David Heyman and David Yates “Fantastic Beasts” Roundtable Interview – UK
Transcribed by Lisa Cohan and Eric Rakestraw
Male interviewer 1: Did you hesitate when you were offered the possibility to do these movies? Because of course you have been involved with Harry Potter for almost ten years.
David Yates: I was nervous before I read the script, just in case it felt like too much of a return to what we were doing before. But once I read it, I knew it was going to be very different, and of course, Jo Rowling wouldn’t write something that was… she’s passionate about creating this new set of stories that feel very different to where she was before. And so it was the script that swung me. It just was lyrical and wonderful, and then there was the opportunity to work directly with her developing that script. Before, we adapted the books on the movies I made and David made before that. And so that direct relationship was really appealing. And it was also the fact that I would get to set the whole groundwork for the movie. With the Potters, I came in halfway through, and I sort of joined the train halfway on its journey, and now I got the opportunity to do what I always do with all the things I make: I cast it to build it from scratch. So it was a no-brainer really. How could I refuse?
Female interviewer 1: You’ve been working with J.K. Rowling for quite a few years. For both of you, has she changed between the moment where you started working with her and now?
David Yates: Gosh. Well, you’ve [David Heyman] worked with her much longer, so…
David Heyman: I think her world has become bigger. I first got involved in 1997, 1998 before I first read the Potter book, before it was published. When I first met with Jo, it was before all the hoopla.
[Female interviewer laughs]
David Heyman: And in many ways, she’s very much the same person she was then. She’s probably more confident, but she has the same humility and the same generosity and the same enthusiasm. And she’s a writer. She needs to write. If she doesn’t, it compromises her. And so she’s very much that person. And I think what has changed, as I’ve said, her world has gotten bigger, the demands on her have gotten greater, but she is keen to write, and the work she’s doing with Lumos, her charity, is incredible. She does a lot of charitable work that we don’t hear about. And I think she’s probably… her voice is heard more than it once was when I first met her. And she is keen to use her voice to make the world a better place.
Male interviewer 2: Was she confident about writing the script for this film?
David Heyman: I think she, again, has great humility, and so she’s a great writer, so I think, for both of us, when the script arrived on our desk, there was a little bit of hesitancy and nervousness because a great novelist does not necessarily a great screenwriter make. But immediately, you knew you were in safe hands with great characters and great scenes. But the process – and she would be the first to admit it – working with David very, very closely and with Steve Kloves, and David can speak to that much better than I can, but she learned along the way. And she’s still learning. We’re still learning. And I think the script – what we ended up with – was much more unified than where it began. Tonally, structurally, it marched to its own beat, but it was a different piece. But she’s a writer and as I said, working with David, I think, [has] evolved as a screenwriter. What do you think, David?
David Yates: Yes, I mean, she loves to write. I’ve worked with screenwriters who find it difficult to pull the work out of themselves, whereas Jo is passionate about these stories that she creates, and even when she’s traveling or she just needs to sort of let this material out, she’s prolific. And what I find amazing about her is, she’s incredibly pragmatic as well. Because the work pours out at such a rate, she’s not necessarily precious about any aspect of it unless it’s fundamental to her, to the DNA of the broad, bigger arc that she’s telling. For example, on Beasts 1, we’d be working on a sequence, and we’d give her some notes, and she’d go away, and she’d rewrite the entire sequence overnight. And then she’d come back in, and she’d be happy to throw things out if they didn’t feel right. So very pragmatic, great humility, enormous amount of passion, and quite fast often, working. And she would really burn the midnight oil sometimes. She’s a real worker.
David Heyman: I mean, in [Beasts] 1, there’s probably enough material from what she discarded for several novels or several screenplays.
David Yates: In that first screenplay.
David Heyman: The other thing is, we just got in the first draft of the second screenplay, and it’s a hundred or whatever pages it was, and David asked her to write a sort of 13-page, 12-page beat sheet just to get the architecture.
David Yates: Bare bones.
David Heyman: And two days later, I think it was… two days? Two or three days later, a hundred-and-two-page…
David Heyman: … hard script, hard treatment showed up. So she just needs to write. It just pours. And not just stuff…
David Yates: It’s good stuff.
David Heyman: … it’s really good.
Female interviewer 2: But how big is her influence on the look of the movie?
David Yates: The biggest influence she has is, she writes the… it’s there on the page for us all to be inspired by. That’s the significant thing that she does. In the description in the script, it’s very evocative, what she creates. Then of course we’ve got Stuart Craig, our lovely production designer, designed all the Potters; Colleen Atwood, costume design; Tim Burke, Christian Manz on visual effects. And we’ll share with her concepts, so as we go off and develop the look of everything, we’ll share a big concept with Jo for her to see how we’re developing things. So she sort of sees what we’re doing. But obviously, it all starts with that page. And you get a real feel for things on that page. Then I’ll work with Stuart, and Stuart is a genius, and so it’ll evolve. She isn’t involved in a day to day or week to week basis on the look of things. Once the script’s sort of done, we sort of race off with it, but I mean, the biggest change that we implemented, probably, was the interior of the case. The interior of the case… we sort of developed a design for it that was otherworldly. You went down into that case, and it had these sort of mini universes in it. It was very trippy, actually: huge oceans, beasts, and it was very epic inside. And she came along, and she saw that on the wall, these beautiful, extraordinary, odd images, and she said, “Newt just doesn’t have that magical ability to create the scale of that world.” It’s Newt Scamander. He’s not Voldemort; he’s not a Dumbledore. He’s a Magizoologist, and he’s a Brit who can do so much. And so we redesigned it based on that note to feel a little bit more Heath Robinson. Had it all been jury-rigged together in a way. And that’s what we did. But generally, she’s very supportive, and she just lets us get on with it.
Male interviewer 3: For this movie, how difficult was it to keep the balance between saying, “This is not a prequel or sequel of Harry Potter,” but on the other side to say, of course, “We’re bringing you back into the world of wizards, and it has to do something with Harry Potter“?
David Heyman: I think it’s fairly… it’s funny, it’s organic, isn’t it? It really just comes from her script. Everybody thinks that – it’s so funny – there’s such a master plan, that it was all really… actually, what we do is just make the best film we can from the material we have and do everything that… it’s not a franchise. We don’t look at it as a franchise. It may be – that may be what it becomes – but what we’re really invested in is making the very best film we can. I mean, I supposed the only self-conscious aspects were putting a couple of musical themes in there that connected you to Potter, but really, it’s Jo.
David Yates: The DNA is that sort of love of her characters, the warmth, the humanity in her writing, the fact that there’s a world that exists with all these magical spells in it. But then the characters are new, the story’s new, the setting is new, the time period is new… so I think the reset is quite interesting. And only Jo could have done that, really, I think. It sort of feels like you’re coming home in an interesting way, but it’s all new, and that’s really interesting.
David Heyman: And I think you could watch this film without having read a single book or seen a single film. But some of the themes that interested her in the Potters resonate – the themes of outsiders, of the idea of the family you make vs. the family you’re born into, the themes of the rise of fascistic groups, whether it be the Death Eaters and Voldemort or Grindelwald in this one. And this one… of course, you have the magical beasts and the environmental message about protecting the endangered species. A lot of the themes are connected between the two worlds, but it is its own – no pun intended – beast.
Male interviewer 4: Is there discussion about making her stage play [Harry Potter and the Cursed Child] into a movie?
David Heyman: No, no.
David Yates: It’s very much a play.
David Heyman: It’s an experience. For me, the real pleasure of the play was being in a world where the magic is right in front of you. I love magic, that it’s there; it’s amazing. But we haven’t had any discussions about that.
Male interviewer 4: Of course, some time ago, it was announced that there’s going to be five movies. How did you decide that specific number? Is it something is from J.K. Rowling, or did it come from you? Is there a compromise you have to find between commercial potential and artistic potential? Or how does that work?
David Heyman: It starts purely from the storyteller, which is Jo. And fundamentally, she was writing the first script, but halfway through the first script, she was thinking, “I don’t really want to write any more of these! This is really tough; it’s a tough process writing a screenplay. I’ll write the story for [Movies] 2 and 3, and I’ll get another screenwriter to do [Movies] 2 and 3. Let me just set you up. I’ll set you off on this journey that you’re all going to take, and I’ll write the first screenplay, [while] someone else does [Movies] 2 and 3.” But by the time she got to the end of the first screenplay, she’d sort of fallen in love with the process and fallen in love with her characters. And she said, “Right, I’ll finish the trilogy. I’m going to do all three.” And then halfway through writing the script that we’re working on now, Beasts 2, she came along to a meeting, and she said, “As I write this, I’m already seeing where this could go, and I think it’s not a trilogy – it’s five movies – and I think it could be this.” And it’s very ambitious. So it’s all driven by her need to express this story over a period of time. It’s a very ambitious thing that she wants to achieve, and so it’s not about Jo.
Male interviewer 4: That’s not where it comes from?
David Heyman: Jo didn’t need to write this, just to be clear. Some people think it was a cynical exercise. Jo doesn’t need… she’s doing just fine.
David Heyman: She needed to do it creatively. Jo is an artist, and she needs to write, and she wanted to explore this part of her wizarding world. And that’s where it all comes from. Potter was not the end of this; I know it’s hard not to think about. And actually, David [and I] don’t approach it from outside in; we approach it from the inside out. We want to create the best films that we can. We don’t read and look at what people want because, trust us, we’re as hard on this as anybody. The film has to be pulled from David’s fingertips…
David Yates: Only about two weeks ago.
David Yates: The studio said, “We have to put it in cinemas now!” And I said, “No!”
David Heyman: Even now, we’re looking at things: “Oh, gosh, we could do this, we could do that.” It just doesn’t stop, but it’s all born out of creative ambition, working from the inside out. And that’s where Jo comes from, and that’s where this story comes from.
Male interviewer 3: Does that mean you were also critical when she says it was going to be five movies? Do you question that? Are you like, “Do you really need five movies?”
David Heyman: We trust Jo. Her instincts are pretty good, yeah.
Claire Furner: Is it going to remain Newt’s story with the other stuff around it?
David Heyman: We don’t want to talk too much about where it’s going, only because…
David Heyman: … we’re not 100% certain! [laughs]
David Yates: There’s an arc there, which sounds great, but I think it would spoil the fun.
David Heyman: I also think that one of the pleasures of this is that, working for David as a director and as a filmmaker, people don’t know what the story is. And also, they don’t know what we’re leaving out and what we’re keeping in. Actually, not meaning to promote the DVD…
David Heyman: … but there are quite a lot of scenes that we cut out that will appear in various forms on the additional material later on. But what you don’t want to do… one of the pleasures of this is that unlike the books where “Ooh, they left that out. That character has got blond hair; he’s got brown hair,” we don’t have any of that. David is building a world from scratch to tell you what’s going to happen in [Movies] 2, 3, 4, and 5. Might remove some of that pleasure.
Male interviewer 3: So does Johnny Depp have a contract for the second film?
David Heyman and David Yates: Yes.
Male interviewer 1: David, I remember talking to Chris Columbus and Alfonso [Cuarón]. They were so exhausted after [filming]. Chris did two movies, Alfonso one, and you did four Harry Potter movies and now this one… and you [also] did Tarzan…
David Yates: I did Tarzan; I did two movies [this year].
Male interviewer 1: Where do you get the energy?
David Yates: Well, I like doing it; I like making films. I love doing it; to me, it’s fun. And so I’m going to have a holiday, actually.
David Heyman: Quite soon.
David Yates: I’m going to have a break for four weeks.
David Heyman: Lucky.
David Yates: Yeah, I know. I don’t know, I just enjoy it. It’s my life, and I just enjoy it, that’s all. I couldn’t get [unintelligible].
Male interviewer 1: Despite that, for years, you will be doing Beasts if everything goes right?
David Yates: Well, I’m committed to two movies – this one and the second one – and I’d love to stay and continue with the series, provided this one works and the second one works. Of course, that’s why you do one at a time, because each film has to justify itself. You can never assume anything fundamentally, and I’m desperate to make a couple of odd smaller films in between, which I’m hopefully going to be doing with this guy. We’ll squeeze them into little shoots, six-week shoots. Or maybe we’ll make them on weekends.
David Heyman: You laugh, but seriously, we just want to… the first film I produced cost $60,000. David comes from making low-budget movies for nothing. The pleasure of just making something is undeniable, and it’s a great privilege to be working on this broad palette at the same time, the idea to just, [whispers] “Let’s just go do it!” And now we can.