The Multitalented Catherine Hardwicke

By Heather Hubbard

On May 27, 2009, director, writer, production designer, art director, and producer Catherine Hardwicke spoke at the Performing Arts Center at California State University, San Bernardino. Although the lecture was intended to be focused on filmmaking, and much of it was, Hardwicke’s lecture centered on her 2008 film Twilight. The film’s opening weekend was the biggest opening ever for a female director, earning $70.5 million.

The Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown director found her audience at CSUSB to be in one of two categories: aspiring filmmakers or Twihards, a nickname, among others, that Twilight fans have given themselves. “How many people out here are filmmakers or want to be filmmakers?” A few hands flew in the air. Then, Hardwicke coyly asked, “And how many are Twilight fans?” Loud cheers and applause with a flood of hands in the air gave her an answer. She giggled in delight.

Satisfying both aspiring filmmakers and fans of Stephenie Meyer’s 2005 novel, Hardwicke went on to explain the behind–the-scenes action of the film as well as the challenge of adapting a novel. The infamous treetop scene in Twilight where Edward (Robert Pattinson), a vampire in love with Bella (Kristen Stewart), a human, climbs and leaps from tree to tree with Bella on his back was not in the novel. Hardwicke wanted to take the novel’s feeling of being in love and Bella’s moments of feeling butterflies in her stomach and combine those scenes into one scene that would create that exciting feeling for the audience. “Make [the feeling] visual, physical, and active,” Hardwicke says.

A director’s job is not only to set up scenes and coach the actors on where to stand and how to say a line. Sometimes, last minute changes need to be made in order to make a scene stronger. The night before the treetop scene was shot, Hardwicke looked over the script and realized that too much time would pass onscreen without dialogue. Wanting Pattinson to do something other than just smile during the entire scene, Hardwicke came up with ten possible lines for him to say at the start of the scene. “I showed [the list] to Rob [and] I said ‘Would you want to say any of these?’ And that’s when he picked ‘Hold on tight, spider monkey!’” The line is a fan favorite, most likely because it’s said by Pattinson, who shot to stardom because of the film.

This, Hardwicke says, is the importance of the creativity of the director. She even suggests that aspiring screenwriters and directors take a comedy improv class to help them improve their ability to come up with something creative on the spot. If a scene is boring or needs some excitement, the script might have to be tweaked right then before a scene is shot. That’s where a background in improv is helpful. According to Hardwicke, “That’s one of the great things for a writer or director or actor…you never know, when you’re right there on the spot and [the scene is not] exciting…you might have to…create a line.”

Acting classes in general can also be helpful to directors. Knowing what to look for in a cast and “finding the right actors and the right chemistry,” Hardwicke says, is vital to the film. After seeing the film Into the Wild, Hardwicke knew that she had her Bella. “[Kristen Stewart] was strong but vulnerable…I thought she’d be a great Bella.” After casting Stewart, Hardwicke went on the search for the perfect actor to play Edward. After finally narrowing it down to five actors, she had them over to her home where the actors took turns acting out scenes from the script with Stewart. “We did the bedroom scene on my bed and when Rob and Kristen did that scene, you could really tell, you know? There was something going on.”

Many directors will create storyboards to help set up and organize scenes before filming. While Hardwicke finds that storyboards can sometimes be a trap, and did not use one for the drama Thirteen, starring Holly Hunter and Evan Rachel Wood, she did use a storyboard for the more technical scenes in Twilight. For instance, the treetop sequence as well as the ballet room sequence at the end of the film. She says that she wanted “an illustration to get Summit, the studio, excited about this sequence.” She generally saves storyboards for big scenes and concepts, not the simple moment to moment scenes. Perhaps one of the most important things about creating a film, Hardwicke advises, is to get others interested in the project. Whether it’s through storyboards that illustrate big, thrilling scenes, or the filmmaker’s own enthusiasm, “Get people excited,” Hardwicke says.

A director’s goal is to not only get the studio excited about a project, but to get the cast excited and motivated as well. While shooting a scene for Thirteen, Hardwicke’s directing debut, she found herself with a wary cast during a sprinkler scene in which the cast was supposed to run and play through the water. “The main two actors were minors, they had to go home, they had a cutoff time, so by the time we finally got the lights on and the sprinklers on, we had fifteen minutes, and then everyone was freezing and they didn’t want to get in the water…It’s like, ‘Oh no!’” Determined to film the scene, Hardwicke got the cast excited by cheering them on and telling them, “Oh, we can do it!” Her encouragement worked and it turned out to be one of the most memorable scenes from the film. Enthusiasm, Hardwicke suggests, is an imperative part of being a director.

Hardwicke’s advice to aspiring filmmakers is this: fight. “Nobody’s going to give it to you. You’re going to have to fight and try. That’s what I did.” She recommends doing anything that will fine-tune the filmmaker’s creative side. For her, it was taking a variety of classes to learn about different aspects of the arts. “I would take classes every weekend. If there was an acting class or if there was a writing class…I would be writing down every single thing the professor was saying.”

For Hardwicke, art has especially helped her when it comes to creating films. “I thought about color for Twilight from the first day I read the book,” she explains. For Thirteen, she used colors to set certain moods for the film. During depressing, hopeless scenes, colors are rather dark; when these scenes shift to happier, more energetic moments, the colors are very bright. Hardwicke showed a thirty second speed up of the film in which the color changes can be seen; dull blue and gray colors fill the screen one second, bright reds, oranges, etc., the next.

Hardwicke says she loves “making things happen,” and it’s obvious that she enjoys her career. Her passion for creating films is brought out by her bubbly personality and her enthusiasm when discussing the art of filmmaking. She promises that anything aspiring filmmakers are passionate about will help them in their film career, just as art has helped her. She is a true artist in many regards and her encouragement toward writers, directors, actors, and artists of all types is intensely infectious. Her motivation creates a feeling of excitement that makes filmmakers eager to just go out there and make things happen.

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