Day One: An Alternate Universe on Dan's Birthday
Friday, July 23, 2004
Today was it. I was on my way to intern on the sets of the fourth Harry Potter movie at the largest filming studios in England: the Leavesden Studios. Once admitted past the gates, I found myself in the middle of an old airfield. There were airplane hangers, a runway, and even a control tower. If it weren’t for the snake heads growing out of the ground, Privet drive in the middle of a meadow, crooked smokestacks, and a stadium under construction, I would never have guessed that this was where they had filmed most of the first three Harry Potter movies. If you ask me, it makes for an attractive analogy:
- Moldering old ruin = Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
- Unused telephone booth = Ministry of Magic
- Out of business department store = St. Mungo’s Hospital
- Old and unused airfield built for WWII = The Harry Potter Studios
Inside the building beneath the control tower, I was ushered up to the Publicity Department and met my awesome hosts for the week. The schedule they handed me looked like this:
Monday: Animal Department (morning), Costumes (afternoon)
Tuesday: Art Department (morning), Costumes (afternoon)
Wednesday: Visual Effects (morning), Props (afternoon)
Thursday: Assistant Director on set
Today they thought it best just to give me a tour. And a tour it was! We first passed through the Art Department on the way to the sets. The one-minute stroll played out like a dizzying sequence of images from a dream. Think “Goblet of Fire” in 60 seconds. Whacked-out blueprints, lifelike models, and paintings from only the most imaginative minds crowded every square inch of the room. My eyes could only move so fast!
Breathless, they led me past some costumes and then into the main airplane hanger. The gigantic space was overflowing with sets, huge locked cubes, bikes, and storage for props and costumes. And everywhere were enormously tall, green hedges for a maze. Everywhere! The soaring hedges arranged for filming were placed so close together that only a single person could fit through. “Imposing” isn’t nearly a strong enough word – I was terrified, and I was only standing there. I sympathize with the actors whose job it was to race through those!
From the outside, the Great Hall looked like a construction of tall scaffolding and musty glass, but upon entering I suddenly found myself in a majestic hall. It was an overwhelming transformation – akin to what I imagine Harry experienced when he stepped into a magical tent. Good grief! And there it was: the Goblet of Fire! This was so surreal.
We then moved on to the Gryffindor common room. Similarly upon walking in, the pile of scaffolding suddenly became the homiest dormitory imaginable – nothing like my dorm room at school. The attention to detail was astounding. On a desk were authentic artifacts one would only find in the wizarding world: a comic book describing the adventures of a “mad muggle” and LPs of the Weird Sisters. I learned that the medieval tapestries hanging from the walls are to create the impression of an aged castle hundreds of years old.
Next we made our way into the Defense Against the Dark Arts room. There were backpacks and books everywhere, but the people had vanished. I have a feeling Hermione’s notebook was misplaced because it was next to a black backpack labeled “DM”… On one particular desk was a textbook and notebook apparently assigned to my superb guide. It made her day!
On our way to the Transportation Department we passed an indignant-looking Errol and one of the animal trainers. The trainer was really sociable, and she had her six-month-old pet monkey with diapers on crawling all over her. It was so cute it was painful. We also passed the bike “parking lot.” The Leavesden Studios are so huge that many people are given bikes (and a reserved parking space!) for easy transportation. Golf carts are also frequently used. Outside were vans shuttling people to and from the various flight sheds, buildings, and sets. We caught a van and drove over to where they were presently filming.
I was instructed to silence my non-existent cell phone and we headed inside. Hundreds of crew members were busying themselves around cords, sets, cameras, and video monitors. Surrounded by vast, green screens was a mixture of actors performing a “take.” Daniel Radcliffe was right there choking his brains out when suddenly Mad-Eye Moody threw him off the platform. The director called “cut” and break was called. The natural course of events was obviously for Dan to notice me, come over, and chat.
Hold on. What? He recognized me?! He remembered me from the MTV shows? He wanted to talk….to me?! His dad remembered me as well and they both made their way over.
It was actually his 15th birthday that very day – I’m certain I reminded him at least 10 times during our conversation. We just talked and talked. He asked about my trip and MTV, how long I’d be staying, what hotel I was at, what I’d be up to, etc. When I asked him what he had been doing, he talked about what they accomplished already and what he was excited to film. It was wild hearing about the underwater training he’d done. He spent weeks in the underwater tank to build the endurance and stamina necessary to film his scenes. It sounded like boot camp; he even hurt his ears on occasion by diving too deep too quickly. I sympathized with him about the unnerving atmosphere of the maze hedges, but I don’t think he was as fazed by them as I was; in fact, he was extremely enthusiastic about the entire scene. In today’s shoot he was eating gillyweed – hence the choking.
Dan was abruptly required to dash off, but I had gotten more than my fair share. I wished him a happy birthday one more time and stood there glowing. Talking to him was unreal – after seeing actors on huge, gigantic movie screens, it sometimes slips the mind that they are real people. Dan was so down-to-earth and friendly it seemed as if he could have been my next-door neighbor! Actually, I think he's got to be one of the most intelligent, amiable, sincere, and unassuming 15-year-olds I will ever meet.
Following that excitement, my tour guides and I went to the “flight-shed canteen” for lunch. Everyday the meal crew serves potatoes, soup, vegetables, and a choice of three entrees. There is also a complete salad bar, desserts, and drinks. I tried the “traditional” Friday serving of “fish and chips” (battered fish and French fries). We ate near Alfie Enoch, Devon Murray, Mathew Lewis, and a whole swarm of Durmstrang boys. They all appeared to be good friends.
By now I had completely faded. I had spent two days traveling and arrived only that morning, and I was unquestionably experiencing visual and emotional overload! Though it was one of the most wonderful feelings on earth, I was utterly exhausted. We decided it would be best for me to go to my hotel and rest for next week.
On my way out I saw them bring in a cake for Dan’s birthday.
- Day Two: Minced Mouse, Slobber, and Dragon Skin
- Day Three: The Beauxbatons, the Durmstrangs, and the Department of Wonder
- Day Four: The Room of Pre-Visualization, and "Greg Goes to the Book Bindery"
- Day Five: "...and...ACTION!"