Twilight by Catherine Hardwicke

Summit will released the eagerly-awaited romantic vampire tale “Twilight” on December 12, 2008.

Producer Greg Mooradian of Maverick Films first read “Twilight” before the young adult novel gained worldwide acclaim¬óin fact, before it had even been published. “Part of my job as a producer is to scour the world for new material,” says Mooradian. “I read a lot of manuscripts prior to their being published. When this one came across my desk, I just couldn't put it down. The premise of a girl falling in love with a vampire just hit me like a ton of bricks. And the book delivered on every level.”

What drew Mooradian to the story was not its exoticism, but rather its universality.

Metaphor for Teenage Lust

“There have been thousands of vampire films made,” he says. “What sets this apart is the love story. Vampirism in this story is simply a metaphor for teenage lust, for that feeling of 'I want you, but I can't have you.' I thought that was such a wonderful metaphor to express teenage longing.

“It's analogous to any young girl who has the opportunity to date the boy that her parents hope she'll go out with,” Mooradian continues. “But then there's that other boy who's mysterious and dark and brooding, and there's such a desire to unlock the secrets behind who and what he is, which in this case is a vampire. And that revelation happens at a point where she's already too far in to withdraw, no matter what the consequences are.”

“Twilight” was the first published work by author Stephenie Meyer, who has gone on to create three additional books in the series, with no sign of slowing down. “As a first-time author, I had no idea what normal is,” she says. “I still don't. I had no expectations. I was first approached about the movie before the book had even come out. I didn¬ít expect to hear anything about it until it was on the shelves, if then.”

Meyer describes herself as a mom first, then a writer, despite her chart-topping sales and prolific output. “For me, writing this book was so personal,” she says. “I was surprised that people responded to it so well. It still amazes me to watch how people get into the characters and how important it is to them. I get e-mails from people who feel like my book has actually changed their lives.”

A Brigham Young University graduate with a degree in English literature, Meyer says the idea for Twilight came from a dream. “When I woke up, I wanted to know happened next. That first day I wrote 10 pages. When I finished it, no one was more shocked than me that I had actually finished a book.”

As Meyer continued to add volumes to her narrative, Mooradian approached Summit Entertainment with the idea of developing the saga into a series of films. Twilight’s novel concept and compelling characters made it an apt candidate.

“The idea of a supernatural fantasy as background for a great tragic love story is a great combination,” says producer Wyck Godfrey. “Add to that a best-selling book series, and fans already connected to the characters, and we have a really good foundation to open it up to a new audience that may have never heard of Twilight. I think that once they see it, they're going to respond in the same way as the people who have discovered the books.

Dangerous Movie

“There's a huge amount of danger in this movie,” Godfrey continues. ¬ìThere's also just the excitement of a teenager doing things that are verboten. These are things that people connect to. And not just girls¬ó-I think that guys will discover it's dangerous, there's action, there's a thriller element to it, and then, ultimately, that it¬ís cool to be a vampire.¬î

As soon as she read the book, executive producer Karen Rosenfelt says she was immediately intrigued by the “Romeo and Juliet” aspect of the storyline as well as its sustained sexual tension. “I think we all think we're Bella,” says the former Paramount production president. “As a character she¬ís very accessible and identifiable. We all feel outside of the in-group and want to feel we¬íre marching to the beat of our own drummer.”

Meyer was excited about the possibility of seeing her work translated to film, but only as long as the filmmakers remained true to the books. “All of us have seen books ruined as movies, and I had a lot of things that I wanted to protect. My stipulations were pretty basic: You can't kill anyone who doesn't die in the book. The Cullens have to all exist by their right names and in their right characters. Things like that. I wanted the groundwork to be there.”

The filmmakers were sensitive to her concerns and committed to remaining as faithful to the book as possible. “The book is a bible for so many young girls, we needed to tell the story as written, as much as possible,” says Mooradian. “Stephenie loved the script. But at the same time she had some very specific ideas, and we implemented nearly all of them, much to the benefit of the film. For example, we had slightly changed a passage from the book, 'And so the lion fell in love with the lamb.” Stephanie suggested we go back to the way it was, because so many girls had tattooed that line on their ankles. I thought she was joking, but no.¬î

The producers tapped Catherine Hardwicke to direct the film. Hardwicke had segued a few years earlier from production designer working on films including Laurel Canyon, Vanilla Sky and Three Kings to writing and directing her debut film, the award-winning Thirteen, a sensitive and controversial look at a troubled teen's relationship with her mother.

“By no means were we exclusively looking at female directors,” says Mooradian. “But the core readership is young females, and we wanted to get somebody who understood that perspective. Catherine has really embraced that age group. She connects well with teenagers, and given her filmography, it was a natural fit. We did feel it was a plus for someone to be able to say that they've walked in the shoes of Bella, in terms of having that first crush on a guy, and that decision to go after the wrong guy, and the consequences that would come thereafter. We were fortunate to have found a great female director, as well as a great female writer to carry out the mission.”

Rosenfelt adds: “What Catherine demonstrated with Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown and The Nativity Story, all very different films, is that she can create a world that feels organic and not manufactured. That was really important in bringing Twilight to the screen.”

“When I read the book, I was swept away with the whole obsession, that ecstasy,” says Hardwicke. “Stephenie writes with such an authentic voice. Twilight had the potential to be so visual and cinematic and to capture that feeling: how it feels to be in love for the first time, and loving somebody so much that you'd literally be willing to turn into a vampire.”

Melissa Rosenberg came to the table with considerable experience writing for the film¬ís primary audience of high school age girls. In addition to the TV shows “Party of Five” and “The O.C.,” Rosenberg wrote the screenplay for Step Up, an enormously successful teen romance between a ballerina and a street dancer, also for Summit Entertainment. She is currently a writer for the provocative Showtime drama “Dexter,” whose romantic hero is a serial killer. “Twilight is really the marriage of both my love of writing for teens and the sort of gothic-ness of horror,” she says. “When they called me, all they had to say was teens and vampires and I was there.”

The book's devoted following put a great deal of pressure to remain true to its spirit, says Rosenberg. “Knowing how important the story is to millions of fans, and how personally they take it, I knew we had to stay very close to the book to win them over. It is a gift to be given such rich source material. I had no intention of ever going anywhere other than the world of the book.

“Twilight is a romance between a girl and the ultimate unavailable boy, a vampire,” adds Rosenberg. “The enormous obstacle is he could kill her at any moment. I loved the chemistry between Bella and Edward. That pull is a very universal experience. Anyone who has been a 17-year-old girl knows what it's like to see that wonderfully mysterious and unavailable boy across the room and just feel that longing. The book takes that universal experience to the next level of the fantasy playing out. If I only ever write for teenage girls, I'll be perfectly happy, because when they love something, they embrace it with all of their heart. It's a great audience to write for.”

Twilight¬ís devoted following has spawned more than 350 websites and cult-like dedication, making casting a delicate process. “If you go on the fan websites, every single person who read the book has already cast the film for you 20 times over,” says Mooradian. “We did take a look at their ideas and we decided we were never going to please everybody, so what we had to do was go with our guts. The actors we cast are the actors we feel best embodied these characters.”