The Harry Potter franchise is inextricably linked with the names of several celebrities. Author J.K. Rowling has become a household name known by most who have heard of Harry Potter, and actors such as Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint have been propelled to stardom by way of the movie franchise. Even the directors of the films (there have been four different directors through eight films) have gone on to make other big-budget films, undoubtedly in part thanks to the success of the Harry Potter films. A less known contributor to the phenomenon of Harry Potter is, however, film producer David Heyman.
Englishman David Heyman was the one who secured the film rights to Harry Potter in 1999 and produced it as the sophomore film of his production company Heyday Films. Looking back at the initial success of the books following the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997, Rowling has said that she “remember[s] how wary [she] was of letting anybody put Harry on the big screen, and [she] kept saying no”. David Heyman secured the film rights for his own company, but a distribution deal with Warner Bros. Pictures ensured a sufficient budget for shooting as well as advertisement.
Although Heyman has not had a share in the attention given to other Harry Potter celebrities, this is in no small part due to the backstage nature of a producer’s work. In addition to the acquisition of film rights, Heyman was decisive in casting the characters as well as the selection of directors. Indeed, he was a fixture on set even as the tone of the movies changed from Chris Columbus’ family-friendly first two entries into the series to the more somber tone of Prisoner of Azkaban, third in the series and directed by Alfonso Cuarón (of recent Gravity fame). Goblet of Fire introduced troubles of teenage life by way of Mike Newell’s lens, and David Yates directed the four rather apocalyptic entries chronicling Harry’s life after Voldemort’s return. All through these changes in direction, David Heyman served as a driving and uniting creative force.
Although die hard fans might insist that the books are the proper entry points into the transmedia world of Harry Potter, and that the films should only be considered complementary to the novels, there is a case to be made otherwise. I myself returned to the adventures of Harry just this year after an absence of nearly 15 years, and I did so not by picking up the books I had not read, but instead by watching all eight films. In terms of success relative to their medium, both book and film series rank as the best-selling series ever worldwide, the books clocking in at more than 450 million copies sold and the films at a worldwide box office total of 7.7 billion dollars.
In economic terms, the films have been very successful. But what is their merit besides keeping the coffers of Warner Bros. and Rowling well lined?
If we recall a couple of concepts touched upon by Wizarding Studies contributor Puff1, we might prove that the films add to the universe of Harry Potter rather than simply reproducing it in another medium. In Puff1’s post the point was made that the world of Harry Potter seems more suitable for drillability rather than spreadability. Although I could go on at length about why a Hufflepuffian would arrive at such a conclusion, I find it more productive to simply add that spreadability is certainly improved by way of film adaptions. Whereas most readings of books are not participatory or communal activities, films are often enjoyed in the company of others. In fact, any cinephile with a hard copy of their favorite film often plays the part of traveling salesman to whomever they encounter, insisting that others partake in watching or re-watching said film. I would be remiss if I did not confess to doing so myself in regards to my favorite Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
In addition to the concepts of spreadability and drillability, the term worldbuilding has been briefly mentioned in earlier posts, and it will be expanded upon in an upcoming one. My thoughts regarding worldbuilding in the films, however, should be comprehensible without explanation for even the most pedantic of Ravenclaws. While a novel might leave out significant parts of, say, the background in a given scene, no empty spaces can be tolerated in a film. Instead of leaving it up to the reader’s imagination whether there are 50 or 150 students present in the Great Hall of Hogwarts (or whether it even matters), in a film the number of extras or CGI-created bystanders has been deliberately and definitively chosen. The fact that every part of the world presented in moving pictures has been meticulously and intentionally chosen adds a layer of creativity not necessary for a writer of novels, but certainly conducive to establishing a canon perception of the details of the Harry Potter world.
To some it may be considered second-tier creativity to merely decorate Rowling’s story with details, in the same way you would not consider a child an artist simply because it could fill in a coloring book. While such reductionist thinking would be typical of a Gryffindor resident, always seeing the world in absolutes, it is apparent to anyone else with a shred of sense that much talent has gone into making the world of Harry Potter come to life. The talents of Daniel Radcliffe, Alan Rickman, John Williams, Chris Columbus, and of course David Heyman, among many others, were instrumental in establishing Harry Potter as the most successful transmedia franchise of all time.
J.K. Rowling acknowledged Heyman and others when the series received the Outstanding British Contributions to Cinema award at the 2011 BAFTA awards, saying “I really need to say publicly how right I was to trust [David Heyman], how much I owe him, how grateful I am to him, and to say that being involved in these films has been one of the best experiences of my life, and particularly being involved with these wonderful people standing behind me”. Indeed I, too, feel grateful that the Harry Potter movies were made, as it allowed me to recall my past literary excursions to Hogwarts in a matter of hours rather than days. Additionally it showed me a living, breathing world as real as any I had ever seen on a silver screen.
~ The Slytherin