The twilight saga dominated the box office this past year, bringing in nearly $11 billion worldwide and becoming the third-highest-grossing series ever (just behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and The Lord of the Rings). While it’s still immensely popular in America (18 of the top 20 films this year were part of the twilight series), the audience around the world has grown tired of waiting for Edward and Bella to fall in love and start a family. Now that the series is coming to an end, with the final movie — Twilight Vanity Fair — premiering today, let’s take a look at how the makers of one of the most popular film series of all time rose to the challenge of making the final installment better than the rest.

The Idea For Twilight Vanity Fair

At the beginning of the year, before the premiere of Twilight Vanity Fair, producers David Meyer and Michael Whitehead took the stage at the New York Times Tech Summit and explained the challenge they faced in putting the series (which they collectively called “Project Twilight”) together:

It was clear that audiences wanted more. While we were thrilled to give them what they asked for (and more), we knew we had some storytelling to do…What we wanted to do with this final movie was to find a way to make it even more personal. For the fans who have been with us from the very beginning, this will be the ultimate Twilight movie.

What they wanted, they got, with the final movie being an intense character study of Bella, based on the best-selling book by Stephanie Meyers. But while we can argue over whether or not the final chapter was successful (and I think we can all agree that it wasn’t), what wasn’t up for debate was the filmmakers’ willingness to try new things and their desire to end the series on a high note.

From Book To Film

Like many film adaptations, the book Twilight isn’t completely accurate (inaccurate Bella descriptions aside). And while there are some elements of the book that did make it into the final cut — like Bella’s anguish over not being able to choose her own designer wedding dress — the filmmakers took the opportunity to expand on it, adding more layers and new characters. Here are some of the things that didn’t make it into the book (and were added for cinematic purposes):

A Glimmer Of Hope

One of the most significant changes from the book to the film is that Bella’s character undergoes a significant metamorphosis. Whereas in the book, Bella is a typically unassuming teenager who simply wants to be accepted (and does pretty much anything to achieve that status), in the film, she becomes a powerful, driven young woman, filled with angst and determination. Her relationship with Edward evolves from one of pity to one of mutual respect as she comes to realize that he is a strong, capable guy who she needs in order to fight for what she wants.

New York Is Now Los Angeles

The first movie is set in the Scottish highlands, but the second chapter takes place in New York City. Like the previous films, this one explores the connection that exists between humans and vampires. When Twilight was first released, some critics panned it for being a “lipstick on a bohemian,” with Stephanie Meyers explaining in an HuffPost interview that the film adaptation “didn’t capture the essence of what [she] was trying to write about” and that she “did not get the opportunity to explore fully what [she] loved about [her] novel.” The criticism wasn’t unfounded, as the two cities are very different, and although some parts of NYC look like Scotland, the overall feel isn’t the same. The filmmakers were allowed to explore new places and new environments, adding an extra layer of authenticity to the already-storied production.

Vampire Politics

We’re not actually meant to know what happens behind the scenes of Twilight, but what we do know is that vampires don’t get along too well with other vampires. In fact, most of them are pretty much a bunch of power-hungry brats who will stop at nothing to secure their position in the vampire hierarchy. To avoid conflict and maintain their secrecy, the covens (groups of vampires) usually stay away from one another, which is why the main characters rarely interact with the others. The exception to this rule is Mason, a conflicted young vampire who eventually joins Bella’s group of outcasts. As Meyer explained to Digital Trends, the goal for Project Twilight was to “have something that felt like a complete movie, in that it had some kind of beginning, middle, and end” and that they “wanted to go into depth with the characters and tell a complete story, one that has layers.” This conscious decision to avoid a ‘monster of the week’ stereotype led to an unpredictable plot that continues to surprise viewers even years after its premiere.

More About Edward

One of the most significant changes from the book to the film is Edward’s (portrayed by Robert Pattinson) evolution from a self-absorbed vampire who spends most of his time brooding to a caring, protective husband who watches out for Bella. In the book, Edward is first introduced as a vampire who has been locked away for centuries, having given up his human form in order to retain his mental faculties. After being set free from his cell, he is eager to resume his life as a bloodsucker, going so far as to drain (that’s not a typo) Bella’s blood as soon as possible. This creates an unsettling dynamic between the two as he comes to realize that she is not only an unworthy adversary, but also someone he cares about. Even after they agree to work through their issues, Bella is still plagued by guilt over being the cause of his suffering. Edward slowly changes over the course of the story, becoming a more understanding, protective husband who sees Bella as a fragile human whose feelings he must respect.

A Better Hair And Makeup Artist

Even before Project Twilight, Stephanie Meyers had established herself as one of the greatest screenwriters of all time with the publication of Thirteen in 2010. While that book was turned into a phenomenal Broadway play, her Hollywood output had mostly consisted of TV movies and miniseries. The success of Project Twilight got her the chance to write and direct her first feature-length film, City of Angels. The HuffPost interview above highlights one of Meyer’s many accomplishments, as she discusses how she managed to convince Robert Pattinson (who she had previously only worked with in TV limbo) to star in her first feature film. Like many big-name actors, Pattinson had a filmography of mostly low-budget indie fare, and was eager to take a step up. The success of Project Twilight allowed him to finally secure the leading lady he’d been looking for — and it wasn’t Taylor Swift.

The Importance Of Timing

The premise behind Project Twilight is that vampires need to feed on humans in order to survive, but it’s not like they don’t have enough human blood in their system already. To secure a steady stream of fresh blood, the creatures of the night have to go through a transformation process every few months in order to temporarily shed their superhuman strength and speed.

This is where the timing comes in. Unlike traditional vampires, who have to go through this agonizing process to secure their fangs, synthetic blood substitutes are developed that allow them to continue functioning while in human form. This is important because vampires are not created equal — some are born to be more powerful than others, and it takes a while for them to realize their full potential.

The Many Challenges Faced By Project Twilight

Even before Project Twilight, David Meyer and Michael Whitehead had both been involved in the world of cinema and had considerable experience in the industry. What they lacked in experience, they more than made up for in ambition. Like many would-be filmmakers, they saw Project Twilight not as a job, but as a challenge, and they took it upon themselves to meet the enormous feat of bringing Meyer’s best-selling novel to life. They started by securing the rights to produce the film, hiring some of the best talent available, and enlisting the services of actress Kristen Stewart, who would later go on to star in The Twilight Saga: New Moon.