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Harry Potter Page to ScreenThe Complete Filmmaking Journey
By Bob McCabe
Harper DesignCopyright © 2011 Bob McCabe
All right reserved.
A year after of negotiations, David Heyman and Warner Bros. I acquired the rights to
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and the subsequent books in the
series. The deal was finalized on the very day that the first book was
published in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
The books 'weren't yet the phenomenon they would become, so the studio viewed the
acquisition as simply a prom-ising option deal with a talented first time
writer. However, J.K. Rowling's book would soon duplicate its British
publishing success with American readers, eventually rising to the top of The
New York Times best-seller list. The acquisition by Warner Bros., on behalf of
Heyday Films, would be one of the most astute in the company's long and
With the rights in place, producer and author finally met for the first time, at a lunch
also attended by Tanya Seghatchian and Rowling's agent, Christopher Littlethe
man who had accepted Rowling's first Harry Potter manuscript a couple of years
earlier. Heyman had imagined that Rowling would be a little older and a little
more conservative than she was. Instead, he found her to be "very funny,
very bright, and very approachable. And she's still that [way] today. Very
little has changed."
The meeting went very well. "I don't think she had any sense that her book was going
to attract such interest from a filmmaker," Heyman continues. "She
was very excited." He notes that while Rowling never discussed the overall
plan for the future of the Harry Potter book series, "she knew that she
was going to write seven books. And we had made a deal for all seven books."
When rumors began circulating that the filmmakers thought the books were too parochial and
that Hogwarts might be relocated to America, Heyman assured Rowling that he
would do all he could to protect her vision and that
he would keep the book's British roots intact. "I expressed to her that we'd be
faithful to the books," he says. It was a promise he would keep.
While David Heyman and J.K. Rowling met in London's West End, Daniel Jacob Radcliffe had
just turned nine years old and was beginning to establish a career as a young
actor. He was only mildly aware of the boy wizard with whom he would come to
share his life.
"I have a very distinct memory of the first time I heard about Harry Potter"
Radcliffe recalls. "We were on a beach at Ramsgate, and my mum was reading
a newspaper article to me that had come out a few months after the first book
was published. The article said that kids were absolutely going nuts about this
surprise hit book. And while my mum was reading, I remember being quite . . .
um . . . not bothered by it. I wasn't a big reader; I found reading quite hard.
I eventually got the first book, and my dad read it to me. Then he read the
second one to me. And then we didn't read any more, for whatever reason."
Like David Heyman, Radcliffe was born into a theatrical family. Both parents had begun
their careers as actors. His mother, Marcia, eventually became a casting agent, and
his father, Alan, became a successful theatrical and literary agent (in which capacity he had
already met David Heyman). So it was not too surprising when, while attending a London based
school, five year old Daniel expressed an interest in acting. Three years or so later,
he audi-tioned for the title role in a new television adaptation of one of Charles Dickens's
"I was sent up for David Copperfield because I was more or less crap academically and
pretty rubbish at sports at that time," remembers Radcliffe. "Sue Latimer,
who is my agent now, has been a friend of my dad's since they went to drama school together years ago.
She said, 'Well, look, they're doing auditions for David Copperfield at the moment. Why
don't you send Dan up for it, because it'll be something that none of the other kids in the class
will have experienced. He won't get the part, but, hey, send him up for it.' So I auditioned without
any-body thinking that I might get it. Then I did. I was one of the first boys they saw,
apparently, and they sort of took a liking to me."
Radcliffe proved to be a natural talent in front of the camera, and he swiftly followed
his television debut with his first big screen performance in The Tailor of Panama
(2001), opposite Pierce Brosnan. "That was great fun. Never read the scriptI only got my
pages because it was a bit raunchy for my age. I wasn't allowed to see it when it came out, and
actually, I have never seen the film."
As pre-production for the first film geared up, the global success of the Harry
Potter books. continued to increase, and Heyman knew that they needed to make the movie right.
He began searching for a screenwriter to adapt J.K. Rowling's first novelbut never
approached the author herself. "Jo never expressed an interest," notes Heyman.
"She wanted to write the books. We didn't even talk about it."
Heyman and Warner Bros, first tried to recruit the team behind one of the most suc-cessful
British movies of all time: comedy writer Richard Curtis and leading British direc-tor
Mike Newell. Curtis had created the popular television series Black Adder (alongside
his longtime collaborator Rowan Atkinson), and when he teamed up with Newell for the big
screen, the result was a film that would define the British romantic comedy genre, 1994's
Four Weddings and a Funeral. Both Curtis and Newell decided to pass, forcing Heyman
to look elsewhere.
"In the beginning," Heyman says, "we were somewhat under the radar, and
we had to try to generate interest in the project." Several first editions of the book were
sent to prospective screenwritersall of whom passed. Of course, "as the books became more
successful," he adds, "there were more incoming calls."
Although the plan was to keep the films British, eventually American screen-writers
were considered, because, as Heyman explains, "This story was 'big
entertainment' and there weren't that many British screenwriters who were writing 'big entertain-ment.'"
Very quickly, the field was narrowed down to two writers: Michael Goldenberg
and Steve Kloves. In the end, Kloves got the job. (Over the next decade, Kloves
would adapt six of the seven books. When he took a break during Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix,
Goldenberg stepped in.)
Kloves had been recommended to Heyman by a young agent at Creative Artists Agency-
Scott Greenberg. While Heyman thought the suggestion was brilliant, he initially ques-tioned
whether someone like Kloves would even be interested in this style of project. Kloves
had established himself as both writer and director with 1989's The Fabulous Baker
Boys, followed by the very dark and critically acclaimed Flesh and Bone. He had also adapted
rot J.K. Rowling has said that the idea for Harry Potter came to her, appropriately, on
a train. When the time came to bring the Hogaarts Express to life, the filmmakers used a train from
ABOVE: Producer David Heyman. Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys. Though quite impressive,
his portfolio did not naturally suggest that he should adapt the biggest
success in family literature in recent memory.
But, Heyman recalls, "Scott was so right. Steve really, more than most any screen-writer
I've read, manages to capture an author's voice. One reads his adaptation of Michael
Chabon's Wonder Boys, and it is imbued with Chabon's spirit. It feels, when you read the
script and see the film, like you are in Chabon's world. One of the things that I loved most about
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and loved about all the books, was Jo's
voice, and I thought that if, in some way, you could translate that to film, it would be wonderful.
Steve is also a great writer of characters, and for all the magic, all the action, and all the
fantasy, what I believe make the films work make the books so specialare the characters. We sent the
book to him, and I was pleasantly surprised when he said yes. And so began what has
been a long collaboration and become a great friendship."
Both Heyman and the studio felt it was imperative that Jo feel comfortable with their
selection, so they flew the author to Los Angeles to meet Kloves. "Jo was quite
nervous about meeting Steve. She realized the screenwriter was pivotal, that he was a key
figure in bringing her book to cinematic life. She understood that it was possible to make a bad
film from a good script, but that it was impossible to make a good film from a bad
one," recalls Heyman. Jo Rowling's fears were more than put to rest, however, when she,
Heyman, Kloves, and Warner Bros, executives Lionel Wigram, Polly Cohen, and Lorenzo di
Bonaventura met at the studio's commissary for lunch. "I think she realized she'd
found a kindred spirit," says Heyman.
By the time the script had been delivered near the end of 1999, Rowling's boy wizard
had become one of the most famous names on the planet. Now the search began
for a director.
"Steven Spielberg was the first director who expressed interest," Heyman states.
"He was the very first person to be given the script. I met with him in his office, and we
spent an hour and a half alone. He was so gracious, so focused. And he had many really inter-esting
ideas. We then had a second meeting, a three-way conversationmyself, Jo, and
Stevenon the phone, where he elaborated on his ideas. But ultimately he decided to
pursue another project that he had been working on for some time."
Although Spielberg was out of the running, an impressive pool of directors remained
interested. An early favorite of both the producer and Rowling was Terry Gilliam. Gilliam's
sensibilities and his previous forays into amazing fantasy worlds seemed like a per feet
His time traveling tale of thieving dwarfs, Time Bandits, had won a huge family
audience, while his dystopian vision of a semi-Orwellian world, Brazil, had wowed critics
worldwide. "Jo and I liked Terry" remembers Heyman, "his humor and his touch of
madness. But, honestly, Alan Horn [president and chief operating officer], Lorenzo, and the studio were
a bit nervous about giving what had now become a prized project to someone as
unpredict-able as Terry."
Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) was briefly in the running, as was Brad Silberling
(Casper, City of Angels). "Brad brought a youthful exuberance," Heyman says.
"He had really good ideas. He was very enthusiastic. But his ideas, interestingly enough, were slightly
less grounded than what we wanted."
One British director in the mix was Alan Parker. Parker had an extraordinary and
diverse body of work: He'd worked with children (Bugsy Mahne); dealt with the
supernatural (Angel Heart); and taken on high drama, broad comedy, and even musicals. "I'm a
big admirer of Alan," says Heyman. "He's a brilliant director: great with child
actors, understands humor and adventure, is incredibly flexible and adept at so many things. He
would've made a wonderful film."
TOP: Harry Potter's creator, J.K. Rowling, at a book signing in 1999.
ABOVE Screenwriter Steve Kloves.
SETTING THE SCENE 2
Then Heyman met with Chris Columbus. "At that time, after Spielberg, no director had
connected with an audience as Chris had," Heyman says. "And when I talked to
him about the books, it was clear as to why: His enthusiasm, passion for, and understanding of the
material were unmatched. He was so invested in these characters and their journey, and
he had fantastic ideas as to how to bring them to life on the screen. It was so
exciting to discuss Harry Potter with him."
Barely over forty, Columbus already had a wealth of relevant experience under his belt.
In his early twenties, Columbus had established himself as a hugely inventive
screenwriter-penning for producer Steven Spielberg mid-1980s classics such as Gremlins, The Goonies,
and Young Sherlock Holmes (the latter redolent with the atmosphere of the English boarding
school that would prove so important in capturing the world of Hogwarts on screen).
Turning his hand to directing, Columbus had shown his grasp of the family audience with
two of the most successful comedies of all time: Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New
York. Written by 1980s teen movie icon John Hughes, Home Alone was handed to Columbus
(up to that point Hughes had often directed his own work), who ran with it, turning
Macaulay Culkin into a child star. Columbus also directed the hugely successful Robin
Williams vehicle Mrs. Doubtfire.
As Heyman says, "Chris had many strings to his bowhe had worked successfully in
many different genresand that experience was essential to directing Harry Potter.
Plus, he was simply brilliant at working with children. He was clearly the right director."
Columbus's young daughter Eleanor thought so, too. She had been devouring the Harry Potter books
and recommending them relentlessly to her father. She would never forgive him if he
didn't take the job.
"My daughter Eleanor said Sorcerer's Stone would make a fantastic movie,"
Columbus recalls. "I was a little reluctant to read it at first because the concept really
didn't intrigue me. It was perceived at the time as just a children's book, and I didn't know if that's
what I really wanted to do next. But I read it and immediately fell in love with the
When I called my agent to inquire about doing the film, I was told that there were
probably twenty-five directors ahead of me in line, including Steven Spielberg. So I thought, 'Well,
this is going to be tough.' But I was obsessed with the book. I asked my agent to get
me an interview with Warner Bros, as soon as possible, but I had one requestto be the last
person interviewed by them."
Excerpted from Harry Potter Page to Screen by Bob McCabe Copyright © 2011 by Bob McCabe. Excerpted by permission of Harper Design. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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