You Can’t Kill Them: Bill Condon on Breaking Dawn Part 2
Here at CraveOnline, we don’t shy away from covering the big pop culture phenomena, even if they say it’s not quite our "demo." For The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt. 2 we got to sit down with one of Hollywood’s top directors to discuss the state of the industry. Bill Condon wrote and directed Dreamgirls, Gods and Monsters and Kinsey and wrote the screenplay to Chicago. I’ll never stop being engaged by filmmakers and artistic discussions, and this was a big one. There may be a mild spoiler for the final shot of the movie, but for this one I kept it really vague, because it’s a surprise even to people who’ve read the book.
CraveOnline: Did having more vampires in this movie give you more options for composing shots of them?
Bill Condon: Absolutely. That’s a really good question. It’s true because there’s a challenge with vampires to shoot them because they don’t sit the way we do, they don’t smoke, they don’t drink Diet Cokes. They just stand. They are statues so to actually have a scene with 27 of them, it was fun to be able to create formations of them. But that’s very, very true. At the end when they’re all coming onto the field, it was really a sense of composing these moving chess pieces in nice, interesting formations. It was fun.
That’s vampires as opposed to humans, but even the 27 vampires as opposed to just the Cullen family in the previous movie.
Yeah, that was a really interesting visual challenge.
With the moving chess pieces, did you try different options or have specific storyboards?
You know what I did in terms of the big scene at the end which basically has over 100 vampires when you count the ones on the Volturi side, I did something that was kind of unusual on a movie set which is that we didn’t shoot one day. When we started that sequence, we just had all the actors come in, no makeup, start in the morning and rehearse it like a play, starting with them moving forward. I did have this idea that Aro kind of moves forward and it opens like this door that he pushes open. So once we got that in that triangle shape, then you saw well, then it should expand like this to include 12 in a shot. It was all that stuff but it was really done on the set with the actors.
For the big battle, did you talk with other action directors for tips or things you didn’t want to repeat, the common moves we see in all of them?
I didn’t, obviously, talk to other action directors and I think part of the reason is it can’t by its nature resemble other action sequences because tell me a battle that doesn’t have weapons. There are very few battles that don’t have horses and flags. There’s a very unique set of challenges here because vampires, you can’t puncture their skin. You can’t kill them. The only thing you can do is rip their heads off, so that became its own thing to figure out. How do you do that 20 times across the scene?
You thankfully avoided the triple wirework kick we always see, the one move you can teach an actor to do in training.
Right, right, that was true.
Were you aware of those pitfalls?
A little bit, yeah. Part of it on the positive side is that we did have all these fun new powers to deal with so that you could rely on a shield or a zapping or the fissure and all that stuff.
This may be a tough question but when the Snow White and the Huntsman scandal happened over the summer, did you think, “Oh no, what are we going to do when our movie comes out?”
No, I was so deeply involved in putting the movie together, I was concerned about the movie and making the movie work. I have to admit that’s all that was on my mind at that point. I kind of lived in a bubble, in a cave I would say more accurately.
Did things work themselves out? Was there any moment when producers or the studio came to you and said, “This is how we might need to handle our release?”
No, I don't think there was any sense [of worry]. This was always going to open where it was.
Or how much Kristen Stewart could participate in press?
Well, again, I was so hunkered down making the movie. 2000 effects shots. It was like being in production during that time, so that was a whole other world. I was just a cog in that machine.
Have these literary franchises, which are great things to bring to the screen, ended up making it harder to get material like Kinsey and Gods & Monsters through the system?
Oh, you mean this craze for YA adaptations? I think there’s always something that dominates the studio slate. It would’ve been Die Hard action movies years ago, then it was comic book movies and now it does seem to be fantasy driven YA fiction.
I miss the Die Hard in a …. genre.
Right, exactly. So that’s what it is. We’re in the middle of that crazy. Now I think it’s always hard to get movies like Kinsey made, harder now than ever probably but you don’t do it in that arena anymore. You don’t do it with studios, right? You sort of do it at AFM and you piece the money together.
I was just at AFM too.
Oh yeah, how was it? Crazy?
I’m learning it’s not for press like a film festival where I can see anything. I sort of expected crazy shenanigans and it seems a little more formal than that. Am I missing the crazy shenanigans?
I think that there probably are crazy parties at night and things like that, but you’re right. I’ve always tried to connect it to AFI. It’d be nice to make that connection somehow, because it’s sort of lacking in those kind of big events and big movie star things it seems.
When you’re dealing with any book, do you need to give the readers exactly what they want or offer something different?
First of all, they’re not one person so they would each want different things. I think it has to be your take on it and you have to hope that somehow it intersects with what in general people want, but you have to be aware of the fact, I was highly aware of the fact that this means so much to so many different people and you don’t want to betray that. But at the same time, you do have to make it different because it’s a movie and you have to visualize it, compress it and just tell it in a dramatic form. That’s part of it.
You won’t want me to spoil the last image of the movie, but how did you come to where you wanted the last shot of the movie to be? Can you speak about that in general terms?
Sure, I don’t want to talk about what it is specifically, but I thought it was important to acknowledge the fact that this is a fairy tale and it came from something that first entered the world on the page, through books. It was a book that mattered to so many people and it’s a specific type of writing, young adult fiction and that’s what’s sort of been brought to life. So I won’t say how but it’s sort of bringing it back to the source.
What was your idea for the opening credits with all the blooming images?
The whole idea there was this movie begins at the very moment that the first part ends, but it had been a year since we’d been in the theater and had that experience. So I just wanted to get you into the mood of that and basically the notion was that we would play off the transformation that was going on inside Bella with the world of Forks and seeing the images, the red, the blood kind of spreading across Forks as though there’s a real tilting of the earth. We live in the new world now. It’s Bella’s point of view and she is, the world she’s lived in is now becoming something entirely different.
Did you keep up with any of the critical reactions to Breaking Dawn Part 1?
Sure, absolutely. I’m a masochist.
What were your thoughts on the interpretation that it was high camp?
It seemed to me that was a less common reaction than the one that said that nothing happened, which always drove me crazy. Did you think that was the general consensus, high camp?
Maybe in the circles that I read or people I’ve talked to. Even people who were critical of the first three and meant it as a positive take on the material that understood those qualities.
Camp is a loaded word. The way I would prefer to describe it, there’s a clip in the first movie of Bride of Frankenstein, one of my favorite movies and maybe my favorite horror movie. James Whale there, I think that’s a terrifying movie but it also has a sense of humor. It has a wit about it and it did feel to me, in this movie, whether we accomplished this or not, an ideal version, it’s embodied by what Michael Sheen does on the field when he meets Renesmee. He lets out this cackle. That’s my favorite moment in the movie. It’s funny but it’s creepy. I don’t think Twilight should be approached like Batman. Because it is an invented kind of world, especially this one, I think it’s got to be done with a sense of enjoyment to it I guess more than anything. So I never thought of anything as making fun of it, but kind of reveling in the melodrama of it. It’s a melodrama. It’s a romantic melodrama. It’s not the kind of movies that get made much anymore but it was an honored style in classical traditional Hollywood filmmaking. So maybe the fact of that, plus not shying away from it in any way in the design and the way the music works, the sort of full on emotional feeling that maybe people sort of connect that to camp in some ways.
That’s a good point, and I’m sure camp wasn’t the word everyone used. Melodrama is a good point because some of the earlier movies might have taken it more seriously.
I guess so, realism vs. melodrama and I do think they’re melodramas. I think embracing that, I just thought that was an obvious way to go. It’s certainly the only way I could do it.
Your earlier work includes Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh and F/X 2. Were those just paying gigs to you or were you just as invested in them?
No, F/X 2 was a job. I enjoyed doing it but that was definitely a job. I wrote that, I didn’t direct it but Candyman and the earlier horror movies I made, I was completely into horror and suspense and always have been. It’s informed everything I’ve done, even the way scenes are shot in Kinsey and Gods and Monsters. There’s a sense of suspense in some of that. Not so much Dreamgirls I’ve got to admit. I do find myself keep coming back to this area of filmmaking.
So you’re responsible for the fight with the animatronic clown?
Yes, totally. Bluey was completely my idea and actually I have Bluey in my basement. I found him online.
Should they do F/X 3 with a motion capture artist?
[Laughs] You know, you could really do something great with that now, don’t you think? Maybe there’s something. There’s some other huge crazy different take on that, yeah.
The musical comeback still seems to be wavering. Rock of Ages and even Nine a few years ago didn’t quite do what Chicago and Dreamgirls did. What do you think it is that we announce that genre’s coming back, there’s still one a year maybe?
I don't know. I honestly don’t agree with that. Unfortunately when a few of them don’t work, then it’s suddenly oh my God, the thing is in trouble, but it’s just movies that don’t work. I actually think between what happens in movies, even this year, there are a number of them. Pitch Perfect is a musical. The new Step Up is a dance musical. They take different forms but obviously Sparkle. I think if you look at this decade, consistently there are a dozen movies every year, but more than that now it’s on television, in so many different musical shows but also things like “Smash” and “Glee.” I think it’s actually a more relevant form. I think that thing has really come to fruition. We’ll see what happens with Les Mis but I don’t feel as though Les Mis entering the marketplace carries the same weight that it would have 10 years ago, like oh my God, if it doesn’t work the whole thing is over. It feels like no, they’re a part of [the landscape]. I think a few have been announced for next year. Annie’s going to be [made]. I feel good about where it is.
Could it be that iTunes brings in additional revenue so it might be more affordable for studios to do musicals?
I think that’s really true. I think that’s where “Glee” has made a fortune, right? Haven’t they? I think it’s something that people got more comfortable with honestly.