Deathly Hallows Director David Yates

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Continuing ComingSoon.net’s series of interviews from the London junket of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, we now have director David Yates, who is surprisingly still alive after finishing his third “Harry Potter” movie in a row and even more surprising, he was coherent enough to do these roundtable interviews despite being at the premiere the night before.

ComingSoon.net spoke to Yates last year for “Half-Blood Prince”–you can read that interview here–and learned a little about how it was going on “Deathly Hallows,” which was clearly going to be a very different movie from the rest of the series. Thanks to some of the sharp fellow journalists at our roundtable, we had a brisk and breezy interview with Yates covering a lot of ground in answering the questions that will be on the minds of the fans after seeing the movie.

(A quick SPOILER WARNING in that Yates does talk about a certain scene that’s NOT in the book, a certain character’s death as well as the split point of the two movies which some may want to leave as a surprise. If not, then read on!)

ComingSoon.net: We were just hearing from the producers how J.K. Rowling gave the whole Black Family Tree, that sort of thing. Is there any insight she gave you into any of the characters that we may not know?
Yates: I’m sure the Davids [Heyman and Barron] have told you, but she revealed that Dumbledore was gay, during a reading for “Half-Blood Prince,” which was a shock to us all. I didn’t tell Michael Gambon because I just knew it would change his performance in a profound way. He would come up to me occasionally and say, “Is it true? Am I gay?” That was a big revelation we didn’t really know about. I think (Jo’s) characters are so clear in the book, so rich that everybody feels they know them already and we don’t really talk too much about that. We had a really good conversation last week about two scenes in Part 2 which I’m looking at now and she was incredible helpful. We talked about what she originally intended with these scenes when she wrote them in the book–I’m editing them at the moment–and she was great. She sort of just goes right to the heart of what the scene should be about. Generally, I don’t need to phone her up – she’s really at a graceful distance. She reads the script in the beginning and she turns up for the premiere. She’s been really helpful.

Q: One of the advantages you had as a director is that all the books were done when you came on to make your movies. While you were working on the fifth and sixth movies, did you already have ideas for what you might want to do in the seventh and eighth movies?
Yates: I was so focused, it was a bit like climbing a mountain. You look at each footfall as you go. The prep time on “Hallows 1 & 2” was really tight. “Order of the Phoenix” I had months and months to prepare it. I was sort of rigorous. I would go to the office everyday and we would storyboard, storyboard, storyboard. It was such careful preparation. By the time we got to “Hallows,” it was sort of like three or four months – finishing six and starting seven Part 1. It was really tight. Actually, that was liberating in a way because I knew the world, people knew how I thought, I worked with the actors quite a lot – so it had more of a spontaneity of sorts, on the fly. It was less tightly-controlled than the first movie and the second movie. We didn’t have the time to rigorously prepare how I like to prepare, but in a way, because I knew the world, I knew the guys, we had a slightly different dynamic in the way we worked, and that was interesting and quite helpful.

Q: You have a different DP this time around, too.
Yates: Yes, Eduardo Serra.

Q: Was it difficult working with this new look?
Yates: I really wanted it to feel a bit edgier and more modern. I wanted it to feel not at all fantasy. I said to Eduardo Serra at the beginning “just make it feel real.” I wanted this one to feel real. The second one comes back to Hogwarts at the end, and it’s a big fantasy film. It’s got dragons and giants and spiders and we go full circle – back to the roots of the series, but they’re away from Hogwarts, away from this magical place. I wanted it to feel like a harsh, edgy world. I quite like the look of it; it’s punchy, quite grainy, and it was a fun thing to do. Those little changes keep the series more interesting for me, because I couldn’t do the same look. I love what Bruno [Delbonnel] did in six, that very romantic, lyrical thing, but I needed to do something else, and Eduardo’s challenge was to light Part 1 differently than Part 2 – Part 1 needs to feel edgy and punchy, Part 2 is an opera. It’s big, lush, full of reds, so we had to switch heads every few days because we shot out of sequence.

Q: Can you talk a little about the tent scene?
Yates: We felt very early on… [writer] Steve Kloves said to me, “This might sound really weird, but I could see them dancing,” and the minute he said that, I said, “My God, you’re right, that would be great. Let’s make that work. Let’s try that.” And it’s a scene that seems to divide people – some people love it, some people absolutely hate it. I love it, that’s why it’s in the movie. I find it very tender, very funny, very moving. For me, it’s about them becoming grown-ups, growing up in a very painful way. I got a wonderful choreographer named Anthony Van Laast, and I know it doesn’t look very choreographed, but actually, it is. It was all about the awkwardness of the moment, letting go a little bit. I like the notion that they find comfort in each other when everything seems to be falling apart. It seems like a very natural thing to do. Trying to provide warmth for each other as friends. For me, it’s a very special moment in the film – but I know it drives some people nuts. (laughs)

Q: And the use of the Nick Cave song.
Yates: Yeah, I needed to find a piece of music that was melancholic. It had to fit the tone of that section of the movie, but also lift you up, in a weird way. It’s hard to find that tone in a song. I had a chap named Matt Biffa, who is a wonderful music guy, send me lots of tracks from everything. I listened to hundreds of these things and I was almost giving up hope, and I thought, “Oh, there’s nothing quite like what I can feel in my head.” And then I pressed play and Nick Cave started, and I was like, “This is it.” My biggest fear was playing it for Dan and Emma, ’cause I thought, “God, are they going to understand?” Because it was important to me that they understand the music as well, that they felt it. So I played it for them and it was my most nervous moment, and I played it for them and I was like, “Oh God, are they going to like it?” and they loved it.

Q: I loved the use of animation in the scene that explains the origins of the Deathly Hallows. What prompted you to use a different style of filmmaking and why did you feel it was a better fit for that portion of the film?
Yates: That all started with Stuart Craig, who’s the wonderful Production Designer. We were thinking of a live-action route, but I don’t think it would have worked. It would have felt a bit clunky, and then Stuart came up with these wonderful shadow puppet images from the Victorian era, which were absolutely glorious. Then we looked at some Chinese images… this whole notion of shadow puppets came in to mind. Then we found this wonderful guy named Ben Hibon who’s an animator and he supervised the whole sequence for us. I just wanted it to feel really elliptical. I wanted it to feel like we were going to a different place, basically, to transcend where we were. It’s actually really hard to step outside the movie for three minutes and stop the movie for a story (laughs), so it had to be really beautiful. And Ben is hugely gifted.

Q: Was the amount of exposition that has to be conveyed in this movie ever a burden?
Yates: It’s always a problem. It’s always our challenge. There’s so much exposition in these movies and in the books, and I swear, we cut so much out. I try and keep it in the moment. We feel like, by the time we got to the end of it, “Wow, we’ve taken all the exposition out!” But when you guys see it, there’s still quite a bit of exposition (laughs), but we take as much out as we can to keep it moving.

Q: The big speculation has always been where you were going to split the movies. Can you talk about how you came to your decision? (REALLY BIG SPOILER FOLLOWS!)
Yates: We had two endings originally. One was Dobby’s death, ending in a very melancholic way, on the beach, looking out to the dark, threatening sky. That wasn’t quite right because it felt too somber, in a way. Then we ended on a real cliffhanger with Harry on the gates, Bellatrix parts his hair, we see his scar and we know they’ll be stuck now, taken to Malfoy manor. And that felt… well… Then I had a scene in my head that I wanted to do right from the beginning. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if you saw Voldemort together with Dumbledore, and if he desecrated Dumbledore’s grave?” I had this scene in my head and I didn’t know where to put it. I thought I was going to begin the second movie with it, because I thought, “Opening the second movie with this would be really fun.” You go into the theater, you’re traveling over that lake… so I said, “Let’s shoot it, and we’ll put it at the beginning of the second movie,” but because those two endings didn’t work (laughs) I put it at the end of the first movie and showed it to the guys and we all felt the same – it’s a fun way to go out. It tees you up for Part 2, which has lots of fights and battles.

Q: At what point did you decide to make it into two movies? Did it feel like with two movies you had more room for exposition or you had more time you had to fill?
Yates: No, there’s plenty of material. I think part of it is that it’s mainly for the fans, for the people who’ve been faithful and loyal for the things we do. I got hammered on five and six for leaving things out, and this is going to be the last ever Harry Potter experience, so… we tried to be as generous as possible. Also, from a practical point of view, I went through and listed all the things I wanted in the movie and it would have been the most expensive movie ever. The studio couldn’t have made it, they would have been insane to greenlight it. Even at Harry Potter levels, it would have been impossible. It would have been four hours long and cost zillions. It would have cost what these two movies cost.

Q: Are you worried about the movies being too scary for children who are fans?
Yates: Well, you know, I liked being scared as a kid. I like being scared. I used to watch “Doctor Who” while hiding behind the settee, as you do, but I think parents have to be careful. It’s got a PG-13, it’s got the right rating on it. I have seen children come out of the theater, we’ve had several screenings. The boys particularly like it, they get really buzzed by it. Would I take my kids? I don’t have children, but if I did, if they were nine or ten or eleven… I don’t know. Exercise caution.

Q: We talked about how the film ended, but can you talk a little about your decision of how the film began?
Yates: I really wanted to break away form the elegant. I think you start to predict how the first two scenes are going to be in a Harry Potter movie. You go through the “WB” and then there will be elegant transition, and I said, “Oh God, let’s break that.” I thought – it immediately grabs your attention. I love the idea of the Horcrux in the sand, and if I could make it even louder I would. I love the idea of everyone sitting in the dark, being denied only images, feeling this horrible thing around them and then suddenly (snaps fingers) there’s this weird pair of eyes. It was an attempt to break the rhythm of how the last two movies started, and jolt the audience into a sense of, “Oh, this is different then how we’re used to starting.” The ambition behind that, to make it more surprising and visceral and odd. To be slightly uncomfortable.

Q: The opening montage is equally as jolting, especially watching Hermione cast the charm on her parents.
Yates: That was in the book, but only suggested. There was a whole scene I shot which we’re… I’m not sure if it’s on the DVD extras, but it’s a whole scene with Hermione and her parents before she does it. It’s really moving. I ended up montaging the whole opening because the opening was playing too melancholic. What we ended up doing was creating a montage from all these separate scenes, but it stuck with me, that scene. It was another way of taking the audience by surprise, this character Hermione… there’s always a lot of affection for her and now she’s pointing a wand at her parents. It’s really quite shocking. I like the notion of making the audience think, “Oh this doesn’t feel comfortable” or “Why is she doing that?” It was great to do that. Emma really enjoyed the emotion of that.

Q: Everyone’s been buzzing about the kiss between Harry and Hermione – how did you approach that?
Yates: We had a closed set, to make them feel comfortable. There were issues around the nudity – ratings were concerned. I didn’t want Dan and Emma to completely strip down because it’s uncomfortable, so we had them in jeans and stuff. The studio was nervous about it and the ratings guys came back and said, “We’re going to have to slap on a sensuality notice on the front of the film.” The studio requested that we try and put more smoke to cover them up, which I tried, but it just looked like they were in a sauna. (laughs) And there’s the whole moment of Rupert [Grint] watching them, so you cut to Rupert then you cut to them and you see these two heads and all this steam, so I phoned them up and said, “Guys, I have a version that keeps some sensuality and we have to do it.” So we stuck with a slightly more sensual version. There is another version that’s even naughtier, that even we thought was too much. It was very suggestive, so we took it out. (laughs)

Q: How did you come to the stylized look that they have in the scene?
Yates: We tried a couple different looks and that seemed the most interesting. David Heyman, he said, “Wouldn’t it be great if it looked like they were lit from within?” and, obviously, that’s a really difficult thing to achieve, but Peter Doyle, who is our grader, said, “That’s cool” and it became almost a Maplethorpe image, a really shiny texture. That was our initial starting point, and David’s notion of lighting form within. So we fiddled around with the grading and that’s where we ended up.

Q: We noticed there was a little joke about the “Twilight” franchise in the scene where she’s reading the story of the Deathly Hallows…
Yates: (laughs) That’s the first time I heard that. We spent so much time making these movies, I never get out, so I haven’t even seen “Twilight.” I’m sure it’s wonderful. (laughs)

As if you don’t know it already, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 opens on Friday, November 19. Also, check out interviews with Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson.