There’s a scene in the 2010 film “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” in which Bella (Kristen Stewart), the movie’s teenage heroine, gets on the back of a motorcycle owned by Jacob, a werewolf. She does so unprompted, at least in part to get under the skin of her beau, Edward, who is a vampire. In the book, however, Jacob has to persuade Bella to get on his motorcycle, which she does. See the difference? If you’re a young or even not-so-young fan of the wildly popular “Twilight” series, you sure do.
“That got some flak,” said Melissa Rosenberg, who wrote the screenplays for all five of the “Twilight” films, which are based on a series of books by Stephenie Meyer. “Some fans were like, ‘She would never do that to Edward!’ People become very attached to a certain moment in a book, and then if you change it, it’s very upsetting to them.”
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If, as the common wisdom goes, the book is always better, why do so many studios keep making movies out of them? One reason, of course, is that built-in audiences of devoted readers will rush out to see their favorite texts brought to life on screen, even as they complain about every casting decision and plot tweak. Few fans are more devoted — and, perhaps most important to studio executives, plentiful — than the readers of young adult fiction, whose numbers have made film series like “The Twilight Saga” and “The Hunger Games” movies into multibillion-dollar franchises.
Such devotion, however, comes with its own special challenges. How do screenwriters adapt these stories so that they will appeal to a broad swath of moviegoers, readers and nonreaders alike, without alienating the fans who consider the books holy writ? “You can go on any ‘Twilight’ website in the world, and 50 percent of the people say, ‘Oh, the adaptation was incredibly faithful,’ and the other half will say that I butchered the book, and my hands should be cut off,” Ms. Rosenberg said. “One changes things at great peril.”
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Casting, as one might expect, is one of the biggest of fan concerns. Nose around some of the most popular young adult-book fan sites, and you’ll find commenters as mean as snakes, and missives that range from creepily specific to nonsensical. “We’ve learned not to be too reactive about some of their initial responses,” said Erik Feig, co-president of the Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, who has overseen such projects as “Divergent,” “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and the “Twilight” series. “At first, fans said that Rob Pattinson was the worst Edward ever: ‘How could you have cast him?’ ” he said. “Or that Shailene Woodley would be terrible as Tris. A lot of times we want to say, ‘Trust us.’ It’s like a pot roast. Don’t try to eat it until it’s all cooked.”
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And it’s not just casting, Mr. Feig said. Fans often have a list of elements from the books that they feel the films can’t do without. While working on “Twilight,” he and a few of his colleagues sat down with Ms. Meyer and came up with their own list. Informally called the “Stephenie Meyer Bill of Rights,” it ranged from character details (“Jacob is an amazing mechanic”) to essential scenes. “That became a rider to the contract,” Mr. Feig said.
He has made similar lists for several of his recent films. “The Finnick sugar-cube scene from ‘Catching Fire,’ ” Mr. Feig said. “That had to be there. The zip-line scene in ‘Divergent.’ ‘How long have you been 17?’ from ‘Twilight.’ Can you imagine an adaptation that wouldn’t have those scenes?”