A Conversation with Melissa Rosenberg – Writer of the Twilight Series

A Conversation with Melissa Rosenberg - Writer of the Twilight Series

I had the opportunity to speak with the hugely successful and very interesting screenwriter and TV writer Melissa Rosenberg last week while she was on the set of her new show Red Widow

Women and Hollywood: So, congratulations. It’s a huge accomplishment I saw the movie last night, it was great.

Melissa Rosenberg: Oh, I’m glad you liked it.

WaH: So can you talk a little about how you got the first writing job on Twilight and what made you stand out to get that initial gig?

MR: Well I had worked with Summit (the studio that produced Twilight) on Step Up, my first movie.  And it was such a great creative relationship that when they got the rights to Twilight they called me and offered it to me.  It was just tremendously good fortune.

WaH: Were you disappointed that Catherine Hardwick did not come back to direct the second film?

MR: You know, I actually really liked the way that it rotated directors. Because the cast were constant, I was a constant, the producers were constant.  It was nice to bring in a new perspective for each film.  So I thought that was actually really smart.

WaH: The fact that you’re a constant is not typical in terms of franchises. Why do you think that it worked out that way?

MR: It came down to really an unusually good mix of creative elements and we had great collaboration between myself and the producers and the studio. We all just worked the same way we had the same vision of the books. And we clicked. It’s a rare thing, you know, to find those relationships. But we just clicked and kept going.

WaH: Do you feel that Twilight has changed Hollywood and how it thinks about girls and women?

MR: I hope it has. I think the prevailing wisdom prior to Twilight was that you would have tent-pole movies all for 13 year old boys. And they were driving box office.  I actually had producers in the past tell me, you can’t do any kind of action movie or open a big tent pole movie with a woman because there are no women who open movies, except for maybe Angelina Jolie.  I was appalled by that comment. So what Twilight does is show how women/girls can drive box office and they can support a tent pole movie. They’re an extremely passionate fan base. This coincided with the 13 year old boys starting to stay home and play video games and work on their home media stuff. They’re no longer going to theaters in droves. It’s a sort of interesting confluence of events that all came together with women becoming an active audience.

WaH: It’s also a lot easier for them too, to appeal to a 13 year old boy than it is to appeal to a 40 year old woman. We’re a little bit different.

MR: I think we’ve been a mystery to studios in some ways and now we’ll see if that changes.   So now I think, “Oh well I’m a female screenwriter who wrote some tent pole movies, maybe now they’re gonna trust those movies to other women.”  I would hope that is true and that’s part of why I spend time mentoring women — I’m hoping that changes. But if we must fight for it, no one’s handing it to us. No one’s handing out anything.

WaH: How does that dovetail with the work that you want to do with the League of Hollywood Women Writers?

MR: I was a group member. It was right after the (writers) strike that a bunch of us came together and realized that throughout the strike that women were actually getting things done, and making things happen and we really experienced ourselves being politically affected. So we said we could take this nationally, to the national political stage. And we started raising money for candidates with our pro-writer agenda and we were quite successful at it.

WaH: What’s going on with the group now? Are you still doing stuff?

MR: It’s kind of dormant right now. 

WaH: You’ve also worked with the Writer’s Guild Diversity Committee.  What are some of the issues that you’ve focused on in your work with the diversity committee?

MR: Iit’s all about relationships, it’s all about introducing everyone, to one another. That’s really what it is in Hollywood. But it’s also about craft, and honing craft, so for me it’s encouraging that process.  What the guild does I think does effectively is put people together. Give people access. And they’ve also been very effective in working with studios and networks to encourage diversity, like for instance I know here at ABC (the network of Red Widow) Paul Lee who runs the company, and everybody at ABC is really stridently promoting a diverse agenda.

WaH: I think ABC has kind of figured out that women watch TV.

MR: ABC has figured that out, yes.

WaH: Like, some days I watch CBS and I’m like do you know that women actually watch television?

MR: Yeah, I mean CBS is doing alright, but I think the major percentage of our ABC audience is women. We’re driving television audiences, we’re all over it.

WaH: I have this quote that you said “What I want for Tall Girls (her production company) is to be creating great strong roles for women but in 4-quadrant, high-concept movies, not movies for women in the traditional sense, but more interesting, intriguing, complex roles and kick ass women.” So talk a little bit more about this mandate for the production company, because now you can really take your success out for a ride here.

MR: And I’m milking it for all it’s worth.  I think women writers and actors for that matter have been sort of ghettoized into this rom-com or romantic drama storytelling. And so Nicholas Sparks is a place where you might find women, but you know, forget Iron Man. And that’s something that I hope to bridge— or at least that’s my goal for the company is to really bring women behind the camera and in front of the camera into much more high-concept films.  I want the female Iron Man, the female Tony Soprano. 

The roles for women have been either you’re the mother or you’re the whore or the lieutenant. They’ve been sort of limited, either way you’re all good or you’re all bad. What I’m loving about Red Widow is the ability to really do move toward the Tony Soprano or Walter White or Dexter, these character who are just complex, flawed.  My character perhaps has more of a moral center than those characters, but still, you know, makes mistakes.

WaH: Going back to Twilight for a second, I watched a lot of the craziness unfolding this summer with Kristen Stewart and thought people were incredibly hard on her. And I’m wondering if you had any thoughts being a woman in Hollywood why we are so hard on our women.

MR: Well, I mean, I’ll take it one step broader, they’re extremely hard on Twilight.  When you start to read the criticism of Twilight it’s just vitriol, it’s intense, the contempt.  From critics both men and women. And it’s interesting, you know, there’s a Harvard professor, who wrote an article after the Breaking Dawn called “The Bigotry of Hating Twilight,” and it was very interesting to me.  We’ve seen more than our fair share of bad action movies, bad movies geared toward men or 13-year old boys. And you know, the reviews are like okay that was crappy, but a fun ride. But no one says “Oh my god. If you go to see this movie you’re a complete fucking idiot.”  And that’s the tone, that is the tone with which people attack Twilight.

WaH: I write about that all the time the double standard.

MR: Good. I’m so glad. It’s an incredible double standard. I’m not saying that Twilight is, you know, some brilliant Oscar-winner, it’s not Dr. Zhivago. It’s not trying to be. Because it is a female fantasy. I would argue that it’s actually a universal fantasy.  Which is, the fantasy being to be loved and cherished for exactly who you are. And that I would say is both male and female, but women are drawn to it.

WaH: And also I think that guys don’t like women treading on their space.

MR: Right. It’s also because it’s female it’s worthy of contempt. Because it feels female, it is less than.  And that is simply a reflection of our society. That’s not relegated to just movies. That’s just a reflection of why we have so few senators and why we haven’t had a female president yet. It’s reflected all over in board rooms…

WaH: I’m on the same page as you are on this. I did really try to take on this double standard of Kristen and how women are treated on those kinds of issues and what happened was that people who are in the Twilight universe lost their marbles over this. Not even the people who don’t like Twilight but it was people who love Twilight who really felt like she had betrayed them. And I found that very—

MR: Like the Scarlet Letter.

WaH: Yeah. And I just don’t know if you have any opinion on that.

MR:  If it was the other way around, and it was Rob who had cheated on Kristen, it would have been “Oh, he’s a bad boy.”  Poor Kristen. And then he would have gone on to be loved because he’s such a sexy guy. But with a woman, I mean, she’s a whore. And that is where they go with it. It is a archetype, you know. And women tend to be categorized as Madonnas or whores.

WaH: It’s incredibly sexist.

MR: Yeah.

WaH: And it came from a lot of women, too. They like—they attacked me for even defending her.

MR: It’s mostly women who are throwing those criticisms. Here’s the bottom line. She’s a kid. She made a mistake. And if she were a man she would be chastised. But what are you gonna do.

WaH: So you’re back doing TV now.  What’s the difference between working in TV versus film?

MR: Oh it’s an enormous difference. First of all, I’m running the show. I’m producing it. I didn’t produce Twilight, I was just a writer on that. For Red Widow every decision comes back to me. From the eyelashes to the hairspray to the shoes to the edit. I’m in control of the creative vision. And it is a writer’s dream to really, really shepherd your vision. And TV’s really the only place the writers get the opportunity to do that.  In features I’ll work collaboratively with the studio and producers and Stephenie on the script.  And that is what it is. I fortunately had really great producers.  But now I get to have my hands all over this.

WaH: I saw that you established a scholarship at Bennington talk a little bit about what that means for you to be able to be philanthropic with your success.

MR: It’s one of the things I love most about what Twilight has brought me.  I finally am in a position to turn around and help others and lift up other women writers.  I am involved with Write Girl, which is such a great organization, because they go into inner city schools and work with underprivileged girls to pair them up with other writers. And it gets them learning to express themselves and become familiar with their own voice.  They have a 100% success ratio getting those girls into college. 100%. And that is all because they’re being mentored by these people and guided. So that’s a whole crop of young women going out into the world that are going to contribute. And I just had such and amazing experience there that I want everyone to be able to have access to that place. It’s just like I feel so blessed by my own good fortune and it is actually really, really gratifying.  I mentor a lot of young women writers and seeing them work their way up the chain in Hollywood is really exciting.

And that is one of the most exciting moments ever, throughout the Twilight thing is when I’m with the fans and maybe one 12 or 13 year old girl will be like, “I want to do exactly what you do, “I wanna be a writer.” I’m like, “Oh my god! That is huge!”  That is what I want for people to be like “Hey, one woman made it. You can, too.”

 

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Comments

Rebeca - Siren

It was the book fans that carried the movies. My love for those books drove me to watch the movies. The last ones were the best, I suspect its becuase Stephenie herself got on board. My opinion of course.
thanks
Rebeca
http://www.sirens-london.com

Ali

Well done Melissa! You are very inspiring to me as a writer. Thanks for not giving up and always giving back to ensure future generations have the opportunity to write.

Eli

It seems [from interview] Melissa Rosenberg still does not get the Twilight story.

As for Kristens defending, well, it was her own choice to put her life on fire. Think she said it herself – she wants to do something crazy, what would make people speak about her. So she got what she wanted!

Amy

@Tyson, where's your sympathy for Liberty Ross. She is going through something that many people go through during the course of their marriage. She's trying to deal with it with as much dignity as possible. However, there are some who won't let her do that. You're ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. We don't know how "sordid" the "affair" was. In fact, we don't even know if there was an actual affair. So, why assume the worse? You are making up a story that suits your opinion of Kristen Stewart, which if fine. You can do whatever you want to do. However, a 22-year-old that can drink, smoke, vote, and go to war is still a kid, especially compared to a 41-year-old man. I happen to have sympathy and empathy for everyone involved. The bottom line is, Kristen made a mistake. Everybody's trying to move on. Build a bridge and get over it. I don't give a flying fig about Brad Pitt's personal life, either. Why you do, or why you think it's normal to is beyond my understanding? But, I can't judge your source of entertainment. I just don't understand how someone could be so entertained by gossip and somehow feel superior to the person that the gossip is written about, as though the fact that you're privy to their errors (if the gossip is even true, which it rarely is) makes you sin-free.

Amy

Great article. Very interesting information about Melissa that I didn't know, i.e., she's producing a new show. Congratulations! That must be exciting.

I agree wholeheartedly that if the situation were reversed between Robert and Kristen the backlash wouldn't have been as bad. The only time that I thought twenty-two wasn't a kid was when I was that age. She is very young. She made a mistake. It can't be undone. Everybody is trying to move on, except those who already hated her to begin with.

Most other people don't even care about this, if they know who either one of them are at all.

Charlize

Melissa Rosenberg is a talentless hack who took the few admirable parts of Twilight and twisted them so that Bella was some sort of feminist who was meant to be a vampire instead of her being a girl in love with a vampire. She continually marginalized Edward's role in the films, and built up Jacob instead.

Now she drags Rob's private hell into her interview and defends a homewrecking cheater. Kristen Stewart has been in the film business since she was 12, she's not a baby. A 22 year old woman cannot use the excuse that is was just a mistake. She made a choice to deliberately cheat with a married man, who's wife she knew. Liberty had been kind to Kristen, and this was how she repaid her. Stewart is a selfish, ungrateful brat, regardless of her age, and Melissa seems to share the same maturity level. If she had any class she would keep her mouth shut about other people's private lives. But she doesn't have any class, to go along with her lack of talent. Summit kept her cause she worked cheap.

Ping

Four points. One: Robert and Kristen have moved past it. So should everyone else. Two: Kristen got hit WAY the hell too hard for this. Three: Stop rationalizing. Rob has been taking fire from Kristen fans and assorted pundits for not standing by her from day one, and he's taking just as much fire now from the lunatic fringe of his own fanbase for taking her back. It sounds to me like they both have some worshipers they can do without. Also, regarding the hypothetical reaction if Rob had been the one cheating, we'll never now, and it's a cheap shot at his knees to go there. He didn't cheat. Four: Kirsten was/is hardly a blushing virgin who just fell off the turnip truck, ignorant to the ways of sexually aggressive and manipulative men in positions of authority. She's an adult and an industry veteran who knows how things work in Tinsel Town. She made a horrendous mistake, made all the more ugly by public exposure, that could have cost her everything that mattered to her. She's owned up to it and done her penance (and then some), and apparently that's good enough for Robert; and I'd wager his information on what happened is better than ours is. So let's stop analyzing, debating, and trying to give her status as a victim here that she probably doesn't want to begin with.

Sandi

I disagree that this had to do with being unfairly treated because of her gender. I don't believe the cheating was what people were hung up on, it was who she cheated with. Had it been with Garrett Hedlund, for instance, or at least someone single then the outrage would have been far less. He was married and had two small children and she was due to make another film with him. I don't think our society is so backwards that she would have been judged for sowing her oats at her age, but to involve herself in a marriage is inexcusable. I don't know any man who has cheated on his wife and kids with a woman half his age that has been patted on the back for it. She got railed because she is more famous, not because of her gender. She is not a kid, she is an adult and has been in Hollywood a long time. It's pretty well known that she doesn't do anything she doesn't want to do and all of her colleagues have spent years lauding how mature she is for her age. Suddenly, she's a kid. I guess you will next say she didn't know he was married. If this is about women standing together, then where does Liberty Ross fit into this? Because last I checked, she was being maligned by an entire fandom when she did nothing wrong. I see a lot of excuses being made and not a lot of accountability. Making a public statement when you've been busted doesn't really count as accountability to me. But it's Hollywood, hypocrite central. If you want women to stand together to support other women, that's fine. But standing in solidarity with a woman who betrayed the sisterhood by messing with another woman's husband reeks false. This all seems very self-serving to me, in service of a woman who is ducking blame for her actions by claiming to be everything she always preached she wasn't. Her public persona isn't very likable and this only makes her look worse. Rupert Sanders is a nobody, that is why he is seemingly skating. There is no outlet for people to rail on him. For all of the integrity that she preaches, she sure scraped the bottom of the barrel for her "indiscretion". Sorry, but I can't be all rah rah for the sisterhood on this.

Ciro

Melissa Rosenberg you're just as mediocre as writer and person, go to hell … What about Liberty and their children?

moronfeminist

You are the feminisnist who made a DOUBLE STANDARD!! So because Kristen stewart is a kid a girl, cheating so publicly is allowed. Cheating is cheating, no matter you're man pr woman. Especially with 50 pics as prove dont as people will forget it easly.

Iam sick about femimist always talking about double standard but always aksing permision for mistake they did because they are women.

Dont ask about DOUBLE STANDART then

willy

i am betting that Melissa Silverstein is already writing her second "defend the homewrecker,blame the innocents" article for Kristen Stewart's next cynical cheating scandal because once a cheater,always a cheater

lorraine

Omg, another defender/enabler/apologist for a homewrecking cheater. However you twist it, Stewart is NOT a kid. She knowingly and shamelessly with all kinds of deceit and lies, cheated with a married man and almost destroyed a young family. It was premeditated, planned for weeks maybe even months. This writer and scriptwriter might be forgetting that there are famous male cheaters who did not escape their deceitful acts..remember Tiger Woods? John Edwards? Those men were not considered just bad boys. their careers took a nose dive and their image were not that rosy anymore. A cheater will always be remembered as a cheater, it will forever be a footnote in their name so however you defend a cheater, the public will always remember their shameful acts. No amoung of PR driven articles, appearances can erase that. The public will always remember especially in Stewart's case since all her ass grinding pictures are all over the internet.

Ketchup

Not even talking about how inappropriate it is for the screenwriter of Twilight to trivialize what personally happened to their relationship as a feminist talking point, but how in the hell does she know that Pattinson would be seen as "bad boy", and a "sexy guy"? Has she seen some posts written by Stewart fans? Even though there was no evidence that he did anything wrong in this scenario, he was skewered by her fans besides all over the internet. Also, all the Hollywood media support towards Stewart as opposed to Pattinson last Summer. I could just imagine if it were him who had cheated. He would have been physically run out of Hollywood on a rail.

Marian

Ace interview! Thank you!

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