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Harry Potter Producer Talks BAFTAs
David Heyman on the series' Michael Balcon Award

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At this Sunday's BAFTAs, the Michael Balcon Award for Outstanding British Contribution To Film will be given to the Harry Potter series which BAFTA describes as having "defined a decade of British filmmaking". We caught up with series producer David Heyman to get his take on the award, the state of British film and what we can expect from the last instalment of the world's biggest franchise...

Harry Potter Producer Talks BAFTAs

This is a great acknowledgement for the series.
Yes, it’s something that I could never have expected.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle recently that the series hasn’t had the awards acknowledgement that it deserves.
You know, it’s great that some people think that, but all that we do is to try to make the best movie we can; that’s the only thing we have control over. I have no idea whether a film is going to be awarded or even if it’s going to be a success. Chris Columbus was very important when we started, because on the first couple of films the pressure could have been overwhelming, but Chris just put that aside and really showed us the way in terms of thinking, “It’s irrelevant. Put your energy into making the film.” And if you make a good film the rest will fall into place. That’s the way that I’ve tried to work, and that everybody’s tried to work, ever since.

The fact that the audiences like it is fantastic, and that’s the most important thing. But to be given an award like the Michael Balcon award is a great, great honour. To win awards would be lovely, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not what it’s about.

It’s also nice that it’s an award for everyone involved as well – the set designers, costumes, props – and not just one group.
We are – it’s probably overused, but we really are – a family, we’ve been together for ten years.
What’s so special about this is that it recognises the films as a whole, it’s not about any one part; it’s about the collective. We are – it’s probably overused, but we really are – a family, we’ve been together for ten years. A fairly functional family, too. And what’s great about this award is it recognises each and every one without singling any one person out.

The Potter films feel very British but often they’re not talked about that way whereas, say, the Bond films are. It seems like it’s the money that determines the nationality.
The money for Bond comes from America too! I don’t know; we had an American director on the first two films; a Mexican director on the third. We’ve most certainly had British directors on the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth. British producer, a huge British cast and crew. It’s definitely a British film through and through. Again, it’s not something we have control over.

Do you see a relationship between the huge productions like Potter and John Carter and then the traditional independent British films?
I do. I think they do feed off each other. I think the talent that works on Potter and John Carter of Mars can only do that if they’ve come through the ranks. And I also think that people who have worked on John Carter of Mars, say, come back and work on independent films. It is a great training ground; each feeds the other, and I think that’s really important. I think we can compete with anywhere in the world in terms of the quality of what we do.

In terms of Potter itself, how are you feeling as you approach the end of more than a decade?
I’ve been involved since 1997. I have mixed feelings. Potter was like a family, and it was a very exciting period of my life, life-changing. And I had the comfort of knowing the people you’re going to work with, that you really like them, that you are making a huge studio film that’s going to be watched by a lot of people – and yet you have such independence. I mean, the studio were as supportive as you could ever ask anybody to be. They’re creatively and financially always there, but never get in the way. It was the best relationship that you could ever ask for, and that’s coming to an end.

That being said, I think we’re all looking forward to new challenges. We’ve been working…it’s important to remove the safety net sometimes, to try new things and fail.

Harry Potter Producer Talks BAFTAs

Potter is obviously a phenomenon on every level you can name, but what’s been interesting over the last two or three years is how many Potter wannabes have aspired to that crown and largely failed. Do you have any theories on why none of those have taken off in the same way?
One, I think that the audience base that we had going in, in terms of Jo Rowling’s fiction, that is hugely significant. Two, I think that we weren’t trying to make “another Harry Potter”. We weren’t trying to emulate anything, and we didn’t have too many people in the mix trying to say what the film should be. As a studio and as a producer, we encouraged a director’s vision. That’s really important to me. When the director comes in, it’s their film. I support, I question, I challenge. I see myself as something of a guardian because I’m the longest-serving member of the Harry Potter film family. But really, when a director comes in it’s their film. Everybody is there to allow them to realise their vision. You’ve got Jo Rowling’s voice and the director’s voice, and everybody else is servicing that. That’s been very significant; we’re not creating a product. That’s not what we’re doing; we’re adapting Jo Rowling’s books.

I think there’s also a competitiveness with the directors. There’s a great support: Mike met with Alfonso, David met with Alfonso and Mike; Chris was around for Alfonso. There’s a real collegial atmosphere. But at the same time there’s a sense that, “I want to make a better one than he did!”, and David wants to make a better one than the fifth, and he wanted to make the seventh better than the sixth!

What about Part Two? Is that rough-cut at this point?
I tend to like melancholic moments, the nice, quiet moments in the films.
Yeah. I’ve seen a very, very early cut. It’s very exciting. No visual effects, no music, no sound effects, and it’s really exciting. But it’s early days and the film continues to take shape and will continue to take shape over the next many months. I think it will be a great ending to the series. It was a really long shoot; we shot over 260 days on this one.

I think I was on set in March in two consecutive years, and you’d already started shooting in the first, and you still had four months to go the second time I was there.
I know! We were a little bonkers by the end.

But you obviously found solutions in the end for the scenes that everyone was worried about, the King’s Cross scene and the flashbacks.
Well, in a way this is an easier structure than Part One because it’s quite defined. In terms of the King’s Cross scene, I think it does work and it’s very moving. We actually did it once, and then re-did it a little bit because we needed to refine something, and I’m pretty glad we did. It’s a very quiet, moving scene, but I think it leaves the series on the right note. The only flashback really that one thinks about is the Snape flashback, when Harry goes into the Pensieve to see Snape’s story, and that’ll be defined, but it’ll be very moving.

One of the things I love about David Yates’ work is that he’s very concerned with the life of the characters. Yes, there’s a lot of action as the series comes to an end, yes there’s boom-boom-boom as it comes to an end, but he also takes time for the humanity. That’s what I like about Part One is the luxury of having that time to spend with the characters. Even in this, which is more action-packed, there’s time to cover that, which is great.

Have you got a favourite moment in the series?
There are so many. I tend to like melancholic moments, the nice, quiet moments. I like the dance in Part One, which I know not everybody does, but I think it says so much. I love some of the stuff that Alfonso did, I love the time-turner sequence in the third. I love the line, “I’m not going home, not really” at the end of the first film. But there’s so much; there’s at least one moment in every film.

What’s next, post-Potter?
I’m doing a TV film with David Hare, and I’ve got Gravity, which we start shooting in May with Alfonso Cuaron, and hopefully I’ve got The Curious Case Of The Dog In The Night Time with Steve Kloves, and I’m just waiting for him to deliver a script. I’ve been waiting for a long time! But I’m hoping that’ll come soon! And then there’ll be other things.

Interview by Helen O'Hara

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