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A kind of magic

After a decade, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 ended the wizarding saga in impressive style with an epic battle for Hogwarts. The film-makers tell Leon Forde about going out with a bang

When it came to bringing down the curtain on the most successful film franchise of all time, the film-makers behind Harry Potter took the bold step of making two very distinct films out of JK Rowling’s final book, the first time it had been done in the series.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is an epic 3D showdown at Hogwarts in which Potter and his nemesis Lord Voldemort finally face off in a battle for the wizarding world. The Heyday Films and Warner Bros production starred Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson alongside a strong ensemble including Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort, Helena Bonham Carter and Michael Gambon. Released in July last year, it has grossed more than $1.3bn globally to become the biggest film at the global box office in 2011.

‘The first Deathly Hallows is quite naturalistic, quite contemporary in spirit. The second one is very operatic, epic’

David Heyman, Heyday Films

The film-makers began developing the film as soon as Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows was published in July 2007. Splitting the book into more than one film was initially suggested by executive producer Lionel Wigram. The producers were initially reluctant since the series had to date been one film per book, but when writer Steve Kloves started to break down the material it became clear that with so many important strands to tie up it made sense to make it in two parts.

“Even breaking it down to two was not without its challenges,” notes producer David Heyman, who discovered the as-yet-unpublished Harry Potter manuscript in 1997.

Both parts of Deathly Hallows were treated as separate films artistically. “The first one is quite naturalistic, quite contemporary in spirit,” Heyman says. “The second one is very operatic, epic. The first one is a road movie and the second one is set at Hogwarts.”

The two films “had to be” distinct, says director David Yates. “And the book kind of gave us those ley-lines to follow. And for me, having made Order Of The Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince, it was important to just try different colours and tones as we moved towards the end. We were all very sensitive to the notion that the audience had been waiting such a long time for a big end. It’s the climactic finish to the series.”

While Yates says he wanted Part 1 to feel vérité, the approach with Part 2 was to make it epic and spectacular. “There was a conscious decision to widen out the frame,” explains the director, who says his focus on Hallows was “to get as close as possible to the characters”.

Both parts of Deathly Hallows were filmed back to back, with the shoot of more than 260 days getting underway in February 2009. While the schedule aimed to shoot Part 1 first because it was first up for release, it was sometimes necessary to shoot scenes from different films on the same day. “We tried where we could, both for David’s sake and the cast’s sake, not to do two films on the same day but there were just times where it made logistical sense to do so, or we had no choice,” explains producer David Barron. Scheduling was also complicated by Emma Watson going to university in August 2009.

“It was tough, it was a real marathon for everybody,” Yates says of the lengthy shoot. “We went through all the seasons, literally. You would be shooting in bright sunshine and the heat of the summer, then we’d hit the autumn and the leaves would turn and then we’d be in the middle of winter. We went right through the calendar.”

Aside from some minor UK location work, the shoot took place entirely at Leavesden Studios, north of London, where the series had been based since the start. While sets from previous films were used, a number of new sets were constructed, including a huge outdoor courtyard of Hogwarts on the Leavesden backlot. One particularly challenging sequence was Voldemort entering the Hogwarts courtyard at dawn (but not shot at dawn). Getting the light to match over successive days was tricky. “But we were just extraordinarily lucky in that it was grey and overcast for a long time,” says Barron.

The continuity of personnel also benefitted the final films, with key crew and creatives, such as production designer Stuart Craig, working on the series from the outset. “We had great communication among everybody working on the films,” says Heyman. “Many had worked on the films since the very beginning.”

As Barron points out: “We didn’t deliver the sixth film until October 2008 and we started shooting two films back to back in February 2009… because the world was so real to all those people that had been involved from the beginning it did make life a lot easier.”

‘The audience had been waiting such a long time for a big end’

David Yates, director

Deathly Hallows: Part 2 became the first Potter film to be released completely in 3D. The film was converted in post rather than shot in the format. Warner Bros had initially asked the film-makers to look into doing Part 1 in 3D as well. “We didn’t feel we had enough time to complete it at the level we needed,” Heyman explains. “And to give Warner their credit, having spent quite a bit of money going down that path to try and make it work, they listened to us when we said we couldn’t. On the second film we did do it and we adopted a policy of restraint. We didn’t want to have too much coming out of the camera, have the depth be too great. We wanted to be restrained and use it as an expressive tool. David Yates had a keen awareness of how he wanted to use it.”

Like previous Potter films, the post-production schedule was 26 weeks — particularly tight because of the post conversion to 3D. Key visual-effects companies included the UK’s Double Negative, Moving Picture Company, Framestore and Cinesite, Rising Sun in Australia and Lola in the US, which worked on ageing the principals for the final scene. The principal 3D conversion vendors were Prime Focus, ICO, Conversion Works, Animal Logic and Sassoon.

With the film complete the film-makers, like the boy wizard, are getting accustomed to life after Hogwarts. “David Heyman said, and I think he’s absolutely right, that it felt like we were making an independent film but with studio money,” says Yates. “We all got stuck in together and it was a really wonderful, wonderful experience which I think we’re all still trying to let go of, in a weird way, even though we finished it all about six months ago. It’s such a big thing to have been through and delivered and done.”

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