‘Fantastic Beasts’ Director David Yates Explains What Makes J.K. Rowling a Unique Screenwriter

     September 12, 2016

With the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them this November, we’re not just getting a brand new wizarding world story, we’re getting a new piece of writing from J.K. Rowling. While she was involved in the story conception of the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, she didn’t put pen to paper on that project. With Fantastic Beasts, however, Rowling is making her screenwriting debut after years of collaborating with scribe Steve Kloves on the Harry Potter movies.

Last December, while visiting the set of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in London along with a small group of reporters, I got the chance to speak with director David Yates about the film. Yates is a Harry Potter veteran having helmed Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and both Deathly Hallows films, so he came into Fantastic Beasts as something of an expert and as someone who already had an established rapport with Rowling. However, given that Rowling is an author first and foremost, her process as a screenwriter was a welcome surprise to Yates, as he explained how she stands out from other scribes:


“Jo’s an extraordinary writer. She hasn’t written a screenplay before, so for her this was a new experience. If you work with a traditional screenwriter you’ll give the screenwriter notes on a draft, you’ll spend three days, five days going through the script and you’ll give lots of notes on that and the writer will go away and spend three months or six months re-writing. With Jo it’s a sort of extraordinary process because she doesn’t realize that’s how it should work. So, you give Jo notes and then a week later you’ll get a script. And I’ll be like, ‘Whoa! Jo’s just delivered a script—after a week.’ And what she’ll do is she’ll kind of riff off notes and she’ll create a whole new series of things within that screenplay, which take us off in all sorts of different tangents.”

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Image via Warner Bros.

While Rowling’s gift for imagination is well known, that sometimes meant having to pare down some of her ideas for Fantastic Beasts lest it become the most expensive movie ever made:

“She’s like a sort of volcano of ideas. And the process was really paring down, tuning, finding ultimately the form that would best become a movie. And she’s a really quick learner, so pretty much after several months of that process she kind of got the form really, really quickly. And realized that it was about paring down and simplifying, rather than adding absolute new sequences and new ideas all the time.”

While Warner Bros. has since announced that Rowling is writing the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2 and Yates is returning to direct, at the time we visited the set, the sequel was still just an idea—a highly likely one, but an idea nonetheless. However, while filming on the first movie was still underway, Yates told us Rowling was already hard at work scripting the sequel:

“There were things that were created in this process that will be used next time for the next movie or maybe the movie beyond that. But I think in the process of writing it, she’s already sort of working out what’s coming next. She’s already sort of planning what’s coming next, some of which she shared with us this week, in fact. She told us what the first act is for the next movie effectively. And so, she has things bubbling away in her head. But I don’t think it’s completely formed all the way through the arc. Where it may well be, she hasn’t showed that. But she has certain things that are well established in her head that she’s shared with us and some things, which I’m sure she’s still figuring out.”

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Image via Warner Bros.

Indeed, “volcano of ideas” is probably the most apt description for Rowling as she’s simultaneously working on new books (including the tremendous Cormoran Strike series), but all signs point to her making a mighty fine transition to screenwriter on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.


To read the rest of my Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them set visit coverage, peruse the links below. Look for even more in the coming days:

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