MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

New Moon’s New Director: Does it Really Matter that He’s Not a Woman?

I wrote briefly on Film Essent the other day about the Twilight series getting a new (male) director, but I wanted to address it in a bit more detail here. Twilight, in case you’ve been living under a rock the past six months or so, is a wildly popular book series about a teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire. The book series has an enormous, mostly female fanbase, and the first film, which has made nearly $150 million to date, was directed by female director Catherine Hardwicke. In the midst of the press tour for the first film, Summit officially announced that Hardwicke would not be directing the adaptation of the next book in the series, New Moon, and that she’s being replaced at the helm by Chris Weitz, who previously penned About a Boy and directed The Golden Compass.

Predictably, the Twilight boards have been buzzing since the announcement, with most fans seeming to weigh in on the “this isn’t a bad thing” side of the equation. Interestingly enough, I’m seeing a lot of comments from serious fans of Twilight bemoaning the lousy special effects for the first film; anyone who thinks female movie fans don’t pay attention to that stuff, take note. Taking over Twilight isn’t entirely an enviable position for Weitz to be in, frankly. The fans were notoriously contentious about the initial casting for the Twilight adaptation, with some 75,000 signing an online petition demanding that Robert Pattinson not be cast as their beloved Edward Cullen. They scrutinized the development of Twilight, the film, with an obsessiveness akin to a nervous first-time mother charting her baby’s every poop on a spreadsheet and barraging the pediatrician with the minutiae of Junior’s growth and development. They finally warmed up to Pattinson, more or less, after Meyer publicly supported his casting as Edward.

When all was said and done, though: even though the film has made a ton of money, as expected, and the fans came out in droves to support the film, there’s still a fairly sizable contingent of hardcore Twilight fans who weren’t happy with the film overall. It was far from a perfect film, in many respects, and Twilight fans are smart enough to know that. Weitz had better prepare himself now for the reality that every decision he makes in directing New Moon is going to be followed with the same microscopic obsession by the fanbase; Twilight fans care every bit as much about how their beloved characters come to life on the screen as the most rabid superhero fanboys are about their favorite franchises.

On the feminist side of things, Melissa Silverstein at Women & Hollywood bemoans the loss of the opportunity to show that a female director can carry a lucrative franchise, while Anne Thompson weighed in with a post that was supportive of Weitz to take up the helm, pointing out that he needs a “juicy franchise hit” and that he’s a good screenwriter. I know that a lot of folks who read me regularly are probably expecting me to jump on the “Summit is Sexist” bandwagon here, but if all the folks upset about Hardwicke being canned (or, if you prefer, having “scheduling conflicts”) could just join me in taking a big, deep cleansing breath here … the decision to replace Hardwicke with Weitz is not entirely bad from the perspective of Twilight fans. If you’re concerned about the lack of female directors making big films, it’s maybe not so good, but that’s a different issue.

From the standpoint of the adaptation of the first film, there were certain things I liked, in particular much of the casting, and the overall visual look of the film. The script, all due respect to Melissa Rosenberg (who’s done some fantastic work on Dexter) was a very straightforward adaptation that felt rushed, which it was, given that Rosenberg only had five weeks to complete the script in the middle of also wrapping a season of Dexter. There were some flaws with the way in which the material was adapted, but I think Rosenberg did the best she could with the constraints under which she was working. Some of the makeup in the film was just bad … sorry, but there’s no nicer way to say it. The makeup quality, which was a key factor in allowing viewers to suspend their disbelief and get absorbed into the story, was just distracting, particularly on Peter Facinelli, who played Carlisle. The use of special effects in the film was also nothing to write home about — surprising, given that Industrial Light and Magic was involved. But the “sparkling” on Edward, some of the big fight scene, pretty much all the wire-work, was just cheesy (and why did they make that “whoosh” sound when they leaped around, anyway?). Weitz did some fantastic work in The Golden Compass visually, particularly with the witch flying scenes and the polar bear, that bode well for his ability to handle the effects in New Moon.

In looking at Twilight overall, we have a situation where its box office success was largely derivative of the existing fanbase for the book series (as opposed to the actual quality of the film), which is more a credit to Meyer than to Hardwicke. We have a nice visual look that’s likely as much (if not more) the result of the work of the cinematographer as it is the director. We have mostly solid casting, particularly with Kristen StewartRobert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner (who, as Jacob, will be particularly crucial to the next film), but the casting is not dependent on Hardwicke being at the helm. Twilight‘s greatest weaknesses were its handling of the action sequences and the special effects, two things that are crucial to New Moon being a solid adaptation. So Hardwicke being off the series is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. But is Weitz a good choice to replace her?

Well, he wrote the script for About a Boy, a film I liked very much. He’s a mostly solid screenwriter, and he seems to have a good understanding of both the passion of the fans for the books and characters, and the need to be as true as possible to the storyline of New Moon and the development of the characters. Weitz directed the adaptation of The Golden Compass, which was not terribly well-received here in the U.S., but made some $300 million world-wide to make it up. I’ve read the entire His Dark Materials trilogy, of which The Golden Compass was the first book, and frankly, I didn’t think Weitz’s adaptation deserved most of the critical panning it received. It was a solid adaptation of the material, it moved along at a brisk pace, and the special effects and visual look of the film were quite stunning. Granted, Weitz had a $180 million budget (!) for Compass, and I’d be surprised if he has half that much to work with for New Moon, but still.

There’s some interesting character development that goes on in New Moon with regard to Bella and Jacob’s relationship, and I’m interested to see how Weitz handles folding all of it into the script. He’ll also have a practical challenge in that Edward, whose fans are legion, is absent for the vast majority of the New Moon plot-line, except as a voice in Bella’s head; I’m curious to see if Weitz will finagle a way to give Pattinson more screen time in the adaptation. Perhaps more importantly, New Moon will require some fairly intense special effects work, as Jacob (and some of his tribe) have to morph into wolves, and that needs to look good. Really good. And I think Weitz will have a good handle on how to manage the effects so that Jacob’s morphing doesn’t look laughably cheesy. There will also be some fairly intense action sequences, and Weitz has the ability to handle those as well (at least, based on how he handled the action scenes in Compass). So, purely from the standpoint of looking at whether this particular director has what it takes to successfully adapt New Moon to the big screen (and even, whether he will do a better job of it that Hardwicke would have), the news really isn’t all that bad. In fact, it could be quite good.

Of course, as a woman who writes about film, I understand the position that it would have been nice to see New Moon go to a female director when Summit decided not to move forward with Hardwicke. But as I said previously in discussing this, the only two female action directors who even come to mind are Kathryn Bigelow and Lexi Alexander. Bigelow might have been a decent choice, but Weitz does have a heavy-effects-fantasy film under his belt, which gives him an edge here. And when it comes down to it, once they get over being upset over Hardwicke being off the sequel, what Twilight fans are going to care about is how well Weitz does at handling the characters and bringing the book to life, period. So long as he does a decent job of it all, in the long run, it really matters not a lot to me whether New Moon‘s directed by a woman or a man, or if the same director directs all the films or not. The Harry Potter series has managed to be a solid franchise in spite of (perhaps even because of) having different directors handle each film, and there’s no reason the Twilight series won’t survive, or even thrive better, for having a change at the helm.

As for the issue of whether Summit should have gone with a female director … look, folks. Sometimes a decision of who should helm a film comes down to practicalities and studio politics (not always just gender politics), and the last thing I would want is to see female directors in general ghettoized by a studio feeling they have to hire a female director just because the fanbase of a series is mostly women. Summit needed to hire the best person for the job, regardless of gender. Maybe you think it came down to Weitz being pals with the right people, and maybe it was, but if that’s truly the issue, we should also be talking about that not in terms of Weitz being a man, but in terms of which other directors generally we think would have been better choices, regardless of their gender. Personally, I don’t want to be hired to do any job purely on the basis of being a female writer. If the perspective I bring to my writing because I’m a woman is a strength, great, but I’d prefer to be judged primarily on the strength of my writing as such, not my writing “as a woman.” This idea that only a woman could direct the next Twilight film is just as sexist, in its way, as the idea that only men can direct action films, or raunchy comedies, or superhero flicks.

The bottom line is, if New Moon is going to be made into a film (which it is), I want to see it done well, period, and there’s a strong possibility that Weitz will accomplish that goal. He seems to get the importance of the fans to the work he’s doing; he understands how passionate they are, and I expect he wants very much to not only please the Twilight fans, but to atone for the perceived relative failure of The Golden Compass. If Weitz does a terrible job of handling New Moon, I’ll be first in line to skewer him at that point, but until then, let’s give the guy the benefit of a doubt here and see how he does with it. We might even find, in the end, that New Moon is a much better-made film than Twilight was — not because Weitz is a man and Hardwicke is a woman, but because he’s just the better director for the job, period. And if the end result is a solid film, then more power to Summit for choosing Weitz to direct, regardless of his gender.

– by Kim Voynar

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon