was very friendly. We were both trying to stay out of the shot, so there’s not much else to do but chat when you’re stuck in an alley! She said the filming had been a really good time, the cast and crew were very pleasant, that she liked working with Kristen Stewart, and while she didn’t want the filming to end, she was excited to be able to trim her hair! The only thing she was allowed to do to her appearance during the whole of filming was cut her fingernails so her appearance wouldn’t change from that of Bella’s. It’s crazy the things that I never thought about in the filmmaking process…

During a break in the filming, we peeked our heads around the corner to see what was going on just as Deon Boyce, the second assistant director, was walking down the street directing the extras on where to go. He looked at Catherine and me and said, “You guys, over there, cross the street to that corner when they yell ‘background’.”….. My internal response was… "WHAT?! You want me to be somewhere on film???" And my composed, external response was, “Deon, I’m not an extra, I’m not even a part of the crew,” and Catherine’s response was, “Deon, I look just like Bella, I probably shouldn’t be in the shot.” But he put us there anyway. He assured us that it was just for some background movement, Catherine wouldn’t be recognized, and I didn’t have to do it if I didn’t want to but it was fine if I did. Well of course I wanted to! I highly doubt you’ll be able to see me, I’m sure I’ll end up on the cutting room floor, but it was quite the adventure to be an extra for twenty minutes on the set of Twilight! Catherine stayed behind me as we crossed the street, just so I could hopefully give her a little bit of cover, so if you see a long shot of the main street of Forks, with two people crossing the street very far away, one of them looks like Bella and the other is wearing jeans, a black top and a backpack… you will have just seen my film debut. It was silly, but certainly a good story, and it gave a little excitement to the afternoon as it was most definitely a slow afternoon. I did get to see Catherine Hardwicke’s family again which was very nice. They didn’t stay long as Catherine was very busy and there wasn’t a lot to watch, but I’m glad I got to say goodbye and thank them for all of the kindness that they shared with me on set.

As the afternoon turned into evening, all of the driving shots were finished (Bella and Charlie in the cruiser, Edward and Bella pulling up to the station in the Volvo, and Carlisle with his Mercedes), and by about 7 or 8, we broke for ‘lunch.’ I sat with a few crew members who dealt with the greens on set. That’s right, there’s a whole team devoted to dressing the sets with trees, bushes, foliage and flowers. They hide set equipment and cover up elements that the directors don’t want to be included in a scene. For example, there was a big sign outside of the bank that said the time and temperature that didn’t quite work for the shot, so they covered it with a camouflage tarp and placed a number of tall, skinny evergreens in buckets in front of it. I literally did not know it was there until the very end of the night when they started taking down the cover. It is so interesting to see the details that go into these films, and the sheer number of people it takes to pull off one scene!

Anyway… after lunch/dinner/whatever meal I was eating at the ‘start’ of my day at 8pm, I meandered back towards the credit union that was doubling as the Forks Police Department for the evening. Video village was now set up behind the bank (in the drive-through, nonetheless) and I was glad to see the comforting bank of monitors, and the various directors chairs set up for the night’s filming. I dropped off my stuff, was handed a set of cans (Yay! It really made all the difference to hear the cast and crew in order to know what was actually going on in and behind the scenes), and walked around to the front of the building to watch the lighting being rigged and say good evening to Gillian. We chatted for a bit about the script's journey: how it gets from the director to the screenwriter, to the author, to the producer, to the studio, and back through the circuit again in the writing process, and in the middle of our conversation, a couple led their miniature pony right by us, effectively halting our speech. I told Gillian that this was the third or fourth time that they had paraded the pony by the set, as I had seen him a few times during the day, and that I thought they were hoping to get him into the film. Gillian looked at the pony critically and said, “Hmm… I wonder if Catherine [Hardwicke] has seen that,” with a smile. Sadly the little pony didn’t make the film, but he did watch the action with his owners for hours. Literally hours… there was a whole slew of fans and town residents who just watched the filming until about 3am. That’s dedication right there…

Eventually they set up the shot for a scene in front of the police station. This was an added scene so I can’t go into much detail (I’m sorry! I know that’s annoying!) but it was basically a small addition to enhance the menacing aspects of the nomads… something that I personally think is quite necessary; because if you think about the nomads in the books, they are the real villains, the ‘bad’ vampires, and we have very little introduction to them even to realize how scary they can be. We only see the Cullens, the ‘good guys,’ and while we can hear Edward say that he’ll be more protective over Bella because the nomads are around, there isn’t a lot of time for us as readers to get to know these characters before they are suddenly a huge threat. In the film, there is even less time to come to that realization, and I’m guessing that the nomads are going to be the main threat/conflict in the film… so they’re going to have to build that up a little bit. Anyway, this scene involved Carlisle, Bella and Edward. It was short, but certainly effective. The scene took place well into the film, and I could tell that Bella and Edward were a definite couple at this point, as Rob and Kristen played it so that they appeared much more comfortable with each other (as comfortable as Edward could ever be in close proximity to Bella, anyway). It was also neat to see the relationship between Carlisle and Edward, as I’ve read that this is something Rob was fascinated by and asked Stephenie Meyer about extensively when she visited the set. Carlisle is fatherly and mentoring, but never patronizing. It was pleasant to see the relationship as a caring camaraderie. This was my first time seeing Carlisle, and I was blown away by his appearance, and by Peter Facinelli’s embodiment of him. He just was Carlisle. He oozed Carlisle. As you can tell by the pictures that are all over the internet, he certainly embodies an ethereal beauty, but even his mannerisms, the way he holds his hands in his pockets, his upturned eyes when listening to Edward speak… it was difficult to think of him as Peter, when all I saw was Carlisle!

Similarly, it was also my first time seeing Charlie Swan, played by Billy Burke. Billy Burke isn’t what I had in mind for Charlie (I don’t know about anyone else, but I pictured a middle-aged, overweight kind of a guy… I’m thinking Cliff from Cheers or something similar), but again, once I heard Billy talk, saw him in uniform, and witnessed his interactions with Bella, I could see how this guy could definitely be Charlie. He had that rough exterior, the lack of outward affection towards Bella but a strong undercurrent of love for her that you couldn’t help but notice. I suppose Billy Burke is more the correct age than Cliff from Cheers anyway! The scene that they filmed between him and Bella on this particular evening will probably only be about 45 seconds on-screen, but it took well over an hour to get just right. They filmed the scene many times with both of them in the shot, then many times focusing just on Charlie, and many times focusing just on Bella. These scenes will then be edited together to pick the best of each moment to create a fluid and effective scene.

So while they were filming this scene, the rest of the cast was milling about, relaxing in their trailers, perhaps napping as it was about 3am at this point, and I was sitting behind the bank/police station in video village with Greg and Gillian. We were chatting around the propane heater (again, thank the gods for propane heaters; it’s truly the only reason I made it through the night) as filming wasn’t occurring at that moment, and who should walk around the corner of the building? None other than Rob Pattinson himself. Well, he shuffled around the corner more than walked as it was frigid, he wasn’t in a thick coat and oh yes, it was still 3am- we were all knackered. He came and joined us around the heater and we just chatted for about twenty minutes. Talk about surreal... yes, there was certainly that moment where I panicked a bit internally (do you really think there’s any way he could stand 6 inches from me and I wouldn’t swoon internally??), but slowly, very slowly, I realized he’s just a guy, he’s at work, we were both cold, slightly bored by the current lack of action, and in his case, wiped out from 45 days of filming in crazy conditions. We chatted easily about all manner of things (some are rather un-bloggable), but not about my work, as I didn’t want to impose on his relaxing time and turn into That Crazy Person…. so I just talked with him normally. I do wish I’d have been able to chat with him about being away from the UK, reminisce about our favorite British microbrews and winge about the miserable time difference (try having a meeting on the phone with your supervisor when you’re eight hours behind her! I imagine he’s having the same kind of pain with his friends and family!), but I’m grateful just for the exposure to an actor on set, and one as kind, funny and pleasant...not to mention as handsome, as Rob; it’s certainly not all glamorous, the hours can be long, the expectations high and the boredom factor ever-present. You could be sitting around for hours and within two minutes, you have to be ready to shoot a scene where your loved one’s life is in danger or you have to recreate a first kiss a hundred times over… I can’t imagine living any part of my day ‘normally’ when you need to tap into that kind of emotion at a moment’s notice.

So it was lovely to meet Rob Pattinson. He’s an easy-going, amusing guy. He’s certainly focused on his work, but doesn’t seem to be ruled by it. He was mulling over his future activities, jobs, possibilities, and all of them sounded lovely but he didn’t feel the need to pin down what would be perfect for him at this minute or what would be the best for his career. He’s just a guy in his early 20’s, and like a lot of us, he just seems to be going with the flow and seeing how things figure themselves out and trying to have as much fun as he can in the process.

The night/morning went on, and soon it was evident that the action was winding down (it was about 5am, and believe it or not, there were still a few dedicated fans on the corner!), as the trees were removed, signs taken down and lights extinguished. Of course I was hesitant to leave as I really didn’t want any of this experience to end, but, alas, it had to. As much as I wanted to camp out in video village for a few more weeks and keep absorbing all of the information around me, they were packing up, and I still had over an hour to drive home. I returned my cherished cans, sought out Greg, Wyck and Gillian and thanked them profusely for all of their time, honesty and kindness on the set. I’m not sure if it’s in their job description to be that kind, but they went above and beyond anything that I had been expecting. I already can’t wait to hear about their upcoming adventures involving the marketing, editing, scoring and promoting of Twilight… not to mention the work that should begin soon on New Moon.

(EDIT: Apparently that last comment was misleading... there is nothing confirmed yet for New Moon. Everyone seems to be thinking about it (how could they not?), and they're hoping to start writing this summer, and start filming sometime in the spring; but the rights haven't even been settled yet and Stephenie Meyer is slightly busy with The Host release... so no confirmation about it yet!)

So I left the set of Twilight drowsy but smiling, with a thousand thoughts congealing in my head. I watched the sun rise over the Oregon hills as I flopped into bed at 6:30am, blissfully exhausted and forever grateful for this amazing experience.

But just to leave you hanging… I do still have more things coming! I got into a couple of great conversations with Wyck about adaptations and Greg about film budgets and how that can affect the overall integrity of a film (cough Eragon cough), but they will have to be topics explored more thoroughly later… so stay tuned for that!

Comment away! The more action on the blog, the more it gets me thinking and producing additional information!

Check out all of my webshots from the day in Forks/Vernonia here.

Sorry there aren’t a lot of them; that whole ‘no flash’ rule plus most of the filming being inside moving cars or inside buildings didn’t allow for a lot of photo taking!

02 May, 2008

A Few Notes

Hello! I just wanted to check in and say yes, my day three report about the all-night shoot is coming, probably early next week. I'm still in the process of organizing all of my notes and wrapping my head around the whole experience; luckily there have been lots of other Twilight updates for all of us recently so I can't imagine you've been pining away for my news!

I wanted to answer a couple of the questions I got in the comments (I LOVE when people leave comments on the blog. It's really nice to have feedback and know that something I'm doing is exciting for someone else).

1) What do the stand-ins do? Are they acting out scenes or are they stunt doubles or what?

-stand ins exist in nearly EVERY film. They are the body doubles for the actors while the crew is setting up the shot. They are generally the same height and coloring/body structure of the actual actor, and they stay in the actors position while the lighting and sound crew set up the shot. Shots can take anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours to set up sometimes, so instead of having Kristen Stewart or Rob Pattinson spend hours just standing before they actually work the scene, the stand-ins do that to get the light right. Then the actors are brought in to make sure everything is right, and then shoot the scene.

2) Where did you get the songs for your 'playlist'?

-most of them are from Stephenie Meyer's myspace page. She has a great playlist of songs by Muse, Linkin Park, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus (I'm slightly obsessed with Your Guardian Angel, listen to it and just think about Edward), My Chemical Romance, Brand New... there's a ton! I took off a few that I'm not a big fan of (Evanescence for one...) but most of them were new, and great, and now associated with Twilight and therefore I like them that much more. So after I got a few from her myspace page, I bought a bunch more songs by those artists and put them together in one big playlist. It's a great mix to run to. I start with Linkin Park's Papercut and it's an all-out power push for the rest!

3) What do you intend to do with the degrees once you graduate? I am asking because my son would love to follow in your footsteps, but he would also like to be employed

-To be honest, I don't know what I'll do with this when I'm done. What I do know, is that I will be able to do a multitude of things. I've never been one of those people who's like, "I'm doing this because I want to be _____ when I grow up." I pretty much just live for the moment, and right now, I know that a PhD can't hurt me in anyway, I'm studying what I love, and I'm pretty much blissfully happy.

The other reason why I can't say what I'll do when I'm done is that I'm learning every day what opportunities even exist for someone like me. Originally I was thinking about doing a PhD in English Literature, and I realize now how limiting that would have been for me. Not that it's a bad degree, but I'd basically be an expert in one area of literature and that wasn't enough for me- my interests are too varied; true I could teach, work in publishing, or anything involving PR or human resources, but that didn't really call to me. So far with this degree (PhD Film and New Media), I've discovered that I can work in film, game design, publishing, online companies, reviews, magazines... the list goes on, and I'm learning new options every day.

Basically it's going to be a degree that says I'm motivated, productive and I can read and write. There aren't many jobs out there where it will hurt me to have a PhD. I start teaching back in Wales in the fall, so we'll see how that goes and how I like it, but to be honest I'd quite like to have some time working in the film/media industry. I certainly like the opportunities for creativity, expression, adaptation, possible connections... and I can teach while I'm doing that, or get 'real world' experience and then teach... I don't know! Really, I'm still figuring it out. I'm not closing any doors, trying to open as many as I can, trying not to limit myself in any way, get tons of experience, and just keep working my bum off to learn as much as I can in these few short years. But I'm fairly confident that I won't be jobless in any way shape or form when I've completed the degree.

That was a long-winded answer and I'm happy to rattle on more if you ever have a question, but those are the thoughts in my head at the moment!

As a side note, my department put a link from the University's website about my time on the Twilight set. And no need to comment on how they misspelled Stephenie's last name! I've already emailed them about it and they apologized and will be changing it! :)

Thanks again for all of the comments; it's been great to share all of these experiences!

More soon, I swear :)

01 May, 2008

Twilight Set, Day Two: St. Helen's OR, Port Angeles scenes

Twilight Set Day Two: St. Helen’s OR- Port Angeles scenes

Unlike the day before, my second day on the set of Twilight was gorgeous- bright blue skies, a light breeze, and a very welcoming and maneuverable setup situated around the town square of St. Helen’s Oregon, which was doubling as Port Angeles for the day. The town itself is a great location for Port Angeles. Of course it looks slightly different, but it held the same small-town atmosphere that I felt in the real Port Angeles. It’s about a 45 minute drive outside of Portland and on the water. The main street is mostly antique shops with a shoe repair place, a movie theater, a hair salon and one or two cafes as well.

When I arrived around noon they were filming the dress shopping scene with Jessica and Angela. Of course the weather once again wasn’t working for them; while it was gorgeous, it was supposed to be a rainy day in Port Angeles, so a mammoth water truck sprayed the street down every fifteen minutes or so to make it look as though it had just rained. It was close quarters inside for this scene, so I watched from outside. The store, actually a hair salon, had been transformed into a small town dress shop, again, not far from what I was picturing for dress shopping in Port Angeles. There were a few racks of prom gowns, accessories, dress-clad mannequins and the cast lounging around between takes. During this scene, Bella is sitting in the window while admiring Jessica and Angela’s dresses and the Frat Boys make an appearance, banging on the window and harassing Bella- further proof that they are pig-headed imbeciles. It was the Frat Boys’ final scene, so once “cut” was yelled on their bugging action, they received a round of applause from the cast and crew and signed off of their Twilight experience.

The next scene was shot down the street- the infamous restaurant scene where Edward spills some of his secrets while Bella forces down mushroom ravioli (again, I felt such sympathy for Kristen Stewart… I have no idea how much ravioli she had to eat, but I’m sure it was more than she wished for!). Setting up the scene took quite some time as it was still daylight but they wanted to give the appearance of evening. All of the windows were covered in black cloth, white Christmas lights were strung over the trellis and the surrounding trees, and a big wooden toad sat on a stump next to the sign proclaiming the restaurant as “The Bloated Toad.” So it was no Bella Italia as it was in the book, I’m not sure why the change to “The Bloated Toad,” but it still looked just as I thought it should. One of the set dressers said they just found the carved, wooden toad on their travels and thought it was great and had to use it. I guess that’s as good of a reason as any to name your fictitious restaurant after an ill amphibian!

Once again I stayed on the periphery at first and tried to observe, but stay out of the way. The nice thing was that there always seemed to be a few people doing just what I was doing, and it was pleasant and easy to start a conversation with them. A woman standing next to me asked how I was involved, I told her my story of my studies and how they were nice enough to have me on set for a few days, and she told me that she was Catherine Hardwicke’s sister, Irene, and that she, her husband Lance and her mother Jamie were all on set that day watching Catherine work (Catherine is the director- IMDB her, she’s amazing). They were absolutely lovely. They are funny, friendly, they enjoyed every aspect of the experience as I did, and after about forty five minutes I felt like I was with my own family. We took some pictures, wandered the town a bit, and then headed to the catering tent for lunch. While enjoying our gourmet meal and chatting about the striking good looks of Rob Pattinson at the next table, Catherine herself came over to chat with the family. Irene introduced me to her with great gusto and Catherine was so gracious and enthusiastic. I definitely got the feeling that she is the kind of creative artist who can see the whole picture of everything around her but is able to focus intently and specifically whenever it is required. She asked me a few questions, and then summed up her thoughts about the adaptation of Twilight. She said that in one way, the film takes you further than the book does. She said “we can take you up in the trees and actually show you all of that crazy beautiful stuff. It takes you on a ride.” Like Wyck told me yesterday, she emphasized that this was a very contained book, as most of it was internal, in Bella’s mind. “With The Lord of the Rings you have this huge kingdom at your disposal. Forks isn’t naturally like that, so we expanded all of the action to bring it out, to make it more visual.” She added a few scenes and tweaked existing ones to make it more visual and have this 2D media translate to the screen, but all while focusing on the story and never straying far from the original work.

After this unexpected but extremely welcome interview, Catherine and Irene went on a hunt for the perfect mini-lamp to light Bella and Edward’s dinner table. After procuring said lamp and spray painting the bulb to the correct level of dimness, the scene was nearly ready to begin filming. I made my way to ‘video village’ which is a bank of monitors with director’s chairs set up to watch the filming that was going on inside. Ironically, the actors don’t really use the chairs, so I sat in Rob Pattinson’s chair for most of the day. The producers handed me a set of cans (headphones) so I could hear the dialogue and then I don’t think I picked my head up for about three hours. I’m afraid I can’t share the dialogue of the scene, but I can say that it was beautiful, their tones and intentions were spot on, Bella’s incredulous expressions were perfect and Edward’s eyes smoldered as they should. And the perfect mini-lamp looked perfect.

I’m a big fan of video village. It’s certainly exciting to watch the scene filmed live, but I also greatly enjoyed watching the scene as it would look on the screen. How the camera is angled, how it catches their eyes, and how people and props are strategically placed to frame the shot exactly as they want it framed. The cans were also great because not only could I hear the dialogue, but also the chatter between takes. The talk between Rob and Kristen, the comments by Catherine or Jamie Marshall (assistant director and co-producer), and the instruction, thought, and intent put into each shot before action was called. At one point Rob said, “I felt like I was falling apart during that take…” and Catherine told him, “Then go with it. Fall apart. Fall into her. You are falling so into her, just use that.” And of course the following take was flawless.

Irene, Lance and Jamie joined me in video village for awhile, as well as Gillian Bohrer, the creative executive from Summit Entertainment- the studio behind Twilight. Gillian, like Greg and Wyck, was another fountain of friendly and helpful information. She was eager to share her story, her thoughts on the adaptation and the details of Twilight’s journey from page to screen. I asked all three of them (Wyck, Greg and Gillian) if they ever re-read sections of the book before filming to refresh the scene in their mind and they agreed that like a good student, they try always to keep re-reading; not just to read for the test, but know the material and have it be fresh in their minds all of the time. It isn’t feasible for them to reread all of the time as they have dailies to watch, scripts to go over for the following days filming, and paperwork to complete every night, but they also said that at this point, the script has gone through so much work, and Stephenie Meyer has approved every line of it, that when the time rolls around for filming they can work off of the script alone and know that it still reflects the original work.

After another hour or two in video village, I realized, however, that this group of people really didn’t need to keep re-reading the book to keep it fresh in their minds. They were able to rattle off whole passages from memory, they could complete entire character conversations between them, and the one time there was a discrepancy over an aspect of the book (we got into a debate about the waitress’s hairstyle) the book came out and we found the tell-tale paragraph. Every aspect of this gave me a sense of their commitment to the film. In a video interview recently (I think it was the mtv.com video) Rachel Lefevre, who plays Victoria, said “It’s not enough for any of us that this is just a fun, good-time, vampire romp love story. That’s not enough. We want it to be real,” and you can see that in every member of the cast, crew, and production.

I’m rambling now… so that scene was brilliant. I got some great information, I felt productive and incredibly inspired by the work happening there. They finished the inside shots of Bella and Edward at dinner, and then they moved outside to film the scene where Bella and Edward come to the restaurant just as Jessica and Angela were finishing and Edward offers to get Bella dinner. It was nice to be outside and moving around (it was frigid, so movement and hot tea were very welcome). While I was outside I met some of the Twilight Moms, another Twilight fan site. They were also a friendly bunch and enthusiastic about all that they had seen that day and eager to hear what I had seen too. Also on the sidewalk was probably half the town’s population of St. Helens watching the action. Granted they probably couldn’t see a lot other than a giant crane and lights, but they didn’t seem disappointed.

We passed midnight while gathered around the propane heater (thank god for the propane heater, I think it’s the only reason I still have ten toes) and got the call sheet for the final day of shooting in Oregon. It was going to be an all-night shoot, starting around 4 and most likely not finishing until dawn the next day. Therefore, I drove home, and promptly went to bed, leaving my notes to be typed up the following morning. I think this was my most beneficial day; it gave me all sorts of new insight, stimulus and excitement, plus I felt very welcomed, included, and encouraged by all of these new, interesting, and very friendly people.

Check out all of the pictures here.

I beamed the whole way home, and was eager for the next adventure: an all-night shoot in Vernonia, OR. Up next: scenes with the Volvo and cruiser, unique additions, good conversation, and a crazy ‘extra’ opportunity for yours truly.