Earlier this year I had the privilege of visiting Leavesden Studios, the film set where Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was shot. Whilst at Leavesden I was given a guided tour of the sets (both new and old), conducted interviews with the cast and crew, and watched filming.
1. Lights, camera, action
We set ourselves up on a table in the Great Hall and watch as the cast and crew prepare for filming. The attention to detail is paramount. Everything from the cereal boxes to the books on the table are appropriately themed. A “Win Win Slytherin” banner sits in the corner alongside similar Gryffindor paraphernalia. Quiet is called on set, and David Yates shouts action.
You’ve probably guessed by now, but this morning we’re watching the infamous placebo-potion breakfast scene. Dan Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron), Emma Watson (Hermione) and newcomer Jessie Cave (Lavender Brown) all take the stage and the scene begins. On the ninth take I pick up subtle variations in the movement, dialogue and pace. It really emphasises the sheer amount of detail and persistence that goes into achieving a single shot.
2. Journey to the cave
One of the first things we are treated to upon arrival at Leavesden Studios is a look at some drawings and 3D renderings of the much-hyped cave sequence. The rocky grotto is awe-inspiring on paper, but even more so when brought to life. As we enter the stage, two mucky boats can be seen resting against the stage wall.
Isolated in the middle of the room and set against giant green-screen walls are segments of the cave. At the heart of this jagged construction is the set’s centrepiece – a lavish stone basin – the resting place of a potential Horcrux. At the entrance to the room is a giant board plastered with shot-by-shot drawings of the cave sequence. The scene is so hush-hush that even we aren’t allowed a peek.
3. Another year at Hogwarts
Slughorn’s office is being dressed for a party. Shooting is due to begin very soon. Red and gold lanterns are scattered on the ground and green drapes are being hung from the roof. Back at HQ, we’re given a look at some of the costumes that will be worn at the party. Flashbacks to the Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire immediately come to mind.
It’s off to the flight-shed next, a small trip away from the main stages at Leavesden. Giant wooden frames and scaffolding are visible as we enter the stage. Building is still in the very early stages, though we’re given a sneak peek at some very detailed blueprints. The rather colossal build is none other than the streets of Diagon and Knockturn Alley.
The sentiment is woven throughout my report, but it is only necessary to mention that once again, no detail has been spared. My hat off to production designer Stuart Craig.
4. A trip into the Pensieve
A 360 degree look around Leavesden’s backlot will reveal an assortment of famous settings from the Harry Potter universe. In front of me are giant Quidditch posts and a huge sandpit sits below. An enormous green screen covers the perimeter of the set.
A little further on and it’s back to book 6: construction of the Spinner’s End set is well underway. Further on still, the crew are working feverishly on building the large Hogwarts entrance gates.
5. Atop the Astronomy Tower
We’re nearing the end of the visit when we’re given a first-hand look at the construction of the Astronomy Tower. The wooden structure is enormous. Even at a place like Leavesden it looks as if it towers above everything else. I can’t imagine what it’ll look like on film. Construction is well underway – the framework appears to be complete, and on one side the walls are being painted. This is a truly breathtaking spectacle.
And that’s all we can say for now! Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince hits cinemas in July.