The Department of Mysteries: Harry Potter and the Re-Ordering of ‘Phoenix’
by Bob Sindeldecker
This past week has been hectic, what with the election, being honored with my own column and the barrage of e-mail that came of it (hem! hem!). I know I promised many of you an article on Percy Weasley, but that is coming along more slowly than I expected. To fill the gap, I thought I would discuss the changes likely to be made in bringing Order Of The Phoenix to the silver screen.
Luckily, I have a bit of experience in this. I produced a local weekly news program in high school, and I worked at WOUB-TV in Athens, Ohio for 4 years in college (Ohio U.) while studying film, TV and radio production. Much of my training and work experience involved screenwriting and editing, so I know how to order a visual story.
One of the cardinal rules of visual storytelling is this: ‘Don’t Fall In Love With Your Footage.’ This means that even though you shot something and it looks great, you must be willing to excise it if that makes the story better. When translating a book to film, this means that certain parts must be eliminated if they do not move the story along. As Charlie Chan would put it, “chop! chop!”
Film has its own language, and the language of film is largely set by its limitations. The biggest of these is the rigidity of time. Unlike a book, a film runs relentlessly forward at the same speed, 24 (or 30) frames per second, and never stops until it is through. You can take forever to read a book; you can set it down and come back to it. Films – at least in the theater – are one-shot deals: you pay, you watch, you leave. It has to move relentlessly forward, it has to finish in 1.5-3 hours, and it has to not bore you or overload you with details. No wonder most writers prefer the printed page.
Looking over Order Of The Phoenix with the critical eye of a screenwriter, I have picked out certain parts that are necessary and others that are not. Since screenwriting is mostly a matter of formula – that is, the same rules apply in nearly all cases – I can be sure that whoever writes the script will look at it the same way I do, and will probably make the same cuts I would make.
The following sections are all scenes or sequences, not necessarily equivalent to the chapters in the book. They are marked KEEP, CUT or DVD. The KEEP scenes must be in the theatrical film; the CUT scenes are not worth filming; and the DVD scenes are optional: if shot, they should be included in the DVD only.
Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
This must be kept, of course. It will probably be shortened by having Harry run into Dudley right after he leaves the house; we may never see the playground.
The Advance Guard – KEEP
This is necessary to get Harry to London, and also because Harry will be Disillusionedand they will all fly. Filmically, this is too cool to pass up.
Grimmauld Place – KEEP
Well, duh. These scenes set up the rest of the film. Everything that happens in the house should be shot – why not, they’ve got the sets – but not all should be in the theatrical film. We can do an abbreviated ‘Summer Sequence’ for theatres and let it be fleshed out more on the DVD. That’s what DVD is for, it seems.
The Hearing – CUT
This isn’t really necessary. It introduces Umbridge, but she is really introduced at the Welcoming Feast. Still, courtroom sets were already built for GoF, so they might leave it in.
Train Station/On The Train – KEEP
We need the Train Sequence to meet Luna, but the Station Sequence is needed too, to show Sirius as a dog. That’s CGI, and the little kids love it, so it stays in for filmic reasons – it looks cool.
Harry Sees Thestrals – KEEP
This not only introduces the Thestrals, it makes Harry seem crazy – like Luna. What is going on here? Remember, not everyone has read the books. This scene will freak non-readers out if done right.
The Welcoming Feast – KEEP
We need this to introduce Dolores Umbridge. Besides, it is part of the ‘Formula’ now, so people will expect it. We can shorten it, however.
The Sorting Hat’s New Song – DVD
Not necessary, slows down the film in the theater … yet cheap and easy to film and little kids love it, so let’s shoot it and use it as a DVD extra, maybe on an alternate story track.
Professor Umbridge – KEEP
This is where we find out what she’s really there for, and it is a dramatic confrontation for Harry, so this must stay.
Detentiuon With Dolores – KEEP
At first I thought CUT as it is not necessary story-wise, but it is necessary for filmic reasons. The scene is creepy: among all those happy kittens on the wall, Harry is forced to write in his own blood! Like the Thestral scene, this ratchets up the goosebump factor. Gotta keep it in.
First Potions Class – KEEP
We always need at least one Potions class, and this is where Snape mentions OWLs. Unless they are going to delete the OWL subplot altogether, this must stay.
Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes – KEEP
We need at least a few scenes with Fred and George feeding their diabolical candies to the Firsties. This sets up Fred and George as businessmen and leads up to their leaving school. It is also gross, and that’s a cinematic plus here. This film will be creepy, gross and funny at the same time.
Grubbly-Plank – CUT
It looks like Hagrid’s Tale has to be cut, and therfore he cannot have been gone, or we’d need an explanation. Of course *WE* know he was gone, but non-readers don’t, and they don’t care. No Hagrid missing, so no Grubbly-Plank. Of course, they might shoot the Hagrid sub-plot and add it to the DVD, but that would be expensive (see below).
Herbology – DVD
Slows down the story, but significant for Luna and Ernie MacMillan declaring their confidence in Harry. Since the greenhouse sets already exist and the actors have been hired, let’s film it, but save it for the DVD.
Quidditch – ???
I am torn. We need to keep Quidditch, but we also need to get rid of it. If it is kept, the entire “Weasley Is Our King” sub-plot must be included. Ron’s triumph is significant, as is Luna’s support. There cannot be just a little Quidditch, although the practices and Angelina’s rants are easy to cut. Let’s film it, especially since much of the CGI can be adapted from the previous films, and maybe just include it in the 37-hour ‘Nerd’s Ultimate Overpriced Edition DVD.’
Harry and Cho in the Owlery – KEEP
It adds romance, it adds intrigue, it lets us see Hedwig and lots of other owls, and the sets are already built. Plus it doesn’t take long. Perfect.
Trespass At The Ministry – KEEP
Adds intrigue, and also very short. And so cheap to shoot: just Hermione reading a newspaper and them talking about it – no new sets or effects at all.
Percy’s Letter – KEEP
Not the entire reading of the letter, but Ron’s reaction, and maybe a little reading. This coming right after Trespass At The Ministry is perfect: it sets up the Ministry Of Magic as a place we need to worry about. Yes, non-readers may not know this. They may not pay attention to where Umbridge came from, so these short bits are good to keep.
Sirius In The Fire – KEEP
This comes right after Percy’s letter, it is necessary for exposition, and a head in a fireplace looks cool – so it stays. It also sets up Harry’s later use of the fireplace in Umbridge’s office.
Hogwarts High Inquisitor – KEEP
LOTS of things happen in this chapter. Umbridge gets more power, the Twins discuss OWLs and NEWTs, and Trelawney is menaced by Umbridge. The Trelawney sub-plot must stay in, so most of this chapter must remain also.
More DADA Classes, More Detentions – CUT
Not necessary after the first ones. Nothing new here.
All of Umbridge’s inspections must be kept, and this one is especially good because it is Minerva McGonagall against that fat toad, and guess who wins?
Hermione Suggests DA – KEEP
This is important, and I might suggest one change: let’s have Hermione suggest it alone with Harry, without Ron. Even you Ron/Hermione (wor)shippers must admit there is a Harry/Hermione subplot. Me, I would re-write this so she suggests it privately, then Ron finds them alone together and gets the wrong idea. Comedy and conflict, two great tastes that taste great together.
The Hog’s Head – KEEP
It’s dark, it’s creepy, could be a little gross, and it’s critical to the plot. The set would not be expensive to build as it could just be a re-decorated Leaky Cauldron, and the same “crowd” of actors could inhabit both places. As long as it doesn’t cost much, what the hell. Are you getting an idea of how producers think?
Umbridge Bans All Student Groups – KEEP
This is needed to show how oppressive she is. Also, after this they decide to do DA anyway, and Dobby shows Harry the Room Of Requirement.
Sirius In The Fire Again – KEEP
Needed to move things right along.
Harry’s Voldemort Dreams – KEEP
Duh. Creepy, eerie, looks cool, essential to the plot and makes non-readers think he’s insane. What’s not to like?
Fred, George And Harry Banned from Quidditch – ???
Again, I don’t know. Is it really necessary? Harry is already having a bad year. We could let Quidditch be banned entirely, then we wouldn’t have to shoot it. But then, “Weasley Is Our King” would have to be dropped.
Alfonso Cuaron shot just one Quidditch sequence in PoA, yet Quidditch was a major part of the book. His edits worked. But should they do it again? Since I haven’t actually written a script for this I don’t know how many pages it adds. I would like to keep it, but remember: ‘Don’t Fall In Love With Your Footage (or Your Sub-Plots).’
Hagrid’s Tale – CUT
This is the biggie. It needs to be cut because it is a major departure for the story, and shooting it would be expensive. I’m talking CGI giants here. At the same time we need Grawp, and so we need Hagrid to at least mention what he did in the summer, especially finding out about his mother. This sets up Grawp’s introduction. So…
Hagrid’s Tea Party – ADD
This is just Hagrid hosting the Trio in his house and telling them what he did over the summer. Let him get nervous when Hermione almost figures out about Grawp. Robbie Coltrane is really good at this, so I have the utmost confidence it would work.
Hagrid’s Thestral Lesson – KEEP
Here is where we learn what Thestrals are, learn that Harry is not hallucinating, and learn a bit more about some other students. Also it’s the obligatory ‘Malfoy, You Snivelling Little Coward’ scene, which often comes during Hagrid’s lessons.
Harry Kisses Cho – KEEP
Yes, but let’s do it as a flashback, shall we? Let’s have Harry come into the Common Room all stunned, Ron and Hermione ask “What’s Wrong!” then we find out he just got kissed, and we flash back to it. This makes it possible to eliminate that DA session, which moves the story right along. That DA session could be shot, though, and included in the DVD. This is also neat, since readers know what just happened and non-readers don’t. (hehehe)
The Snake Attacks Arthur Weasley – KEEP
Of course. And the departing scene in Dumbledore’s office, too.
St. Mungo’s – KEEP
Not only do we need to visit Arthur, but it will be creepy and look cool, so it’s a definite keeper. It will surely be necessary to shorten this part, maybe by deleting the scenes with Lockhart and Neville’s parents. At least Lockhart. I dunno, seeing Neville’s parents could be a powerful, emotional scene, but does it slow things down too much? Since the sets are built, maybe this should be shot anyway and just put in the DVD.
Christmas At Grimmauld Place – KEEP
Ahh, joyeux noel in a creepy old haunted mansion! Fits right in there with The Nightmare Before Christmas, doesn’t it? Better shorten this, though keep Harry’s doubts and Sirius’ sadness when they leave. This is a dark Christmas for a dark story, you know.
Occlumency – DVD
The whole Occlumency sub-plot is unnecessaary, as is Harry’s discovery that his dad was a jerk at his age. Yes, it’s important to US, but not to non-readers. We have the actors and the sets, so let’s shoot it, but put it on the DVD. Actors who play extras can sub for the Young Marauders as those are bit parts, so that’s cheap.
Valentine’s Day in Hogsmeade – KEEP
This is funny, awkward and important to the plot. Also I think it would be great if Harry flashed back to that OTHER Valentine’s Day, in CoS, when Ginny gave him that awful singing card. When your characters must squirm, make them squirm all the more. Lay it on thick – the audience loves it.
Harry + Luna + Mistletoe – KEEP
For the life of me I canNOT find this in the book, so this is probably the wrong place, but wherever it goes, let’s keep it. I’d like to see him *almost* kiss her, then she says, “Nargles!” hehehe. Hmm, it takes place during the DA session before Christmas, doesn’t it? Putting this after the Cho kiss will fool non-readers into thinking Harry is going to kiss Luna, then when he doesn’t they will laugh at their own anticipation, making it even funnier.
Trelawney Gets Sacked – KEEP
After showing her once, we must follow through, and it is a pity to waste Emma Thompson, so the more the audience sees of her the better. This is her big Shakespearean scene. Ham it up, Emma.
Firenze – KEEP
The CGI is cool, and it helps set up the Forest Sequence with the Centaurs. Firenze’s actual class should be CUT though, since it wastes time.
Dumbledore’s Spectacular Exit – KEEP
If played right, this could be both suspenseful and funny.
Career Advice – KEEP
This shows the maniacal paranoia of Umbridge and the stalwart solidity of McGonegall. As Mr. Burns would say, Eggggcellent.”
Fred And George’s Spectacular Exit – KEEP
Yes, we need to see this, and it would be nice if they actually built the swamp set too.
Grawp – KEEP
OK, it looks like we’re going to HAVE to show some Quidditch. But not much. It’s just a set up for this scene. Grawp is a giant, who in CGI can just be a re-proportioned Dobby. This will look incredibly cool, and also bring Harry and Hermione closer together. Then at the end…
Weasley Really Is Our King – KEEP
To avoid wasting time earlier, this should be the introduction of the song, though maybe we could show the badges earlier. And Ron gets his glory.
O.W.L.s – DVD
There is no need to show Harry doing OWLs in the theater, but we do need him to see Sirius being held hostage. The actual OWL scenes can be shifted to the DVD.
The rest of the story can proceed pretty much the same from there (can you tell I’m getting tired?) except…
The Department Of Mysteries – SEVERELY SHORTENED
To keep it tight, we need several key scenes, but no more. Basically the kids should arrive, go straight to the Prophecy Room, do battle, Hermione should get hurt, then they should get away through several other rooms, none of which we spend too much time in. Harry must have some “Quiet Time” with the Archway, then the Death Eaters burst in and the battle in the Death Chamber takes place.
Finally, Harry confronts Voldemort in the lobby. It is important that we did NOT see this lobby in the beginning of the film: it’s all new. This adds to the tension, and is another good reason for cutting the Hearing Sequence.
THE ENDING SEQUENCE
This has to be different than the book. The book sequence was:
- Dumbledore explains it all
- Harry visits the Hospital Wing
- Harry meets Snape and Malfoy
- Harry weeps by the lake
- Harry talks to Nick
- Harry talks to Luna
- Final train scenes
- King’s Cross scene
And here is how I would re-order it. Right after Voldemort disapparates…
- Hospital Wing
- Harry meets Snape and Malfoy
- Harry goes out to the lake
- Dumbledore explains it all (flashback)
- Harry talks to Nick (flashback)
- Harry returns for the Leaving Feast
- Harry talks to Luna; they go down to the Feast together
- Umbridge tries to sneak out and is chased by Peeves
Now, this is a lot different than the book. Harry never went to the Leaving Feast, and we never saw Umbridge try to leave, though it was mentioned. The best ending, however, is a strong one, and Harry just walking out of King’s Cross into the sunlight is not strong. Umbridge being chased by Peeves, whacking her on the head with McGonagall’s walking stick, however, is perfect. Again, we know what happened, but non-readers have to wait for Harry’s flashback to hear Dumbledore’s exposition.
My putting Harry and Luna together is the same device as Hermione kissing Harry in the CoS movie: it’s just something to intrigue the movie viewer and does nothing to hurt the story.
Looking back, you’ll see that nearly everything has been kept. This is going to be a LONG movie, and in fact I am probably being optimistic. I’ll bet a lot more gets cut than what I suggested. As the books get longer, they get less and less compatible with film, so more and more cuts have to be made. The Phoenix film we get may be hardly recognizable.
But hey, that’s show business.