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Why 'Twilight's' director got the boot

Hardwicke2There's no way to put a pretty frame around this picture. After Catherine Hardwicke delivered an immensely lucrative franchise starter with "Twilight," a film that will put Summit Entertainment on the map, wiping away all the company's other losses and missteps, she was rewarded by being pushed aside, with Summit making it clear over the weekend that it's beginning work on a "Twilight" sequel without her. There is an enormously complicated back story to the events, but what really happened here was another example of the age-old collision between art and commerce.

Director of such indie-style films as "Thirteen" and "Lords of Dogtown," Hardwicke is an incredibly gifted filmmaker who gave "Twilight" an emotional intensity that helped the movie capture the heart-racing intoxication of Stephenie Meyer's novel, making the film a must-see for teenagers everywhere. (It's now grossed nearly $140 million in 18 days of release.) But Hardwicke is also a notoriously difficult, high-maintenance filmmaker who wears her emotions on her sleeve. This emotional intensity cuts both ways--it brought something special to the movie, but it made life a vertiginous roller-coaster for many people working on the film, from crew to executives. 

On an indie film, prickly auteurs are a dime a dozen--they come with the territory. But in a shockingly short time, "Twilight" went from a quirky cult project, aimed at a teen subculture, to a massive, mainstream franchise. The indie movie suddenly became a mass-production product. The day after the movie opened, Summit announced that it wanted a sequel by late 2009. As Anne Thompson reports in today's Variety, Melissa Rosenberg, who wrote "Twilight," delivered her first draft of the sequel the weekend "Twilight" opened. Summit chief executive Rob Friedman, who deserves a lot of credit for supporting a project that had been put in turnaround by Paramount, the studio where he was a top executive for years, seems to have made a classic studio-style risk vs. reward decision: The sensitive artist who was the perfect filmmaker to launch the franchise was the wrong person to run the show once the project became a blockbuster franchise.

Hardwicke supporters say she had long ago soured on the prospect of being involved with the kind of franchise where a release window takes precedence over a finished script, saying she didn't want to be involved with a sequel, believing it would be more an assembly-line product than an artistic challenge. But after "Twilight" became a box-office phenomenon, her reps at CAA gently tried to persuade her to stay on board, especially if Summit would grant her creative control on the sequel. Like any filmmaker, Hardwicke felt a lot of love when "Twilight" swept across the pop-culture landscape, not to mention a pride of authorship in its success. But when she registered a lack of enthusiasm in the new script, it quickly became obvious that Summit would seek a more pragmatic filmmaker to helm the follow-up film.

What does this tell us about Hollywood? And was there a guy-girl conflict behind Hardwicke's departure? Keep reading:

Rob Friedman insists that the "Twilight" sequel, "New Moon," was not being rushed into production. "We love the draft she turned in," he says. "Melissa has worked very hard on the material and was an integral part of what made the original film such a success. This is not a rush job. The movie only gets released when its finished. I'd like it to be next year, but we're not going to put out a bad movie to hit a release date."

On the other hand, Summit can't dawdle. Unlike with "Harry Potter," whose characters aged with each book, the characters in the "Twilight" series remain young forever, so if the studio is going to rely on its newly minted stars, Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson, to carry the entire series, it has to move full speed ahead. Summit has options on its lead actors, but since they are now in demand for other films, if Summit doesn't press ahead quickly, it could lose them for months on end to other productions.

Hardwicke's abrupt departure has also fueled rumors that she clashed with the all-male hierarchy at Summit. It's a charge often leveled at Hollywood's largely all-male executive ranks, which has a woeful track record of hiring female filmmakers on mainstream studio projects. Friedman insists there were no gender issues. "It's an insult to me personally as well as to our company. I'm the father of four daughters. When I was at Paramount, we did Kathryn Bigelow's 'K-19: The Widowmaker.' I was the person who marketed Mimi Leder's 'Deep Impact' [often cited as one of the most commercially successful films directed by a woman]. Here at Summit, one of the first films we've bought was 'The Hurt Locker,' which is also directed by Kathryn Bigelow. We would definitely make another film with Catherine Hardwicke, just not the sequel to 'Twilight.' "

Still, given the choice, most studios prefer to keep the director who started the franchise rolling, whether its Sam Raimi with "Spider-Man," Steven Soderbergh on "Ocean's Eleven," Brett Ratner with "Rush Hour" or Jay Roach on "Austin Powers." On "The Dark Knight," Warner Bros. has made it clear that the franchise will only proceed when Christopher Nolan, who brought the Batman franchise back to life, says it's ready to go. Summit's handling of Hardwicke's departure is more reminiscent of what Universal did with its "Bourne" series, which was also in the hands of a prickly indie filmmaker. Doug Liman launched the franchise with his dazzling "The Bourne Identity," but he went way over schedule and drove the studio crazy with his improvisational perfectionism. Even though the movie was a big hit and seemed to carry Liman's personal stamp, the studio ditched him, bringing in Paul Greengrass, a filmmaker with equally indie-minded credentials who could better deal with the deadlines and demands of a studio environment.

Summit's challenge will be to find a filmmaker to take over the "Twilight" series who has artistic credibility but who can handle the challenge of a ramped-up filming schedule (Summit's goal is to film both the second and third books in the series next year.) The most closely watched part of the decision will be the gender component. If Summit picks a guy, it will be open to criticism from the female filmmaking community, which is already furious over how few studio jobs go to women. But the female filmmaking gene pool is small. Most successful female directors are indie filmmakers, not studio pros, which would put Summit back in the same awkward situation of hiring a personal filmmaker who can't--or won't--embrace the by-the-book filmmaking model of most franchises.

Maybe I'm blinded by my fondness for Hardwicke's style of filmmaking, but I'm betting she won't have any trouble finding new projects to helm. If nothing else, the success of "Twilight" proves that a fiercely independent filmmaker can make a hugely successful commercial film. That's not just good news for Hardwicke, who now has some box-office clout to go with her art-house cred (even if she's probably getting deluged with bad vampire scripts as we speak). But it might even open a few doors for some other indie filmmakers eager to prove they can make good movies that make money too. 

Photo of Catherine Hardwicke by Stefano Paltera / For The Times

 
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SAM RAIMI!

I personally think the screen writer needed the axe...some of that stuff was just God-awful...the spider monkey line was the lamest...hope she didnt make the same lame errors in the next film...

I was furious to learn that Catherine Hardwicke was fired. Summit head said they didn't want to spend much more on the second movie than the first, whereas Ms. Hardwicke said at Comic Con how CGI (always expensive and time consuming) would be necessary. What that means to me is that they want the next 2 movies to be cheap and nasty and don't care about the books or the fans. They are unwilling to part with the money we made them. I find that insulting. I'll bet they pick some guy director who will make New Moon into a werewolf romp and marginalize the love story. You heard it here first.

I think that Richard Kelly should direct New Moon
He directed Donnie Darko and that movie was dark, and this is what New Moon needs
Remember Bella is in mourning right now

Edward has decided to make himself 'dead' to her...

It's because she is from McAllen, Texas.

I have great respect for Rob Friedman and I can imagine that his decision was not made lightly. While Twilight is a huge hit, there are clearly weaknesses in the direction of the Bella character and the most crucial scenes in the book were not included in the movie to move the story and to make the love between Bella and Edward believable. While it takes many people to produce a hit movie, ultimately there are one or two factors that are key in that success. Twilight's success is spelled Robert Pattinson. He is the one getting all the attention world-wide and the excitement has to be harnessed quickly. He is an excellent actor and will carry the next two films.

I'm not so much upset that Catherine is no longer the director. She had great energy but some of her filming choices, angles and such were more jarring then romantic. However, Twilight was horribly clunky the first 45 minutes and I point the finger not only at Catherine but at Melissa. Adaptations can never have everything, but she butchered the beginning romance. Several lines were taken from the book and never supported with the required dialogue to keep them from being cheesy. And how in the hell you can go from "I know what you are" to the "lion and the lamb" love declaration in the same scene progression is beyond me. There was never a sense of time where a knowledge of each other was gained to even fall in love. I didn't start buying the love story until the latter half of the movie. Since they are adding unnecessary Edward scenes to cash in on the Robert obsession, I shudder to think what's been butchered in New Moon.

Whoever they pick to direct the next two movies has a big job on their hands. And I really wonder how many directors want to step into such prickly conditions. We have shown that you get women, from 8 to 80 passionate about a project and we will put our wallets where our mouths are. Summit and whoever is next to direct has to know that if they screw up New Moon, the franchise will probably be toast. What we were willing to be forgiving of in Twilight due to a clunky script, poor effects and low budget, will be intolerable in New Moon and Eclipse considering that we all spent enough money to justify a better budget.

I respect Rob Friedman and support his decision. Twilight is a huge hit but for cinematic veterans, the lead actress was poorly directed and critical passages from the book which would have moved the love story were not effectively used. The dialogue and actions in the book were - as many bloggers have written - much better. Although it takes many people to make a successful movie, right now the enormous worldwide success of Twilight centers on just one person: Robert Pattinson. He is an outstanding actor who obviously worked very hard on defining the character of Edward and it shows in the movie, unlike Ms Stewart who recited lines without much emotion and it seems apparent that she did not put a lot of time in studying her character. The Trilogy will continue to be a hit as long as Mr. Pattinson is given the opportunity to showcase his talents.

I am glad they are getting a new director for New moon. I think the reason Twilight wasn't so good was because of the director, Catherine Hardewicke. Maybe New moon will be better. I'm hoping it will.

I definetly agree. The spider monkey line was way stupid. They butchered the movie pretty bad, they could have done a way better job. It felt like the scenes didn't flow very well, either. By the way, do not watch the Twilight movie, then skip the book and go on to New moon. The book and movie are practically total opposites.

 
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