Back to selection

Director Catherine Hardwicke on Twilight

All of Catherine Hardwicke’s four feature films – Thirteen, The Lords of Dogtown, The Nativity Story and now Twilight – have been about teenagers. They have also all been about real people, and all but Thirteen cover stories and characters already known to the public. Twilight is a teen vampire love story based faithfully on the Stephanie Meyer’s book trilogy, starring Kristen Stewart as the human Bella and Robert Pattison as the “vegetarian” vampire Edward Cullen who loves her too much to bite her. The books are coveted and obsessed over by young girls across this country, who are assembling in screaming, fainting mobs to see the film.

Twilight opens alongside other recent entries to the star-crossed vampire love genre, notably HBO’s True Blood and the Norwegian film Let The Right One In. The metaphor is popular because it makes a medical case out of sexual tension, turning everyday adolescent longing into superpowers beyond anyone’s control. Hardwicke knows why her audience is freaking out — they want to lose themselves in something as big as their feelings.

Filmmaker: The romance is so powerful and the chemistry between Belle and Edward is so intense, how do you get scenes to that steamy place?

Hardwicke: Of course the first thing is the casting. We had five guys come in and read with Kristin one day, at my house. Kristen knew on the spot [that it would be Robert.] I sat down and watched the tapes, and she was right, it was so obvious -– they were like two magnets. You could just see that each one was fascinated with what the other one was doing. The other thing is to create an environment, amidst the crazy weather conditions and chaos of the set, where the actors feel comfortable enough to have that connection. They were both trying to work on a level where they were inside the scene, breathing with each other. We closed the set to as much crew as possible, tried to make those scenes as intimate as just me and Kristen and Rob hanging out, alone together. Then they figured out how to really focus and be there.

Filmmaker: Did you think while making the film about the metaphors that vampirism represents?

Hardwicke: We thought a lot about it as a metaphor for lust, uncontrollable lust. Edward is suffering from these urges to consume Belle, but he has to balance it with his deep caring for her. I think that’s a teenage thing — suddenly you’ve got these urges, your brain saying one thing and your body saying another. But you might get arrested if you followed what your body told you to do, if [you] went and ripped someone’s clothes off. We all had those battles as teenagers, between desire and consequences. The vampire certainly has those battles, trying not to kill and wanting to so badly — that’s where you get this incredibly intense sexual tension.

Filmmaker: Obviously this genre has been played out a lot on TV, and I thought this movie avoided many of its visual clichés in terms of how it was shot and its production design. What thoughts went into your visual design, and what did you consciously try to avoid?

Hardwicke: I’ve actually never seen one episode of those supernatural TV shows, like Heroes or Buffy, so I don’t know how it’s different. But we shot so much of this movie outside in nature, and I don’t think that’s too common in TV. We shot in Portland on location; there was never any discussion of shooting in LA on a stage. The book is all about the power of the Olympic Rainforest in the Pacific Northwest and this massive cloud cover [that protects the vampires from the sun.] Most of the movie is really out in that forest, up on that cliff, out in that river. Location scouting, I was literally on three mile hikes in snow shoes, running around like a maniac hiker trying to find the coolest spots.

Filmmaker: How does your background as a production designer inform your directing?

Hardwicke: Well, initially, it was hard to get the chance to direct –- most [producers and studio execs] would never trust you to direct from production design — they just don’t get the connection. So you have to make your own chance. But in reality, it’s very helpful because as a production designer you’re on set sometimes before the director. You are physically out there pre-visualizing the entire movie and designing how and where you can shoot. For example on Three Kings, George Clooney was still doing ER, so we had to find Iraq an hour flight away from LA. So I’m going all around Mexico, New Mexico, Arizona, figuring out where I could build a village, what palm trees or mountains do I have to add or subtract with CGI to make this Iraq, what can I build in this desert. A lot of it is learning how to present your ideas, to make a plan and communicate your ideas. That’s the same with directing. I’d come down from some forbidding mountain that nobody wanted to shoot on and say, “I need to film on this mountain, and here’s why – look at this picture and see how fabulous it will be.” You have to be always selling and convincing and pitching people that it’s worth the effort to go do something you know will be amazing.

Filmmaker: Was this a transition from independent film to the studio world?

Hardwicke: I started as a designer in the Roger Corman world and eventually worked on big budgets like Vanilla Sky and Three Kings. Thirteen was $1.5 million and then the next one, Dogtown, was $25 million. Whatever the budget, you figure out the same thing -– “If this is all the money I have, how can I make it look as good, feel as good, give the actors the most time possible to make the scenes good.” This is actually a smaller budget than The Nativity Story. Nativity we had to shoot in Morocco and all over the world, and that was $40 million. This budget was slightly less than that, and we couldn’t do everything we wanted; like, we had stunts I storyboarded that we had to cut for the budget.

Filmmaker: I read that you started on the project with a different script, a studio script, and did a complete rewrite.

Hardwicke: Another studio had been planning to make the film, and I got that script from Summit. Belle, who’s this clumsy, shy girl in the book, was a superstar track athlete; the script had Belle and Edward on Jetskis running from the FBI — it just went off on its own wild thing. Maybe it would have been a cool teen vampire action movie, but it had nothing to do with the book. So I said, “Let’s make it for the people who love the books; let’s start over and make this for them.”

Filmmaker: Is the scale and intensity of the fans’ expecations on this one a new experience for you as a director?

Hardwicke: Dogtown was about real people, and even with Thirteen, that was about real people who were on the set every day. You know, with Nativity, everyone has their idea of what an angel should look like. Any time you make a movie, it’s coming from some existing place in the world, and people are going to be invested in what you’re doing. Obviously it’s scary, you want everybody to love everything, but you know you can’t please everybody. Especially on a movie like this with the fans and people who are so passionate about it -– you know there’s going to be lovers, haters, arguments, and I think that’s kind of cool. I mean, if someone’s gonna spend $38 million dollars on a film, it better not just be so I can watch it in my office.

© 2016 Filmmaker Magazine
All Rights Reserved
A Publication of IPF