This past weekend, Catherine Hardwicke and Twilight broke through the glass ceiling with a whopping $70.6 million opening. No, not the ceiling for psychic vampire teen chaste romance flicks (that ceiling is probably $15). I’m talking about the ceiling for a lady - you know, that slippery creature known colloquially as a “female director.”
I was actually very surprised to learn from the Hollywood Reporter that the record for the biggest opening by a female director was formerly held by Mimi Leder and Deep Impact. Um, really? That was TEN YEARS AGO. It seems we have been hurtling towards that glass ceiling with the speed of a balloon caught in a cross breeze. And who would have guessed that the one to prove that estrogen can pull in the big bucks would be Catherine Hardwicke, the director of indie films 13 and Lords of Dogtown? Probably no one, since her past films combined have grossed less than one weekend of Twilight.
And who could have guessed that the film would be Twilight? Well, me actually. I read the book. Well, to be frank, I’ve read all four. Before you raise your eyebrow, let me explain that I’m a Young Adult novelist myself (my book The Lost Children, Aladdin Press, will be coming out in 2010) and I consider reading Stephanie Meyers’ books to be research (or professional curiosity, if that sounds better). Last July, when the stars of Twilight popped up on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, I was amazed that I hadn’t heard of these books. I went and grabbed the first in the series, anxious to see what all the fuss was about.
And here is where I am perplexed about the studios failing to see the potential of the films. It takes less than 50 pages into book one to fully understand why Bella and Edward have become the Romeo and Juliet of the decade. And it takes less than 50 seconds online to see the enormity of the fan base, which includes tweens and teens, but also huge numbers of adult women (check out twilightmomsforums.com).
And what is the best part of a tween viewer in full-fledged vampire lust? She will see the movie over and over and over, in a way that puts Lucas fan boys to shame. I wish there was a way to track how many of the girls who saw the film over the weekend saw it multiple times. Considering that Hollywood is currently obsessed with pre-existing storylines that already have a fanbase, Twilight seemed like a shoe-in. But what is the difference between Twilight and X-Men? Girls. Chicks. Lassies. Gals. Whatever you want to call us. For some reason the Industry thinks we have these massive purses but no wallets.
Which is a BIG mistake. Picture the stereotypical image of a teenage girl, lying upside down on her bed, gossiping on the phone for hours. Now give her the internet and a blackberry. She will spread the word like a squirrel on speed. Girls are just as tech savvy as fanboys, but they have the added female gene of OBSESSING.
There has been a lot of “shocked” press this week about the film’s massive success, but what’s interesting to me about the whole phenomenon, is that the film Twilight isn’t even that good (may I be struck down by the undead). It’s fun if you’ve read the book. I saw it on opening night with hundreds of screaming teens. The energy was palpable, and it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement. Once the movie started, however, and it became clear that Robert Pattinson’s every emotion was going to translate onto his face as “something in this room smells really bad,” my excitement began to wane. Not so for the girls around me, who were audibly sighing, and I mean loud enough to hear over my own guffaws.
What the industry also doesn’t understand about Twilight, and the new “kewl generation,” is that the movie is no longer the end-all-be-all. It’s just part of the bigger multi-media experience. You read the book, and then you read the blogs, and then you explore the fan sites. You listen to the music that Meyer listened to while she wrote the books. You start your own fan site. You connect with fans living in cities around the world and compare your favorite moments. You weigh in on the casting choices for the film like you’re Cecil B. DeMille. You follow the daily news updates in the trades, even if you live in Missouri (LATimes.com, Variety.com, and HollywoodReporter.com all counted down to the opening night.)
You pour your passion into art and then post it on a forum (as seen to the left). You read the leaked chapters of Meyer’s new book, Midnight Sun, which retells Twilight from Edwards’s perspective. (Yes, this little “leak” happened just in time to further ignite Edward-ardor before the premiere.) You plan a viewing party, which is something we ladies love- an organized group experience. Just give us the excuse and we’re on Evite planning the screening, plus a themed cocktail – ok, maybe the cocktails are for the over 30 set, but you get my point. We love to gather.
By the time the film rolls out, it’s already golden. Summit could only have blown Twilight if they’d decided to make Edward an astronaut instead of a vampire.
This new form of collective multi-media is explored today in an interesting article on indieWIRE.com:
“In a networked society, people are constantly forming knowledge communities, [Professor Henry Jenkins] said, explaining that the internet has engendered a new form of participatory culture — a contemporary version of folk culture.”
So what was the magic formula that lead Twilight to make history? Was it a perfect story with perfect actors, a perfect director with the perfect release date? Hardly. But it was also not some fluke that will never be repeated. Fan power on the internet will only continue to expand. And the great thing about teen girls? To paraphrase Wooderson from Dazed and Confused: We get older, and they stay the same age.
Perhaps the big Twilight opening will open the eyes of the industry to the purchasing power of girls, just as 2008’s Sex and the City made everyone rethink the financial potency of women. But my guess is that instead of searching for properties with strong female protagonists and female directors, the Industry will frantically buy lots of teen vampire romance scripts, missing the point entirely. Audible sigh.