For David Heyman, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2” was bittersweet. It was a farewell, but he emphasizes that “working on ‘Potter’ was one of the great gifts of my professional life and personal life,” since it enabled him to work with top writers, actors, directors and technicians for a decade. Heyman spoke with Variety’s Christy Grosz from New York.
Grosz: Besides its tremendous box office, what impact do you think “Harry Potter” had on the business?
Heyman: The (U.K.-based) visual effects industry, which was not nascent but definitely small, has developed into (prominence). The houses can compete with anywhere in the world. We had over 2,000 people working on each of these films. People who began as assistants are now running departments.
CG: Do you attribute that success to being faithful to the books and keeping fans happy?
DH: (Author J.K. Rowling’s) books provide a loyal fanbase, but I also think we made films that stood on their own terms. You never see “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” with film covers. Jo was very keen to keep the books and the films separate. They’re very different. Clearly, the success of the books has made the films possible and fueled their success, but it’s amazing what percentage of filmgoers did not come to the films from the books.
CG: You famously optioned the first book in the galley stage in 1999, not knowing its franchise potential …
DH: I never viewed it as a franchise. It’s a series of films, one film at a time. That’s always been the way we have approached it. This label ‘franchise’ … that’s not where it began.
CG: The films clearly connected with audiences but haven’t received much attention on the awards circuit. Do you think that’s important when you already have financial success?
DH: The way we began the process was to try to make the very best films possible. That’s all that really mattered. Then, we tried to make films that Jo would be happy with and that the fans would be happy with. It seems like we succeeded with that. The fact that we are having a conversation around the awards is a bonus. We got 97% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, which I think is one of the highest (ratings for a) film this year. I do think the technical qualities are as good as any film out there. I think the performances of Ralph Fiennes and Alan Rickman are masterful. If you look at our cast, adult and child, it’s phenomenal. But ultimately, I’m just really excited that we made films that connected with an audience. Hopefully, it will connect with some Academy voters, and if it doesn’t, I’m still really proud of the films that we made — in particular the last film that David Yates made. I don’t think you can imagine how hard it is to complete a series on a high after 10 years and eight films, and David Yates and everybody managed to do that.
CG: Although “Harry Potter” has concluded, your production company, Heyday Films, is still going strong. What kind of business goals did you have in mind when you started it in 1997?
DH: I wanted to be a bridge between the two countries. I speak English, and I speak American. I understand both the British and the American international marketplace, having lived in both those territories. I also wanted to bring British material, of which I think there is a great amount, to the U.S. and also bring U.S. material the other way. There’s huge talent that lies in both places.
CG: It wasn’t simply from a financing or business perspective?
DH: No, it was a passion point of view. It’s the material. Also to get to work with BBC and Film4 and Studiocanal — look at how Studiocanal is blossoming. They did all this new funding; they want to make English-language films, European-led but international films, and that’s very exciting. For some of the other material, films that are nontentpole — and even some that might be, but certainly for those that are not — international financiers offer great opportunities. There are certainly things I wanted to get developed — at the start, anyway — at the BBC or at Film4 that one couldn’t get developed at say Warner Bros. or Sony or Disney. That allows certain projects that might not have a life to have a life.
Next up: David Cronenberg