This past weekend Bloody Disgusting sent new reporter Chris Eggertsen into the battlefield where he was one of the first to view Chris Weitz’s The Twilight Saga New Moon before taking part in a massive press conference with the cast and crew. By the end of the day he had become bitter, angry and for a lack of better words, insensitive. Perturbed by the circus attraction the franchise has become, below you’ll find his take on the New Moon press conference.Unfortunately for lovers of quality cinema everywhere (and in particular the parents of 13-year-old girls), the first Twilight movie raked in $69 million over its first weekend, on its way to a total gross of $383 million worldwide, when it opened in November of last year. Unfortunate because it gave Summit Entertainment, the upstart studio responsible for the film, a reason to immediately rush a sequel out into theaters for all of the franchise’s screaming, pre-pubescent female fans.
So it was that I found myself at the press conference for Twilight: New Moon, less than a year after the first installment (not to mention its bevy of freshly-scrubbed teen/young adult stars) was unleashed like a cinematic plague on an unsuspecting movie-going public. Sure, the film suffered from less-than-stellar, if not exactly abominable, reviews (it stands at 49% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), but movies aimed at “tweenaged” girls are generally critic-proof, and Twilight helped prove that by becoming a monster hit.
Of course, over the last year the young cast, particularly Robert Pattinson (who plays Edward Cullen, the vampiric object of obsession), Kristen Stewart (Bella Swann, the love-struck young girl who falls for him) and, as of late, Taylor Lautner (completing the love triangle as a hunky boy-next-door/lycanthrope vying for Bella’s affections), have had their personal lives turned into their own kind of show thanks to the bottom-feeding Harvey Levins and Perez Hiltons of the world. In fact, it soon became apparent to me that a number of journalists occupying the ballroom at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills for the press conference, particularly when Lautner and then Pattinson were introduced, were less interested in the movie itself than in how the young stars were coping with being, like, famous and stuff.
“What’s the weirdest story you’ve ever heard about yourself in the tabloids, Robert?” asked one reporter.
“Taylor, how does it feel seeing your face plastered on billboards all over the country?” inquired another.
A few “journalists” (I use that term loosely, you understand) even took it upon themselves to ask nauseating questions regarding the actors’ personal lives.
“So Mr. Lautner, can you confirm whether you’re dating Taylor Swift?” some breathless turd located somewhere in the second row shouted out. (Lautner neither confirmed nor denied, in case you were wondering.)
“Robert, have you ever had your heart broken?” asked another. (“No, I don’t think so“, replied a weary Pattinson.)
“All around the world, people are counting down to your 18th birthday, Taylor. How are you going to celebrate?”
That last question, believe it or not, came straight from the mouth of a vapid female reporter representing a major big-city newspaper, perched like a Mrs. Robinson-style succubus a couple of rows back from the stage. For all the cringe-inducing inanity of her question, not to mention the odiousness of its sexual connotations (she had to be have been in her 40s, at least), she might as well have been there representing TMZ.
All of these observations only serve to underscore the fact that now more than ever, America’s obsession with celebrity is not only being exploited by cheesy drugstore tabloids, but by publications and news organizations that are supposed to be above that sort of gutter-trawling nonsense. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not so much that I personally care one way or another about the specifics of the new film (trust me, I don’t). I merely found the atmosphere at the press conference extremely telling of where we are as a culture, and perhaps even more so of where we’re heading.
But I digress. Believe it or not, there were actually numerous questions asked regarding the process of making the movie itself. To give you a picture of how it all went down, the press conference proceeded in rounds, where one group (and for the three main stars, one individual) after another made their way into the ballroom to answer questions from the assembled press corps. First up was Kristen Stewart, looking typically bewildered as she loped onto the stage and proceeded to respond to the inquiries of reporters in the herky-jerky, can’t-complete-a-sentence-to-save-her-life style that has become her lamentable trademark. Here’s the cleaned up version of how she described the arc of her character Bella Swann, who early on in New Moon is abandoned by her vampire boyfriend Edward (who disappears for a long stretch in the second act):
“Basically we tell our main character, our main protagonist, that she is wrong [about Edward loving her]“, said Stewart. “It’s like, where is our story going to be left if Edward’s not there? What I really love about New Moon is that you see this girl really build herself back up, and by the time she makes the rash decision to spend eternity with a vampire, she’s in a position where you actually believe her, like, [she's] old enough and mature enough to know, [because she's] lived life. She just grows up.”
Taking away the main object of female desire for a good hour of screen time in a film aimed at fanatical ‘tweener girls isn’t exactly a winning strategy, but it’s one that remains true to the second book, in which Edward’s character is also absent for a considerable amount of the story.
“We all just talked a lot about the overall design of the series, that it really needed Edward’s absence to allow Jacob to become a viable option for Bella“, said producer Wyck Godfrey, who looks vaguely like a dark-haired William H. Macy. “And we really had to fight that instinct to be like, ‘oh my gosh, everyone loves Edward Cullen, you’ve gotta figure out ways to put him in’. But the whole series doesn’t work unless he’s absent…and I think Taylor [Lautner] really fills that hole amazingly well.”
Ah yes, Taylor Lautner, the cherub-faced young actor currently gracing the bedroom walls of pubescent young girls all across America. Indeed, Mr. Lautner enjoys a greatly expanded role in this second installment, where his character not only presents himself as a viable romantic option for a grieving Bella, but also discovers his genetically-based tendency to transform into a vicious, gargantuan wolf-creature at the drop of a hat. Of course, Lautner is lucky to have had a role in New Moon at all, considering that early on the producers had considered recasting his role for the second installment and entrusting it to a more established actor.
“There was a big possibility where that could happen, but I was always convinced that [Taylor] was going to be able to do it. The doubts came up because he had very few scenes in the first movie, and also because he’s described as being 6’5” [Lautner's height is typically, and laughably inflated to 5'10.5" on IMDb, whereas he's probably closer to 5'7" or 5'8"] in the second book“, said director Chris Weitz, who took over helming duties from Catherine Hardwicke in this installment. “So these were reasonable facts that we had to come to grips with. But I liked the sort of sweetness of this character in the first movie and I knew that it was easier to take an actor in the direction of anger and rage than it was to find someone who was…a 6’5” Native American and somehow turn him into that very sweet-natured persona that Taylor brings out so well.”
Weitz, still perhaps best known for producing and co-directing American Pie with his brother Paul (though Chris technically did not receive a directing credit on the film), suffered a bit of a letdown with his last project as director, the poorly-received The Golden Compass from 2007 (to be fair, the film was only a failure domestically; it grossed over $300 million in foreign markets). Needless to say, he was definitely feeling the pressure of taking on such a beloved franchise.
“Chris did a very different thing that I’ve never had a director do. He put together like a syllabus of what we were supposed to achieve, and how he was going to make it easier for everyone. Sort of like introductions of how he likes to work“, said Stewart. “It was very encouraging. And it also had the technical aspects of, like, how he was so sorry that so much of the movie was going to be CGI stuff, but that he was always going to make us aware of what we were acting with, that we were never going to be left high and dry. A lot of effects movies are hard to do because you don’t know what you’re reacting to. So it was like a full rundown of how he planned on making the movie.”
“It was like 40 or 50 pages long“, said the drowsy-sounding Robert Pattinson (who truthfully possesses about the same level of color in his face as his vampire character), of the syllabus. “[It included] a bunch of letters, and emails and everything. He was trying to show that he was on the same page as us.”
“I knew that I needed to do quite a lot of thinking coming into the movie because I was the new kid“, said Weitz. “What I really didn’t want was ‘sequelitis’, or the idea that we were just cranking out a franchise. I wanted everyone to know what sort of movie we wanted to make.”
Taylor Lautner, with his greatly expanded role in the second film, was also feeling the heat of delivering the goods.
“You can definitely say I felt a little bit of pressure trying to bring Jacob’s character and Jacob and Bella’s relationship alive for the fans“, he said. “This movie definitely sets up the love triangle, so it’s a very important story.”
Inevitably (and vomit-inducingly), there were also many questions directed at Lautner regarding how he managed to so noticeably buff up his physique for the role.
“I was in the gym about five days a week“, said Lautner. “The most important thing was the eating side [of things]. Everybody thinks it was actually getting in the gym. That was easy, I was motivated. So getting in the gym was easy for me. But the eating was pretty hard…we found out that I had to eat 3,200 calories a day just to maintain. I [wasn't] trying to maintain, I [was] trying to gain. So I had to eat more than that.”
Of all the young actors who took the stage, Lautner was perhaps the most composed and unshakable when it came to handling the barrage of questions. In some ways, he reminded me of a young Tom Cruise, not only in his physical makeup (he has the same compact build) but in the way he answered every inquiry in almost Stepford-like fashion. It’s almost as if he was birthed (perhaps by a specially-constructed young-Hollywood machine), like many polished-to-a-fault young actors, specifically for the purposes of being thrust into the media spotlight. He’s a perfect specimen, to be sure; smilingly robotic, affable, and charming in a calculated way. The only problem? The young Tom Cruise was also a better actor.
It was somewhat of a relief, then, when four of the thesps who make up the Volturi (“the closest the vampire world has to royalty“, according to the press notes) took to the stage. A relief, for the simple fact that two of the four (Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning), together likely possess more honest-to-god acting ability than the rest of the cast combined. Unfortunately their roles are relatively minimal in New Moon, but nevermind. Sheen, who portrays Aro, the leader of the Volturi, spoke a bit about how he prepared for his villainous role.
“As I started to play around with [Aro's voice], I kind of reminded myself of the ‘Blue Meanies’ [the music-hating characters from the animated Beatles film Yellow Submarine]“, said Sheen. “And then I was also thinking about characters from when I was a kid watching stuff that really creeped me out…[like] the child-catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang…I like the idea of a character who on the surface seems to be very friendly and seems to be a sort of sentimental old fool, a romantic at heart, [except he] wants to eat your eyes.”
Fanning, who surprisingly came across as very genuine and age-appropriate (at least compared to Lautner) considering the long string of success she’s enjoyed as a child actor, also seemed to relish playing the part of a baddie.
“It was fun to get to play a kind of feared character“, said Fanning. “It’s something different than what I’ve done before. She kind of uses her power not for good, which is another thing that was tempting to me.”
It’s too bad Fanning isn’t in the movie more, because despite her tiny part in the film (she’s onscreen for around three minutes, at best, and only has a couple of lines), she is easily the most talented young actor in the cast. In all honesty, she somehow manages to achieve more with the brief role that she plays (Jane, a deadly member of the Volturi who is able to cause a person intense pain just by looking at them) than Kristen Stewart does with hers in the entire movie. (Thankfully, she’ll have the opportunity to upstage Stewart when she stars opposite her in the upcoming movie about the ‘70s era all-female L.A. pop/punk band The Runaways.)
The other new group of half-human/half-supernatural creatures to join the cast of characters in this installment is the “Wolf Pack“, played by an assortment of young male Native American actors who will forever be remembered not for their acting abilities, but for the buff and bronzed shirtless physiques they (laughably) sport every moment they’re onscreen (not to mention their heavy presence in those god-awful trailers). Chris Weitz, for his part, jokingly attempted to rationalize the necessity of the characters remaining half-naked throughout the film.
“It’s all socio-economics, you see. The Quileutes [the tribe of Indians the half-hunk/half-wolf characters is descended from] don’t have [a] very high average income, and they can’t afford the t-shirts they would need, given the amount of time they transform into wolves on short notice and their clothes burst“, said Weitz. “So really, they’d have to go to Wal-Mart every ten minutes. So they just go around in shorts for that reason.”
Listen, I get it. When your audience primarily consists of girls just entering the dizzying awkwardness of adolescence, it’s probably a good idea to market your film with a bunch of hunky, pectoral-intensive male actors in plain sight. As for the lascivious male journalist seated in the front row (I pictured him with loads of warm, frothy saliva dripping out of his gaping pie-hole) who seemed way too interested in the workout regimen of the four hard-bodied male “Wolf Pack” cast members on the panel, there’s really no excuse.
Regarding the man-to-wolf CGI transformation shots shown to good effect in the trailers, Chris Weitz went into the specifics of their creation.
“Stephanie was very explicit in not wanting it to be a Lon Chaney-esque, or Howling-esque, or American Werewolf in London-esque transformation, which takes a long time“, said Weitz. “Which is good. Her instincts were completely correct in terms of the movie because what we had noticed making The Golden Compass, my special effects people and I, was that a lot of the things that you really worry about, like how is one thing going to transform into another, are really solved by doing [the transformation] very quickly. There was some worry about volumetrics, which was how do you turn a 180-pound guy into a 600-pound wolf? We did some early tests on how you might do that, and it actually proved much more doable than we thought.”
“I was blown away [when I saw my wolf]“, said Lautner. “I was really excited. Because when I’m filming the famous trailer shot, where I’m running through the fields, jumping up, transforming mid-air, I’m attached to wires, and I’m running, and I just let the wire pull me up in the air and jerk me to a stop and I just have to freeze there and let them turn my body into a CGI wolf. And the whole time, I’m like, ‘I hope I look cool’. After I saw the final version [of the CGI] last week…[and] the fight scene that comes right after that, the fight between Jacob and Paul’s [wolves], [I thought it was] so cool.”
Unfortunately for straight male movie-goers, who will inevitably be dragged to the movie by their girlfriends or even (shudder) their old-enough-to-know-better wives, the action and special effects take a definite backseat to the love story. Of course, this approach is certainly understandable from a commercial perspective. For as much as the filmmakers try to spin it otherwise (“There’s all kinds of great stuff for boys as well“, said Weitz, not sounding convinced himself), the Twilight films are geared almost completely towards a single audience: the battalion of squealing, ‘tween-aged readers of Tiger Beat magazine the world over.
“There’s this wonderful audience that appreciates what we do, wants us to do well, and really wants to engage in an emotional experience“, said Weitz about appealing to the young female fanatics so invested in the series. “And so to me it made sense to be unashamed of the emotionality of the piece…the girls needed to be given their due, and I think we deliver on that.”
As for Twilight: Eclipse, the David-Slade-directed next installment in the series (which is being rushed out to theaters next summer), we can likely expect more of the same, as evidenced by the following daytime-soap-opera-sounding rundown from Taylor Lautner:
“I was really excited to start filming [Eclipse]. I just love that it’s the height of the love triangle. Twilight develops Edward and Bella’s relationship, New Moon develops Jacob and Bella’s, and in Eclipse the three of them are basically together. It has one of my favorite scenes ever, [where] Edward is forced…to let me sleep in the same sleeping bag as Bella, just so she doesn’t die, because she’s shivering to death. And I’m warm and I’m the only thing at that moment that can [save her].”
Kristen Stewart also gave a hint of what’s to come, in this sleep-inducing tidbit:
“Just like New Moon starts and becomes a completely different movie, so does Eclipse“, she pronounced. “It’s like, just as soon as you think you’re gonna get, like, the same story, all of the sudden it changes. [In Eclipse] Bella is much more, she’s back to herself, she’s content now. She’s again comfortable and self-assured in a way she wasn’t before. What I really love about Eclipse is [it deals with the idea of] different levels of love and acknowledging that the ideals you may have [had] a little while ago aren’t true.”
Snore. But hey, I survived the press conference without barfing up my lunch, which in itself is a minor miracle considering the star-fucking barracudas scattered liberally throughout the ballroom around me. Ms. Stewart, for her part, had this observation to offer up regarding the poisonous, soul-sucking, 24-hour new media environment she’s been doomed to for at least the rest of her young adult life:
“It’s like a show, a ridiculous show, with like, false realism. It’s like a soap opera, where it seems real but you’re not really sure.”
I couldn’t agree more.