Chris Weitz on New Moon, his next movie and being a part of ‘Breaking Dawn’
BY TODD GILCHRIST
In little more than a decade as a director, Chris Weitz has proven that if nothing else, he’s incredibly versatile: he started his career with the first “American Pie”, moved on to “About a Boy”, brought “The Golden Compass” to life, and most recently conquered the second “Twilight” film, “New Moon”. So sad is it, then, that he’s seriously been contemplating early retirement; during the press junket for the film in November, the only story hotter than the love triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob was whether Weitz would continue to direct.
Almost four months later, the New Moon DVD and Blu-ray is set to debut, and Weitz is wrapping up shooting on The Gardener, a passion project that he’s wanted to make for years. Hollywood News spoke to Weitz via telephone to discuss his collaboration on the movie and the home video release; in addition to talking about some of the film’s tougher themes, not to mention scenes to shoot, he reflected on the experience of making New Moon, and offered a few hints about his future with Twilight should he return to the epic saga.
Hollywood News: What was sort of the mandate that you had coming into this film because there was so much anticipation for it, and yet there may have been some technical problems in the first one that needed to be ironed out?
Chris Weitz: There wasn’t really an external mandate except that there was an awareness that we had more complicated special effects elements and kind of a bigger canvas that would have to be dealt with. But these were things that I was sort of familiar with from The Golden Compass, although the irony is that this did much better than The Golden Compass in a much lower budget range (laughs). But these were sort of things that they had a degree of confidence in my abilities with. Other than that, there was my own internal mandate, which was to keep it as true to the book as possible, which really I don’t think is too different from the one that Catherine Hardwicke had done. As the new guy in the series, I had to engage with the actors as much as possible to make sure that the movie didn’t suffer from sequelitis. Because you know that a lot of people are going to go and see this movie, but given that, you never want to kind of phone it in, and the good thing is that the actors were very intent on making it the best experience possible. And I felt the same way – that with a fresh approach and a different kind of creative team behind it, we could make something with kind of a grander or more epic feel. So I tended to hire the same kind of people that I would hire for a much bigger movie – somebody like Javier Aguirresarobe, who is an amazing cinematographer, and a lot of the people who had done special effects on The Golden Compass that won the Oscar for it. So it was really bringing to bear the best team possible.
Hollywood News: Because of the automatic attachment audiences will have with the source material and their connection to the central relationship, how much work is done for you, and how much effort do you have to put into communicating why Edward and Bella are in love, as opposed to the simple fact that they are?
Weitz: I think it’s an accepted fact, and I think it’s a fact that every fan brings to their viewing of the movie. I think that there’s sort of tremendous charisma and visual appeal, but it’s not just about the visuals; it’s actually that they’re rather compelling to look at, and to see them perform for one another does a lot of the rest. So it’s never really explained why they care so very much for one another; if anything, the risk or the fear here was that because Rob Pattinson’s character was not in a lot of the film, that a lot of what was appealing about the first movie was going to be gone, and that would have to be supplemented somehow. Fortunately for me, Taylor [Lautner] kind of came into his own and was able to give Rob a run for his money, and I think that it can’t be dismissed that the sort of misery that Kristen Stewart’s character goes through is actually something that people in their own way enjoy.
In other words, they’re not just there to look at Rob Pattinson, they’re also there to by proxy re-experience the grief of losing your first love or the grief of unrequited love or heartbreak. There was always a temptation to have more scenes of Edward – what’s Edward doing right now? Is he in Latin America? Is he in Texas searching for the bad guys? And I think it was a good decision in retrospect to really stick with Bella even though a lot of it is just about her sheer torment; that actually sort of stood up.
Hollywood News: How careful did you have to be to make sure her torment felt authentic but wasn’t unflattering to her character to folks who might be watching her for the first time?
Weitz: Well, I think it really involved protecting those moments with a visual approach that was beautiful and interesting, and that’s where Javier comes in, and with music that kind of creates a tone and a mood that you actually want to live through. I really think in the soundtrack we were able to do kind of an amazing kind of breakup mix tape and the fact that these were really all new songs and in many cases, songs written specifically for the movie, helped us through that part, whereas if we had depended on needle-drops of everybody’s favorite breakup songs, it would have felt a lot more run of the mill. There were sort of moments where you want to take the suffering to a certain point and no further, but much more, I think, would have been tedious. Maybe some people think it’s tedious already (laughs). But I can’t account for everybody’s tastes.
Hollywood News: During the initial press interviews for this film there was some discussion by you about this possibly being one of your last films. How has that changed since the movie came out? I’m sure you were expecting the film to do well but did its release help confirm any feelings about what you want to do in the future?
Weitz: Well, it’s interesting. I felt a tremendous upsurge of support from the fans, and that was really a wonderful feeling and very sort of rejuvenating, because prior to that I had done a film which the studio hadn’t really understood and as a result I had failed to deliver to the audience the experience that I wanted to. So this was one where I gave people what they wanted. At the same time, it was sort of my second CGI-intensive, big movie in a row, and that takes a tool not just on me mentally and physically but on my family. So I knew that the next film I wanted to make in Los Angeles was a movie I wanted to make for a really long time called The Gardener, and it’s a movie on a much smaller scale, which has its different anxieties because you’re dealing with a limited budget and trying to get things right in that manner. I knew I wanted to go away from the fantasy realm for a while, away from the book adaptation realm for a while, and do something quite different. So I felt at the same time completely exhausted but completely supported by millions of people who saw the movie, and that was really delightful.
Hollywood News: I remember reading an interview with you back when you directed American Pie and you mentioned an affection for Sunrise, and that stuck with me because I could empathize with a person who liked American Pie and F.W. Murnau. In the Blu-ray commentary you mention a lot of artistic details that indicate a much deeper understanding of and interest in filmmaking that isn’t purely by-the-numbers. Does making a movie like New Moon allow you to explore those impulses on something like The Gardener, or nowadays does the blockbuster trump everything and all of those film-language devices and subtleties don’t matter?
Weitz: There’s a book by Steven Soderbergh called Getting Away With It and it’s never explained what the title means, but over time I’ve realized that any time when you’re working in such an expensive medium, when you’re able to invest some of yourself into it, you’re “getting away with it.” When you’re making a film that is entirely yours, you’re also getting away with it. Now, it was obvious that New Moon had to fit certain expectations, and I went in without any attitude about that, but at the same time, there are shot in that which were inspired by pre-Raphaelite paintings, there are compositions in the Volturi sequence that are to me very painterly.
And I don’t put the credit on myself; it’s really Javier Aguirresrobe who a very kind of fine sense in his work on really extraordinary films in all kinds of genres, and when I was talking to David Brisbane, the production designer, we were able to talk about aspects of the rococo and things like that and were able to say, well, I think Emily’s house should feel like a Carl Larsen house, this Swedish watercolorist – it should have that feeling. And so you take every opportunity that you have to invest some sort of meaning and sometimes it’s a hidden meaning into things. And sometimes there’s a symbolic element that you’re allowed to fit in there that’s delightful; for instance, when Bella flies to Italy to save Edward, she’s on a Virgin America plane. It just happened to be that Virgin American wanted to be our airline, so it delighted me that Bella is a virgin – it’s very important to the movie – and that happened to be the airline that we were using.
There are these little things, and they’re not jokes because there’s nothing nasty about them, but there are games that you play with yourself and with the other members of the creative crew that make sense to you and that don’t necessarily have to be recognized the first time out by people, but that we’re kind of exploiting to our own ends. And it is also very fortunate that doing a movie like New Moon for Summit means that I’ve had now not just one but a couple of successes, because Summit also distributed American Pie internationally. They believed in it and bought the international rights and did tremendously well out of it, and there’s a real degree of trust between them and me which allows them to take an act of faith in making a movie like The Gardener which is not on the surface a blockbuster – I don’t think it’s on any level a blockbuster. It’s a film about an unknown world, an unknown person, and really, it’s going to star a Mexican actor, and he’s the right casting choice, by the way, because it’s a movie about people who you don’t recognize instantly. They’re the people who work for you, but you’ve never spoken to them. And they are able to take that leap of faith I think in part because we’ve worked so well together before.
To me part of the great experience of [this year’s Oscars] was that Summit, this fledgling studio, really, because they were a foreign distribution company before now, had not only a huge box office hit, but the Best Picture of the year, up against the biggest blockbuster of all time. Now that’s something to really be proud of. They took a risk on The Hurt Locker; okay, they didn’t take it from the beginning, but it’s even more of a risk to buy something as a negative pick-up and then think, oh my God, how are we going to market this film when films about Iraq have been terribly unpopular, and they believed in it very strongly. And so it’s really interesting that they too are able to make big blockbusters now that they have a big franchise, and invest in small pictures that have a different kind of interest. There’s the broad and the deep, basically.
Hollywood News: Obviously there have been all kinds of discussions about what will happen with Breaking Dawn. Given your relationship with Summit, is directing that film or films, plural, something you would be interested in doing, or have you sort of said all you want to in and about the series with New Moon?
Weitz: Well, I never say never, but I think that it’s probably best if each of the films is directed by a different director, and that I may have exhausted my ability to direct CGI films. But I have to say that with the caveat that none of this comes from the point of view of like, “one movie for me, one movie for them.” I never felt that way about it, and that part of the joy of doing New Moon was having a really good experience with Summit and having a really good experience with Stephenie Meyer, and getting to know some young actors whose work I really appreciate. So there are a number of factors rotating in favor of me working with them again, but at the same time, it’s hard to express that these super, logistically-complicated movies really take it out of you, especially if you have a young family. And I think that that’s kind of the tiebreaker there.