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SYFY WIRE Kristen Stewart

Original Screenplay for Twilight Film Adaptation Was Wildly Different from the Book

An FBI pursuit on jet skis doesn't exactly scream "Vampire Romance!"

By Josh Weiss

An FBI pursuit on jet skis sounds perfect for a heart-pounding espionage thriller, but perhaps not for a vampiric romance. And yet, the folks at MTV/Paramount thought some spy-related action is just what the world of Twilight needed when it set out to adapt the bestselling novel penned by Stephenie Meyer (all five movies are now streaming on Peacock).

In a 2008 interview that has since been archived, the author voiced her frustration with the original screenplay written by Mark Lord, who went for a more action-oriented approach. In addition to the aforementioned jet ski chase, there was a lot more From Dusk till Dawn-esque moments, with Bella Swan (ultimately played by Kristen Stewart) losing her father and dispatching vampires with a shotgun.

The Original Twilight Screenplay Was Nothing Like the Book

"They could have filmed it and not called it Twilight because it had nothing to do with the book, and that’s kind of frightening," Meyer remembered. "When Summit came into the picture, they were so open to letting us make rules for them, like 'Okay, Bella cannot be a track star. Bella cannot have a gun or night vision goggles. And, no jet skis. Are you okay with that?' And, they were so cool!"

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Lord presented his side of events while appearing as guest on an episode of The Big Hit Show podcast last May, explaining that the studio "wanted to take a concept and build in a structure that was far more cinematic. They wanted to just put in some more action to advance it more and [draw in the] male audience. They thought they were going to lose the male audience with too much of a romance."

He continued: "There's always the gap between the theory and the practice. They're like, 'We want to do this kind of thing.' Then it goes up to the boss and they're like, 'We need more jet skis!' or whatever it might be. Okay, you go and put that in."

While Lord's decision to make Bella a track star was maligned by Meyer, it did come from an understandable storytelling position: He needed an organic way to facilitate Bella's initial meeting with Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). "What's gonna get her out in the woods without it being a Sound of Music situation?" he added. "[The answer is for her to] go out and train. I wanted a stronger female character, as opposed to her just mooning over this guy, if I recall. It's been a long time."

Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) looks baffled in the dark in Twilight (2008).

As we know, the MTV/Paramount version never saw the light of day. Once Summit Entertainment scooped up the rights and hired Catherine Hardwicke to direct, Lord's screenplay was left by the wayside. 

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"I said, 'First of all, this script has to go in the trash. No good. You've got to make it like the book,'" Hardwicke said on the podcast. "The reason people like it is because there's this feeling of the first time you've ever fell in love, and it's kind of an ecstatic feeling. And you have none of that in this script, which was in turnaround from Paramount."

Melissa Rosenberg was then tapped to turn in a new draft more faithful to the source material and ended up writing all five installments. "It's interesting that the first writer on it was a man. It led to jet skis and shotguns in order to deal with the challenge of making Bella proactive," the writer explained. "And then when you put women on it, we go in the direction of character. The book is written from a woman's point-of-view, the adaptation is written from a woman's point-of-view, the direction of the first movie was directed from a woman's point-of-view. So it was very much a female gaze from its origin. And if you just simply respect that origin and and lean into it, that's what you're gonna get on film."

TwilightThe Twilight Saga: New MoonThe Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 are now streaming on Peacock.