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Much like the two filmmakers who preceded him, David Slade's work prior to his stint on the Twilight saga both makes him perfect and ill-suited to take the reins of the franchise. His debut, Hard Candy, also featured a seemingly helpless young female cast into a world she can't control, and his follow-up, 30 Days of Night, focused on a community of bloodsuckers. But the maturity and intensity of those two movies runs contrary to the decidedly more mild tone of his Twilight installment, Eclipse, even if it does feature the series' most ferocious fight sequences.
Cinematical recently sat down with Slade for an interview during the Los Angeles press day for Eclipse. In addition to talking about his own creative impulses, Slade talked about crafting a coherent new installment in the series, and reflected on the way each film serves in some ways as a reaction to its predecessors.
Cinematical: This feels like the first film in the series that is leaving behind some of the metaphorical aspects of vampirism and embracing the mythology of the world Stephenie Meyer created. How did you juggle the romantic elements of the story and the expansion of this vampire-werewolf world?
David Slade: It's a really thick book, and that's where I started. I read the script first, and I feel like there's still a lot of metaphor there, but I feel like you feel it more than see it. There's still the metaphor of institutionalizing a vampire by giving him a family – taking what's dangerous and sexy and somehow making it accessible. It's still there, and I think what I was trying to do with this film because of the story and the arc was to revive the danger. To say underneath Edward's sparkling, pure surface, there's a carnivore. He's a killer who goes out and kills mountain lions, but we never see it – it's always off screen. They never really talk about it much in the book, but that's what they do, they go out and they kill animals with their teeth and rip them apart and eat them. That's a horror movie, and because the climax of this film involves an incredibly violent showdown, you can't just have him become vicious at that point. So I think one of the things that I brought in terms of balancing all of those elements was to take Edward and try and sow wherever I could a seed of that kind of simmering monster – who's talked about a lot in the first Twilight movie, by the way. It's not new news, but it's just to bring that guy back, and a couple of scenes – particularly the confrontation between Jacob and Edward outside the house after she's punched him in the face – that to me had to be explosive. We were blocking it, and I was just like, "well, grab his shoulder and shake him!" Taylor was like, "he's not grabbing me!" And I was like, "yes he is, and that's why – the way you reacted right now. Go!" So it was really scrappy and then there were these looks on [Edward's] face which are just really simmering ferocity.
So that was one of the things, to bring that back underneath, but the book and the screenplay were great maps to the story, which is huge and epic and you have to break it down into little pieces. So the things you're talking about become innate; they sit in your subconscious so you know about them no matter whatever you're doing. A film like this, to be shot in this amount of time, which was only 50 days, it had to be designed and storyboarded and blocked and rehearsed well in advance because that was our time – that's all we had. The actors were going off to do press, everyone was gone, we didn't have the money, so we kind of made it almost like an independent film. So all of those things you're talking about become subconscious; you just understand that stuff and blast through, because it's "cut, print, moving on!" It's like that pace but it goes on 16-hour days minimum, six or seven days a week until 50 days is up, so you kind of don't really analyze it like that. Any analysis of it like that happens in preproduction, and then you just learn it and go.
Cinematical: Your responsibility is obviously to protect the integrity of this property as a film.
Slade: Really? I don't think it is.
Cinematical: You don't?
Slade: Not particularly, no. I think my responsibility is to make the best film possible, but in terms of integrity, we had Stephenie Meyer with us. As far as a guide, she wasn't at all imposing; she sat there and she discussed things that she thought were a little bit out of what she knew as her own world, but essentially she left us alone, and to me that kind of lent its own integrity. So that was never a big concern to us. Unfortunately the concerns were really boring stuff, like oh God, it's going to rain today. Oh God, it's going to be sunny today, and we're filming Edward, and we don't want him sparkling. It was really kind of mundane that way.
Cinematical: Because you're trying to make the best film possible with this source material, how careful did you have to be to preserve certain elements that satisfy fans versus telling the story most effectively? For example, Jasper's flashback thematically ties in with the story and the fans would miss its absence, but it doesn't drive the immediate narrative forward.
Slade: They possibly would. I mean, in the book Eclipse, Jasper's story is a hugely thick chapter – I mean it could make its own film – and we had aspirations to make that scene much bigger. But that became impractical, and yeah, there's certain things that it's not so much that you think, oh God, the fans are going to kill us if we don't do it, it's that you actually kind of get a rhythm going once you understand the story. I was lucky enough to come in and the first draft of the story was already written by Melissa Rosenberg so I had the story all in place, so you go, well, I'd miss this. And antithetical to that, there's a story which fans probably wouldn't miss but we had to take out of the film because the rhythm of the film wouldn't allow it - it just stopped the film dead at a certain point when the film really needed to keep moving. So it's a delicate balance, because you do want to make the best film for everyone, but you do have to pay respect to what become people's favorite things, and that becomes contagious. You go, the line about Switzerland? You've got to have it in there. Because it's all they talk about. But Jacob's "yeah, yeah" is not in the film, and I'm sorry – it just didn't work. So there is a fine line, I agree with that, but it becomes your own and you go, but I would miss that! After a certain point you actually get really solidly attached to the rhythm of the film.
Cinematical: Whether it was your response or the critical reaction to the first two films, how much did you see or Melissa see Eclipse as a way to respond to those criticisms? Because Bella in particular is a much stronger, more assertive character in this film than Twilight or New Moon.
Slade: That would be a Melissa question largely, but I only watched the first Twilight once, and I got to see New Moon when Chris Weitz was cutting it – he was kind enough to show me his director's cut. So I relied on other people to tell me about that stuff, so that wasn't in my mind at all. I was just going off making the best film possible, making the strongest performance I could. It was really important that Bella's speech [in the film] is an epic speech, and it really validates her so completely that you have to build toward that, and we were lucky that we shot that scene early in the schedule so we knew what we were building towards. So in terms of that side of it, that was just me trying to make the best film I could. In terms of the intent, that would be a Melissa question.