FearNet interview with David Slade
After he made the gory bloodsucker pic 30 Days of Night, nobody expected David Slade’s next vampire flick to be, well, a Twilight movie. But as producer Wyck Godfrey told me, Slade’s unique background was exactly what made him the right man to helm the third film in the Twilight Saga, the scariest, most violent, and most vampire-infested installment in the franchise.
I caught up with Slade in Beverly Hills just days after he’d attended an informal Masters of Horror confab with the likes of Eli Roth, Guillermo del Toro, and Tobe Hooper, whose Texas Chainsaw Massacre Slade counts among his favorite movies of all time. An avid photographer, Slade snapped a photo of yours truly (he captures everyone who interviews him) before we got to talking about all things Eclipse.
Was directing a PG-13 Twilight film such a major change for Slade, whose previous features earned R-ratings for “disturbing violent behavior” (Hard Candy) and good old-fashioned bloody vampire violence (30 Days of Night)? What skin-ripping scenes in Eclipse were too extreme for the MPAA? How did he get Taylor Lautner to wear a skin-tight gray spandex wolf suit on set? And lastly, what message does he have for hardcore horror hounds reluctant to give his Twilight movie a chance?
Was there a discernable transition making the jump from your earlier, R-rated genre work to the Twilight franchise?
It wasn’t that hard. We have like six decapitations in Eclipse! We smash people’s heads off, bite people’s heads off, I mean — I was amazed we got the rating we did, the MPAA only threw back one thing: we had this one part in the battle where Emmett just tears someone’s face off. The face kind of breaks off into pieces of crystal that shatter. I was like, ‘Whoa, yeah!’ But the MPAA said ‘No, you can’t do that.’ So the shot’s still in there, but you don’t see the face come off, you just see little bits of stuff breaking off.
Stephenie Meyer’s unique vampire mythology sort of helps one get around depicting graphic violence, doesn’t it? Eclipse features a lot of arm-ripping, head-smashing action — and yet not too much blood.
We managed to pack quite a lot in by making the pathology of this vampire a little bit fantastic. I worked with the guys over at Imagine Engine, who are best known for being one of the main vendors on District 9, which is an amazing film. They did a hell of a lot of the alien work. They did some wolf work for us — not all of it, that was mainly done by Tippett Studios — but when we were designing some of the crystal-sparkly stuff we basically sat down and figured out how it would work. We got anatomical drawings and did human slices — not real ones, but photographs of them — and figured out which layers would be crystal and how that would work. We figured that out because we knew we had to smash them. In a way, it was going to be acceptable to decapitate the hell out of people and smash their heads off in pieces. Bite people’s arms off and leave them with stumps. [Laughs] I’m amazed we got away with that, too, [in the scene where] Riley’s arm gets bitten off.
Stephenie Meyer describes the vampire body as made of a marble-like substance; you call it ‘crystal’?
There’s a crystalline structure. Marble-crystal, yeah. We figured it was a kind of crystal because crystal slides and grows in a way that’s very similar to muscle. It could potentially, in some fantastical way, slide around and move like muscle.
How much of the previous digital and design work did you inherit and how much did you try to change?
We tried to change more than we could. Not because of anything other than schedule and finance. We started down the path to radically redesign the sparkling Edward effect, but we just ran out of time on the R&D on that and ended up augmenting what already existed. What I wanted from that effect was the idea that even though he’s this cold, soulless thing, when the light hit him it’d refract light back and reflect onto you. If you were kissing him, you’d feel the warmth on your skin. That was something emotional and nice about that effect, because I just personally didn’t like how that worked out before. There was a plasticity to it that took me out of the moment in the films. It’s not a criticism, it’s just that in terms of how I wanted to move forward I wanted a more organic approach. We tried to make the wolves as real as we could in the time that we had. We knew they’d have to grab things and smash things.
The fight sequences turned out to be very engaging. Audiences seem to like the ramped-up action and the integration of the wolves into the newborn fight in the clearing.
Yeah, it seemed to work out. But one of my favorite scenes was actually a very emotional scene with the wolves, when Bella is watching and Jacob comes up next to her.
Yes! We heard Taylor pulled on a gray spandex wolf suit to make that moment more authentic, is that right?
Yes, he did. We had these big, white, plastic polyurethane cut-out models of the wolves so that we could get a sense of scale for camera framing.
Did you have to push him to get in that suit, or did he volunteer to do it? And how did that look while you were filming?
We asked him. He said okay. I figured that his nose to his fist [stretches out arm] was the same length as the wolf’s nose to its shoulder blade, so he came in and he put out his fist, and she kind of nuzzled his fist and stroked his hair. It was great, because there was a sense of connection. A person in a gray suit, even, will make a much better connection than an orange ball on a stick. So we had guys running around all over the place with gray suits on.
When the first trailers came out, I was impressed by how gorgeous your cinematography and location photography was.
Well that was from having [director of photography] Javier Aguirresarobe.
I wondered how your own love of photography, which you’ve shared throughout production with fans on Twitter, factored into the look of that cinematography.
I am cursed and blessed with the notion that when I read a book, I have a kind of photographic image in my mind that comes out. Through 16 years of doing music videos, commercials, and then two features, I’ve gotten to the point where I can exercise knowing how to make a mental image into a photographic image. What lens to use, what the depth of field should be, how long the focal length from the film plane to the subject should be, what kind of f-stop I need. It’s a blessing and a curse because sometimes you worry that you’re falling into a pattern, which you never want to do. But the blessing is that I do see images in my mind, there is a mechanism to get the film made — and it’s a film that I’ve already seen [in my mind]. The hard part is getting it out of the head and onto a screen. So yes, very much, I have a very clear idea of composition and where the light should be and everything about the image.
You’ve spoken about using a specific cinematic language on Eclipse — framing Bella, Edward, and Jacob in tight close-ups, for example.
Yes, a cinematic vocabulary. This one had to have a more mature — not to be antithetical to ‘immature,’ I don’t think there is anything immature about the films — but it was a more advanced, more complex story, and I think it needed a more complex, more cinematic… I think I was going more for a piece of cinema than a movie, knowing full well that it would probably be distributed like a movie. So I had the license to be a little bit more edgy with my cinematography, to actually push the camera in a way that hadn’t been pushed before on these films. But none of it was done for the sake of messing around, it was all done with a specific idea in mind.
One of my favorite scenes in Eclipse is Bella’s nightmare. It’s a very dark, nightmarish scenario in which a vision of Jasper looks directly into the camera and comes for the audience.
That was our first day of shooting! I remember that, it was halfway through the very first day of principal shooting.
That scene is striking in that it bears more of a horror cinema mark than the rest of the film. Do you see yourself as a member of the horror filmmaking community?
Am I a horror filmmaker? Yes I am, I guess — I go to the Masters of Horror dinners.
That’s certainly a badge, of sorts.
But you know, Hard Candy wasn’t a horror movie. And I may not make a horror movie next. But I love horror movies, some of my favorite movies of all time, like Possession, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre — they’re all horror movies. Amongst great dramas, as well.
Considering your genre-specific fan base, how would you like non-Twilight fans to approach the Twilight franchise?
With an open mind. But it is a Twilight film, no doubt. It’s a Twilight film; it’s definitely based on the Twilight material. It’s not an R-rated movie, it is a PG-13 movie. [Pauses] But I do believe it is probably the most violent of all of them.