Director Chris Weitz thought he was able to make a franchise out of "The Golden Compass" but the film’s commercial failure sidestepped that plan.
So it was with renewed passion that he agreed to helm the second of the much-anticipated "Twilight" films, "New Moon", and in this exclusive interview he spoke to Dark Horizons' correspondent Paul Fischer about it and potential Oscar nominee "A Single Man" which he produced.
Question: After "The Golden Compass", which possibly had franchise all over it, how reticent were you to take on another film that was in another franchise mold?
Weitz: I was raring to go, because I had been so disappointed by my experience with 'Golden Compass' which was meant to be longer. It was meant to flesh out Philip Pullman’s ideas more and really, the version that you saw had been cut to ribbons by the studio. So, I think that there are many good things about it, moments that I can be proud of in which the themes and the characters are right on. But there’s so much missing from it so I sort of felt like I really wanted to do it right this time. I sensed that Summit wanted to make a faithful adaptation of Stephanie’s book, so this was going to be my chance to redeem myself in the fantasy realm.
Question: Where is the dividing line that exists between your aims as a personal filmmaker, the needs of the source material, and the demands of the fans? I mean, do you feel that kind of pressure? Does it concern you at all, going into it?
Weitz: I didn't feel a tremendous amount of pressure, because in terms of… what one really wants is for someone to go and see the movie that you’re going to make. So, I thought that was covered. I feel like when I’m adapting a novel, which is what I’ve done on the last three movies that I’ve made, my job is to be faithful to the material and to the fans, or rather to the fans’ perception of the book. I still have sort of tremendous freedoms that I enjoy, in terms of the visuals and how I’m expressing the tone and the way that I’m kind of improvising on the theme as it were. Kind of like a musical number. Maybe someday I will sit down, write my own script, and make it precisely the way that I want. But for me, this was precisely the version of New Moon that I wanted to make.
Question: What kinds of changes were there from novel to screenplay, in this instance?
Weitz: Because you’re adapting a 600-page book to a two-hour film, you end up condensing action, dropping some scenes and expanding others to fulfil the role that dropped sequences from the book did. But the fans, I think, understand this so long as you don’t get rid of the tone of the characters, and the moments that they really care about. I think if you can be canny about what they really care about, and pay attention to that, then you're in pretty good shape. Eventually, I won't end up pleasing everyone. However I do think that this is one that was made for the fans.
Question: Now this franchise seems to in part have been responsible for a certain rejuvenation, as it were.
Weitz: Of the vampire industry?
Question: What is this unending fascination that we have with this particular type of gothic creature?
Weitz: I can't claim to understand it, to be honest with you. I haven’t quite put my finger on it, except that it’s a metaphor that’s adaptable for any particular generation or decade. But I think a lot of the kind of iconology of vampires really isn’t present in "Twilight". In a way they’re more like demigods than vampires. You don’t really see much sucking of blood from the neck. You don’t see crosses, garlic. They don’t burn up in the sun, they don’t sleep in coffins. Really, what it’s about is a young girl who doesn't think much of herself, who finds herself falling for a creature she thinks is way above her. Then she finds out that that is, in fact, the case. So it’s kind of like the sense of first love expressed in supernatural terms.
Question: Now one of the early, key scenes is a shot of her reading and studying Romeo and Juliet. Are there Shakespearean parallels?
Weitz: Well, I think the reference to Romeo and Juliet excuses the terrible decisions and misunderstandings that happen in the course of the film. It’s kind of a way of saying, "Well, there is this literary precedent for tragedy based upon misunderstanding." Of course Edward makes a terrible mistake by leaving Bella, he thinks he’s protecting her. So later, there’s a tragic misunderstanding which could be easily explained and that kind of stuff happens in Romeo and Juliet. As for it being a tale of forbidden love in which two families are at odds with one another – that isn’t really the case with the Cullens and the Swans.
Question: But teenage angst is certainly a theme in this.
Weitz: Yeah. First love is there. But otherwise, it’s quite different in many ways. Also the role that Taylor Lautner’s character plays, Jacob, is a much stronger rival for the interest of Bella than Tybalt is for Juliet.
Question: Now, I’m sure this film’s target audience is very excited that Taylor spends much of the film without his shirt on.
Weitz: [LAUGHTER] Jacob can't afford to buy new t-shirts every time he turns into a werewolf.
Question: Right, I know. I mean, but there is definitely a part of me that goes, "Well, this is very clever marketing." [LAUGHTER] I mean, is there a thought process behind the way that these actors as well as these characters are presented for the target audience of this franchise?
Weitz: That’s interesting. I mean, to me, it’s just that turnabout is fair play. It’s time enough that men get objectified for women, since it’s been done the other way around and young girls have been sexualized for men for quite a while. I actually think that if you look at the messages that this film has about sex, it’s very traditional and restrained. I mean, there’s a virginal heroine who has actually stated outright that she’s a virgin, which is kind of shocking in our culture. Things have turned around so much that that’s the exception to the rule. In terms of Edward’s behavior towards Bella, he is incredibly circumspect about it, and traditional. So, yes, there’s a lot of abdominal muscles on display. That’s not going to kill anyone.
Question: What impresses me about you is that as a producer, you have a very different mindset to choices that you make, as opposed to your role as a director in the sort of mainstream Hollywood scheme of things.
Weitz: Well – I mean, sometimes in terms of producing, I get to do stuff that kind of counterbalances.
Question: "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist", "A Single Man" — these are not the stuff of mainstream Hollywood. What do you look for as a producer? What do you and your brother look for, I guess - because you guys are both still working together on certain things – as producers, that you do not look at as directors?
Weitz: For us the producing part takes less time, and so we’re free to experiment with it a bit more. We look for people we believe in, like Pete Sollett and like Lorene Scafaria who wrote the script of Nick and Norah, like Michael Cera and Kat Dennings who starred in it. Like Tom Ford. It’s just being able to give whatever we can, whether it’s in terms of what limited expertise we have or advice we have to offer, or whatever doors we can open to projects that we believe in.
Question: How surprised are you about the response to "A Single Man"?
Weitz: I’m extraordinarily proud. I’m really proud of Tom. I knew he was going to make an impressive film and I'm really happy about the reception that Colin Firth and Julianne Moore are getting. Proud of Nick Hoult, who of course I’ve known since he was 12. It feels very, very good that it’s gotten the kind of attention it has, especially in these times when the clock is almost reversing back to the closeted days that 'Single Man' represents.
Question: What are you planning on doing next, after this circus dies down?
Weitz: I will sleep, and then I will make a movie called "The Gardener" which is about a Mexican gardener working in Los Angeles.
Question: So it’s not a huge "Twilight"-type movie, obviously.
Weitz: [LAUGHTER] No. It’s a small one.
Question: That must be a bit of a release for you, to be able to go from something like that.
Weitz: Well, it’ll be interesting, because of course then we’ll be working on a much smaller budget and have fewer resources and comforts than we’re necessarily used to. But I’ll be relieved not to worry about where the talking animal is going to be standing, and that kind of stuff.
Question: I mean, the last small movie you did, which is probably my favorite of your films was "About a Boy".
Weitz: Oh, thank you. Even that was not terribly small. You know, that had a budget around $27 million. But that was great, because we could concentrate on the acting, and never have to worry about the green screen.