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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Press Junket

October 22, 2002
New York City
Melissa Anelli

Note: approximately 150 journalists from from various media outlets were present at this press conference. Questions asked or comments made by TLC are so marked, and some questions (but not answers) have been edited for clarity. We've tried to stress where the interviewees stressed. Be forewarned that not all reporters are as informed as are our readers, so some of these questions are, er..., interesting.

Round table interivew with David Heyman

Have the Harry Potter books have become beloved in a way that, people like Kenneth Branagh want to join in, it's not hard to attract feature actors to parts in the film?

DH: We've been really lucky, the books from the very beginning have attracted people .We've got everyone we wanted on film one and everyone we wanted on film two. So I guess the answer to that is yes. The books are wonderful and kids of all ages, six to 106 seem to want to be a part of them.

What is the contract with the author - do you have the rights to all seven books?

DH: Yep.

The kids are contracted for how many?

DH:We take it one film at a time, they're doing the third and that's frankly as far as we're looking right now because you look one film at a time so we're in pre-production on the third film, which Alfonso Cuaron is directing. We will start sometime on early in the year. February, march, somewhere around there. There are new characters. There'll be new actors obviously for those characters. Other than that we hope to maintain or will maintain the same cast as best we can.

How do you plan to keep up with Daniel Radcliffe's growth?

DH: There are two aspects of that. Physically, he's growing at just the rate we like. Each book describes a different year in Harry's life. The third book is about the first blushes of being a teenager, and that's what Dan is going through right now. As an individual, too, he has grown. For those of you who met him last year, and have met him again this year, you see a boy who really has maintained his enthusiasm and curiosity and excitement about everything. He really is a wonderful boy but at the same time has matured. He's much more considerate, more thoughtful. He's always been thoughtful, but even more so. And he's doing incredibly well at school, he's just started a new school in London, which is great, it's amazing, you have to do incredibly well to get in and he's doing incredibly well at that school. And I think he's a very impressive young boy.

What are your thoughts about the fourth film?

DH: I have very few thoughts about the fourth film at the moment, because at the moment I'm trying to think of the release of the second and the preproduction on the third. At the moment I don't know if we're making a fourth. I hope we will, it looks like we will. What we've done, we're negotiating with a screenwriter to write the fourth, but that's it. We have to deal with the third first and I'm really excited about it, it's a fantastic book, great story. Let's get the second one at least.

Are you worried about Harry Potter versus Lord of the Rings?

DH: Against Lord of the Rings?

People are saying they're the two big holiday movies.

DH: I hope Lord of the Rings does incredibly well, I'm sure it will, I love the first film, I'm sure I'll love the second. I'm sure it'll do incredibly well, I think Harry Potter will do very well, I don't see it as a competition. The more people who go and see movies the better, because it allows movies to get made.

*TLC*: This movie took a significantly less amount of time to make than the first-

DH: Yes it did -

*TLC*: And a lot less than will the third.

DH: Yes.

*TLC*: Can you speak to the specific challenges that posed and how you met them?

DH: The first day of official production on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was on November the 19th, which was three days after Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was released. However, we had been shooting for five weeks of preproduction shooting, preshooting, before then. Shooting things like the flying car, and some of the night stuff, and with the spiders-

Are you getting a headstart on the next one, just like this one?

DH: No, because the third film is not coming out in November 2003, it'll come out some time in November 2004. We haven't yet determined.

The ending was scary. Is it more fore kids or more for grownups? [Asked by writer from Time for Kids]

DH: I think it was for kids of all ages. It was a little scary. But I you read a lot of children's fiction, a lot of children's fiction is pretty scary. If you look at Grimm's fairy tales or Alice in Wonderland and emotionally, even films like Dumbo - you know, Dumbo's mother gets cast away, or Bambi's mother gets killed, and I still remember that very, very strongly. I don't know how you felt about it but I think kids, to me, as I said before, it's a film for kids of all ages, and I think kids can handle a lot. And I don't think this is that much scarier than the last film. I don't know how you felt about it, but Voldemort's death was in the last film, not death, but his-

Meltdown?

DH: Sure. Harry's victory over Voldemort was not easygoing, and it was challenging, and we've maintained that and I think one of the things I really feel about these books is they don't talk down to kids. They're books that treat children, or treat the reader with respect.

There's a lot of violence against, mostly Harry. He really takes a beating in this one literally.

DH: But he wins.

That's true. Was there any concern, particularly with the Whomping Willow; the car and the kids really take a beating? They get beat up.

DH: I think it's really an exciting ride. When you see them immediately after the Whomping Willow, I think the key is really to see how they are afterwards. When you see Harry afterwards, before Snape, being confronted by Filch, he seems a little shaken up but he doesn't seem too much the worse for wear.

I've seen biblical stories that weren't as accurate to a book as well as this one is. How sacred are the books to making these films?

DH: The books are obviously immensely popular, and we do not want to disappoint the readers. Inevitably when you make a film that is anywhere from an hour and a half to two and a half hours as this one is, two hours and forty minutes, and you have to make decisions, certain cuts to be made. We struggled long and hard with what we can and cannot try. But for us it's really important to remain true to Jo, to the spirit what Jo has created, and I think it's important to the readers of the book. And the books have worked.

How much is Ms. Rowling involved in the film? Did she sell the rights, or are there stipulations?

DH: There are no stipulations other than my promise to her. I made a promise to Jo before I optioned it that I would do everything in my power to make sure they were faithful to the books. So I'm a man of my word, and that's important. Second, the very fact that the books have been so successful encourages fidelity and responsibility. And third, Jo is the most wonderful collaborator. She's not a person who says no, you can't do this. She's incredibly reasonable and very clear. And the thing that's most important, one of the things that's most important to us, is we don't want to jeopardize book seven.

[laughter]

Has the popularity of Harry Potter been a logistics problem for the film?

DH: No, it hasn't been a real problem. We have security guards, but I think you do that on most any film. We're protective of the kids most importantly during the filming process, don't want the cameramen taking photographs of people in costume or try not to show, as I'm sure you're aware, a lot of the things we've done, retain a little air of mystery. So it hasn't been too bad. Everybody's been really supportive.

Why is the next film coming out in a different year?

DH: The schedules are really, really challenging. There were several reasons. One, it was important, you know, you asked [pointing to TLC], and we actually haven't finished answering your question, I apologize, I'll come back to that.

This film had 900 or so digital effects shots. With children you can only shoot for another 16 - you only have them for nine and a half hours a day, which three hours are education, an hour for lunch, fifteen minute breaks every hour. So you end up with your lead actors for four to four and a half hours a day. That means that your schedule is necessarily long. Our schedule on the second film was around 150 days, roughly, which is a very long schedule. That means that your post-production period, can, unless you plan very carefully, get diminished.

What we did in this one, especially with the visual effects, speaking to [TLC's] question, is we, the visual effects are much improved in this film. How we did this was we scheduled a lot of visual effects sequences up front. The pixies, the flying car, Quidditch. Last time, on the first Harry Potter film, we did not finish filming Quidditch until June, so that gave us four months to really hone the visual effects, which is tough. So with this we finished considerably earlier. Sp that's one of the big challenges, scheduling and visual effects. Speaking to your question [re: later release date of third film], we just need more time. Also, we want Dan to start at a new school, and we want him to have the opportunity to spend some time at that school, and to spend the fall semester at the new school.

So he has a full fall semester enrolled?

DH: Correct.

This movie seems to suggest that the Malfoys and basically the Slytherins are Nazis. Was that something that was always in the book?

DH: I think if you read the book that's very much a part of it, about blood, race and prejudice.

*TLC*: When the movies are complete, what kind of process do you have - a test screening, focus groups?

DH: On each of the films we've only had one test screening, with the focus groups afterwards.

*TLC*: What kind of input do they give?

DH: They've been remarkable, incredibly supportive. Certain areas, you feel it more than you respond specific. Where it's running too long, where you need to speed it up, and that's it, primarily.

What kind of the movie did you like and didn't you like?

DH: Oh, that's tough. Are you talking a out the actual making of it in the film itself?

The film itself.

DH: I really, I loved the mandrakes. They made me laugh and I think they're really funny, and so I really respond to that. I like the spider sequence because it's scary and I think it's really well done. And I like it but I always get a little nervous when Harry's in real danger with the basilisk. I want Harry to be okay, and so there's that moment when I'm watching the basilisk when I go, 'Is he going to be okay?' I of course know he will, but once in a while I'm not sure.

How much more input did Jo Rowling have on this film as opposed to the last?

DH: I think she was much more involved in the setup in the initial stages than she was in the first and it was really very helpful. She was there when we needed her and as we begin the third, we've already had a meeting with her about the script with Alfonso and Steve Kloves who has written the third and will probably write the fourth.

As popular as the film was, there was still some critical dissent. Were there any specific things that you heard in reviews that you thought, 'Let's change that'?

DH: A couple of things spoke to me. One was I think the visual effects. I think our visual effects were not as strong as they needed to be.

Did you use a different company?

DH: We used, yes, we used a different companies and we had a different supervisor and we were, I had never made, you know, two films ago I had made a $60,000 film called The Daytrippers. I had never made a visual effect it was like, wow! So I had more experience, Chris Columbus had, thankfully, a lto more experience now, having made the first and understood the parameters within which we were working. So I think the visual effects is one, and things we understood things like Quidditch, the robes in the first one were tighter and heavier, so we put lighter material on them to give you a great sense of movement. Also with Quidditch, when you go through it it's more obvious, havingn the players play closer to a surface to give a greater sense of speed. So we put in a trench sequence. That was one. Two, humor. We felt in looking back from the second film, we felt that there was more humor. So we wanted to just have more humor.

Can you talk a little bit about Dobby? And also were you worried at al that impressionable kids may impersonate Dobby and go about banging their head?

DH:I'm not really worried about the latter. I think that I'm not really worried about that. I think that if you take that attitude you won't have Tom and Jerry, you won't have any of the Warner Brothers animated cartoons from the 1940s and 50s. Roadrunner, I think there are real problems with a lot of live action films, I think they limit a huge amount of what people are watching today. Two, in answer to the first part of your question, when you begin a film you discuss all possibilities. Can it be a real person, how much can be animatronic, all creature versus something you have practically or something you have digitally - those are creative and quite frankly budget discussions. We opted for what we felt was the best approach and that was digital because I think the physicality of Dobby could not be replicated in a physical way.

Any plans for the hiatus before the next Harry Potter?

DH: There's really no hiatus. I'm rushing back. I go to Chicago today and then I rush back to London because we've got discussions bout, we're already in active preproduction. So, no. I look forward to a week off for Christmas.

Your negotiations with Kenneth Branagh. It got out that he was considered for the next director.

DH: Yes, absolutely true.

There were negotiations?

DH: No negotiations. That may have been created by someone, it's fantastic the way that works. Kenneth Branagh was not, we were not in negotiations with Kenneth Branagh. Maybe the word 'discussions' became misinterpreted as negotiations. We discussed with several directors their approaches to the film and ultimately decided to go with, I think, the hugely talented Alfonso Cuarón.