Harry Potter studio visit
Way way back in time, August 2009 to be precise, I visited a studio where a major movie was being filmed along with Mrs A, Lolli and my nephew Big Al. I said at the time that we’d all signed confidentiality agreements, so could divulge very little. But since then the very kind person who arranged the visit said that it was okay to blog it provided that as-yet unseen details were not revealed, and one part of the movie series being filmed has since been released. We are of course talking about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, filmed at Leavesden Studios. As you’d expect, no cameras or phones were allowed in, so here’s an overview (and you’ll just have to let your imagination do the rest). The order in which we saw things will now be slightly jumbled (so much to see and remember in one day). Mrs A asked “why now, after all this time?”… quite simply I was waiting for part 1 to be released, and I’ve had this in draft for a couple of months.
After parking the car we were taken to the security office to sign the confidentiality agreements and to be checked for phones and cameras. We then jumped into a mini-bus which took us past the set for Privet Drive – this is incredibly detailed when you look at the front of the houses, but they’re mainly fascias with nothing behind. Next we drove past some sets which were being constructed in preparation for Deathly Hallows part 2, and thus shall not be discussed. We got out when we arrived at the Hogwarts gates (which appeared, I think, in The Order of the Phoenix), and again when we got to the Lovegoods’ house (which appears in the Deathly Hallows part 1). After that we visited an enormous set being constructed for the Deathly Hallows part 2 – an incredible sight, but I can’t say what.
Next up was a visit to where they were actually shooting that day inside the studio complex. We were incredibly lucky – that day they were due to be shooting at Privet Drive but the schedule was a couple of days behind, so we saw the scene where they arrive back at the Weasleys’ house after the flight from Privet Drive. So we saw Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, Bonny Wright, David Thewlis, Natalia Tena, Clémence Poésy and the Phelps twins. The set of the Weasley house interior was within a studio, and we saw director David Yates setting up the shot – it seemed to be a laborious process, and here’s a scoop… the movie employed ‘lighting doubles’. For every character there was a double (dressed identically) – they were sitting in an area near the set and were called in to be in place while the lighting was adjusted (presumably so the main cast members don’t have to endure the process).
We were instructed not to talk to the actors, but as I walked into the crowded studio area Daniel Radcliffe was coming in my direction – I said “hi Dan” and he grinned and replied “alright mate”. I was very tempted to say hello to Mark Williams as he stood near me eating an orange, but I thought it best not to (and I stood next to him again in the lunch queue later). Our host took us round the back of the set and we peered in through one of the house’s windows, getting a very close look at everything going on – most of the cast were elsewhere but Emma Watson was perched on the sofa.
When they were ready to shoot, a bell rang and announcement stated “all quiet on set” (or something like that) and you could have heard a fly fart 30 yards away.
After this we saw a number of other sets… Hogsmead Village (yes, inside the interior studio lot), the Great Hall (empty, but still very imposing), and then the set for the wedding reception scene in the Deathly Hallows part 1. In the finished movie it looks like it’s set in a tent in a field, but it was actually a tent in a studio surrounded by a very detailed painting. Inside the tent the detail of the set and props was extraordinary.
Here’s another insider scoop… everyone working on the movie (stars and director included) has their own bicycle to get around the studio.
I can’t remember the exact order of things. I think we may have gone to lunch next. Most of the stars were in the canteen, and it was Rupert Grint’s 21st birthday. Lolli and I walked around the restaurant where there were display cabinets containing props from each of the movies in turn.
After lunch we saw the art department, full of drawings and models, and then went to see the props department. There was an incredible amount to see here. Models of creatures and characters, animatronics, Hagrid’s motorbikes, brooms, shelves full of Death Eater masks, a box of wands (all labelled with the character names), and some items being worked on for the Deathly Hallows parts 1 and 2. I commented on the incredible detail of one item, and the guy working on it pointed out that on-screen it could measure 7 feet across, so it has to be detailed. All of the people who showed us around their departments and what they were doing were absolutely charming – you’d have thought they’d be fed up with gawping visitors, but nothing was further from the truth. There was an awful lot to see, room after room of stored props or people working on new ones.
We then went to the Grimmauld Place set (yep, there’s a semi-complete London street) and then back into the interior studio. Our host had radioed a request to open up Dumbledore’s office, and in we went. It’s just like in the movies, minus many of the props, but we walked up the steps behind his desk (and I took the opportunity to sit in the great man’s seat). After this we continued through the studio, seeing vast areas surrounded by huge green screens, and finally the Room of Requirement which was again incredibly detailed and had the most amazing array of props and things on shelves.
It was then time to make our way back to the car – as we walked back to the mini-bus some of the cast came past us on a golf-buggy-like vehicle and a couple were on bikes, including Rupert Grint.
Phew… that’s it as far as I can remember it. Quite a day, and once again thank you to the friend who arranged it.
…works for Microsoft as a Global Account Technology Strategist. In a former life he worked for the Lotus brand within IBM for many years. Married with one daughter and two dogs, lives in Camberley (Surrey, England), plays the guitar to a mediocre standard, and runs 10 kms and half marathons at an average speed. That’s it really.