This Friday, November 18th, Harry Potter fans are finally going to be able to see Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, and knowing that there are four more movies, they’ll probably wonder where this franchise may be going. There’s only one person who knows almost as much as J.K. Rowling herself, and that’s producer David Heyman, who has been involved with the Harry Potter movies from the very beginning.
Heyman has also probably worked closer with Rowling than almost anyone else on bringing the Harry Potter universe to the screen, followed by screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates, and we discussed how that working relationship transitioned over to Fantastic Beasts when we sat down with Heyman at the film’s New York junket.
Collider: One of the nice things about this movie is that there’s no expectations. With the Potter movies, there were always expectations from the books or the previous movie. With this movie, a lot of people are going to go in just because of JK Rowling’s involvement.
DAVID HEYMAN: It’s interesting, that. I think that’s both a blessing and a burden. I mean, it’s a burden in the sense that people—you know, not “burden…” it’s not Harry Potter, so you don’t have that to hang it on. At the same time it’s quite nice that you don’t have people going, “They left that out! And this happens!” That’s kind of liberating in a way. I think this film stands for what will be enjoyed by Potter fans but also people who haven’t seen (those movies). You don’t have to be a Harry Potter fan to watch this and enjoy it. I think it stands on its own two feet. If you have seen the Potter films, there are echoes to those stories that are enjoyable, and I think if we carry on with the series, I think those will become more explicit. I think people really enjoy it, but I think they’ll enjoy it just on this film.
Another big difference with this movie is that it’s not based around Hogwarts, so you don’t have the kids. I’m sure there’s some limitations with having all child actors.
HEYMAN: Well shooting time for start. Nine and a half hours on-site, three hours for education, an hour for lunch, 15 minute breaks every hour – so you’re only with your actors for four and a half hours a day This time, we didn’t have to worry about that, but for some reason, it didn’t mean that the shooting schedule was that much shorter.
How has Steve Kloves been involved as a producer? Since he has adapted so many of Jo books, how does that make working with her on brand new material?
HEYMAN: I think Steve is a reassuring presence. For David, for Jo, for us all. Given that she’d never written a screenplay, to have someone like him – and he’s a very gentle hand. He can make a small suggestion, but its ripple will be felt throughout the script. He and Jo were very closely bonded through the course of making the Potter films. In fact, when he was writing the first film, she was writing the fourth book, and when he began writing the first film, Potter was not what it became. The pressure on him gradually increased, and when he saw it on the front of Time Magazine it was like, “Oh my God.” Meanwhile, she was writing the fourth book and actually finding that really hard. She had writer’s block at a certain point. Well, not writer’s block – she had gone down a path. She had a deadline and was halfway through when she realized she’d gone down a dead end. She needed to change it and rewrite, go back and rewrite with pressure; so I think they bonded initially through that. They’re both writers, and he is just a brilliant creative mind who was hugely supportive, and was a great ally–sympathetic to the process and just an incredible creative partner.
When I spoke with David Yates, he mentioned that she started writing the script and wasn’t really getting into it the first time, then when she got the feel for it, she decided to write the second, third and fourth and the story kept growing.
HEYMAN: Originally, she wasn’t sure she was going to do any more. She was doing the first one, and halfway through—it was quite hard for her to rewrite and rewrite— I’m not sure she was used to that, but she’s so open, Jo. Always incredibly supportive, but I think she wasn’t sure. She said, “You know, I may write these stories, but somebody else can write the next script.” She gets to the end of it, and she decides, “You know what? I’m going to write the next one.” Then halfway through the next one, she says, “You know what? I’m going to write all five!” (laughs)
Was the five a surprise to you?
HEYMAN: Mm-hmm. I was quite surprised, but you know, you don’t know with these things. When we did Gravity, I wasn’t sure it was going to be a hit—in fact, we had no idea. With Potter, each film I was so tentative about how it would be received and how it would do. People have to go and see this film and enjoy it more and more. Fingers crossed they do, and then we’ll know if we’re making another one, but we’re beginning the process of pre-production.
I have to imagine after seeing how this came out, she might see what great characters Jacob and Queenie are and want to include them in the rest of the series where maybe that wasn’t the plan originally.
HEYMAN: They’ll be in the next film, that grouping: Queenie, Jacob, Tina, Newt. That plays a significant part in the next film, so I think that they’ll be important.
Does Jo get influenced by reviews and the general moviemaking process while writing the upcoming chapters of the movies?
HEYMAN: No. I think that’s true of all of us. We tell the stories that we want to tell. When we’re making the films, if we listened to all the different fan response to the Harry Potter films, we would have been paralyzed. We wouldn’t have been able to make a move, because the pressure and also the different opinions – so ultimately, you have your heart. Jo lays out a very clear narrative. This all comes from her; boundless imagination, and that’s what we’re working on. We’re not listening to what the critics say. Nobody could be harsher on this, or anything we do, than us.
I understand that Warner Bros. leaves you alone at this point. Obviously they’ve already seen how you can take care of stuff, but the big problems with sequels, in general, happens when they’re not planned in advance, where everyone involved looks at what worked before and try not to lose that. For instance, if someone said to you, “Okay, let’s make a sequel to Gravity,” you’re going to have the same problem, because it wasn’t thought out that way.
HEYMAN: Yes. Jo would look at Harry Potter as one saga; seven books, one story. With this: five films, one story, though each film is self-contained. It can be enjoyed on its own but also is part of a series.
The Potter movies eventually got to the point where they were always “To Be Continued,” so do you think there will be less of that with this series?
HEYMAN: No, I mean, the end of this one gives you a sense with the big reveal that there’s going to be another film.
With each movie being a stand-alone unto themselves, will each movie have a different feel or flavor from the last one? That was somewhat the case with the Potter movies, partially due to the changing directors on the first half of the series.
HEYMAN: No, I think that each film will have its different feel. You know, this one’s New York. The next one’s going to be Paris. We’ll see the world expand. We’ll go through the ’20s, and into the ’30s and ’40s, and maybe beyond.
You have to be careful not to get into the same danger as the X-Men movies where you eventually have to get to the present day. Next year is the 20th anniversary of the first book. Have you guys started planning anything?
HEYMAN: Well, I’m sure Warners will. I’m sure Jo will, and the team of…
Scholastic will, too.
HEYMAN: For me, I don’t think in those terms.
Fantastic Beasts opens nationwide on Friday, November 18th with previews on Thursday night.