While many great books have been made into successful movies, more often than not, movie adaptations of popular books meet with fan scorn. After all, a book has the time to tell its story, while a movie has two hours to do everything. That usually means the fans leave the theater disappointed, because no matter how great a movie is, fans often feel like the movie is missing something important.
That’s why it’s so amazing to watch what director David Yates has done with the Harry Potter franchise. Because as the director of Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince, he’s made movies that have been embraced by both the critics and fans. It really is quite an accomplishment.
As most of you know, Yates is helming the final two installments of Harry Potter, as Warner Bros. decided to break up Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two films. A few months ago, I got to visit the set of Deathly Hallows while production was still underway at Leevesdone Studios outside London. During a break in shooting, I was able to participate in a roundtable interview with Yates. During the interview, Yates talked about how shooting had been going, how he has added some new scenes into the story that weren’t in the book, his thoughts WB converting the movie into a 3D release, and a lot more. If you’re a fan of the Harry Potter franchise, you’re going to love hearing what he had to say:
Since many of you like to listen to an interview, you can click here for the audio. Or you can read the transcript below. And for the two people that haven’t seen it, here’s the amazing trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 which gets released November 19, 2010:
spoiler warning for this interview
if you have not read The Deathly Hallows, you might want to be careful while reading this interview
Q: What’s it like shooting two movies back to back?
DY: It’s been more than a year, actually. It’s been amazing. I’ve never experienced anything like it ultimately because I’m editing things in part two now that we shot last year. So Dan’s actually gotten older as you watch the movie so the Dan I’m shooting with on the floor is not the same age as the Dan I’m seeing in the cutting room, which for a second act is very odd. But it’s great and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It’s fun so it’s been a real trip actually.
Q: The final book is so dense and has so much pay off, talk about the challenges of adapting that for the cinema but keeping in everything that fans love about the final book?
DY: We had things, of course, the book is pretty rich but you have to try and sometimes create a little bit more momentum or jeopardy. There are sections in the book that while are every fun to read, like the big tent section in the middle, going chapter after chapter wouldn’t easily translate on screen. Then we’ve added moments. We’ve added a couple of sequences, which aren’t and the book that I think raise the emotional stakes and the jeopardy stakes. So the process is always fraught with challenges, you want to try and keep the best of what Jo came up with but you have to refine it and shape it. So we’ve lost things, I’m sure, that some of the fans will be frustrated by but fortunately we’ve kept more than we’ve ever been able to keep in some of the other adaptations I’ve worked on. Simply because we can spread the whole story of the two movies and as you say there are some loose ends we can tie up as well as we go.
Q: What new scenes have you added, for example?
DY: We’ve added a scene where after Ron is gone, Harry comes back to the Tent and finds Hermione listening to some Muggle music and they have this dance with each other, which is a very tender, awkward and emotional moment for the two of them because they’ve lost their friend but also there is always that question. They have a very special friendship as characters and there is always that moment where you think could this trip beyond friendship to something else? It’s a very naturalistic, charming moment and quite intriguing. So we added that and a big chase towards the end of the first part. Jo gave us these brilliant characters called Snatchers so I wanted to have some more fun with them so we added an extra beat where they chase the trio.
Q: Can you talk about where you are thinking about breaking up the story into the two films?
DY: We started with the notion that wouldn’t it be cool to have a cliffhanger because certainly the films that I’ve made always have someone dying at the end of them. There is always a bereavement and I felt like we were getting into a cycle ever since Cedric Diggory, which Mike Newell directed the forth film but someone died and there was grief at the end. So I thought, lets try to break that cycle. But when I watched the movie it didn’t feel as complete as I hoped it would so I’m looking again and I can’t tell you yet because I’m still playing but there is another moment that I think we’ll end on, which is actually quite moving and fun.
Q: Can you discuss your decision to finish the series off and direct the last half of the film series without your composer Nicholas Hooper?
DY: Yeah, Nick just got completely shagged out basically. He was naked because writing the music for this keeps you away from your family and I push him to change things a lot ultimately to get to where we need to get. So he just got really tired. He said to me half way through the mix for “Half Blood Prince,” that he didn’t think he could do another one and that he was too tired. I thought that was fine. Really wonderful people who I love working with and spending time with surround me. The cast I really adore, and you know, I’ve seen them grow up over the last five years, which has been a really wonderful experience for me. I’ve got a terrific creative team who I work with. When I got about half way through working on “Half Blood Prince” I sort of raised the notion of finishing the series.
David Baron came into my office one afternoon when we were shooting “Half Blood Prince” and he said to me, “Why don’t you just finish it all off?” He said, “I know it’s a lot of work but why don’t you just finish the whole thing?” I said well that is a lot of work actually but it would be fun. And honestly, by the time I got to post on “Half Blood Prince” I suddenly realized that I didn’t want to just be the guy who did the middle films and some other guy gets to comes in and finish it. I thought I’m having so much fun. Then I read the book and it was full of exciting stuff, there’s a big chase at the beginning, all these emotional stories get solved, the trio gets separated and Voldemort gets beaten. So when I read it, it always felt like Jo was writing it like a movie rather than a book. It felt very movie friendly in its spirit and it’s probably turned out to be the easiest adaptation of all the ones I’ve done.
Q: Can you talk about Warner Brothers choice to convert the final two films to 3D?
DY: I’m just literally getting into all of that now. We’re going to release “Half Blood Prince” in 3D on DVD towards the end of the year so I’m still learning. My own idea about 3D is that it is there to enhance the viewing experience but I don’t think that you have to use it in a tricky way, I think that the minute you sacrifice story and character for something coming out of the screen, I think you‘ve lost it, really. So if it enhances, for a certain number of the audience, the viewing experience than that’s great. For this magical world I think there are a number of sequences that I think would be much more fun just experiencing a wider environment. But I’m not crazy about using it in a tricky way. I’m really intrigued by it, I’m really intrigued by what it offers esthetically as well, not just for the event moments in the movie where stuff flies around or when you’re in an action sequence, I’m intrigued by what it might offer when you are trying to find an emotional moment or when you’re trying to set a particular tone in a scene and what you can do to the environment in a way to elevate that moment. So there are opportunities I think for the medium but it will be the first time that I experience the process. I’m really looking forward to it but in the opportunity to not just use it for spectacle or for tricks but to see if that process can relate in story and arc.
Q: The second movie is more of a war story and that is different than we are use to in the Harry Potter world so can you talk about crafting that part of this series? You had mentioned using a lot of hand held camera work, right?
DY: Yeah, I think that the notion that you are in the middle of this entire wizard fighting is exciting so it feels very visceral. I did a wizard battle at the end of “Order Of The Phoenix” and it was the first wizard battle between Dumbledore and Voldemort. What I really loved was the kinetic power of that exchange because the magic I had seen at that point had always been pretty and clean. I thought that if you had two really powerfully wizards going at it that it would be extraordinarily powerful and frightening as well. So there are moments in this battle, which are very visceral and frightening and percussive I would say. Ultimately, the battle and the magical fighting is a counter point and that is where we differ from the book a little bit. I felt that in the book and the earlier drafts of the scripts before we worked them out, there was an opportunity to be had counter pointing Harry’s desperate race for the Horcrux with the Dark Lord’s ever encroaching ability to kill everyone in the school, so there is this race against time. So we counter pointed these two strands. There is this battle there but I think the more interesting element of it is Harry’s search and discovery that he himself is a Horcrux.
Q: David Baron mentioned that when you cut scenes from the book that you have to get J.K.’s approval to do so, is that the same when you are adding elements to the film?
DY: We present something and obviously send her a script. There is a scene in part one where Hermione wipes her parents memory. Now in the book J.K. alludes to that but she doesn’t actually show it, I wanted to show it on film because I thought it would be a very interesting thing. We’ve never seen Hermione’s home or her parents and to just lift up a wand and do that when her parents are watching television would be weird, odd, interesting and surprising. J.K. loved that notion, but of course she came up with the original idea. The other things that we would put in, she’s always been incredibly supportive of. She’s always been really helpful, kind and she’s not always involved in the inception of them but she’s read them in the script and she’s generally really sweet.
Q: Is that scene in the opening of the first movie?
DY: The moment in the current cut plays really good, its sort of an odd, haunting opening.
Q: Did you pick out the footage for ShoWest?
DY: No, the process that we have with the studio is that they’ll come up with a whole package and they’ll send it to us for approval and it’s just a process of back and forth until we end up with what is eventually shown. I was happy with what they showed. I wasn’t happy with what they first presented but after numerous edits I was happy with it.
For more Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows coverage: