The Groundbreakers: Scribe

Hollywood has been pretty good for bestselling author J.K. Rowling and her spectacles-wearing Harry. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the latest Rowling box office darling, brought the quintet’s worldwide gross to $3.9 billion. And there is no sign of franchise fatigue with the sixth film, “The Half-Blood Prince” arriving in 2009, and “The Deadly Hallows” split in two for release in 2010 and 2011.

It started 400 million copies ago for the young, unemployed novelist. Today, the “2008 Sunday Times Rich List,” names Rowling the 12th-richest woman in Britain with a personal treasure-trove of $1.1 billion. The Harry Potter global brand is worth more than $15 billion.

But Rowling’s astonishing track record as a writer is equaled by the string of successful adaptations. Magically translating and compressing Rowling’s 870 page “Order of the Phoenix,” the longest book in the series, to the bigscreen takes more than a wave of Harry’s wand. Rowling, as the 800-pound gorilla, could have gotten in the way … but she didn’t. Just ask “Order of the Phoenix” screenwriter, Michael Goldenberg.

“I was really encouraged to find the best way to make it work as a movie,” he says, “and often that entailed coming up with something that wasn’t in the book. I ended up writing a lot more original material that I expected to.”

He points to the relationship between Harry and Sirius Black, which leads to a crucial moment for the title character. “There was no real scene in the book where they really had a heart-to-heart talk,” says the screenwriter. “In an 870-page book, Rowling could do it incrementally with a brush stroke here and a line there, and it has a cumulative effect. But we don’t have that kind of canvas in film. Rowling has seen what makes a good movie; a translation process that tries to capture the spirit rather than the letter is more successful.”

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