As the movie of the first part of the final Harry Potter story is almost upon us we’ve been hearing a great deal from the cast about the end of the whole film series, with all the filming finished and the actors having gone their separate ways.
So we step back in time for a different perspective, visiting the set when the filming of this final two-part movie was in full production and talk to producer David Barron. At this point the decision had yet to be made where Part 1 would end and Part 2 start…
How much of the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ can you see?
It’s still too far off to feel like we’re almost there. We don’t finish filming until the end of April  and then we’ve got a year’s of post-production, to edit and deliver two films. We know it’s coming; we’re on day 178, so it’s a long, long shoot. Getting to the end of the shoot is a goal to achieve; getting to the end of everything is something that will hit us when we get a little closer to that.
It’s been a long haul – a 10-year project – but is there a part of you that would prefer to keep going?
Oh, absolutely. If there were more stories, we’d be happy to stay here and do them, because this is as good as it gets. [Producer] David Heyman and I often say to each other, “It’s a real shame; we’ll never have it this good again.”
We work with fantastic material that people love, we’re making films where there’s an audience that’s very forgiving. They want us to make the films and they want to see them, which is a very rare circumstance to be in. We’re working with great material, the best cast, the best design; never quite enough money, no matter how much you’ve got, but enough to make a pretty good go at delivering the stories on film, and with a group of people we all really like and enjoy working with.
I don’t think we’ll ever get it quite as good again. I don’t think. So it’s a mixed feeling, because the excitement of actually starting something new is something to look forward to, but it will be a huge wrench to give this up and walk away from here.
So are you at the stage where you’ve wrapped any of the key players?
Gary Oldman is finished, who comes back as a ghost with Harry’s parents when Harry runs into the forest to confront Voldemort. In the weeks and months to come, we’ll be ticking them off one by one.
You’ve yet to decide where Part 1 finishes and Part 2 takes up the narrative. Did Steve Kloves write it as one continuous script?
No. Before we started, we all talked about where we thought it might break. He then went off to write it and see what felt natural. He came up with something that we hadn’t previously considered and then we sort of had it like that for a while, and then we changed it. We may change it back. We’re just not sure yet.
Was there much that had to be left out of the film from the book?
You can’t leave that much out of this book, which is why it’s two films rather than one. When we first got the book – oh my God, it was so huge –we started off with the ‘DNA’ of one book, one film. We wanted to be true to that ‘DNA’ and we also didn’t want to give anyone the opportunity to say, “Warner Bros can’t resist one last dash to the till.”
That absolutely wasn’t the case. They gave us the option of deciding how, creatively, we wanted to approach the final book. We tried really hard to fit it all into one film, but you just can’t. Steve Kloves at one point said, “We can possibly make three films,” but we didn’t. Things get compressed more than left out, because you can’t really leave anything out.
That’s already one pressure on the final film(s), and then every film brings with it the pressure to try to make a great film no matter what. But when you have a final film, where you’ve got seven movies leading to that final battle, how much pressure is there to deliver?
I think the biggest pressure is to make sure that we deliver the emotional story and don’t get tied up with giants and hordes of Death Eaters and other things – which we have to do. A balance has to be found, because you have to get a sense that it’s a battle-to-end-all-battles as far as our magical worlds are concerned.
The key thing is that we have spent eight films leading up to Harry and Voldemort’s final meeting, and the emotional element of that and their physical battle can’t be overshadowed by 10 million Death Eaters. We had to be careful. There’s a balance to be found there, but there is a tiny little pressure there [laughs].
How do the two parts differ?
I think that Film One is more of a road movie, because they get to leave behind everything they’ve ever known before. Harry leaves Privet Drive, then they go to the Burrows and are forced to leave there because it’s no longer safe. They go to Grimwald Place and the same thing happens, so everything they’ve ever known, other than Hogwarts (which they don’t get to until further down the journey) they’re forced to leave behind pretty much as soon as they get there.
So it’s a bit of a road movie and it’s a film about faith and the loss of faith, because Dumbledore has sent them on a mission that Harry is aware that he’s not fully equipped to carry through, but Ron and Hermione have faith in Dumbledore and they assume Harry must know [what to do] and Dumbledore must have told him what to do.
That faith in both of them is eroded, and culminates in Ron leaving the group so that the three become two for the first time. Faith is restored when he comes back and they carry on with their mission. Still they don’t know what they’re doing, but they have faith that they’ll work it out.
A large part of the second film is the final battle. Harry meets Voldemort for the final time, from which there can only be one victor.
So it’s a Road Movie and the Final Fight. It doesn’t split exactly like that, but I think that it’s generally the way you can describe them.
You’ve had the same director for the past four films – what were the risks of that and what has been the pay-off?
The risk always is that you could have four films that feel like they’ve come from the same place, but David Yates is very keen for that not to be the case. He wanted to make four different films; there’s no mileage for him to come back and remake the same film. The stories just lend themselves [to this]; they’re very different stories. This last book, split into a road story and the big fight, are very different in tone. I think the benefits for us is the shorthand that someone like David now has in understanding the world.
Part of our job, David Heyman and mine, with a new director is that whilst giving them free reign and full creative freedom, we actually keep them within the parameters of the world that exists.
They’re not fantasy films. Sometimes I think people come and think of a fantasy film with the visual effects and the magical world. Imagination can run riot, which is great because that’s where the great vision comes from, but at the same time it has to be within the premise of the world that exists, because they’re not one-off films, they are part of a singular story.
The advantage for us is that it’s a lot easier [working] with a director who’s done it before, because there’s a lot to learn. I came in on the second film and by then everybody else had done only one film, but nonetheless I felt like I was miles behind because they knew so much more than I did. Mike Newell said when he first started [on Goblet of Fire] that he didn’t dare look up from his desk for the first three months because the landscape was so enormous that it was a bit scary. He picked away at it until he’d built his mind-map of the world. You use that as the basis from which to build your own film.
David Yates had to do that for the fifth film, but by the time we got to the sixth, he had all of that inherent knowledge. As a result, [film] seven, Parts 1 and 2, was a joy because he knows much more than we do.
It’s been this unprecedented journey, seeing these kids go from 10 years old to 20 year olds.
It’s never happened before, and it probably never will again. Bond had 21 different films that are single, individual stories. But to tell a singular story in eight films…
If it happens again, there will probably be quite a long gap before someone else finds material that is as rich as Jo’s creation. It feels really great and I’m real proud of what we’ve done.