Timing conflicts cause for director's departure

Summit Entertainment has wasted no time moving ahead with the next installment in Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling “Twilight” series, “New Moon.” But in an unusual move after the successful launch of a franchise that has already generated $138.6 million, the upstart distrib is not bringing director Catherine Hardwicke back to direct the picture. Summit and Hardwicke cite Summit’s wish to rush the movie into production as one reason for their split. Summit wants to release the picture, which will demand substantial CGI work, by the end of 2009 or the start of 2010. A former production designer, Hardwicke wanted more prep time.

“Twilight” scripter Melissa Rosenberg handed in a draft of “New Moon” the weekend that “Twilight” opened. Hardwicke wanted more time to work on it; Summit announced it was going ahead with “New Moon” on November 22, with no director attached. Negotiations lasted two weeks before Hardwicke formally passed on the film Saturday.

As word spread through Hollywood agencies that the talks might not result in Hardwicke’s return, reports surfaced that Summit was checking out other directors for the “Twilight” franchise while they insisted they were still negotiating with Hardwicke, who delivered the biggest opening weekend ever for a woman. (CAA denies that they were soliciting other directors.) The movie is still going strong as the director and cast promote it overseas; it came in second this weekend with $13.2 million, grossing a total $138.6 million.

The problem that stalled negotiations was that Hardwicke had strong opinions about what to do with the next installment, and so did Summit. The debate was how to focus the adaptation of the second book, which deals more with giant werewolves than vampires, as well as the long depression of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), after her vampire lover (Rob Pattinson) leaves her. One issue was how to get more of teen heartthrob Pattinson into the film. (Rosenberg has figured out a device to achieve this.) But Hardwicke, burned out from her “Twilight” labors, simply wasn’t willing to jam this movie with a script that still needed months of development.

“I am sorry that due to timing I will not have the opportunity to direct ‘New Moon,'” said Hardwicke. “Directing ‘Twilight’ has been one of the great experiences of my life, and I am grateful to the fans for their passionate support of the film. I wish everyone at Summit the best with the sequel — it is a great story.”

“Catherine did an incredible job in helping us to launch the ‘Twilight’ franchise, and we thank her for all of her efforts and we very much hope to work with her on future Summit projects,” said Summit production prexy Erik Feig. “We as a studio have a mandate to bring the next installment in the franchise to the big screen in a timely fashion so that fans can get more of Edward, Bella and all of the characters that Stephenie Meyer has created. We are able to pursue an aggressive time frame as we have the luxury of only adapting the novels into screenplays as opposed to having to create a storyline from scratch.”

Hardwicke has other balls in the air, including two projects in the works with Groundswell Entertainment’s Michael London, who produced “Thirteen.”

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