ONE – On the set of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Source: ONE (France), Feb 2004. Translated by Winky.
Harry Potter: On the set of the new movie…
ONE will exclusively describe for you a visit to the set of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”. Beware, exclusive report…
About an hour’s drive from London, in the middle of the British countryside, is the most secure cinema studio in the world. Its name: Leavesden. It’s in this mythical studio that many of legendary movies have been made, like “Star Wars” episodes 1 & 2, the “Matrix” trilogy and the last “James Bond”. This is also here that the biggest part of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher/Sorcerer’s Stone” and “The Chamber of Secrets” have been made, and, since February 2003, one of the most awaited films of the year is being made: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”.
The first thing we can say is that the gate to the studio is very well protected. At the entry, we have to show a badge given by the production staff, and, most of all, we have to leave our camera and cell phone with the security agents. Nobody except the official photographers of the movie has the right to take pictures of the set or the actors. However, a lot of people have tried. Indeed, there’s not a day goes by at Leavesden without paparazzi trying to enter the studios to take exclusive pictures of “The Prisoner of Azkaban”. Some of them, as some people say, tried to infiltrate the studio by landing a helicopter on the roof! That’s why, on the set, there many guards watching the goings-on of the visitors.
The first set we are going to visit is the one that was, some time ago, Diagon Alley, the huge commercial street where Harry buys all his school stuff in “The Philosopher/Sorcerer’s Stone”. But the set has been totally remade and now, the film crew has built Hogsmeade, a street where wizards go shopping. The set is covered with fake snow (in fact, it’s polystyrene flakes and big salt grains!) and it is really realistic. Amazed, we’re walking in front of different shops with strange names like “Dervish and Bangs”, “The Three Broomsticks” and “Honeydukes”. This last shop is very famous to “Harry Potter” fans. Indeed, it’s a shop where you can find all candies imaginable, blood-flavoured lollipops, Bertie Botts every flavour beans or Peppermint Imps. What a program! We are curious to see if all these candies are in the shop so we open the door of Honeydukes, and there, a spectacle that every child dreams of is revealed before our eyes: the shop is full of candies of every colour and size! They are absolutely everywhere. A real paradise for every greedy person! After having tested a delicious chocolate frog, we inspected every detail of the room and we notice it looks really familiar: in fact, one of the technical team members working on the set told us, this was the set of Ollivander’s shop, the magic wand seller in “The Philosopher/Sorcerer’s Stone”. This room has been totally remade for “The Prisoner of Azkaban”…
After having visited Diagon Alley in its entirety, we arrive at a totally different set. It’s a big empty room, and at the end, a big green font has been raised. This is where the Quidditch scenes are about to be filmed! About ten minutes later, two young actors in Quidditch robes take sit on their brooms, in the air, hanging with cables, and Alfonso Cuaron, the director, sits down in front of his control monitor. In this scene, one of the Quidditch players (who is not part of the main characters) has his broom struck by lightning, and he crashes down on the floor. In more than an hour, many shots of this scene are filmed, then the team goes to another set where they will continue filming, and we hope we can finally see Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson…
Hogwarts Great Hall
We are going to another set, the one with the Hogwarts moving staircases, where on the walls are the portraits of old school headmasters. In fact, these teachers are part of the technical crew, who wanted to enter in the legend of the magical school! Not so far away is the set of Dumbledore’s office, and it’s now the Astronomy class. One of the staff members tells us that it’s in this class that Professor Lupin teaches to Harry the Patronus charm (which gives him the power to repel the horrible Dementors)…
After a long walk, we now arrive at the biggest set of the film: Hogwarts Great Hall. Inspired by the Oxford University Hall, it’s really spectacular. Its floor is covered with marble and its height makes you dizzy. For a few moments, we really feel as though we are at Hogwarts, ready to meet the venerable Dumbledore. Talking of Dumbledore, we pass his throne and we sit down on it… very confortable! But there’s no more time to play tourist. A scene is ready to be filmed here. While the chief operator and his assistants are lighting the set, three silhouettes, recognizable out of a thousand, appear. There, at a few distance in front of us, from behind, two boys and a girl are having a conversation with another person. The three of them are wearing Hogwarts uniforms. There’s no doubt, it’s the three movie stars, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. When their conversation is finished, the three young people turn around and go to the middle of the set. They are now in front of us. But when we look closely, there’s a problem. Something is not going well. Suddenly, everything is clear. It’s not Daniel, Rupert and Emma, but their stand-ins! They look really like them, it’s amazing. In fact, these young people have to take the place of the real actors before the filming of each scene. Their function is to a;;pw the chief operator to make the lighting changes.Indeed, they never call the real actors to do this tedious task. A few minutes later, the real actors arrive. Daniel enters first, followed by Emma and Rupert. This is their first scene of the day and they look impatient to do this scene where Harry receives his new broom, send by Sirius Black, the famous Prisoner of Azkaban. Alfonso Cuaron talks to the actors in private and give them some explanations, while a lot of extras are taking place. Even if he’s not talking loudly, we can ear the director saying to Daniel not to exaggerate his reaction of surprise when he will discover his new broom. Daniel understands this remark perfectly and the scene is quickly filmed. After 4 shots, the director is satisfied and goes to Daniel to shake his hand, laughing. Apparently, they look close, and the actor will confirm this later: “Alfonso is a very hearty guy. I’ve never met a director as energetic as him. The scenes we have already filmed are full of emotion and more intense than in the two previous films.”
One thing is sure, “The Prisoner of Azkaban” will be very different from the two previous “Harry Potter” films. Alfonso Cuaron wanted to take a few liberties with the J.K.Rowling book. For example, in many scenes, the Hogwarts students are not wearing their uniform but modern clothes, like jeans or pullovers with a hood. A little revolution in the “Harry Potter” universe! The other change is in the visual aspect of the film. Indeed, Alfonso Cuaron privileged general shots than close-up shots. They were very used in the previous “Harry Potter”. “His style is very surprising, Daniel tells us. Alfonso doesn’t like it when the camera is too close to the actors, he let us more freedom of movement.
We have a break so we visit the props department, a huge place where we find a lot of items and creatures, used for the three movies. There’s the giant spider and the mandrakes of “The Chamber of Secrets”, a giant suit of armour, some magic books and, the most surprising, a wax statue of Tom Felton, aka Malfoy, who, eyes closed, is apparently sleeping. In fact, this statue was used in a scene in the new film, in which Hagrid carries Malfoy, who has been petrified. But it’s impossible to know more…
The rest of the day’s filming takes place in the Great Hall, with some dinner scenes. It’s now 7:00 PM and everybody goes home. In fact, since most of the actors are children, British law doesn’t allow them to work late at night. The next day, all the team go to another studio where a frozen lake set has been built. It’s there that one of the most important scenes of the movie will be filmed…
“Expecto Patronum!”. Near the lake, artificially recreated in the Shepperton Studios, Daniel Radcliffe is casting a spell with his wand at an invisible creature, which will be added later by computer. Twenty shots of this scene have already been filmed, but Alfonso Cuaron is still not satisfied with Daniel’s performance. For him, Daniel’s delivery lacks conviction and determination. We have to say this scene is very important. Harry is with Hermione, after having gone back in the time, and he sees a Dementor (an evil creature who “sucks” its victims’ souls) on the lake and casts a spell, the Patronus, to destroy him. There again, the filming of this scene is very hard. At every shot, a little detail can mess up everything, like a vague camera movement or a projector to put back at its place. Finally, after 40 shots (a record), the director is satisfied: “Cut, that’s the good one!”, he shouts to the team. Everybody applauds and Daniel Radcliffe can now breathe a sigh of relief.
When we asked him if he’s not too tired after 40 takes, Daniel is really surprised: “No. Not on the moment. When you are concentrating, you don’t feel tired. It is only at the end of the day that you feel really tired.” But you really need a lot of energy to cope with the stress of a blockbuster film production like this one. “We are reaching the end of the filming, so we are all a little tired obviously”, Rupert says. “But really, I enjoy doing this more than going to school!”.
Not so far away, someone who is not unknown to us is having a conversation, smiling, with members of the team. It’s Gary Oldman (“The Fifth Element” and “Dracula”). The famous actor will be Sirius Black on the big screen, the Prisoner of Azkaban. His aim is apparently to kill Harry Potter. In the film, he bears a lot of tattoos that give him a scary look. “It was Alfonso’s idea to give me tattoos all over my body”, Gary Oldman tells us. Then, apparently in a good mood, he agrees to tell us a little more about his character performance: “Sirius Black represents a big danger for Harry. I tried to make this character as threatening as I could, I wanted the viewers to be absolutely terrified when they see him.” After seeing Gary Oldman’s performance, we have no doubt the viewers will be really scared when they meet this character. To be sure of this, go to your cinema on 2nd June…. (PS: In France and Switzerland, the movie will be released on this date)
Every year Daniel Radcliffe receives thousands of presents from his fans all around the world. But last Christmas, he asked his fans to change their habits. “I’m lucky to have such loyal fans, who send me fantastic presents”, Daniel said on his official internet site. But this year, I would hope that instead of sending me a gift, they make a donation to Demelza House, a hospital near London which cares about children with incurable illnesses. This hospital does a fantastic job, and I’m proud to give them my support.” It’s a wonderful example of generosity, worthy of Harry Potter!