On the front page of Sunday’s Los Angeles Times you can read a Hollywood history of the “Harry Potter” property that I wrote with Claudia Eller, the business reporter who knows everybody who is anybody in the film industry. One of the many pearls that Eller brought to the collaboration was a fascinating insight into the early days of the brand — back when Steven Spielberg was still very much in the mix to guide “Potter” to the screen. Here’s an excerpt from that section:
Warner Bros. secured the rights for four “Harry Potter” novels for about $2 million. At that point, only the first book was on shelves in England and none had reached America. Warner Bros. tried to get a financial partner on the project, reaching out to studios including Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks, which passed.
Once the books became a sensation, greenlighting the first “Potter” film became a major priority at Warner Bros., where Alan Horn had recently taken over as president and Barry Meyer as chairman (replacing longtime studio chiefs Terry Semel and Bob Daly). DreamWorks circled back and proposed a partnership, but Horn wisely declined. There was one aspect of the DreamWorks talks that did intrigue him, however.
“I did think it would be worthwhile for Steven Spielberg to direct,” Horn said. “We offered it to him. But one of the notions of Dreamworks’ and Steven’s was, ‘Let’s combine a couple of the books, let’s make it animated,’ and that was because of the [visual effects and] Pixar had demonstrated that animated movies could be extremely successful. Because of the wizardry involved, they were very effects-laden. So I don’t blame them. But I did not want to combine the movies, and I wanted it to be live action.”
Spielberg instead took on Warner’s 2001 sci-fi film “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence,” and the Hogwarts post fell to Chris Columbus, director of “Home Alone” and “Mrs. Doubtfire,” who was then tapped for the job …
The rest of the article has interviews with Daniel Radcliffe, screenwriter Steve Kloves, Columbus and many others. Check it out if you get a chance.
– Geoff Boucher
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