5 Things Melissa Rosenberg Knows For Sure

At the end of every O magazine there is a list called “5 Things I know for Sure.”  Usually Oprah provides the “things” for this list based on the focus of that particular issue.  This month O has asked Melissa Rosenberg what her five things are.  Here is what she said:  

Special effects and stars do not necessarily a good movie make.

The film industry sees the writer as fungible: The thinking goes, As long as we have Brad Pitt and all this money, we have a great film! No, you need a writer with voice and an engaging story, or what you have is a bomb. 

Kindness counts.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the smartest person in the room: If you’re not someone who people want to be around, you won’t get far. Likewise for helping those in line behind you. I take seriously my role as a mentor to young female filmmakers—I make sure my time is tithed.

We all have a calling.

Everyone is given one gift, a reason for being, and it’s our obligation to do something with it. Obviously, it’s a challenge—but if you’re not taking the bull by the horns, I have no patience for you. You’re just taking up space.

Hell, yes, there’s a double standard in Hollywood.

You could produce a ridiculous action flick for 13-year-old boys, and critics will say, “Oh, it’s just an action flick.” But the vitriol directed toward Twilight is astounding. It may not be Doctor Zhivago, but I think some critics call it stupid and frivolous not because it’s inherently bad but because it’s made for girls. 

Frustration is my motivation. When I’m stuck in my writing, the world is amiss. If I’m eating a sandwich, it’s an unsettled sandwich. If I’m in the shower, it’s an incorrect shower. It’s profoundly uncomfortable. But it’s what keeps me pushing.

Source: O Magazine


  1. Or maybe they call it stupid and frivolous because it IS stupid and frivolous. And you know what? That’s okay. When I read/watch Twilight I’m not doing it because I think there’s some resounding message or moral. I don’t like it because I think it’s gonna make me a better person or change the world. I like it because for a few hours I can lose myself in a good story where semi-realistic characters face their troubles yet have a happily ever after. Not every good story has to be an earth-mover.

    • I don’t think the Twilight story is remotely stupid or frivolous. That’s true about good stories being, primarily, a good story. Which is great, alone, and in itself.

      However, the reason that good stories are good is because they are based on a framework which resonates truthfully with people. It’s what makes the characters semi-realistic. It’s what makes the surprising turns of the plot seem right, appropriate, needed, and “in place.”

      If the only thing a good story needed was realism, then there’d be lots and lots and lots of stories and movies and TV shows where people went off to tedious jobs, ran an errand or two, and then watched TV at night. Over and over. The end. Not very resonant.

      Understanding that resonant, truthful foundation to a good story doesn’t make the surprising turns of the plot less enjoyable, or the characters less fun to follow. Rather, it accentuates that enjoyment.

      And it’s those aspects that people ponder (and relish) over and over and over. Because the turns of plot resonate truthfully in real live.

      • I never said Twilight was a bad story. I think I assumed everyone understood what Hollywood (hence, I) meant by “stupid and frivolous.” So I’ll explain a little better. When critics of things like literature, movies and theatre say things like “stupid and frivolous” they almost never mean that it has bad structure or is poorly written. If they mean that, they will usually say that. What they mean is that it has no…metaphoric side to it. No hidden meanings, no deep “TRUTH” that you have to spend hours trying to discover.

        So when I say that Twilight is stupid and frivolous and that it’s okay, it’s the critical meaning of that phrase that I’m using.

        • Sure, I see your point.

          What I’ve found, over the years, is when those critics offer that kind of criticism, it’s often not that there isn’t actually a metaphorical framework in the story — there has to be or it wouldn’t be a “story;” it would be an unbroken narrative with no beginning, middle, or end. Or impact of any kind. Or fans who relate to it.

          Rather, these critics are refusing to think about it, and claiming that it’s not their fault that they are lazy thinkers, because there is nothing there to think about; how convenient! Or, they basically disagree with the themes/metaphors/impact of the story, and refuse to discuss it.

          In any case, it doesn’t need to take hours to figure these sorts of things out, if you’re looking for it in the first place. OTOH, if you refuse to accept the possibility of a deeper framework to a story, then you’ll never see it. Even when it’s completely obvious.

          • I disagree that metaphorical framework is required for there to be a beginning, middle and end. When I tell my friends something that happened during the day it has no metaphorical meaning, but it’s not an unbroken narrative and it definitely has a beginning, middle and end. And not every story lauded by critics fits those categories. Psychological writing, or free writing, has none of those characteristics. But that psychobabble is highly regarded by most literary critics.

            The point still stands that deeper meaning is not required for a story to be worthy of being told.

          • An anecdote from the day may or may not seem to have beginning, middle, or end, but if it has a point, a moral, a meaning, then it has a framework underpinning it, even it is only as part of larger narrative outside that particular anecdote (e.g., life is a hoot, life is a series of unfortunate events, life is lots of ups and downs, or life is hard but I am working toward greater things; i.e., the four modes: comic, tragic, ironic, romantic).

            Oftentimes, the telling of the anecdote is, in itself, part of humans’ endless search for meaning in life, like, “This thing happened, and I don’t know what to think about it thus far… what do you think about it/me/my life?” That’s often *why* people tell stories, to discover/decide on a meaning, usually based in various patterns they perceive in their lives. In that case, the framework of a random event in life is part of “my” on-going search for meaning/meaninglessness in life.

            And it is true that stream-of-consciousness (or other ironic modes of) writing may seem pointless and yet be lauded. But in those cases, the point/underlying metaphor is simply that “life is meaningless,” a tale “told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” as evidenced by this “series of unfortunate events.” Which of course is a pattern/framework/moral/metaphor.

            Yet, whether having a “moral” level of meaning is essentially the same thing as a metaphorical level, could be argued either way, and ultimately may be a semantic issue.

  2. Didn’t mean to double post. It was telling me it wasn’t publishing.

  3. I so agree about the double standard, and it’s not just in Hollywood. It’s as pervasive as it is ridiculous.

    No one criticized Star Wars when Luke ran off with a “crazy hermit.” or worried about boys running away with homeless people, but there have been several, entire BOOKS written — in the most desperate tones — to warn girls about the dangers of falling in love (with vampires!), in regards to Twilight. Along with all the seminars, lecture series, college courses, sermons, and more. It’s been utterly absurd.

    I think it was a strategic mistake (however understandable) for the Twilight powers-that-be to not stand up more for the thematic framework of Twilight. When they refused to say **anything** remotely like, “Uh, duh, her sparkling, angelic, god-like, perfect, angelic, immortal, “guardian angel”/boyfriend, and his glorious, powerful, translated, eternal family, is something of a (young-adult fiction) exploration of the search for the divine in modern life, tied up in a godly yet romantic love… Hello?? Duh? Take any English courses?!?”

    Or, how about, “It’s not Mormon, like, at all; it just has a spiritual element to it that people have responded to, which is nice. Some things to think about, I guess.”

    Could these themes possibly be more obvious? I mean they aren’t even hidden metaphors; Stephenie says these things right out — and that’s entirely aside from all the explicit spiritual and theological discussions in the books about the fate of their immortal souls, controlling their sensual appetites, and so forth. (Hence the series’ greatest popularity in the more religious/spiritual? parts of the world.)

    So when they refused to acknowledge any deeper meanings or exploration or thought behind the books/movies/phenomenon — “it’s just a kids story” — then the haters felt like they could rage, scot-free, because the Twilight-powers-that-be said the series really was ONLY about pursuing your recalcitrant, dangerous boyfriend at all costs, suicide attempts (to join eternity, somehow) included.

    Melissa (and others, even Stephenie) may not agree with these themes, personally, but to refuse to acknowledge, discuss, or accept their black-and-white presence in the books (and, to an extent, in the movies) really kind of threw the fans under the bus a bit, to save themselves the inconvenience of contradicting their self-proclaimed enemies.

    I hope “they” take a different approach during marketing for the upcoming movie about *souls*… I mean, really.

    “Or,” as Luke’s Uncle Owen said, “they’ll be hell to pay.”

  4. I personally think it was her lack luster script (not establishing any bonds or explaining anything) in the movies that caused such a back lash of views, anyone who had not read the books were left dumbfounded. It was the book fans that carried the movies. My love for those books drove me to watch the movies. The last ones were the best, I suspect its becuase Stephenie herself got on board. My opinion of course.

    • Nah, I think she developed the Bella/Jacob bond just fine because apparently she, Kristen and SM are all Team Jacob. My mom even though that the child they were protecting in the final movie was Bella/Jacob’s because she hasn’t read the books and thought the two of them had slept together with their relationship was portrayed on screen in NM and EC.

      The key relationships MR screwed up were the Bella/Edward (romantic) and the Bella/Alice (friendship) ones.

      • Well, I was kinda thinking of Edwards relationships to his family, Bella’s to his family and I agree most whole heartedly of Edward and Bella’s, I mean who even cared if Edward even come back at the end of New Moon!??? In the book I was dying for Edwards return, in the movie who gived a hoot, she butchered all the bonds Except (and I totally agree) Bellas & Jacobs. I will always believe it was her changing of Bella’s character and butchering the script to whatch she believed it SHOULD be in Melissa’s personal opinion that ruined the movie. I still saw it at least 10 times so it didn’t matter, I loved those characters.

      • Well, if that relationship wasn’t clear then she DID screw it up. It doesn’t matter if Melissa is Team Jacob or Team Edward or Team Tree Stump. Her job isn’t to change the character dynamics or the characters themselves (which I feel she and Kristen did very heavily with Bella). Her job is to translate the story from a written to a visual format. If anything, it should have made things clearer.

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