I’m standing in the Great Hall at Hogwarts. I see Snape positioned where Dumbledore used to stand at the top of the steps. As the new Headmaster, Snape is addressing a room full of students. He’s telling them that anyone who knows the whereabouts of Harry Potter – whether it be student or faculty – needs to come forward with any information or the punishment will be severe. Snape continues with the news that the school has the best magic protection and Harry Potter will not be able to enter the grounds. The former potions teacher walks among the students, looking at them, his gaze intense and his dialogue slow and methodical. He’s clearly hoping someone will tell him something. As he finishes saying his last line he looks up because he hears the voice of Harry Potter saying, “I don’t think the protection was good enough.” All the students turn, looking shocked. Harry Potter has returned to Hogwarts.
The next day, I’m currently sitting on a plane, flying back from London. Yesterday was March 23, 2010 and I was standing in a place I’ve only seen in the movies, as I was one of the lucky online journalists invited to Leavesden Studios outside London to visit the set of the last Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. As a huge fan of the books and the movies, getting to stand in the Great Hall and Dumbledore’s office was a huge thrill and something I will remember forever. But while getting to see those sets was amazing, we did so much more. Hit the jump and read my full report.
As most of you know, due to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows being the last book in the series, Warner Bros. decided to break up the book into two movies. The first one gets released November 19, 2010, and Part 2 gets released July 15, 2011.
Also, since they knew they’d be making two films for the final book, they have been filming both movies at the same time. For everyone in the production, it’s definitely been a lot of work. But based on what I saw and learned on set, these final two movies might be the best ones yet and I’m beyond confident the fans are going to love these films.
With the first Deathly Hallows movie arriving soon, WB has released a great trailer. If you haven’t seen it:
The Set Visit
The first thing to know about the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows set visit is the studio they film at. When the first Harry Potter movie (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) was made, Warner Bros. rented Leavesden Studios and the production built amazing sets that have been used on every film. In fact, some of the sets like the Great Hall and Dumbledore’s office have been standing for almost ten years. As you walk through them, you can’t help but feel like you’re in a real place as I’ve seen them featured in six movies and watched Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint get older in each location. As I stood in the office, I half expected Fawkes the Phoenix to appear, or to see some of the paintings move.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
Let me start at the beginning of the day. When the ten online reporters arrived on set at 9:30am, we were informed that a lot of the cast were either done for the day, or were going to another location for filming, so we’d be doing interviews almost immediately. While some set visits start off slow, we barely had time to catch our breath as we walked into the massive soundstage and then entered a tent for press interviews.
Since Harry Potter hasn’t moved home base in ten years and the movies do a ton of press on set, the production has a tent near the front doors and it’s filled with a table in the middle of the room with chairs all around. The walls of the tent were covered with movie images from Deathly Hallows and as we go to take our seats, I can see Ron and Hermione’s kiss on the wall and images of Luna and her father at the wedding. I also see the Malfoy residence as a small production design and images of all the cast with their new costumes and tons of images any fan would have loved to have seen. Then, in the middle of the far wall, they had a cabinet filled with props from the movies like The Daily Prophet, Hermione’s books, Rita Seeker’s book, and wanted posters for Harry Potter. Then, to the right, I noticed some costumes the cast has worn like Harry Potter’s, Bellatrix Lestrange’s, Narcissa Malfoy’s, and another one. The tent was a huge preview of what to expect in the Deathly Hallows part 1 and 2 and everything looked great.
Almost as soon as my eyes returned to the table, in walked Rupert Grint and gave us about 20 minutes for an interview. While the cast of Harry Potter have done tons of interviews on the set of every movie and they could easily be sick of talking to the visiting journalists, I was shocked that everyone was still excited to talk about the films and you’d never know they had been doing these movies for almost a decade.
Almost as soon as Rupert Grint left the room, in walked Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley). After talking to him for about 15 minutes, we spoke to Domhnall Gleeson (Bill Weasley). Moments after that interview, in walked Oliver and James Phelps (Fred and George Weasley), and then soon after in walked Chris Rankin (Percy Weasley).
While some set visits can have you waiting all day to talk to anyone, before we knew it we’d been interviewing people for almost a few hours non-stop. Again, everyone was incredibly nice, friendly, and was excited to be talking to us.
Finally, we got the news I’d been waiting for, as we were told we’d be going to set to watch some filming. Since this was my first time at Leavesden Studios, I had no idea where the set was and how far we’d have to walk. It ends up the studio is a converted airplane factory and the entire studio is one huge building. So while our interviews were in one corner, the Great Hall (where they were filming) was on the other end of the studio. As we walked through the massive building, we passed an area that would make Harry Potter fans freak out. It ends up the production keeps all the props from all the movies in the hanger and as we walked by the location I could see a telephone booth, Professor Umbridge’s chandelier, the car the kids flew in, and so many other props the list would be endless. The thing to know is that they had everything there and I figure it’s only a matter of time before it all ends up in some huge Harry Potter museum.
Also, while you’d think the props would be protected with bubble wrap and armed guards, it was all just sitting there behind a locked chain fence. You’d think everything would be so protected but, in the end, they’re just another set of props from movies that just happen to be from some of the biggest movies that have ever been made.
Anyway, eventually we found our way to a large door and as we walked through it, we came to just outside the Great Hall.
The first thing you notice about the Hall is the stone floor. Unlike most movie sets that cheat with the way they build practical locations, the Great Hall was built to last and that meant stone floors and thick walls. While the walls weren’t stone, it was not the typical paper thin walls that you find on most movie sets.
As we arrived, all around us were tons of people working. The Hall was filled with camera people, kids in uniform for the scene, hair and make-up people, Daniel Radcliffe, stand-in’s – the room felt like it was alive and I couldn’t believe how large the set was.
Like most movie set visits, the production gave us all headsets so we could listen in on the action. After about 20 minutes of watching them film (refer to opening paragraph of this set visit), we raced back to our tent as Warwick Davis was coming to meet us. While in the previous films Davis has played Professor Flitwick and a wizard, in the Deathly Hallows he has two roles as he’s both Flitwick and Griphook. Like the rest of the cast, the interview was great and Davis had a lot to say.
After Warwick Davis left the tent, moments later Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood) walked in and we got to speak to her for awhile.
It was at this moment I realized we’d been going non-stop for a number of hours and I’d never been on a set visit like this one. Usually, you have a few minutes here and there to talk about what you’re seeing, and just bullshit with the production people. But the cast and crew of Harry Potter are such a well oiled machine, we had no downtime.
The Harry Potter Cafeteria
But as soon as I started thinking about the time, we took a break for lunch. While many movies have the cast and crew eating at different locations, the Harry Potter cafeteria is one huge room with everyone interacting. For example, I saw Alan Rickman eating with some very young visitors in his full Snape costume. Imagine being eight years old and getting to eat with Snape. It would probably be something you’d remember for the rest of your life.
And while most areas where the cast and crew eats are bland and boring, the Harry Potter cafeteria is loaded with props and posters the fans would pay to see. That’s because all along the walls they have huge glass cabinets filled with the props from the films. The cabinets are separated by movie, with the first cabinet storing props from the Sorcerer’s Stone. Then, in each subsequent cabinet, are props from the next film in order of release. Between the six cabinets in the room you have some of the most famous items in the Harry Potter movie universe.
After lunch ended, we went back to our tent and got to speak with Daniel Radcliffe. With Daniel in almost every shot of the movie, his time was very limited, but he was still incredibly friendly and willing to talk about anything.
The next person who came in was David Barron – who is one of the producers of the Harry Potter films. We talked to him about everything from making two films to his thoughts on 3D.
With interviews almost over, we voyaged back across the soundstage to watch more filming in the great hall. But unlike the last time we were on set, this time we were allowed to walk around the entire room and we walked close to the top where the headmaster and the faculty of Hogwarts sit when presiding over the students. While we were taking it all in, the crew was working behind us and setting up for the next shot. Then, all of a sudden, the door on the left opened and in walked dozens of kids dressed up as Hogwarts students. Soon after, we walked back to the entrance of the room so filming could resume and we could watch on the monitors.
Even though everything up till this point was beyond cool and extremely interesting, it was after leaving the Great Hall that I really got to see Hogwarts. That’s because after we left, we were given the most amazing tour of the other sets that were still standing and being built. It truly felt like I got to visit a magical place.
The first set we got to was the Ministry of Magic and as we approached we could see a small crew putting it back together for filming. The set we stood on was the same one you saw in the Order of the Phoenix where Dumbledore and Voldemort had their wand fight. Not only was the set extremely large, it looked incredibly detailed and clean. As you can probably imagine, getting to stand there was something I’ll never forget.
Since the Harry Potter movies go to some of the same locations in each film, what the production does is take apart each set in such a way as to easily rebuild it in the future. That way they don’t have to incur the cost of paying to build it all over again. While most movies trash every set when the production wraps and any sequel is forced to build again from scratch, since the production has rented out the entire studio, they save everything. And that’s why eventually we all should be able to see a great Harry Potter museum, because if Warner Bros. is smart (and they are), they’ll save as much as they can and store it, as they could make a lot of fans very happy.
After leaving the Ministry of Magic, we went to a new set they were building which was the Lestrange’s vault at Gringotts bank. If you’ve read the book, you know a major sequence takes place in the vault. While the location was still being built it looked like a dirty grey cave, but that could easily change.
The next place we walked through was the least impressive (but probably one of the coolest): we walked around generic Hogwarts hallways. While the Ministry set was cool, and the Great Hall amazing, walking through the corridors made me feel like I was a student and on my way to Professor McGonagall’s transfiguration class. Also, we were told where we were walking had some of the big moments from previous movies like where Ron and Lavender kissed, and it’s the hallway that Harry took to go to Slughorn’s party. It’s also the hallway where a major battle takes place in Deathly Hallows.
Following our walk around the hallway, we made our way to a small entrance that we all squeezed through. As we stepped inside, we were told we had entered the Room of Requirement. In the 7th and 8th movies, the room is being used as the location for Dumbledore’s Army, so the room was filled with sleeping bags, hammocks and desks with books and chairs for the students to work on. I’d say I saw 40 or more hammocks at different locations and heights and it should look very cool on screen.
The other thing that impressed me was the level of detail not only in this room, but everywhere you looked. Every hallway looked lived in. Every book shelf had books with titles that could exist in Hogwarts. In the Room of Requirement, I came across books like Winogrand’s Wonderous Water Plants, Gawshawks Guide to Herbology and Quibbler magazines. Also, hanging on the hooks, were Gryffindor scarves and Hogwarts insignia sleeping bags. The attention to detail is one of the many reasons the Harry Potter movies are loved by millions around the world.
As we left this room, we walked by some of the cars of the Hogwarts Express. We left that area as quickly as we entered it as we had so much more to get to.
The Creature Shop
The next location we visited was the creature shop and the fabrication area. For every Harry Potter movie, the production needs to design the various creatures that inhabit Harry’s world. As we entered, we saw a lifelike Buckbeak and Fang the Dog. We also got to see the skeleton of the basilisk snake from the first film as it’s needed in this last movie. Almost every creature you’ve seen in one of the films had some sort of remnant design or part that we could examine.
And even though I could list hundreds of items, I want to focus on the best one of the bunch: the working version of Mandrake’s Monsterous Book of Monsters! While we saw three versions of the book, the last one we came across has a working tongue, working eyes, and the sides of the book worked. The book was sitting on a table and it looked like it did in the movie. Easily one of the coolest props I have ever seen on any movie set. If they sold it, I would buy it, as it would freak out every kid that laid eyes on it. Maybe even some adults.
Besides the book, the shop had tons of other props that worked like the sign from Fred and George’s shop in Half-Blood Prince and plants that moved and the Boar’s Head sign from the bar. Again, they have everything from the movies there and most of it is still functioning.
We also saw a few other brand new props from the Deathly Hallows, and while some of them were awesome, they asked us not to spoil what’s coming so just know the quality is what you’ve all come to expect.
After the props and creatures, we went to one of only a few sets to still remain from the first film: Dumbledore’s Office!
While everyone was excited about the previous sets, you could feel everyone perk up a bit as we walked around Dumbledore’s Office. Like all the previous locations, the walls were covered with props that might never get on screen but still has the same amazing attention to detail as everything else. Books had titles like Muggle Law and Order: A Complete Guide and International Law of Apparition. And it wasn’t the same title on every shelf, as I saw tons and tons of other books with different names. Again, it’s little things like this that always impress me.
As we walked around the lower level, we were told we could go upstairs, so all of us walked up the skinny steps and stood next to Dumbledore’s telescope. Again, while you would never see it on screen, the telescope had working parts and cushions on the inside on top. We were all surprised.
Even though we were all having fun looking around Dumbledore’s office, we heard through the radio that director David Yates was going to be available, so we raced back to our tent to get some time with the extremely busy director. Even though Yates has been working on Potter non-stop for years, he could not have been nicer, and had a lot to say about the franchise and the last two films.
After Yates left, we were able to visit a new bathroom set, a new Ministry of Magic courtroom set, and the Grey Lady Corridor that they were building that day. Like every set in the Potter universe, all three locations looked like they had been lived in and on screen they’re going to look amazing.
Shortly after getting to see these new sets, we said our goodbyes and we walked to our bus for a long ride back to London.
As you might imagine, getting to visit the set of Harry Potter in London was an experience I’ll never forget. As a huge fan of the franchise, getting to stand in the hallways of Hogwarts and inside Dumbledore’s Office was something I never dreamed I’d get to do, and it’s an experience I’ll always remember. Also, even though sometimes what you hope will be cool let’s you down, in this instance, the set of Harry Potter was everything I hoped it would be and more.
But the best part of visiting the set wasn’t getting to interview the actors, or seeing the Great Hall up close. It was witnessing firsthand how much time and energy gets spent making Harry Potter come to life. Even though some of the cast and crew have been making Harry Potter for a decade, they’re still excited to be working on the franchise. It’s because of this enthusiasm that the Harry Potter movies are so special and beloved by millions around the world.
Finally, while the last few Harry Potter movies have been great, I really think these last two parts might be the best yet. That’s because unlike the previous films that are all essentially middle chapters, these last two films wrap up the storyline – which means we’re going to get closure on the characters. If you’ve read Deathly Hallows, you know how great it is, and for the first time, Warner Bros. isn’t trying to condense it down into a two hour movie. I can’t wait to see these last two installments.
And one last thing, I recorded a video blog with Peter from Slashfilm after we got back to our hotel from the set visit. Before Deathly Hallows Part 2 gets released, I’ll be posting it. So my Harry Potter coverage isn’t finished yet!
For more Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows coverage:
and look for more cast interviews in the coming days!