When it was announced earlier this week that the final book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was going to become two films, it raised a lot of questions. Did the book really need two films, when all the others have managed with one? Was this an artistic or business decision? How on earth would director David Yates make it through another two without keeling over from exhaustion? How will fans cope with two years without a Potter fix?
In a world exclusive, we put those questions and more to producer David Heyman, who's been with the series since the beginning and will see it all the way through to the end in 2011.
Empire: When was the decision made to split the book into two films?
Heyman: We’ve been talking about it for – actually, right after the writers’ strike was when a definitive decision was made. We’d been talking about it for a while and we’d been mulling it and we thought that was the direction we’d go in after discussing it with Jo (Rowling). But a definitive decision was made once we were able to speak to (screenwriter) Steve Kloves after the strike. But we were angling toward that before the writers’ strike. Initially we thought we’d do it in one film, how we’d done it every time. But then when we began to really analyse it, we realised it was just impossible to fit everything in. Unlike previous films where you could drop certain things, like Hermione and SPEW or Ron’s quidditch, this one you can’t. There’s so much resolution and so much to resolve that you can’t drop it in the same way. Each of those incidences has a place and we didn’t want to compromise.
Did you get as far as trying to put a script together that would get everything in to one film, or did it become obvious in discussions that it would work?
No, it all came down to discussions. We just thought how are we going to approach this? Is this going to be a four and a half hour film? That’s probably what it would have been. Would our audience really embrace that? In some way, I think they might. But I think the younger ones would have drifted. There’s always been difficulty making sure that the ones that are two hours, two and a half hours long – making sure that those are the right length. I think by having two films that are two and a half hours – although we’re not sure of the length – then it will be a richer experience. One of the challenges that faces us, which we’ve been discussing, is how to give each film its own identity. We want them to feel like one film, but they’ve got to be self-contained too. We feel now that we’ve got a really good angle on that. But we haven’t got a script yet on either part, so I don’t want to say too much.
So these films will be the same length as the ones that came before? We won’t see two films that clock in under two hours?
No. The idea is to get everything people want in there. I’m sure there’ll be parts that don’t make it, which we won’t know until the script is written. But that is the idea.
What do you think is the natural separation point in the books? Where can you end the first film in a satisfying way?
It depends what feeling you want [to end on]. I don’t want to answer that just yet because we don’t have the first script. We do have a point roughly where we want to end, but we haven’t got a draft to know if that works yet.
Obviously, there are people who will think that the decision to make two films is driven by a desire to make twice as much money. What do you say to that?
The process went like this: the studio said to us, the filmmakers, “You decide what is best for the story”. Alan Horn (President of Warner Bros) and Jeff Robinov (Warner Bros Head of Production), particularly Alan Horn, are complete Potter fans. He loves the franchise, loves the books, loves the films and appreciates their importance to Warner Bros on many levels. But above all else he is a fan. And he said he did not want to compromise the creative integrity of the films. He wanted to end the series in the right way. He’s been very generous in the resources they’ve given us, but also in the freedom they’ve given us on each of the films. He very clearly said that Steve Kloves, myself, David Yates should make the decision and he would support that.
You mention earlier that you consulted Jo Rowling. What was her input?
We came to her and said that this was what we were thinking. She said, “You know what? I think that’s the right decision and whole-heartedly support you”.
Do you expect to shoot both films together?
It’s one film in two parts and it’ll be shot all as one film.
How long do you expect that to take?
I would think approximately a year’s shooting.
Could that cause any issues with cast, asking them to be available for a whole year?
No. As ever, you have to work around schedules, but the cast will work with us.
This will be David Yates' third, and arguably fourth, film. Did he immediately jump at the chance to take on book seven?
There was not a moment’s hesitation. Actually, I said to him that he should take a moment. He said yes, but I thought he needed to take a moment to think about it and make sure. It’s very flattering and very exciting, but can you push the world, push the characters and make the films that are a development of what you’ve already done? That are pushing the story further. He came back and said, “Please, I would treasure the opportunity and think I could bring this series to the end it deserves”.
Will he get any break between finishing six and starting seven? The poor man must be tired.
No. He’ll get a couple of weeks off at Christmas and somewhere in the shooting of seven we’ll have a break. But otherwise, he'll just soldier through (laughs). He's got so much energy.
The extended shooting time means there’ll be nearly two years between the release of Half-Blood Prince and the first part of Deathly Hallows in 2010. Are there any concerns about that?
Actually, we would have been in a very similar place if we’d done one film, because it would have been four and a half hours long. The shoot would not have been considerably shorter, so it would have been on similar lines.
And when do you expect to start shooting Deathly Hallows?
Early next year. Most of 2009 will be filming. We’ll be anticipating shooting in February. We’re all really excited about the possibilities and the challenges of seven. It’s going to be a cracker.
Have you got anything you’re most looking forward to putting on film? The final battle, maybe?
Well, the final battle, but there’s so much. I love the character stuff. I love the resolution of Dumbledore and Snape. I love the multiple Harries at the beginning. I love the scene of Hermione trapped at the Malfoys’. I love Harry and Hermione in the forest. I think there’s so much, it’s such a rich fabric. What we’ve done now, which I think is really exciting, is that we’ve found thematic centres for each of the films. That gives the film heart. I think it’s pretty great that David Yates has crystalised it and…it’s early days still, so I’m not going to say too much. But I’m just thrilled that David Yates decided to come back, because he’s really found a new spirit for the sixth film and as we talk about seven, it’s very different as well. I think it’s going to be good.