It was November 2008, the first movie of the Twilight series was on its way to a massive $409 million in box office revenue and David Slade was displeased. The indie director of 30 Days of Night and Hard Candy was not a fan of the movie, based on Stephenie Meyer's best-selling young-adult book series, and voiced his opinion of the teen vampire romance in a tweet: " 'Twilight' drunk? No, not even drunk. 'Twilight' on acid? No, not even on acid. 'Twilight' at gunpoint? Just shoot me.' "
It was a snarky comment that could have easily been lost in the ether had Slade not been tapped to direct the third film in the franchise, this summer's The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. When the old tweet was uncovered, it prompted horror and anger from the famously protective Twilight nation. Slade went into full p.r. mode, sending a humble apology to a prominent Twilight fan site. He insisted that he was being "silly" and had not even seen the movie when he wrote it.
"I have paid the penance for that a thousand times over," Slade tells TIME, saying he has now seen the light about the franchise. "When I got the script for Eclipse, I thought it was a damn good story."
Can we get an amen, people?
Slade's conversion, however expedient, prompts an interesting question for Summit Entertainment, the studio behind the franchise. If one of the most prominent Twilight haters could be induced to helm the next installment, could there be hordes of ambivalent moviegoers who could similarly be turned into Twi-hards in time for Eclipse's opening on June 30?
One glaring hole in the franchise's otherwise impressive demographic: guys. For Eclipse, Summit is apparently attempting to reach out to male audiences while being careful to keep its old ones. The film's trailer is noticeably more macho than those for the first two films, featuring ominous music, armies of vampires and werewolves and nary a lingering, romantic embrace. The fight scenes alone featuring at least one rad beheading might even be enough to make guys look up from their Xboxes. "It's a solid story by itself," star Robert Pattinson summed up during a press conference for the film, "and it's sort of more of an action film."
When asked if an average guy would go see Eclipse on his own volition, the British-born Slade doesn't hesitate. "For sure," he says, citing the movie's mature themes of vengeance and humanity that can "sustain you between the action scenes."
Also of interest to dudes: dudettes. Alongside celebrated hunks Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, Eclipse features tantalizing starlets like Kristen Stewart, Julia Jones and Nikki Reed. "As much as girls go to watch Rob, boys go to watch Kristen," says Slade, though he admits, "I'd be lying if I said it was in the same proportions."
The filmmakers even briefly considered making Jones' she-wolf, Leah, show the same skin as her famously buff, clothing-averse male counterparts. "We actually talked about that," producer Wyck Godfrey tells TIME. "David [Slade] was like, 'I think all the wolves should have come out of the battle [without] time to put their clothes on. I'll shoot it elegantly so you don't really see anything.' " The idea was scrapped in the end. "You don't want people in that scene to be snickering," Godfrey explains.
Still, when it comes to convincing bro nation, Summit has an uphill battle ahead. Adam Carolla, a former co-host of Comedy Central's The Man Show, whose testosterone-filled podcast is now the most popular on iTunes, finds Eclipse a hard sell. "How would I market Eclipse to guys? I'd tape a hundred-dollar bill to the bottom of each theater seat," he tells TIME. (This is coming from a guy who copped to attending Sex and the City 2 on the opening weekend for his birthday.)
Summit isn't taking such criticisms too badly: the first two films earned more than $1.1 billion, and the franchise will continue to do just fine even if efforts to woo male audiences fail. "It's still 90% for the women," says Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office for Hollywood.com. "But if they can get some guys to like it, it's gravy. And at least they are trying."
The trick is not to try too hard. "The most important thing in doing a book adaptation of a beloved series is, you have to make the movie work for the people who love the books," says Godfrey. "We stick to the core of the books and expand beyond that. But what you cannot do is change the story. People would kill you."