The Drive to Leavesden
When I was asked to the OOTP set, I decided that I was going to take a train to Leavesden, but a week before I was due to go, I decided that I wanted to drive down (don’t ask me why). Looking back now, I really wish I had just taken the train, as I was asked to arrive for 9am and as I live in North East England, I had to get up at 4am. This was to make sure that I had plenty of time to take the 247 mile (4+ hours) drive to Hertfordshire.
With that said I managed to get up on time and after a little over 4 hours on the road, finally arrived at the front Security Gates of Leavesden Studios.
Leavesden Studios is one of only a few places in the UK where large scale productions can be made. The studios contain approximately 500,000 sq ft of flexible space which includes stage space, production office space and support buildings, along with an extensive 80 acre backlot which offers a 180 degree uninterrupted horizon which can be used for large exterior sets.
I drove up to the security Gate House, announced my presence, signed some parking and access agreements, and was then given a pass and map to where I needed to drive to. As the area covered is absolutely massive, I ended up going further than I should have and found myself turning round in Privet Drive. As you might imagine, just seeing this huge outdoor set - which was made to look like a real street - got me very excited indeed; the fact I was turning my car around in the entrance, was even better.
After I drove back, I was able to spot someone, so stopped and asked for directions. The lady I spoke to told me to park in the old runway area (Parking Area B) and then escorted me into the building for what was to be a very magical day.
Entering the Studios and the Marquee
I was escorted into a large area filled with lots of old set props from the previous Potter films and two large, white Marquees. It was in one of these Marquees where the journalists would be centrally located for most of the day.
When I entered the Marquee, I met people from both Electronic Arts and Warner Bros, but didn’t see many other people, and as it turned out, the bus taking all the fan sites and other website journalists from London to Leavesden had got lost on the way, so they were running late. This made me feel better - that I was only 10 minutes late - and gave me an opportunity to chat with everyone in the room before the arrival of the others.
Warner Bros had laid on a nice breakfast of Coffee, Tea & Croissants, so I decided to help myself whilst reading the pages of a Daily Prophet that had been stuck all over the wall. I then sat down on one of the many little pink puffy seats that were spread all over the room, each next to a small round table with a white cloth.
The Marquee itself was a treasure trove of OOTP items. The walls were covered with images ranging from movie stills, set stills and concept art; there was even a section near the breakfast area that had the cat plates that had been used on the walls of the Umbridge Office set. In front of these plates were two of Umbridge’s costumes, one of which was the fluffy pink outfit she wears in various scenes. There was also a large wooden display cabinet full of props, like a Defense Against the Dark Arts for Beginners book, some of the Prophecy Orbs, a bottle of Bouncing Spider Juice and some early Weasley's Wizard Wheezes products like Skiving Snackboxes.
On the opposite side of the room, there were models of Grawp and a Thestral that had been made for CGI mapping (Mostly all creatures in OOTP will be totally CGI) along with lots of character concept art for both, stuck on the wall behind.
As I mentioned a little further up, we spent most of the day in the Marquee as it was the area that we did all the group interviews with the actors and producers.
EA Game Presentation
Electronic Arts had also come along to give us a special preview of the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix videogame; this was a good opportunity to see the game in action and to have a chat with Game Director, Matt Birch and Producer, Justin Manning. Both were super, crazy Potter fans; Matt was also there for the set tour.
I will not go into much to do with the videogame; however it was really nice to see it in action and to speak with both EA staff members who are extremely passionate about the Potter world and the accuracy of the videogame in relation to the novels. You can get much more in-depth reports about the OOTP videogame from our two visits to EA’s HQ by The Snitch staff members, Stefan and Leanne.
First Interview – Daniel Radcliffe
After the EA Game presentation, we received word from Vanessa (Daniel and Warner Bros’s Publicist) that Daniel had some time in his schedule to come and do an interview with us. Just before he arrived, the small pink puffy seats had been made into a circle for all the journalists to sit round, to speak to any of the actors that had time to come and talk. MSN also had a very bright light shining down, since they were filming the interviews for their website. When Daniel entered the room and sat down he said “well this isn’t intimidating” to which we all laughed and the group interview got underway.Daniel Radcliffe Interview
Second Interview – Gary Oldman
Almost immediately after Daniel had to rush off - because he was due back on set - we got another surprise visit, this time from Gary Oldman, a fantastically sophisticated man who was dressed in his very smart Sirius outfit during the whole interview. It was a big surprise for me to be sitting literally right next to Gary Oldman. It was amazingly fantastic!Gary Oldman Interview
Starting the Set Tour
When Gary Oldman had to return to the set, there was no one else available to speak with us at that time, so we started the set-tour with a visit to the Great Hall.
As we left the Marquee and started to walk down the large Floor Space to (B Stage) all that could be seen on either side were vast numbers of Harry Potter set items from the previous Potter movies, some intact and some broken, but as Vanessa pointed out, they don’t throw anything away incase they need it again in the future. Also Warner Bros have just about taken over the entire studios and have another six year lease so they can keep all the large repeatedly featured sets like the Great Hall intact.
The outside entrance of the Great Hall had all of the decrees that Umbridge has Filch nail to the wall in OOTP; there must have been about 50 stuck to the outside wall. Each one was perfectly crafted and contained a unique written decree.
You really don’t appreciate how large the set actually is until you're on it. It was empty on the day I was there, so all the detail could be seen, however one of the reporters from MSN told me how when she had been onset a few weeks back, the Great Hall was in use. Each long table was filled with food; she said that they had about five toasters all on the go at once, in order to place toast onto each plate that lay on the tables. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t get to see such an amazing spectacle!
The massive hall has a floor built of original York stone. The benches and tables in it were distressed to look ancient for the first film. Six years later and they are now genuinely distressed after being used repeatedly by the cast and local schoolchildren.
Right at the back of the Hall, on the right hand side, is the House Points counter. A large real working prop with 4 large tubes that contain thousands of small coloured beads for the particular house it represents. This was something that I had seen before when watching the Harry Potter movies, but not something I would really pay attention to. It was very finely detailed and fascinating to see in real life.
Watching Filming in the Veil Room
When we came out of the Great Hall, we moved to Stage A, just next door to Stage B. Stage A was the location for the large circular, black tiled Vail Room set, and the location that was in use for filming on that very day.
We had been told before we went to the set that we would be allowed to watch filming of scenes in the Veil Room and this was the moment. As there were a fair number of journalists, we were not allowed inside the set to stand with the Director, but instead got to watch via an LCD monitor just outside the set. Wireless headsets were provided and each tapped into the crew and actors.
On the screen, we could see Gary Oldman, Daniel Radcliffe and Jason Isaacs having a wand battle. It was a little funny to see this without all of the CGI special effects, since you could see them moving left and right, huffing and puffing. When each acted out a thrash of a wand, large floodlights with pink lenses - situated on the outside all around the circular set - would light the walls up, in order to give an extra lighting effect to every energy blast.
After watching the same scene acted out a few times, under the careful direction of David Yates, it was time to move on back to the Marquee and have some lunch. It was simply amazing to watch only a very small slice of the filming process and I cannot wait to see the movie and get to the part I actually watched being filmed.
On the way out of the set back to the Marquee, I caught sight of Rupert Grint who was waiting for his scenes and Bonnie Wright who was sitting reading a book. I also noticed a body double for Bellatrix Lestrange.
We went to lunch as a group in the studio canteen; there was a vast variety of foods available being served by a team of very polite chefs. I got what I wanted and sat down with members of the group after passing some noticeable actor body doubles. We had a good chat about various things and as we ate it all stared to seem very surreal to me, as I could see Gary Oldman grabbing a bite to eat and just calmly walking past us in his full Sirius outfit. Jason Isaacs was doing the exact same thing, but wearing his wonderful long blond hair. It was very strange and exciting all at the same time.
Third Interview - David Barron
After lunch everyone returned to the Marquee and got ready for our next interview, this time with Executive Producer David Barron. David was a very charming, down to earth individual and more than willing to answer everyone’s statistical questions.
David Barron Interview
Fourth Interview - Emma Watson
About five minutes after David had left, we got word that Emma was on her way to speak with us. Emma arrived also in costume. She seemed a little down to me, but at that time I think she was still contemplating her future in the Potter franchise, but other than that she was really lovely to speak with and provided full and intelligent answers to all of our questions.
Emma Watson Interview
Fifth Interview - Evanna Lynch
When Emma left, we got told that we would next be speaking with Evanna Lynch and that it would be her very first interview in front of journalists.
I felt that she was understandably intimidated by it all; however she was able to pull herself together and was a very sweet girl. I could see exactly why she was picked by Warner Bros to play Luna, as from her own personality you would think she really is Luna. She looks just like what you would imagine; she acts just like Luna. She even makes her own outrageous jewelry. SHE IS Luna!!!
Evanna Lynch Interview
Continuing the Set Tour
When Evanna left, it was time to continue the tour of the sets, this time with a visit to Number 12 Grimmauld Place (located in F Stage). When you enter the sound stage, you can see two large constructions on the left and right, with an empty space in the middle. From the outside, both constructions looked just like a pile of scaffolding and wood, but on the inside you enter a totally different world.
We entered into the structure on the right first and straight into the Kitchen of Grimmauld Place. The whole kitchen is modeled on a old Victorian Style kitchen; it's very long, but not very wide. The walls - painted burgundy- looked ancient, with the paint and plaster crumbling away; the floor is all real stone. You can see an old fireplace on the right as soon as you come through the door, with an old chair next to it. There is also an old, wooden table stretching half way down the kitchen that was set with empty plates and glasses, while on the right hand side of the room there are large cabinets that stretch just about the entire length of the room filled with crockery. Moreover, in the middle, on the left, there is a dumb waiter with old ring bells above and further down is an old chopping board that looked 400 years old.
On the left of the old chopping board, one can find a large, old black stove with a large black kettle on top. Above the chopping board, is a large square hanging pan rack, holding pots and pans of various sizes and right at the end is another bench and chopping board with a large old white sink next to it.
We got told that in the movie, the chopping board will be cutting vegetables magically, along with the sink that will be washing up on it's own. Having visited a fair few old Victorian manor house kitchens in my time, this was near perfect as far as looks go. It was a truly amazing set.
We left the kitchen past the sink area and walked around the back of the set. Outside of the structure, built directly on top of the kitchen set, is an upwards staircase leading to the bedroom set that Harry and Ron sleep in when they go to Grimmauld Place. It was a very grey room, everything from the walls to the bed sheets had been distressed to look hundreds of years old, while it also contained numerous spider webs and dust to add to the effect. All in all, another very detailed set that looked amazing.
We then moved onto the structure to the left of the room. This was the set for most of the ground floor and a first floor landing of 12 Grimmauld Place. We went in via the front door; this was up a set of stone steps with two black steel handrails either side; this then leads to a very large old black door at the top.
We entered into a narrow hallway; it was all very dark and old looking. The first door on the left led to the Tapestry Room; this was an amazing medium sized room with only the wall facing the door and the left and right visible, the back wall was missing, I assume so they could film the room. The Black family tree tapestry covers each wall and took about 12 weeks to paint from scratch from the concept that was designed with the help of J.K. Rowling herself. It was then distressed and burned. Some of the portraits like Bellatrix will be animated with CGI so the eyes follow the characters round the room.
We then left the tapestry room by the door on the right hand side wall and ended up at the bottom of a flight of stairs that actually went up two floors. The other fan site journalists and I, rushed up the stairs to look at the large curtain-covered wall portrait of the shrieking Mrs. Black. It was actually there and everyone got very excited to see it! When we returned back down the staircase, we noticed that outside - through the little windows – there were severed house elf heads, it was very creepy.
The Ministry of Magic Atrium Set
We then left the amazing Grimmauld Place sets; we headed onwards towards the biggest soundstage in the entire building, H & I Stage.
I was blown away by the size of the Great Hall set that we visited earlier in the day, but nothing could have prepared me for the Atrium. We entered through a little tunnel located at the back of set which then led out to a massive space and a flood of green and gold. Later on, we looked down the Atrium from the front perspective, but had come through the rear to get to the Room of Requirement and the Trial Chamber that were also located inside H & I Stage.
The Atrium was still two weeks away from being fully finished when I was there, so it was a very noisy building site as we wandered through it. I could see people all over working on various areas; all that could be heard was drilling and sawing. We got told that the team of dedicated carpenters were working seven days a week to get the enormous set complete for the deadline.
We continued on round the side of the large Atrium set and into the set for the Room of Requirement (the refuge for the DA). This set had previously been the Trophy Room in the Goblet of Fire, but has been revamped for OOTP. The walls had been covered in mirrors and steel grating had been installed in the floor so that coloured light could shine through. It was rather dark when we got onto it, as most of the power for the set had been diverted to the Atrium.
We then moved into the Trial Chamber set which was just next door. This is the location where Harry has his trial at the Ministry of Magic and you may actually remember the set from Goblet of Fire as it was featured when Harry watched the Death Eater trails through Dumbledore's pensive.
We got told that during filming, each of the alcoves had actual controlled flames shooting up from the walls. They had been shooing in May 2006 and it was a very hot weekend when they started, so with the hot weather and the hot flames - and the fact that they all had large black robes on - meant that cast members were baking hot!
It was hard to see most of the detail on this set as again the power to the lights had been diverted to the Atrium set. In saying this, I could still make out the beautiful gold gilding all around and fantastic patterns all over the floor.
We then made our way back out into the main area looking down at the large Atrium. The whole set was covered in thousands of beautiful green tiles which was about 90% completed at the time. The floor was also covered in hundreds of planks of dark aged wood, some of which was still getting nailed down right then. There were six enormous fireplaces on both sides all the way down the tunnel and had beautiful gold decorations all around (in the books, these are used by Witches and Wizards entering the ministry by Floo Powder).
The large gold ministry fountain was not there at that time; I could only see the base that was still under construction. In saying this, I had a good idea of exactly what it was going to look like, as I had seen several concept images of it back in the Marquee. Plus, a lot of the fountain was going to be CGI.
The Atrium is the largest set that Warner Bros have constructed for any of the Potter films. It stands in the area that was once the location for the large Chamber of Secrets set, but is much bigger in length and width. It’s modelled after a Victorian Underground station and is the place where the film's climactic battle takes place.
Onward to Dumbledore's Office
After leaving the Atrium, we moved on to visit what would be our last set of the day, Dumbledore's Office in G Stage. Just outside the doorway to the set was the large password protected staircase with the distinctive phoenix to Dumbledore's Office that has featured in just about all the movies up to now. When I entered the set, it looked exactly like it always had in each of the movies. I looked over every part of the set in detail and we each took turns at having a sit in Dumbledore's chair. It was lots of fun. This particular set has been around since The Philosopher's Stone and has been able to stay constructed just like the Great Hall due to Warner Bros ongoing lease on Leavesden. After this short visit to Dumbledore's Office, it was time to make our way back to the Marquee for our two final interviews of the day.
Sixth Interview – David Hayman
Almost immediately, we got a visit from Producer David Hayman. Everyone had just about the same questions that we asked David Barron, but we had a few extra that he was able to add his unique perspective to. You could see that David was a true veteran of the Potter series and was extremely passionate about his very important role in the film making process.
David Hayman Interview
Seventh and Final Interview – Jason Isaacs
Our final interview of the day was with the magnificent Jason Isaacs. Jason was still filming his scenes on set so we got warned that he might get pulled away at any time, but Jason said he was more then happy to come back and finish off if that happened. Jason was wearing a full leather death eater outfit and his long blond hair that he amusingly referred to later in the interview as his “Paris Hilton Wig.”
Jason was the best way to end the day for me, since he was genuinely a really nice and extremely funny guy and I encourage you to listen to the audio for this interview rather then just read it as it’s much funnier to hear.
Jason Isaacs Interview
The End and My Final Surprise
And that was it, the day was over. I said goodbye to the other sites and to the Warner Bros and EA staff and left via the rear entrance to the old runway area to where my car was parked. To my surprise, as I came out of the door, there standing talking to two crew members was none other than Michael Gambon. He looked right at me and smiled; I smiled back and kept walking as I didn’t dare stop and speak to him incase he thought I was some crazy fan who had somehow managed to get onto the set, so I just kept on going!
Although I didn’t say a word to Michael, I was very pleased that I walked right past him and he smiled at me. I got in my car, waved at the security gate staff and embarked on my 4 hour journey back home extremely satisfied that I had just had the best day of my life.
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