Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint.
On March 17, 2010, Warner Bros. transported Fandango to the wizarding world, better known as the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movie set, where author J.K. Rowling's fantastical imagination was being brought to cinematic life. After an 11-hour flight across the pond and a one-hour bus ride out of London, we arrived at Leavesden Studios—the massive arena that houses sets for Hogwarts, the Ministry of Magic, an animatronic creature creation lab, and enough prop storage to create a Harry Potter museum. Our in-depth Part 1 report recounts the wonders of our visit, including interviews with director David Yates, Matthew Lewis, who plays Neville, and Daniel Radcliffe, the Boy Who Lived himself.
Spoiler alert! If you haven't read the book, beware. This set visit report contains details on the seven Potters scene, Bill and Fleur's witchy wedding, movie additions that weren't in the books, and loads of other secrets from the set.
The publicity tent was our first stop at the studio, where we writers perused movie photos, concept art, props and costumes that filled the room. One of these costumes was the outfit that all seven doppelganger Harrys wear: a blue-gray track jacket, red shirt and jeans. The sequence involves six of Harry's friends who take Polyjuice Potion to impersonate him as they flee his home on Privet Drive. The goal: Evade Death Eaters who are hot on his trail and get Harry to a safe house.
Daniel Radcliffe Sees Seven
Although he didn't need to film on set that day, the titular Chosen One was gracious enough to stop by and chat. Decked in a gray suit jacket and sporting disheveled hair not unlike his character, Daniel Radcliffe fervently divulged the complexity it took to create seven spitting images of himself. "A lot of it's more painstakingly slow than complex." The shot wherein they drink the potion and start transforming into the seven Potters took 95 takes, he says; a few of the writers wince. "Yes, you may very well recoil," he quips. "That's impressive by anyone's standards."
Using a motion-control camera, the crew filmed Harry in one spot, then panned around the room of empty space. They then had to film Radcliffe in six more spots around the room as he pretended to be Fleur, Mundungus, or whoever drinks the Polyjuice and starts transforming. At the end of the day, he was shown a primitive version of the shot. "It was the most gratifying thing to see how good it looks. Everyone's overlapping—all arms and hands. It should be really effective because it did take a long time to get right." Despite the lengthy time for just one shot, he enjoyed doing the impersonations. "I was just delighted at how good I looked in [Fleur's] costume! It looked like a David Bowie outfit." (Read Daniel Radcliffe's full interview here.)
From the seven Potters chase scene, to Bill and Fleur's wedding at The Burrow, to various urban locations around the UK, the story then turns into a "road movie," says Radcliffe, as Harry and Ron and Hermione go on the run and try to gather vital information. "People will be seeing the kids outside of Hogwarts for the first time, which is a big deal."
For this type of storytelling, director David Yates used cinéma vérité and the intimacy of the trio as they move from place to place, living in a tent. Yates talked about relishing the tender moments between Harry and Hermione: "They're both at that stage where Ron's left and there's this intimacy between them. So there are all sorts of corners that you turn because they're young adults and turning those corners in the real world are actually quite fun and interesting. The vérité style just seemed to suit that."
Movie stills that we viewed, though, set a darker mood: a weary Harry keeping watch at a small tent in the woods; a close-up shot of Hermione showing her crying; another photo showing her casting enchantments with bloodied hands; Harry running, and chips of wood flying near him as if he were under attack. "Just for jeopardy, we've added a scene where the snatchers chase Harry, Ron and Hermione," Yates says. "There's so much in the book that it's crazy adding things when we always get criticized for leaving things out. The adaptive process is really hard."
Stuart Craig, the production designer on all of the Harry Potter films, attests to seeing many things omitted—a necessity when adapting a very long novel to a movie. "Nonetheless, I think everything is grounded in the book, in the spirit of it at least, if not in the actual letter."
At Bill and Fleur's wedding festivities, Yates also added a tender scene where Hermione and Harry dance for the first time. "It's a really beautiful moment, and it's full of proper sexual tension because they're both teenagers." Another photo of Hermione shows Viktor Krum kissing her hand, and in a rather comical shot, Hermione is also shown in a simple yet stunning red cocktail dress, dancing with Viktor; Ron stands in the background looking sore and envious.
A Witchy Wedding
With a strong French accent, Jany Temime, the fashion designer on the films since Prisoner of Azkaban, speaks fondly of designing for Emma Watson. "She went from a child to a teenager, but all the time she kept in mind that she was Hermione. She never asked me for more glamorous clothes, even when we were doing our cocktail dress – the red dress, No. 7A," Temime recalls with precision.
Designing for the first Harry Potter wedding was a daunting task itself, as Temime took into account that this is not a Muggle wedding, and the bride is no ordinary witch, but Fleur, the half-Veela, fashionista. "Fleur is French so the idea was to have a wedding with a little French tone — not a Weasely wedding, which would've been in tragically bad taste. I wanted to design for her a real witch-princess dress. I thought of the Phoenix – a bird, maybe not of love, but at least of rebirth – because love is eternal, so it's the same sort of idea."
A photo of Clémence Poésy modeling Fleur's sleeveless, princess-cut dress reveals exquisite detail. Two Phoenix birds shaped in black lace face each other to form a heart on her chest. The black organza lace clings down the front of the bodice and back of the dress, offset as an overlay on white lace. Fleur wears a matching Phoenix hair piece on the right side of her head. The delicate fabric is fringed and fluffy, made to look like it belonged to the family for 20 generations, Temime says. "I wanted something very dreamy like."
As beautiful as it appears, the process of making it was anything but. The organza lace - handmade - had to be ordered from New York. It was the only fabric Temime could find that was thin enough, and cost a fortune. "It was a nightmare! It took months. Then, when one was finished and I thought all the seamstresses were just going to collapse, we had to make a second one." The gown was so fragile they needed to have another one on standby.
The tedious efforts, however, paid off with the cast's reaction. "They loved it. They all wanted to get married in such a dress. It really is amazing — not because I did it," Temime laughs.
The Lovegoods also had their own couture of eccentric style. One photo shows Luna (played by Evanna Lynch) wearing a sleeveless, layered, bright yellow-orange dress. Her hands are in the air as she dances to her own rhythm. In the previous films, Temime had Lynch make her own radish earrings for her accessories. "She came with the perfect radishes, because they were slightly clumsy," Temime says. "We were doing them too well because we are really pros. She had a sort of childlike approach to this jewelry that we could never, never, never remake. It's different."
Hanging out at Hogwarts
While there isn't much filming going on in Hogwarts for Part 1, that didn't stop us from touring the school of witchcraft and wizardry. Upon entering the Great Hall, we saw a magnificent White Peacock. (Yes, they do exist!) Rowling mentions the bird as the resident pheasant on Malfoy Manor. The animals are trained in the environment to get used to noise, people and distractions. The hall itself is the longest standing Potter set, used from the very beginning.
When filming first began, the producers didn't know how far they'd go into the series, but they decided to invest in it regardless. All of the sets are made of plasterboard, chalks and wood, but in addition, the Great Hall's floor is real York stone. The cracks in it are also real, due to regular wear and tear. At capacity, the hall seats 350 children, not including the film crew and all of their equipment. Minors are only allowed to work a certain amount of hours, and are required to break in between. So when those 350 Hogwarts students are dismissed, another 350 come in to replace them.
For the first two films, all the food in the feast scenes were real. Kitchens ran down the sides of the set for caterers to replace the food every so often. Since the third film, they've toned it down a bit, and now fake centerpieces made of fiber glass are used.
Statues of magical creatures line the sides of the hall, each with a flame bowl hanging from its maw or beak. The flame bowls are real and burn with gas, but the crew keeps them on only for a limited time, for health and safety reasons. Mahogany panels decorate the walls. While they give the hall a look of elegance, they also serve as real secret passageways. Should there be any type of emergency or fire, cast and crew can evacuate quickly and efficiently.
At the end of the Great Hall, near the faculty's dais, four large hourglasses hang from the wall. Each one represents one of the four houses, each with a store of precious gems in a color of the respective house. Hogwart's House Point system allows the enchanted hourglasses to shift their gems into the bottom or top halves, depending on the awarding or deducting of points. Craig ensured the hourglasses were made to work (but not in an enchanted way), should the director decide to change a shot or make use of it.
Warwick Davis, who plays Griphook and Flitwick, says the completeness of the sets is what sets the films apart. "Although we do use the tools of CGI to enhance everything, quite a lot of it is actually here, as you've seen when you've looked around. Some people are surprised. There is actually a Great Hall, and to all intents and purposes, it's complete apart from the enchanted ceiling. They haven't quite figured that out yet." He compares the experience to working on Star Wars. "[On Star Wars] you walk on to a set and it is only a little piece of a wall and the rest is green screen. So for actors, [this is] a beautiful experience working on [the Hogwarts set] because you are actually there. They're not leaving quite so much to the imagination."
The Headmaster's Office
Apart from the Great Hall, Dumbledore's office is the next longest standing set, which was first used in Chamber of Secrets. It actually served as Snape's office as well, after a set redress. Now, the late headmaster's portrait hangs on the wall along with the other former headmasters. We got a chance to examine the space, which was dank and dim without much light. I sat in Dumbledore's wooden chair, which I considered quite an honor, although it wasn't the least bit comfy, nor would it pass an ergonomics test. On his desk were a few quills and novels, including Lord Byron's works. (Tidbit: Rowling fashioned Snape as an anti-hero, also known as a modern Byronic hero.)
The cabinets are stocked with knickknacks, and bookshelves—filled with hundreds of books—line the walls. Yellow Pages came in handy here; they're bound, covered and used as props to fill the shelves. A steep double staircase leads to the upstairs lair where there's a huge globe, and real weights hang from the ceiling.
Ministry of Magic
Harry, Ron and Hermione infiltrate the Ministry of Magic disguised with Polyjuice Potion. We walked down a long, blue-tiled corridor that led to the inquisition room of the Muggle-born Registration Commission, where Harry and Hermione find themselves in search of a Horcrux locket. The set is made to look like a courtroom with tiered seating around the circular space; a lone chair stands in the center where the suspected Muggle-born is chained. Although a little eerie looking, the set was made to look like an extension of the London Underground, which is a Victorian invention. If you got lost in the Underground, you might just come out here, in the Ministry of Magic.
An expected change that readers will notice at the Ministry is the lack of the Fountain of Magical Brethren. After the Ministry's fall and Voldemort's takeover, the fountain is replaced with a Magic is Might monument. We got a glimpse of the sculpture, still in the process of being made. Nick Dudman, who heads the sculpting studio for special makeup, says the sculptors used 13 Muggle figures to model nearly 60 Muggles after – these Muggles are interlocked and form the base of the monument. Atop the base stands a witch and a wizard, their wands raised harmoniously. The sculptors heavily based the monument on Russian sculpture to convey the totalitarian view.
Special Makeup and Creature Creation Lab
Dudman, who's known as a creature effects master, showed us around the animatronic creature creation lab and prosthetic makeup studio. Upon entering a storage room, Buckbeak stands at least 7-ft-tall to greet us. Dozens of creature props are on display, including the Monster Book of Monsters, a Thestral, Lupin's werewolf, Dumbledore's Phoenix Fawkes, a Basilisk, Dobby, a massive Aragog and more. Dudman went into great detail about the labor intensive efforts it takes to create not only the creatures, but the prosthetic makeup as well. "If you do a prosthetic make-up, all eyebrows and hairlines are done one hair at a time."
Matthew Lewis, who plays Neville Longbottom, was one of the cast who undergoes a gritty makeover for his character's evolution. "The first week, it was really enjoyable. I thought, 'This is fun! This is great.' About 12 months later, it's pretty boring. The novelty has definitely worn off. When I get the full thing on – a headpiece as well – it took two hours for the first few weeks. We've knocked it down to about an hour and a quarter now." Other changes in his prosthetic makeup included getting rid of the fat suit, which he had to wear in past films to portray a pudgier Neville. "Neville's slimmed down. We're trying to suggest he's living underground at Hogwarts, and he’s been this resistance leader. So he’s not had time to eat, and he’s been stressing out."
Like Radcliffe, Lewis has played his role since the beginning, and says he'll miss the security of having Harry Potter. "Auditions are the worst thing in the world. I go to pieces. I just can't do it. Everything I do from now [on] is going to be a little bit harder, but at the same time, it's time to move on and do something else. I can't wait for that either – some ambivalence on it, really. I'm happy, sad, a little bit of both." (Read Matthew Lewis' full interview.)
It's still only the beginning of the end. More Deathly Hallows features and interviews are on the way. Check out all things Harry Potter in Fandango's Harry Potter Movie Guide.
Deathly Hallows Set Visit Report Part 2
Set Visit Interview: Warwick Davis
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