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Melissa Rosenberg brings books to the silver screen

Rosenberg on Dexter and and the new Twilight film.

Melissa Rosenberg brings books to the silver screen


Melissa Rosenberg helped turn the cult book Darkly Dreaming Dexter into a hit TV show. Can she make a hit movie out of the massively successful Twilight? She landed the job of turning the best seller in to the event movie of this homecoming season. Of course, we talked to her about both.


Crave Online:    How did you deal with the pressure of adapting something with a ravenous fan base?

Melissa Rosenberg:     I didn’t know going in. I began to get a sense. Of course when they called to ask me if I was interested, they said, "Well, you know, it’s quite popular." I had not heard of it but then as I came onto the project, they said, "Well, yeah, there’s quite a fan base." I sort of went online exploring a little bit to begin to see oh maybe let me see what the fans are. I began to get a sense of how big it was and I stopped. I just knew right there and then I didn’t want to know at this point because I didn’t want it to influence the storytelling. I wanted the storytelling to be between me and the book, me and the author.

Crave Online:    They love the lions for lambs line. Was there some controversy about keeping that word for word?

Melissa Rosenberg:     I honestly don’t know where the book ends and I begin anymore. I just don’t remember. I’ll look at my original script and get back to you. It was a very subtle change, a couple words changed around. It probably had more to do with the exchange back and forth than anything else.

Crave Online:    Were you involved in casting?

Melissa Rosenberg:     No, unlike television. On television, I’m an executive producer on Dexter and involved in every aspect of the show but in features, in this feature, I’m not a producer. I’m there to serve a story and that’s it so I was quite delighted with who we cast. It was very challenging casting.

Crave Online:    Were you involved with any of the direction being on set?

Melissa Rosenberg:     As was Steph, the same thing happened. The very first day of shooting was the first day of Dexter, so I was able to get back there for a couple of days but in the process of writing, because we were fighting the writer’s strike deadline which was October 31st of last year, I finished the outline at the end of August and they said, "Okay, well, you’ve got five weeks to write a script." You can’t write a script in five weeks. And they said, "Well, do you want to get this thing made?" Okay, yeah. As it turns out, you can write a script in five weeks if you do nothing else. I mean, nothing else. You don’t shower, you don’t pet the dog. And coupled with having Catherine Hardwicke as your director who is a tremendous collaborator. She is a writer as well so she understands story and she gets the writer’s process. With every act, she was right behind me giving me instant feedback and I was able to tailor specific scenes to what she wanted. She already knew certain visual things that she wanted to do and what was happening in the action sequences and what she wanted to do so I was able to actually really tailor it. In that way, I felt very involved in what was going on with it because I was right inside Catherine’s head and trying to service her vision. But really I was just a tool for her to do what she needed to do.

Crave Online:    Dexter was adapted from a book. When you read Twilight, what did you know you had to take out?

Melissa Rosenberg:     A lot of it had to do with the book is very internal. It’s all Bella’s point of view. She’s a very introspective character. Obviously we’re not going to do that. It’s going to be though bubbles throughout the thing. The other thing was a lot of conversation. The middle of the book is three or four chapters of back and forth question and answer, which is very compelling on the page because a lot of the mythology is coming out there, but you obviously can’t do that on screen unless you’re doing My Dinner with Andre. So that I knew right away those two things were the biggest challenge of the book, how to externalize and dramatize Bella’s experience and her emotional arc as opposed to being so internal, so those were the two biggest challenges.

Crave Online:    Did Dexter give you a prep course in how to write an ethical predator?

Melissa Rosenberg:     Interesting. I have not thought about that but I think you may be right about that. That’s interesting because I don’t think, I had not done that prior to Dexter. I’ve done a lot of things. My career is pretty varied. I’ve done westerns and sci-fi and comic books and dramedies which has actually been a problem in some ways because people don’t know how to pigeonhole me. Like "Oh, she’s the romantic comedy person, she’s the horror person." But it’s been great for me. Now that I think about it, no. I have not ever done that so yeah, it’s been like a three year, because in a series, you really get to explore that character and you’re dealing with all the boundaries and limitations of that character and where you can push and where you can’t so that’s really, yeah, absolutely. Thanks for that. I’ll use that. Dexter was a great way into this too because they’re both very dark characters. They’re both dealing with inner demons in which they’re wrestling with trying to be human, or how to at least pass for human, both of them really, Dexter and Edward, all the vampires. So it was a good way in.

Crave Online:    Do you approach Twilight as a metaphor or just a vampire love story?

Melissa Rosenberg:     I don’t approach it as a metaphor but that’s always very much a part. When you write a scene and you’re thinking in terms of subtext always and metaphor, but really when you’re really getting into the writing of it, for me it’s just what’s true for these characters now. And if I stay true to it, it’s going to land I think in a metaphor. The metaphor’s going to land. But really getting into the storytelling of it’s really about just what’s real for these two people in this scene? What’s real for their emotional arc?

Crave Online:    What do you love about writing for a teen girl audience?

Melissa Rosenberg:     I love that core audience. They’re just so passionate. I mean, I was that core audience. A part of me still is, just that teenager. They get so passionate about that stuff. When I wrote Step Up, I got these little fan mails. I still have this e-mail from this one little girl who says, "This is the best movie ever!!!!!! This movie’s better than Dodgeball!" And I was like woo hoo. She saw it six times. When you’re that age, regardless if you’re a boy or a girl, things mean so much to you, you know. They’re shaping you. They’re shaping who you are. I take that responsibility, I know that so it was important to me in this movie to make sure that we’re conveying the strength of Bella because I know that young girls are going to be seeing this and I want to make sure that they’re seeing a strong character.

Crave Online:    A lot of vampire movies are all action. Why do they have to sacrifice characters and dialogue?

Melissa Rosenberg:     I don’t know. There’s probably the politically incorrect answer, at least for my career, which is probably why it’s taken me so long. I think to the detriment of film, and I think that’s why there’s so much better writing going on in television than in film, the detriment of film is the sort of mindset that before someone’s even finished a draft, they’ve got five other writers on it. You’re watering down a voice so much with five, 10 different writers on a project. You’ve lost track of the characters. The best films to me, more often than not, are the ones where there’s one writer on it or at worst a couple for polish and stuff. I think that’s what gets sacrificed, is depth and subtlety and interaction and character growth. I think it’s an enormous mistake and I think the studios are paying the price for that.

Crave Online:    Have you finished Dexter for this season?

Melissa Rosenberg:     I have, yes.

Crave Online:    Did it end up about where you planned or did it change along the way?

Melissa Rosenberg:     It never changed. I mean, we sit down in the very beginning and we plot out where we’re going for 12 episodes. That’s the beauty of only doing 12 episodes is that you know where you’re going so we knew where we were going to land. Some of the plotting along the way, you take little detours and come up with something that informs something else, but we knew where we were going to land. At the beginning of the season, we set up these different places that we’re going to hit in order to get there. Then you discover as you go along many things as well.

Crave Online:    Is there an essence of a Dexter story, that he’s about to get caught and finds a way out? It never feels like formula though so how do you manage that kind of story?

Melissa Rosenberg:     Well, there are only so many times you can play that story and we are very aware of that. You have to take a risk and do something else. The whole of season two was just about that almost. That was the entire arc for the season so we came into season three going, "Okay, well, we’ve played that. We played that about as far as we can go." So we’re pretty conscious and try as much as possible not to do it. On an episode to episode basis sometimes that goes on.

Crave Online:    I guess this year that was the launching point for it to go in a different direction.

Melissa Rosenberg:     Yeah, I think so.

Crave Online:    I’ve been really into the Rita storyline this year. Did you have any particular input into that?

Melissa Rosenberg:     Well, yes. It’s always about wanting to keep that character because it’s a hard character to keep interesting. But also Julie Benz is great.