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Feature: Harry Potter
The Wonderful Wizard of Hogwarts
Producer David Heyman and director Chris Columbus reveal the secrets that lie behind Harry Potter’s cinematic success as the second chapter, The Chamber of Secrets, emerges on DVD this month…
Precognition is a magical thing. A few years ago producer David Heyman returned to London after working in New York for two decades. Under contract from Warner Brothers, he was assigned to find new literary titles that would transcribe effectively to the big screen.
“I came across Harry Potter,” he says. “I was looking for a children’s book, and we were sent everything. We had two categories: important and unimportant. And Harry Potter was firmly placed on the unimportant shelf.
“My assistant at the time was desperate to read something that wasn’t terrible. Harry Potter had just come out that week and she took it home. She came back on Monday morning and said, ‘I’ve read this book about a young boy who goes to Wizards’ school’. I read it and I fell in love. When I initially optioned it I had no idea that it would become the phenomenon that it has. These are word of mouth books: they weren’t initially hyped.”
In that first reading, Heyman saw a quality in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that would prove compelling to the millions of people who would read it subsequently. Acquiring the rights for Warners was a combination of good luck and serendipity: the Potter fan phenomenon would gain momentum long before the first film was released, ultimately providing the sort of publicity a studio cannot buy.
The movie opened big, shattering box office records and becoming the second highest grossing film of all time. Heyman, his director Chris Columbus, and the cast had little time to relish their success, however. They were already underway on production of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
“We had a release date of November 15, 2002, and the first day of principal photography was November 19 2001, three days after the release of the first film,” Heyman reveals. “Our biggest challenge was navigating the completion of the first film and the start of the second. Fortunately we benefited from the experience of the first film and having many of our original production crew continue on through the second film, so we had a wealth of knowledge to draw on.”
Based on JK Rowling’s novel, which has sold 42 million copies worldwide, The Chamber of Secrets finds Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) spending the summer with his miserable Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw) and Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths). The lack of communication from best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) is explained by the appearance of Dobby, a house elf that has intercepted his mail and attempts to discourage Harry from returning to Hogwarts School for the second year.
Rescued by Ron in a flying car, Harry arrives at Hogwarts to find he’s gained a vain, arrogant new teacher Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), and new dark forces terrorizing the school. As students are turned to stone, even Harry himself comes under suspicion…
“We devoted a good part of The Philosopher’s Stone to setting up the world of Harry Potter,” notes Heyman. “ There was so much to introduce in terms of the magic, the settings and the characters. With Chamber of Secrets, we jump directly into the narrative and into the adventure.”
by Richard Houldsworth
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