Melissa Rosenberg on Adapting ‘Breaking Dawn’

By Maryann Yin Comment

Twihards around the world will watch The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 this weekend. In the latest installment of the blockbuster series, fans can expect to see a dramatic vampire wedding and eventful honeymoon.

We caught up with screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg to talk about writing scripts and the adaptation process. The highlights follow below…

Q: Describe the writing process when you are charged with adapting a book for a script versus writing an original script.
A: Each comes with its own challenges, but nothing is more difficult than starting with a blank page, as a writer does with an original project. I had the good fortune to start with an already fully fleshed out universe and mythology. But an adaptation comes with its own challenges: Honing a 500 page novel into a 110 page script. Externalizing very internal character arcs. Not pissing off the millions of fans around the world who don’t understand, or frankly care, that a book and a movie are very different animals, and that one can’t simply transfer the entire text into screenplay format and shoot it.

Q: The novel Breaking Dawn features the character Jacob Black as a narrator. For all the other Twilight Saga titles, the stories were exclusively narrated by Bella Swan. Did this present any interesting challenges for you?

A: More of an opportunity than a challenge. The bigger challenge, always, is to externalize Bella’s inner experience. To be able to cut away from her point of view really opened up the story telling.

Q: With Stephenie Meyer serving as a producer for the film, did you get to work with her at all on set? If yes, do you have any interesting stories you can share?
A: All of my work with Stephenie happens long before and right up until the cameras roll. I did visit set to be in the wedding scene (you can play a Where’s Waldo game of finding the screenwriter among the guests). Stephenie, Wyck Godfrey, myself and Bill Bannerman attended the wedding together. We created characters with back-stories for ourselves. Bill and I were married, he was a chiropractor and I was Rene’s college friend from L.A. who fancied myself an interior designer, but the only thing I’d ever designed was Bill’s office waiting room.

Q: When you are adapting a novel for a screenplay, what compels you to deviate from the original work? How do those decisions translate better on film?
A: There’s a lot of condensing that has to happen in an adaptation. Blending scenes, or creating new ones that include essential elements from the book. Plus, in a novel, a character can be more reactive. But in a film, your lead really needs to drive the action, so Bella became more proactive.

Q: Do you have any tips for aspiring screenwriters?
A: Learn your craft! Take as many classes as you can, grill as many experienced writers as you can, and read or watch as many movies and as much TV as you can. Analyze their structure, characters, themes, etc, and you’ll see what works and what doesn’t.

Q: What do you want the fans to take away from Breaking Dawn Part 1?
A: Don’t get pregnant with a demon baby unless you have vampire venom on hand.

Q: What kind of surprises do you have in store for them in Breaking Dawn Part 2?
A: We’ll be introducing some really cool new characters for the Cullens to play with.

Q: Besides the final Twilight Saga film, what’s next for you?
A: WELL! My production company, Tall Girls Productions has launched with a bang. Our projects include:

I’m writing/producing a film for Paramount Pictures called Earthseed. It’s an adaptation of Pamela Sargent‘s sci-fi novel about a group of teenagers who grow up on a spaceship headed for a new planet and have to face a mysterious foe they didn’t know existed.

Writing/exec producing AKA Jessica Jones, for ABC, ABC Studios and Marvel. It’s based on the Marvel Alias comic books by Brian Michael Bendis, about a female ex-superhero with post traumatic stress disorder who’s trying to make it as a P.I. in NYC. The project, originally put in development last season, is still in consideration at the network.

Exec Producing NBC’s Afterthought, written by Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman). It’s in the vein of Inception and The Cell, about an unconventional team within the FBI led by a female neuro-scientist who developed a way to use the six-hour window between clinical death and cellular death to solve murders by entering the memories of the recently deceased.

And we just announced the pilot Penoza, which I’m writing exec producing for ABC, ABC Studios and Endemol. It’s based on a Dutch series that centers on the widow of an assassinated criminal who is suddenly forced to adopt her late husband’s role in order to protect her family.