Fresh blood: Weitz to helm 'New Moon'

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Chris Weitz has been tapped to helm "New Moon," the sequel to Summit Entertainment's vampire breakout "Twilight."

Weitz comes on to helm the second installment in Stephenie Meyer's four-book series after Summit and "Twilight" director Catherine Hardwicke failed to reach a deal on the new movie.

The Weitz move prompted a carefully calibrated campaign of reassurance on the part of creators.

Meyer penned a letter that sought to calm fans nervous about the mid-stream switch.

"I'm sad that Catherine is not continuing on with us for 'New Moon,' " she wrote on her Web site, but she went on to note that, with Weitz, "Torches and pitchforks aren't going to be necessary." The director "is excited by the story and eager to keep the movie as close to the book as possible," Meyer wrote. "He is also aware of you, the fans, and wants to keep you all extremely happy."

It's rare for the director of a successful first picture not to continue on with the sequel. There have been conflicting reports about Hardwicke's departure, with some noting creative and other differences. Summit has said the issue was a matter of scheduling.

Weitz has never helmed a girl-oriented project but has been involved in movies that encompass elements featured in "Twilight," producing the teen-aimed coming-of-age tale "American Pie" and directing the fantasy adventure "The Golden Compass."

Still, the director was taking few chances.

"I promise to remain responsive to your hopes and fears," he wrote in his own letter to fans Saturday. "I thank you for this opportunity and for your faith."

Weitz said he had been "in a whirlwind romance" with the series over the past few days, and in a particularly careful phrasing, said he is "very grateful to have received (Meyer's) permission to protect 'New Moon' in its translation from the page to the screen."

Weitz's and Meyer's letters represent rare attempts to communicate with fans on issues often left mostly to the industry, and they speak both to the intense insider interest of fans as well as the importance of that group to the franchise's success.

A week ago, Summit had faced a public relations challenge when some fan bulletin boards began to worry about Hardwicke's departure.

Stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart will return for "Moon," which will be written by Melissa Rosenberg and which, like the first, centers on the ordinary teenager Bella and the vampire Edward. The sequel adds the character of Jacob, a werewolf who figured less prominently in the first film.

The budget for "Moon" is expected to be slightly higher than that of "Twilight," with a release likely for late 2009 or early 2010. (partialdiff)
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