The Oscar Warrior on the Harry Potter Awards Push

Back in July, the first time I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, I thought it was an absolutely masterpiece and I even gave it a 9.5 out of 10 review (which you can read here). Thankfully, I wasn’t alone in my love for the movie as it ended up with 96% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

At the time, I mused a bit about the chances the movie had in terms of getting nominated for Oscars, particularly Best Picture, and as the year went on, it seemed likely the jinx suffered by successful fantasy and science-fiction blockbusters might continue to plague J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard. Granted, Peter Jackson’s three “Lord of the Rings” movies got Oscar nominations as did the South African alien invasion movie District 9, but there’s something about “Harry Potter” that is very new and appeals to younger people, not necessarily the Academy’s older guard, a fact that made many (including ourselves) dubious of its chances.

In the time since then, Warner Bros. may have realized they stand a better chance with “Potter” than they do with Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar and even Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, though one imagines they still have high hopes for Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which hasn’t been screened very much. In the past few weeks, Warner Bros. have been kicking their campaign into high gear by including a thick fancy booklet inserted in issues of the Hollywood Reporter filled with color pictures and quotes from prominent film critics as well as listing some of the accomplishments that should be recognized.

Just last week, I was invited to a very special luncheon at New York’s prestigious Club 21 by Warner Bros. and Peggy Siegal where Daniel Radcliffe, Alan Rickman, director David Yates and producer David Heyman were in attendance to help remind Academy members of the quality filmmaking in play and get them excited about the movie’s awards prospects. We had a chance to sit down and talk with Radcliffe as well as the two Davids about the final movie in the series and why they feel it’s time the Academy paid their cast and crew some due.

Mind you, back in July, when we asked director David Yates about whether the Academy might finally recognize the film, he said, “We’ve made peace with that whole thing ages ago. It’s sort of not something that we necessarily chase. It would be a marvelous thing if after ten years, David Heyman was recognized. If it comes and would we get involved with campaigning? If the studio or if David said to me, “Come on, let’s really go for it.” But it feels to me that we’ve made the films that are out there and are universally generally popular. I think that’s a beautiful thing and I’m sort of satisfied with that.”

Four months later, there’s little denying that Warner Brothers are ready to put their support behind one of their biggest moneymaking franchises, and Yates is fare more optimistic.

“The film was so brilliantly received–we were probably one of the best reviewed movies of the year by a long way–and for a big, popular commercial film to get that great a response is really encouraging and heartening and I think it gives us all a bit of confidence for the Oscar campaign,” he told us.

“Warner Brothers believes in it,” his producer agreed. “I think this is the accumulation of eight films. I’m really proud of the film, and actually, it was well-reviewed, I think it was 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.”

“I think it’s a great film,” Radcliffe told to us in a brief interview. “It’s stirring, it’s epic, it pulls a lot of loose ends together, which is not an easy thing to do when a story still had to go at such a pace, but it’s the advantage of splitting it. It meant we took all that time in film 1 setting up film 2, so when we got into film 2, it could just be that non-stop ride. I haven’t watched it since the premieres but I’ve never liked a ‘Harry Potter’ film as much as I liked this one. Part 2 is the one I’m proudest of.”

Yates continued to tell us why he thinks the last film was special. “It’s the last film in the series and we all put so much into it and Stuart Craig and the visual FX, Tim Burke did all the visual FX, and I think Dan, it’s probably the best performance in the whole run of the eight films, and Emma and Rupert did really well. I think David Heyman’s achievement, 8 films across 11 years is an extraordinary journey, and to manage it all so brilliantly.”

Heyman feels mutually about his director. “I think David really pushed the envelope. One of the things I’m very proud of is that we were always pushing to make each film better than the last, and I think that David with four films never tired of that, and Stuart Craig (production designer) and Jany Temine (costume) and Tim Burke, all of whom worked on many films—Stuart on 9, Jany on 3, the make-up people on 8, Nick Dudman (special make-up FX) on 8, Alexandre on 2. It’s a real family, but nobody ever settled. I think Alexandre’s score on Part 2 is a much stronger score than Part 1, because I think he felt safe and he pushed and he let go, and I think he was sort of nervous. I look at David Yates’ first film, the fifth, which I think is a fantastic film, but it’s quite tight.”

We spoke with Heyman about the emotional closure the last film offers and that you really feel that everyone involved was saying “Goodbye” to something they’ve spent ten years developing. “If you look at the DVD extras, you can really get a sense of some of those goodbyes. It was an emotional time, and I think everybody really wanted to go out on the right note. Everybody pushed the envelope just that little bit more. And the book is an end, and we didn’t want to have ‘endingitis’ but the book has an end, so it was a bit of closure for all of us.”

Yates didn’t think that anyone felt too much remorse when destroying Hogwarts or some of the sets that they’d been using for the last seven films. “Actually, we were all having quite a lot of fun doing that, bizarrely. Having created it all with such detail, there was a bit of a childish enjoyment about pulling it all apart, but you’re right, there was an investment – Dan, Rupert, Emma knew it was the last time. I knew it was my last chance to make one of these films, so there was an odd investment from everybody, and we just knew how important the films were to people outside of the world we were in. it’s a rare experience to be making something and for it to be so anticipated, and it was a process for saying ‘Goodbye.’ That definitely imbues the way you approach your job. Every day when you go to work, you know that it’s the last film, it’s the last scene, it’s the last chance you get to direct Alan Rickman or Daniel in those roles.”

We told Radcliffe how much we loved the scene between him and Michael Gambon’s Professor Dumbledore in what seems like the after-life. “I love that scene,” he concurred. “I find it very witty and very funny and I think if we could distill all of Jo Rowling’s life philosophy into one scene, I think that’s it. She may as well be playing Dumbledore in that scene. I think we made a really great film, and I have to hand it to David Yates. Halfway through filming, I was like ‘How are we going to do this?’ cause it does seem like when you’re nine months in with nine months to go, you just go ‘How is this going to get done?’ To somehow manage to get all that across that time, to know all that time what he wanted to do in the film. It’s really impressive to be honest with you.”

When asked about comparisons people might make between Deathly Hallows Part II and Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which won Best Picture the year it was nominated despite its heavily-criticized multiple epilogues, Heyman was very diplomatic. “Peter Jackson is a brilliant director and he chose to end his a certain way. I think we were very conscious of not having ‘endingitis’ and also Jo’s books are such a gift. The other person to really shout out is Steven Kloves, the screenwriter, who did such a great adaptation, because even though this is two movies, there was still a matter of culling it and shaping it and he worked with David Yates and all of us really closely.”

“I’m going to leave it for a little while,” Yates said when asked if he’s gone back to watch any of his previous “Potter” movies. “I need about two or three or four years to just push it away.”

And where does everyone go from there? When suggested that as a producer, Heymay may be able to keep his cast and crew working on future projects, he replied, “I think that’s too much of a responsibility. I think they’ll all find their own way,” he laughed. “They’re brilliant people so they’ll work, and look at what Dan’s doing, look at what Alan’s doing. Ralph is now directing. Stuart Craig is working on the theme park. It was an apprenticeship in a way. A lot of young people blossomed into more experienced senior people. Assistant art directors are now art directors, assistants in my office are now head of post-production or doing publicity. The visual FX industry in England which was very modest is now as good as anywhere in the world. I think all of those people aren’t going to be struggling. They’re going to find work because they’re all really, really good.”

Radcliffe also mentioned to us how he watched different crew members flourish during the ten years of production: “Amanda Knight, head of make-up, started on the first and did all of them. She hired a trainee on the first film called Sharon, who was a trainee for the first couple of films and then by the end of the film, she was third, so it was an amazing time. To do anything for ten years is hard enough, but we did have a great time. Now that it’s finished, people are looking for holes. When we said at every press conference that we loved making these films, it was honest. We do. I can only speak for myself honestly, but I just had a blast.”

“They’ve all grown and seeing how David Yates, too, continuing to flex muscles, and I’m really excited to see what he does next,” Heyman told us, but Yates still hasn’t figured that out. “I’ve got a couple smaller movies I’m very passionate about, but I haven’t decided which one yet. I have to really decide in the next week or two, and they’re both based in America. They’ve been waiting for months and months for a commitment so I really need to plunk to one or another. They’re going to be quite small movies. And then we’ll go bigger in a couple years. I’m reading lots of stuff, but you have to fall in love with something, that’s the problem. This is a really difficult act to follow. Potter was such a rich world to play with so every week I read scripts and I’m looking for things that have that degree of range – emotional, spectacle, metaphorical.”

Incidentally, Yates told us he really likes the “Fables” comic books published by Vertigo and since that’s one of the potential projects on his plate, we hope that’s something he’ll commit to directing, because anyone who has read them knows he’d do a great job.

“I will be taking three weeks off in late February, which I’m very excited about,” Radcliffe told us. “I think we worked out that it’s the longest I’ve had completely off, not training, because in the time I had off between Potter and ‘Woman in Black’ I was training for the show, so I think it’s probably the longest I’ve had off in about three years. As an actor, you have to go, ‘God I’m lucky’ when you have a moment like that when you go from one job straight onto another.”

“There’s a few things possibly happening that are all independent films and all as likely and unlikely to go as they ever will be. Nothing confirmed unfortunately,” he concluded as he was whisked away to do more gladhanding.

So what do we think about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2‘s Oscar chances? Well, it’s certainly in an interesting position because it was so well reviewed, but also because it’s the last in a series of eight well-received blockbusters, making it the last time this crew can be honored by their peers for their achievements on eight high-quality films.

The one thing we think the movie has the best chance of winning is the Visual FX category, because there really is no competition for the work Tim Burke and his team did n the final chapter. Stuart Craig’s production design has been nominated three times before, including for Part 1, and though he already has three Oscars on his mantle, this would be a good time for him to earn a fourth. (The biggest competition is Dante Ferrati’s work on Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, which will be talking more about down the road.)

Both make-up and costume design also have a good chance of being nominated, especially since costume designer Jany Temime has spent the last ten years setting for Saturn Award nominations and never been nominated for an Oscar. And then of course, they have Alexandre Desplat doing their score, and he’ll be shooting for his fifth Oscar nomination, though his biggest competition may be Howard Shore’s score for Hugo and the four or five other movies he’s scored this year. This may also be the year where the “Harry Potter” sound crew gets nominated, at least in the Sound Editing category but more likely in both, and we think it could win one of those.

As much as we love the cast that David Heyman has assembled for the movies, we don’t think any of the actors will get nominated unless the Screen Actors Guild feels generous enough to honor the ensemble with a nomination, but one would think there needs to be over 300 “Harry Potter” fans in the Academy for them to really give it a chance for a Best Picture nomination and being older, they may not have either read the books or have kids young enough to have done so. In that sense, we’re thinking a Best Picture nomination is a longshot, and David Heyman’s chances of being honored for his achievement will fall to the Producers Guild, although even they have stopped giving their annual award to the highest-grossing movie that’s nominated in recent years.

Look for more in-depth Oscar coverage over the next few weeks, as we look at some of the other movies vying for the every-elusive nominations, and then expect our first official predictions sometime in mid to late December.

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