From the Great Hall to Dumbledore’s office, a new Watford attraction takes fans behind the scenes of the Harry Potter films
Watford may not be an area you associate with the blockbuster movie business, but it was at a former aircraft factory in the area that eight of the largest-grossing films of the past decade came to life. The Harry Potter series, based on the novels by JK Rowling, has captured the world’s imagination and more than $7bn in box office receipts. And now Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire, where the films were shot, is being converted into a permanent reminder of that success.
“The Making of Harry Potter” studio tour will offer a trip around the sets where the films were shot, and provide an insider look at the film-making process. At the O2 Arena this weekend for Empire magazine’s Big Screen event, Potter stars Warwick Davis and Evanna Lynch announced pre-booking for the tour would begin on 13 October 2011, with the attraction itself opening next spring.
The 150,000-square-foot studio includes two purpose-built sound stages (stages J and K, conincidentally) and fans will have the chance to walk through the Great Hall at Hogwarts and visit Dumbledore’s office, among other iconic locations. It’s a rare peek behind the scenes to learn how Rowling’s fantasy world became reality.
In a trailer for the attraction, unveiled at Big Screen, star Daniel Radcliffe said the studios felt like home. “We worked there for 10 years and it was lovely seeing those amazing sets every day.”
I once took a trip to the studios in 2008, while filming for the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was well underway. In the ice-cold hangars that housed the sets, even the corridors were stuffed with the detritus of several years of large-scale moviemaking. Familiar props from all five of the previous films were stacked wherever there was space.
But what struck me was the incredible level of detail that had gone into every facet of the films’ creation. Production designer Stuart Craig and his team achieved a level of artistry I’d never seen before – all enhanced by curiously organic touches that were a product of years in production. In the Great Hall, torch-bearing gargoyles are scorched by years of naked flames, while dining tables are marked by the graffiti of the student extras.
Stepping behind the set gives you a sense of its true scale. If it looks big in the movies, imagine a studio twice the size, with a giant painting of the Scottish highlands draped around it, so that views through the windows feel authentic. Rather than ruining the magic, this behind-the-scenes adventure only heightens the experience.
Studio tours are the norm in Hollywood, where tourists arrive by the busload to take in the glamour. But this is the first time a film studio in the UK has opened its doors, and the first time a tour has focused on one film franchise alone. A deluge of hardcore Potter fans will likely keep the tour at full capacity for its first few months, but after that only time will tell if it has staying power.
Still, it’s testament to the tremendous effect of the Harry Potter series on the British film industry that such an attraction has even been considered. And if the Making of Harry Potter tour has even half the magic of my 2008 visit to Hogwarts, I’m certain any Muggle will be prepared to make the trip.
• Tickets cost £28 for adults and £21 for children. Booking opens on 13 October 2011 at wbstudiotour.co.uk.