It’s rare that an entire movie franchise has the same screenwriter. Even Steve Kloves took a movie off from Harry Potter. There’s Don Mancini on the Chucky movies and Melissa Rosenberg with Twilight. We got to chat with the screenwriter of all five films about Breaking Dawn – Part 2, Highlander, her time on “Dexter” and her new show “Red Widow.”
CraveOnline: How much would you have had to cut the battle if this has been one movie?
Melissa Rosenberg: I’d have to cut so much story. The studio started by saying obviously they want two movies, but if the story doesn’t lend itself to two then they would’ve done one. That was very much incumbent upon Stephenie [Meyer] deciding that and my looking at the story and seeing if it lends itself to two movies. Initially she and I would say, “Yeah, I think it’s one. I’m not sure.” Then as I got into the story and began to break it down, it became very clear it was two movies. If you tried to do all that in one movie, every story would’ve gotten short shrift including that. I don't know what would’ve happened to the end but it became very clear, Stephenie agreed so it’s two movies. It was at least seemingly a creative decision.
If there are people out there who raise issues with the gender roles in this series, is this the one where you can show them how powerful Bella is?
You know, that’s an interesting question because I think a lot of people have criticized the character of Bella. The book is different from the movie. The character of Bella is slightly different from the book in the movie. That’s because in a book a character can be reactive and passive, a lead character can because you’re inside their head so what their thoughts are and what they’re anticipating is active. You can’t do that in a movie. Whoever your lead is has to be proactive. So there was this very subtle shifting that began right from the beginning which was about shifting Bella’s character to being definitely more proactive, stronger and more powerful. If you’re sitting down and watching all five of them, you’ll see that comparison is very different from the book and that it’s a natural outcropping, is all building to her actually having physical power and perhaps being one of the strongest vampires ever. So to me it’s a natural progression.
What did you have to leave out of the book from both movies?
Not a lot in Breaking Dawn 2 actually. I would have loved to go even further with the guest vampires. That’s just a lot of fun, but it wasn’t about time. It was about storytelling. If you stop down a story to go and have everybody’s pages and pages of fun sequences of them, the drive stops. So it was really about pacing and getting just enough information about each one that you’re moving forward.
This is the only one you’ve written for the same director you’ve worked with before. Was it different doing two with Bill Condon and has it been different writing for each different director?
Well, it has been. I worked very closely with Catherine [Hardwicke] on Twilight because we had a very, very short period of time to do it so I was putting out pages and getting her notes right back instantaneously. New Moon and Eclipse I’d written before the directors came on so that was a different experience altogether, I did some rewriting as they came. With Bill, I’d written the outline but I had not started the script so he came in fairly early on in the process and Bill’s an Academy Award-winning screenwriter. So that can go one of two ways. Either as a screenwriter you say, “Let me just do it. I can’t figure out how to tell you. Let me just do it. I’m going to take this script.” Or, as in Bill’s case, he knows exactly what a screenwriter needs, the information and the inspiration to get the storytelling where he wants it. He started right from the beginning saying, “I don’t want to write this one. I want you to write it.” At this point I’m so tired I’m going, “Really? You don’t want to take a pass or something?” No. So he and I worked extremely closely together, a lot of just sitting around hashing out ideas, a lot of back and forth. It was the best of the collaborations but only because of the nature of the beast and when he’d come on, and because he’s just an incredibly screenwriter. We speak the same language.
What’s been your decompression from the Twilight world?
TV. Moving into TV, I mean back into TV. I never left and I never will. TV is the place for writers to live. This is where you have creative control and you’re constantly writing. Twilight had almost a TV schedule to it. I was constantly working on these projects. There was not a whole lot of lull but I’ve gone onto other feature projects that’s like, “Okay, I’ll get back to you on notes.” Two months later you’re getting notes back! I’m used to you give it to them, next day, next week you get ‘em. It’s a much slower process whereas in TV you have creative control, you’re in the mix, you’re constantly creating and working, moving.
Were those two months later notes on Highlander?
No, no, Summit again works very fast. Summit doesn’t put stuff into development they’re not going to make so everything they do has a deadline, although Highlander is still I think in flux at the moment.
I’m so excited you’re writing that because as much as I love those movies, there are a lot of holes in that mythology. What excited you about that?
Well, I only just did one draft of it. I’m not the writer of note on that project so I really can’t talk too much about that project. It’s not my child.
But even to have done a draft.
Yeah, I love the mythology as well and I was a huge fan of the original movie, although if you go back and look at the original movie, it doesn’t actually hold up that well.
It holds up terribly!
I know, but I remember first seeing it and going, “Oh my God, I love this.” So being a fan of the original, I dove in. It was a big challenge, but the guys who did the original drafts had some really great ideas. I was just really working off what they came up with.
I always wondered if they can only die by decapitation, what if they get split down the middle vertically? Would each half of them stay alive until it’s decapitated?
[Laughs] That is a question that has never been asked. I love that.
What do you think of “Dexter” this season?
I haven’t had time to actually watch it. I left after the fourth season and I was able to track some of the fifth and then I became quite swamped, but I do know the writing staff over there and the show runner. I’ve worked with all of them. They’re fantastic so I’m sure they’re doing interesting stuff.
If you were still on the show, would you have advised them against the storyline where Deb falls in love with her adopted brother?
I can’t comment on that. [Laughs]
What are you working on now?
I have a new series for ABC. It’s going to be out in midseason, January, February or March. It’s called “Red Widow,” it stars Radha Mitchell and Goran Visnjic. It’s based on a Dutch series called “Penoza” and it’s incredibly exciting. It’s about a woman whose family has ties to the Russian mob and when her husband is assassinated, she finds herself becoming involved in the criminal underworld to protect her children and right some of his wrongs, and begins to discover she’s actually pretty good at it.
Did you find the television industry had changed a lot in the few years you’d been gone?
You know, it’s always changing and it’s never changing. The faces and feelings at different networks change as people turn over, so ABC was different from the last time I had been on network TV because Paul Lee came in and it’s very different TV, but obviously I’m loving the experience over there because I just signed an overall deal with them for my company which is called Tall Girls Productions. I’m now housed under the ABC banner because it’s been such a great creative experience. That hasn’t always been the case from what I understand from other writers, earlier regimes. The whole system of pilot season and the fall premieres and all of that, the whole schedule, I keep waiting for it to change because it’s absurd. It makes no sense to me but it keeps on continuing so that everybody is looking for directors in January. There are only a number of directors. Everyone’s looking for cast. Actors are running around from 10 different shows, then you get a cast member and you’re like, “Okay I want them.” “They have an offer over here. Quick, make an offer.” It’s insane. It is not where the best creative work is coming through. I got so lucky on my “Red Widow” cast. It was just the universe looking out for me that I got those actors. It’s a big ensemble cast, a very international cast. I don't know how that happened.
That demand for talent is an interesting angle. I’m excited for all the different avenues for TV shows and movies, with VOD and downloads, but I wonder will it collapse on itself? It’s my job to watch everything and I can’t keep up. For people who it’s not their job, can they?
Take it all in? I think the pool has become quite a bit wider, it’s true. So much on the air, I’m a huge fan of television. I watch as much as I can to keep up on stuff and I can’t do it either. So it becomes a much bigger challenge to stand out in the crowd. Cast I think drives a lot of that. If you have someone who’s well known, you have a better chance at making it out of the herd, but because someone is a big name doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the right person for that role. So it’s a huge dilemma, it is really true.
I’ve been nicknamed Franchise Fred because I love franchises that go on and on. I feel like stories should always continue and with Twilight you’re dealing with a definitive ending. What is your take on whether stories need to have and ending or can just keep continuing and continuing?
I think stories do have an ending. I think they need to have an ending eventually because that is a story: a beginning, middle and end. If you draw out the end too long, I think storytelling can get tired. There’s only so much a character can go through, but they can call me Franchise Queen as well because in terms of the things I like to watch and write and be involved in, I’m all about the franchise. To me, to spend all the time and energy and face all those creative challenges that you would spend for a two hour movie, you’re inventing a world, you’re inventing characters. If they’re interesting enough, they should be compelling enough to go for five more episodes. How incredibly frustrating would it be to just do one movie? It’s like okay, all that energy, boom, it’s done. I’m not as interested in those kind of stories. They don’t interest me as much as a viewer and as a writer. Some stories have to be that way. People die at the end or whatever. To me it’s about every person, unless they’re dead, should be interesting enough to continue to track.
Maybe a story needs to have an end, but the characters can have more stories, right? No one has just one story.
That’s the trick of continuing storylines in both episodic television and in films. Every episode has to have a beginning, middle and end and every movie has to have a beginning, middle and end. But exactly, the story has but the characters continue. They continue to live and things happen to them in their lives. That to me is the most compelling storytelling.
We just heard that the biggest franchise of all will have Episode VII. What do you think that might mean for the industry?
Look at “Star Trek.” “Star Trek” was a sort of small series in the ‘60s and it has been reinvented in four or five different generations and now continues to be with JJ Abrams and that writing team, Kurtzman and Orci. Any time you get a new creative team into an existing format, who knows what could happen? Look what they did. I thought that last Star Trek movie was fricking awesome. It was really great. So you bring new, fresh, creative voices to it and you can do anything. So I think Star Wars could easily do that and Twilight could do that.
That’s the thing. Stephenie says this is the end of Bella and Edward’s story. Okay, they’re married and have her kid, but they’re going to live forever. They’ll have more experiences, right?
They’ll have more experiences but the story of their relationship I think is complete.
Sure, but it can be a different story about them.
It could be but their story and what has made them interesting in some ways is that their stories are so tied into their relationship. So every episode has been a journey in their relationship. I don't know that I would be as compelled to… Honestly, as you’re saying, anything could occur. They could be separated, whatever but I’m much more interested in the other characters that are sitting around whose stories haven’t been told. As I said, with Stephenie she has a huge wealth of story for all of them. The smallest little character has an entire story in her mind and probably somewhere in her files. I think let’s move on from Bella and Edward but let’s check out some of these other people.
You can follow Fred Topel on Twitter at @FredTopel.