The British filmmaker sheds some light on his experiences directing third Twilight film, Eclipse.
Cutting his creative teeth in music videos and the advertising industry, directing videos for the likes of Aphex Twin and Muse, David Slade broke into the movie industry after his debut film, Hard Candy, was picked up at the Sundance Film Festival. After following up emphatically with Alaskan vampire thriller 30 Days of Night, Slade earned his shot at helming one of the year's biggest releases, the third Twilight film, Eclipse. LWLies caught up with Slade recently to discuss his heroes and the process of directing part of a franchise phenomenon.
LWLies: Were you surprised to be approached to direct Eclipse?
Slade: It's funny because I’m fairly idiosyncratic in the way I prepare for a film and any film I make is going to have a distinct idiosyncratic nature to it. So yeah, I was as shocked as anybody when I was approached to do the film. It was one of those weird things where I wondered whether the studio really knew what [Eclipse] was going to be like with me directing.
Do you think the fact you had directed a vampire movie before make you more appealing for this?
Actually it was more Hard Candy that helped get me the gig. Hard Candy is the film I’m most proud of to date, and I think they just wanted the foundation of the notion that they had got someone in who could get a good performance out of a young actor. That must have filled them with some confidence, but I wouldn’t have hired me, I can tell you that much.
And you have experience working with big name actors as well, with Josh Hartnett, Ben Foster and Danny Huston. Right now you don’t get much bigger in terms of celebrity then the Twilight stars…
Well the thing is they’re all great actors, they’re all professional, so that side of the phenomenon doesn’t really come into it too much.
What is your creative process on a film like this?
The thing is the process for me is informed by my influences, but I’m not very referential. I spent 15 years in commercials and videos learning my craft before going to film school, so my technique is made up of a lot of different creative components. It’s very important to me to visualise and picture a film before I make it. I think that’s really important for a director to visualise in that way and to see the film before you’ve made it. And more important to have the technical craft knowledge to take that picture out of your head and put it onto the screen. That for me comes from working in the advertising and music video industries. So when I look at something I know exactly what the focal length should be, how I want the lighting to be, which is not to boast. I just think it’s important if you want to be a great director. You have to understand all of it, the technical stuff and the actors’ side as well. Every actor has their own preparation techniques and it’s important to get to grips with that. For me it’s very internal.
It starts earlier actually. I started off as a journalist, making fanzines at the age of 15 and taking into what later became known as Warp Records in Sheffield, where I was born. I was writing and working for skateboard magazines and getting paid £30 per 1000 words. And my dad said ‘You’re never going to make enough money doing that’ so I took up photography and went to art college. But they had quite a crap photography department and a good film department so I spent more time there and became quite self-taught. But it took nearly 10 years before I was able to take all these processes and put them together and create the big picture as you imagine it. But you’re always learning. I’ve learnt more in this last year than in all the years before. To make a film like this was a great challenge because it took me out of my element.
It’s interesting because this is the third film in the franchise. Do you feel like you would have approached Eclipse differently if it was the first film and did you use the first two films as a template at all?
No not really. I mean, it’s not an easy process when you’re coming in at this stage but I tried not to look too much at the other films. You have to give yourself that freedom and not worry about what’s going on around you.
How much creative freedom do you feel you had on this? Obviously there’s a need to stay faithful to the book and to fans of the first two films…
I got a lot of freedom. The book’s the book and I was conscious of the fact that we had quite a short schedule, so there’s always things we were going to have to leave out. But also I was only interested in shooting the script, it wasn’t about going out and finding the film. I wasn’t going to improvise. In fact I kind of mandated that I wanted the actors to be off book, to learn the lines from the script and to stick to the story as we were telling it. But we tried to keep it light and keep a sense of humour. And everyone was comfortable enough working together that we able to bring this in. It’s needed I think because it’s quite an intense film.
What was the mood on set like? Did you concentrate on breaking that intensity in between scenes?
It was good. They all have this great chemistry but what’s interesting is they have very different ways of working and preparing.
Can you give us any examples?
Kristen is very analytical, she’ll really study the text and ask you about the weight of the intonation in lines. Whereas Rob’s really intellectual about it, he really thinks it through… probably more than he should at times. But he really thinks through the larger implications of it, and Taylor is always pulling from his own personal life and just trying to find something true. Which I think is one of the more noble ways of performing.
And what was your relationship with the actors like? In many ways you’re coming in and breaking the rhythm of the other two films…
One of the earliest parts of the process was to have one-on-one meetings with the cast and find out what they thought worked and what they were comfortable with…
What they liked and disliked about the previous films?
Yeah, exactly. Just getting as much detail as you can in. So doing that you get a good sense of where everyone is and how they feel about the film and the script.
Were they all receptive to your methods?
Yeah. One thing I told them all from the outset was that we weren’t going to do playback, so they weren’t going to be able to watch themselves during a scene. So nobody was self-monitoring, it felt healthier for that and it helped me to maintain a strong directorial voice. I wanted to push them as well, more so then they’d been pushed before. So for example when Jacob and Edward argue over Bella I wanted them to seem like they were on the verge of fighting. And they might have been uncomfortable with that physical interaction at first, but my view was ‘The less you fight the less you love her, and you fucking love her!’
Did you feel any pressure to cater for the fans?
It’s strange because you immerse yourself in it so much you become a kind of psuedo-fan. The things that are good about the story, which are the fans favourites, are what you’ve already picked up on, because these are the stand out lines. I’m not saying I’m going to become a huge Twilight fan, I’m not going to go and read the rest of Stephenie Meyer’s book, but I’ve immersed myself in the story and so I have to be a fan to some extent. It’s important to understand that it is a subculture, just like punk or goth, or whatever. And that’s not to compare them, because they by no means operate on the same scale or are otherwise similar, but these Twilight fans are a subculture and they shouldn’t be suppressed. They can be pretty healthy.
What’s next for you?
There’s a bunch of films I’ve wanted to get made for a number of years, but to be honest I think I’m going to take a hiatus. If I carried on now I might have a nervous breakdown, so I think now it’s about taking some photos, fucking about on the internet and going on holiday. And if anyone’s still interested in working with me in a few years when I get back, then we’ll talk then.