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ON THE SET

Sucking it up to make 'Twilight'

Harsh elements and rabid fans test director Catherine Hardwicke as she gives life to a hot teen-vampire book.

May 11, 2008|Mike Russell | Special to The Times
  • Director Hardwicke uses the natural beauty of Oregon to frame the budding relationship between Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson).
Director Hardwicke uses the natural beauty of Oregon to frame the budding… (Peter Sorel / Summit Entertainment )

PORTLAND, ORE. — Thirty miles outside town, in a wet, stunningly bleak meadow ringed by moss-draped Oregon ash, vampires are playing baseball. They're decked out in a hodgepodge of vintage jerseys, caps and striped socks, presumably collected over their last century of eternal life. They make such a racket with their supernatural abilities that they have to take the field under cover of a thunderstorm.

Catherine Hardwicke, who's directing the scene for her adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's bestselling young-adult novel "Twilight," is excited about the sequence in which balls are hit with the force of cannon blasts and gravity-defying catches are the norm -- and about one gag in particular. In it, two players "are in competition to catch the same ball and have a huge, crazy midair collision 20 feet up in the air when a huge crash of thunder resounds," making it appear as though their clash created the resounding boom. One of them also "totally climbs up a tree crazy-style and catches a ball midair -- like way at the top of the tree. It's a really fun stunt."

Lest anyone unfamiliar with Meyers' "Twilight" series think this is some strange "Lost Boys" meets "Field of Dreams" mash-up, the story concerns much more than baseball. It's about benevolent vampires who struggle with their blood lust in much the same way teens struggle with their surging hormones.

Mostly, it concerns young, forbidden love. And its fans can't seem to get enough.

On the field, a 17-year-old girl named Bella watches as the teams pitch and hit the ball with unnatural force. She's recently figured out that the coolest kids at her school are decades-old vampires masquerading as teens. They drink animal blood rather than human -- jokingly referring to themselves as "vegetarians." They don't have fangs and the sun doesn't harm them (though it does tend to make them sparkle like Ziggy Stardust). One of them -- moody, gorgeous Edward -- is the instant love of Bella's life.

As Bella (Kristin Stewart) watches the game, a nomadic trio of more traditional, human-fed vampires strides into the clearing. One of them, James (Cam Gigandet), sniffs the air and realizes a human "snack" is present. Edward (Robert Pattinson) drops into a protective crouch and snarls.

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A soggy set

THIS being March in the Columbia Gorge, which is standing in for remote Forks, Wash., the weather is changing its mind every 20 minutes -- showering a cast slathered in pale vampire makeup with alternating doses of sun, rain and what Pattinson (Cedric Diggory in two of the "Harry Potter" movies) calls "hail globs the size of golf balls."

It's turned the set into muddy quicksand. Production assistants cover the ground with hay. Actors huddle in a heated "fire tent" and stuff Kleenex to their cold, runny noses; they carry hot-water bottles (while PAs hold umbrellas over their carefully made-up heads) and exchange rubber boots for Adidas just before the cameras roll. Two pieces of heavy production equipment, including a Gradall all-terrain forklift, are hopelessly stuck in the muck. A studio light makes a sizzling noise that causes a technician to do a backward leap. (He's fine.) God help you if you drop your cellphone.

"I had the whole crew doing a 'cloud dance' -- shaking their heads, singing to the sky," Hardwicke says.

As you may have gathered, it hasn't been the easiest of shoots thus far. Actor availability and the need to cut a cool trailer-full of special effects mean that the first two weeks of production have been spent on both the action-packed finale, which reportedly gave the stuntmen a proper beating (they're also fine, mostly), and the ballgame. But Hardwicke -- who's something of a troubled-teen expert after helming the gritty "Thirteen" and "Lords of Dogtown" -- is on the hunt for her trademark immediacy, and wants to get as much of the action in-camera as possible.

"Thirteen" in particular -- with its controversial depiction of young girls' angst and reckless rebellion -- suggests that "Twilight," which is slated for a December release, might be a surprisingly good fit for Hardwicke. Despite its (mostly) family-friendly supernatural bent, the material really isn't all that far afield of Hardwicke's well-mined terrain. "Thirteen," after all, concerns a teenage girl who, like Bella, has inattentive parents and falls in way over her head with a rough crowd. If you stretch it a bit, "Lords of Dogtown" also sets up camp in a world of thrill-seeking, physically gifted athletes chasing the troubled immortality of skateboarding fame.

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