Chris Weitz plants a flag on 'New Moon'

Catherine Hardwicke fails to reach deal for 'Twilight' sequel

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

Weitz comes on board 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 midstream switch.

"I'm sad that Catherine is not continuing on with us for 'New Moon,' she wrote in a letter on her Web site, but then noted 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," she 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 it was a matter of scheduling.

Weitz has not helmed a girl-oriented project before 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."

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

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

Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart will star in "Moon," while Melissa Rosenberg is writing the picture which, like the first, centers on the ordinary teenager Bella and the vampire Edward but adds Jacob, a werewolf character who figured less prominently in the first film.

The budget for "Moon" is expected to be slightly higher than the first in the franchise, with a release likely for late 2009 or early 2010.