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Studies in Screenwriting: Twilight

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  Twilight was written by Melissa Rosenberg from the novel by Stephenie Myer

Many of you may wonder why a movie adapted from such a successful novel would be the subject of a lesson on screenwriting and not on novel writing.  Primarily because Twilight was one of the most commercially successful movies of the year and is considered by many to be a faithful adaption of the original novel and a great example of how to modify screen stories from fiction without losing the integrity of the piece.

What can be learned about screenwriting from the script by Melissa Rosenberg?  First, when adapting from such excellent source material, just stick to the story.  Stephenie Meyer reportedly had a lengthy clause written into her contract which outlined rules regarding any movie adaptation of her work.  It was a smart move.  With such devoted fans, any major reworking would have been met with an incredible public backlash.  Rosenberg endeared herself to Twilighters everywhere with her ability to maintain the mood and atmosphere of the novel.  Like the Lord of the Rings films, restructuring, simplifying, and condensing were a necessity, but the overall feel of the movie captured that of the novel. 

Secondly, Rosenberg and Meyer have an excellent sense for the way teens talk and act today.  Producing authentic dialogue and attitudes for films aimed at young audiences is difficult.  Kids can sense a fraud a mile away and will quickly spread word of mouth how 'uncool' a movie is. 

Most importantly, Rosenberg built the romance between Edward and Bella brilliantly.  The success of the novel hinged on people falling in love with these characters as they fell in love with each other.  The early scenes, from their first  meeting to when Edward saves her from the out of control van, create tension and mystery, sympathy for Bella's character (which of us hasn't felt dorky and out of place in school?) and intrigue around the dark and elusive Edward.  As in any film, the actors have a huge impact on characterization, and Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson were execellent, but it's all there in the script and is an excellent example of creating conflict and desire in romantic relationships in your own screenplay.  Edwards consuming devotion to Bella (note the restaurant scene where he utterly ignores the flirting waitress) is the kind of passion that can (and did) send millions of female hearts swooning, and the magnetic attraction of two outcasts is a universal theme many couples have experienced.

Another aspect of craft is the extensive use of voice over.  Most screenwriting books warn against this gimmick, but in Twilight, it works to effectively emulate the first person narrative of the source material.  Voice over is a tricky tool and can be disastrous if misused, but here it is done effectively and offers an excellent study for writers who want to use the technique in their own scripts as a way to get inside a character's head and reveal thoughts which normally are off-limits in screenplays.

Flash back is another technique which writing books will tell you to avoid, but is here used to great effect.  Again, be careful with it.  Often the mistakes made with flashbacks are when writers could find a better way to stay in the moment and impart all the information and backstory needed without resorting to a flashback which unavoidably slows the story down.

One thing Rosenberg changed from the book was the early introduction of the antagonists Laurent, Victoria, and James.  It shows the necessity in movies for the threat to the hero to be revealed quickly and create the dramatic tension needed to carry the film.  Readers are willing to drift along in a well written novel, getting to know the characters and waiting patiently for the major conflict to show itself.  Screenwriters don't have that luxury.  The bad guys need to be wreaking havoc early and often or you risk losing today's audiences.

Some things that didn't work so well in the script were the cliched 'Bella researches Vampirism on the Web' montage - unoriginal and unnecessary.  Her understanding could've been revealed in another way, or they simply could've started with the scene in the forest where she confronts him.  Vampires are so commonplace in our society, most people would have suspected the same thing.  Also, the pace of the script bogs down in places where the story turns into 'talking heads'.  The information is interesting and essential, but nothing's happening, and the locations aren't interesting enough to keep us entertained.  As this is the first of multiple movies, much set-up for future issues (such as the tribe of Were-wolves and their history with the Cullen's) is important but tends to make this installment drag a bit.  The climax of the film is also disappointing.  The build up for a battle between groups of vampires lends itself to a juggernaut of an action ending, but the short, uninspiring fight leaves alot to be desired.

But that's much nitpicking of an overall excellent screenplay and film, one with a unique premise and take on the Vampire mythology, a story essentially a classic romance perfectly executed.

Only this one has vampires.

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