‘Harry Potter’ countdown: A late-night call from David Yates reveals magical secrets

June 20, 2009 | 2:21 a.m.

David Yates on set of Half-Blood Prince


It was about 3:20 a.m. yesterday when my phone rang: It was David Yates, the soft-spoken British director whose second “Harry Potter” film, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” arrives in theaters across America on July 15. He sounded apologetic: “It’s quite early there isn’t it? Thanks for doing this, mate.”

Despite the hour, it was my pleasure to take the call — Yates is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet and, after visiting him outside London last year on the set of “Half-Blood Prince,” it was a treat to catch up, even if his schedule required the pre-dawn appointment. Right now, Yates is in the midst of filming the final boy-wizard adventure, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” which will be split into two films.

“We’re here in the forest, we’ve just finished the scene where Harry, Hermione and Ron are captured by the Snatchers after being chased through the woods. The Snatchers are brutal and scary but they aren’t the most intelligent of creatures.They’re trying to figure out exactly who it is they’ve caught.”

I told Yates about my new theory: That the single best decision made in show business over the last decade was the casting of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint in the lead roles of Harry, Hermione and Ron. I could almost hear him smile on the other side of the Atlantic.

“Absolutely, I think you’re correct. It was an extraordinary bit of judgment, bringing those three in. They have been so stable and level-headed and in working with them I continue to be impressed by how keen they are to challenge themselves and to try new things to bring out the characters that they portray. They have become these engaging ambassadors for the films and the story. They have been endlessly enthusiastic. They want to see how good they can be in these roles. They haven’t had their heads turned, either, by the fame and attention or any of it, which is wonderful for everyone to see.”

There’s never been a film franchise that has delivered this many movies on this scale and in this sort of time. The Hollywood history books will look back on this as the Hogwarts Decade. The first “Potter” film was released in November 2001, and the eighth will close out the saga in summer of 2011. Yates says there is a sense on the set that something very special is unfolding.

“I think with each film the audience is surprised by how much [the lead actors] have grown up,” he said. “I think it’s unique in the history of film, really, given the popularity of the series and the way these young actors have grown up in front of us. It will be interesting in the years to come to see how they themselves look back on this experience.”

David Yates and Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge

“Half-Blood Prince” was supposed to be in theaters last November, but that plan changed when Warner Bros. abruptly pushed the film back. The reason? Money. The studio execs reasoned that young fans would be more likely to see the film multiple times if it was released outside the school year. And because Warner Bros. was fresh from last summer’s massive success with “The Dark Knight,” putting some space between the two blockbusters made good business sense. Many “Potter” fans, of course, were terribly distressed by the postponement and, it turns out, so was Yates.

“It was not something I warmed to initially. At the time, I was so adrenalized, I was so caught up in the process of getting the film in on deadline and making the movie on a certain schedule, and then the decision to delay was a huge anticlimax. There was a huge sense of disappointment, I must say. We finished the film a year ago, so it’s very strange to go all this time without seeing it with an audience, which is what you make it for. But the studio made their case for the move and I came to understand and appreciate their reasons and they are very good at delivering these movies and understanding the process of making a film successful and I think it wise to defer to their judgment.”

I asked Yates about the downsides of the delay for him as a filmmaker and he chuckled. “You find yourself fiddling with it much more in post-production, naturally. There’s a good and bad to that. You could keep adjusting things for the rest of your life if you allowed yourself to do that. That can be unhealthy and at some point you have to say, ‘Here is the cut-off date.’ I know fans are eager to see it and it’s been interesting for us to come back to it now, even as we are busy filming the next installments.”

There are only seven “Potter” books on the J.K. Rowling shelf, of course, but the producers and Yates are breaking the final novel into a two-part film. They cite the jam-packed tale of the final book and the difficulty of whittling it down to a single film. Plenty of skeptics, of course, are saying money is the true reason for the tacked-on Warner Bros. release, but Yates was more interested in a different fiscal consideration. “I will get the benefit of two budgets, the running time of two films and all the resources that brings with it to tell this huge adventure; more time, more money, more special effects. There are always things that are lost when you adapt a book to a film. With two films, much less will be lost.”

I asked Yates if he had decided on the splitting point — the juncture at which the seventh film will stop.

 “Yes, I think we have,” he said. “Things can change when you edit, of course, but the idea now is that it will be not long after the sequence that we are filming here today. That’s what we’re experimenting with. We’ve had three or four different ideas about where to cut off the seventh film. Traditionally, the movies have ended with a death or a bereavement, some sort of passage or arrival. This time we think we will end with more a cliffhanger. Again, though, that’s the thought as of this moment.”

In the background, I could hear a voice calling Yates back to the set. The gentlemanly filmmaker apologized again. “I’m sorry I wish I could talk longer. It will be lovely to catch up when you’re back here next time. We’re very excited for everyone to see ‘Half-Blood Prince’ and talking about it only makes me more excited. Okay, get some sleep, mate. Cheers.”

— Geoff Boucher


Half Blood Prince poster

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“Half-Blood Prince” screenwriter tells of a “haunting moment”

On the “Half Blood” set: A chat with Jim Broadbent

After the magic: Hollywood prepares for life without “Potter”

“Harry Potter” meets Christopher Robin? It’s “The Unwritten” 

The Great Muggle Revolt of 2008 

Vive le Potter! J.K. Rowling honored in France

STILL WANT MORE?  All Harry Potter coverage at Hero Complex

Photos: David Yates on the set, at top, with Daniel Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright and, at bottom, Imelda Staunton. Both courtesy of Warner Bros.

UPDATED: There was incorrect caption information on the photograph. Doby sorry.


31 Responses to ‘Harry Potter’ countdown: A late-night call from David Yates reveals magical secrets

  1. paula says:

    I looking foward to watch hat scene with the snatchers and the when they a capture. I just can't wait any more to HBP
    By the way, the girl in the picture is not emma watson is Bonnie Wright, the actress that plays Ginny in the films

  2. Harrison G Potter says:

    Yates seems like a good guy and I hope HBP is better than OotP was, we'll see.
    Looks like the split in the movies will be as they are escaping from Malfoy manner. … . interesting. .

  3. Val says:

    Was David allowed to tell us that? The part about it splitting shortly after the snatcher scene?
    Because that means its going to be split up at Malfoy Manor!

  4. Jo Pereira says:

    Great article, I loved what Yates said about the trio and I'm really curious as to where they'd split the movie. That's Bonnie Wright in the first picture tho, not Emma Watson

  5. Jo Pereira says:

    Great article, I loved what Yates said about the trio and I’m really curious as to where they’d split the movie. That’s Bonnie Wright in the first picture tho, not Emma Watson

  6. holly says:

    actually what he says is that they JUST FINISHED the scene in the woods when the snatchers show up..and then where he talks about the cut, he says that he thinks it will be somewhere after what there shooting TODAY.
    just a thought. lol they could be shooting something else that happens within the woods…
    but honestly, i just wish i could walk right on up to david yates and say don't be scared to make both movies as long as you need, cause 99% of this book has GOT to be in the movie and plus its more of the little things that make the more substantial parts of the book that much better!!…like dudley deciding to be nice, potterwatch part, dean at the goblins down by the river, god i could just go on!! but i wont lol. and also i would tell him that he HAS TO seperate the two movies at this part…
    harry: well, its about that symbol you were wearing around your neck at bill and fleur's wedding, Mr. Lovegood. We wondered what it meant.
    Mr. Lovegood: are you referring to the sign on the deathly hallows?
    and boom. best cliffhanger EVER.

    • emma says:

      i just read what you wrote and i totally agree about how much needs to go in but they also need to leave it the way it is not change things or add bits like in hbp (fire at the weasleys house) cos if they take out too much and add bit it wont make any sence what so ever.
      as to where you would split the film in half that would make sence to be the cliff hanger but also would make the 2nd part not have enough room for the big fight at the end and every part of that fight needs to be in it. i just hope they have the house elves in it at the end like in the book because if they had the house elves in that would mean they bring back one of the best charrictors back (doby)

  7. clare says:

    god i was hoping they would break the first film where they get dropped off on the bank by the dragon after breaking into gringotts bank! where harry has another vision and he realieses they have to go back to hogwarts. after that the chapters become darker and i think it would of made a better second half to the book.
    i recon they finish the first half after escaping from malfoy manner, and they realise about having to break into gringotts

  8. Johnny Macktunes says:

    OMGosh dude I cannot wait. This is going to be the movie of the year!
    RT <a href="http://www.anon-tools.tk” target=”_blank”>www.anon-tools.tk

  9. Interesting, it makes sense now as Half Blood Prince was ramping up for release nearer towards October/November, and then suddenly dropped. Noticed increasing amounts of fliers being paraded around town mid august, and then they just disappeared.

  10. Tyrone says:

    This could be the highest earning film of the year.

  11. prophet says:

    ummm so there are no snatchers in harry potter and the half blood prince. Isnt that in book seven when they are doing the horcrux searching? Am I lost here?

  12. blanchybaby says:

    im still soo annoyed we had 2 w8 an extra year 2 c the film.
    still, it should b gd.- or AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Geoff Boucher says:

    Hey Prophet, yes you've got your wires crossed a bit. "Half-Blood Prince" is finished, it's in the can and ready for release. When i talked to Yates he was on the set of the NEXT two installments, which they're making right now.

  14. Prophet says:

    Oh alright thanks! Yeah cannot wait to see these! God the books are so amazing, sucks that movies can't cover it all and have to be changed, miss some of the best stuff but hopefully splitting into two will cover that

  15. Luna says:

    If the last scenes of death/arrival hold like the previous movies, I think the split will be the burial of Dobby, right after the escape from Malfoy Manor.

  16. Maddy says:

    I feel like a good place to cut it off would be after they escape from malfoy manor and dobby dies…it'll be a bit similar to the ending of the other books though…a bit sad…not so much a cliff hanger as david yates said it might be. well unless they leave out Dobby's death and end it RIGHT before they actually escape…hm
    but I agree, a GREAT place to have it, would be…
    mr. lovegood: Are you referring to the sign on the Deathly Hallows?
    Very suspenseful I must say…
    I don't think it would be wise to cut it off after their escape from Gringotts because then the 1st part would be WAY longer than the 2nd.

  17. Mary says:

    Hmmm… Let's look to the book, shall we? I think that since Yates had just finished with the Snatchers scene, it is being assumed that Malfoy Manor is where the split will be. However, if we look to the book, that's within the second half of the book. No what particular scene falls almost right in the middle of the book? Why the tale of the Deathly Hallows, of course!
    Imagine with me:
    The bemused face of Xenophilis Lovegood looks Harry in the eye and raises an eyebrow. "Are you referring to the sign of the Deathly Hallows?" he says. And… fade to black as "To be continued…" flashes across the screen. The next part now automatically has an awesome opening sequence in the form of the Tale of the Deathly Hallows.
    And really, if you think about it, even that part is technically in the second half of the book. It's the most logical place to split it because if it's split before that scene, the non-book readers (though really, who cares about them? -_^) will be watching a movie called "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" with no mention of the "Deathly Hallows" within the movie. The critics will have a field day with that. If they wait much longer, a movie that's bound to be long will cross into the territory of obscenely long.
    Also, ending with the escape from Malfoy Manor will be ending the movie with a death and giving it an ending similar to the other movies (which Yates says will not be the case). Part 1 will end with a cliffhanger, and as other commenters have pointed out, ending the movie with that line from Xenophilius would be the BEST CLIFFHANGER EVER.
    Ok, rant over. ^_^

  18. Lucia says:

    LOL Holly, your idea for the cliffhanger is brilliant. I am all for it! :)

  19. hope says:

    i'M hoping they split it after the infamous Malfoy Manor scene. I wonder though, Ron gets banged up a little during the trios capture and he pleads to be taken in Hermione's place. will they put that in as well?

  20. Stormy Lehto says:

    Why did the writer put "get" twice in the end of his paper? I highly doubt Yates said "Get get some sleep." Anyway, Love this! I think this means it will end near the Malfoy Manor scene! Just guessing! Not after Dobby's death though, that would be a cliffhanger, but Yates said it wouldn't end with another death like the other movies! Can't wait to find out! EEEK!

  21. like dudley deciding to be nice, potterwatch part, dean at the goblins down by the river, god i could just go on!! but i wont lol. and also i would tell him that he HAS TO seperate the two movies at this part…

  22. Jade says:

    CAN'T WAIT FOR DEATHLY HALLOWS, It is going to me in one of my top 5 favourite memories forever :D

  23. jackson says:

    ok how about this… the first movie leaves off with Harry saying "we need to break into a vault at Gringotts." then the second movie could start off with them breaking in; that would be an awesome first scene to the second move

  24. Ariana says:

    it should end with ron leaving the tent :)

  25. Connor says:

    I'm sorry, Mary, but if they include the words 'to be continued' in that manner, I will fall into the worst state of depression imaginable, resting on the brink of insanity, before I eventually kill myself, taking as many others as possible with me.

    Okay, I've exaggerated here, but you get my point: no, just no.

    However, the idea put forth by Holly is brilliant. It would be the perfect cliffhanger to end part 1.

    I do think that they will be able to create the proper feel for Dobby's death more greatly if they end part 1 at Shell Cottage, after the scene at Malfoy Manor, however. This will probably not happen though, as Yates stated.

    One thing that worries me is that, in another article, I read that the part 1 will include an escape on a dragon. This, of course, occurs when they escape from Gringott's, and just before thay arrive back at Hogwarts. Now, this means that unless they change the order of events, part 2 will be set almost completely in Hogwarts. That would mean that they will have to stretch a lot of it out, which may make the film worse than it could have been.

    Despite this, I still have trust in the whole cast and crew involved in the films. I'm sure whatever choice they make will be the right one.

  26. […] brief interview with Daniel Radcliffe… another with Tom Felton… a hint from David Yates at where the movie will break in the storyline of the […]

  27. AKB says:

    It would be a great ending if they finished it off in Harry's vision at Shell Cottage, after Dobby's burial, when he sees Voldemort enter Hogwarts. I think that is really the transition between the search and the battle. It would be a great way to end it and it would be a sort of cliffhanger with a sense of ending (escaping from Malfoy Manor).
    And I'm pretty sure they have announced that the final scene will be Voldemort taking the Elder wand from Dumbldores tomb. It makes sense :) CAN'T WAIT!!!!

  28. JoAnne says:

    “We’re here in the forest, we’ve just finished the scene where Harry, Hermione and Ron are captured by the Snatchers after being chased through the woods. Well once again they are changing things in the movie that is not happening in the book. Harry,Ron and Hermione are not being chased through the wood they are captured in the tent after Harry says Voldemorts name. this is the last book and last of the movies so why cant they be true to one book instead of doing it the way they want. even with these changes I can't wait to see the movie.

  29. HPFAN says:

    How about ending nineteen years later?

  30. juan says:

    I love ootp people are idiots it was a good story I'm glad the break up of harry and ginny never happen in the movies

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