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At Cinema Con last week, Harry Potter franchise producers David Heyman and David Barron were on hand to accept an award for their series being the most successful movie franchise of all time, in addition to presenting some early footage from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the final installment in the series that hits theaters July 15 this summer. For any Harry Potter fan the footage was a lot to take in: glimpses of Harry, Ron and Hermione's escape from Gringotts on the back of a dragon, Harry's final face off against Voldemort, and many stunning shots from the Battle of Hogwarts, the enormous action sequence that could easily take up half of the new film.
Of all the things I was thrilled to see them seeming to get right-- Hogwarts literally falling apart, the pale dragon living at the bottom of a bank vault, even the look of the Snitch when it "opens at the close" as promised in Dumbledore's will-- there were a few things that looked different as well. Before the presentation, on the red carpet, I hit Heyman and Barron with a few questions about things that had changed between the first half of the book and the movie; afterwards I sat down with Heyman to ask even more detailed questions, about how they'll deal with things like Harry and Dumbledore's conversation at the King's Cross station, Snape's final scene in the book, and even the reshoots they did on the epilogue that wraps up the series.
Below check out first the short video interview with Heyman and Barron (Heyman is the one on the left), in which I pester them about the fate of Peter Pettigrew and including the scene of Hermione obliviating her parents; after that there's the transcript of my interview with Heyman, which gets into detail about what I saw in the preview footage.
in the footage we saw today, there's a scene of Snape and McGonagall facing off in the Great Hall, which I don't remember happening at all in the book.
They do face off, but it's not in the Great Hall. There are a lot of things there that are slightly different from the book, but they are true to the spirit to the book. Snape and McGonagall do face off in the book, but it's in a corridor as Harry's on his way to the Ravenclaw common room. It didn't work the way we were structuring the final battle to have that, so it takes place in the Great Hall. We also wanted to make a bigger scene of Harry's confrontation with Snape. Snape's role in the film is minimal, and it was minimal in the second half of the book, and yet you wanted to have the emotional investment when you see his past story [the memory Harry views in the Pensieve]. We wanted to build that up in order for it to have its emotional impact.
So the Pensieve moment stays in too?
Yes, that and Dumbledore [at King's Cross]. But what I love about these films, what I love about the books, is that all the action, adventure and magic, what means most to me is the character stuff, the slow stuff. I love having the time to tell the story. I'm really happy about breaking the book into two films, it gives us the time to really spend time with the characters and have the moments such as the flashback, Dumbledore at King's Cross. If we had done it as one film, we would have lost the Snape flashback.
Is the mewling creature on the floor at King's Cross still in there?
Yes, that's in there.
I've never been able to figure out what that means.
It's part of Voldemort's soul.
There's the scene from the first half of the film of Hermione and Harry dancing in the tent, and it's so rare to see any scenes added in the Harry Potter movies, but people loved it. Is there anything like that coming in the second half?
I'm not sure there are. For example, like you saw in the footage today, the statues coming to life [during the Battle of Hogwarts] -- that's not in the book. It's quite a percussive ending, and we wanted to have some good magic.
Do you keep the desks that Professor McGonagall is instructing to charge?
No, we didn't.
Oh, I loved the desks!
I liked the desks too, but if you think about it, in a film which has grown up, that's kind of juvenile. It's like Peter Pettigrew strangling himself [which happened in the seventh book but was cut from the film]. It's great in the book, but really hard on film. Those things don't translate as well when the films are growing up.
When you went back and reshot the epilogue at the end of the film, was it mostly tweaking the makeup effects?
It was a couple of reasons. One it was the makeup, that was the first thing. The other was, to be honest, we were limited by shooting at King's Cross. It really limited our ability to block. And in terms of performance, these little kids, some of who weren't actors, were drowned by the noise of the trains, the announcements. That was really a problem. When we filmed it back at the studio, we brought the trains to the studio and filled the station in digitally. It's really beautiful.
Are most of the effects makeup, or is there any CGI in there?
Not really. A little bit of tweaking.
How did the actors go into the scene, growing into themselves 15 years later?
They look good. It's subtle. It's going to be very interesting to see the response, since inevitably we know it's Dan, Rupert and Emma, and we've just seen them as 17-year-olds. Initially we went a little further [with the effects], and then we pulled it back. Sometimes if you try too hard you're really aware of the work. You won't have huge wrinkles, obviously there's a difference, but you still resemble yourself.
You had this opportunity of releasing the first half of the movie while the second one was still underway. Did you take anything from the response to the movie and apply it to the second half?
No, we've never done that with any of the films. I am a really big Harry Potter fan, and so too are the directors and everybody working on the films. In a way we are the harshest critics of the films. I'm aware of everything that's wrong with each and every one of the films, proud as I am of each. There's nothing we can be told-- we're the critics, we really have a good sense of what we ned to do.
And fans are the same way? They're the harshest critics of the all.
No harsher than us. Where they're harsh is, "You've left that out, you left this out." But we know the reasons behind those decisions. In the third film, for example, we decided to tell the story from Harry's point of view, and that defined what go left out. There wasn't much of Hermione's S.P.E.W., though I love S.P.E.W., there just wasn't room for it. By making them Harry's film it created something of a narrative structure, since they're not organic cinematic narratives, the Harry Potter films. They're meandering, they go off on these tangents. Inevitably it's going to be an unconventional structure, but wherever we can impose some sort order on it is important.
The perception is that the movies get better as they go along, each is better than the next. Aside from the content of the books, which have gotten more mature and more interesting, what has changed in your approach?
I think several things. We can learn from each film, so even though we're not listening to the reviews and all that, we as fans are learning from our mistakes. Visual effects have improved immeasurably. The actors have gotten better-- they're learned on the job. And each director is competitive with the director who's come before and themselves. They're determined to make a better film. Though Chris to Alfonso and Alfonso to Mike and Mike to David they're incredibly generous, showing each other cuts, absolutely incredible. Ultimately each wants to make a better film than the previous director.
You set up this trend that's at least followed by the Twilight movies, bringing in a new director for each installment.
There are several reasons. One, there's a fatigue factor. And we're prepping as we're in post. That's really full on. Chris Columbus was offered the third film, didn't have the energy to do it. Alfonso was offered the fourth, didn't want to do it. Mike was offered the fifth. David Yates said yes! And I think it's been good to inject new life. And David Yates has been great bringing it to a close. He's a varied director with a lot of strengths in different ways. Also knowing the actors and having worked in the world. The last shoot was over 260 days, so you need someone-- David had a shorthand and could communicate. Also we were doing a lot of prepping as we were going, so David had the relationships with everybody.