Harry Potter’s films captivated the world. Want to know how they did it?
This is the third in a series of “How to Write” articles.
Congratulations! You’ve just been hired as the writer for the reboot of the Harry Potter films. As you shake the hands of David Heyman and the Warner Brothers movie execs, you’re equal parts ecstatic and terrified. You’re about to be a part of media history: bringing the magic of JK Rowling’s beloved novels to the big screen once again. After the international success of the original movie series, the pressure is on to top them!
But don’t worry! We’ll let you into a little secret: writing a Harry Potter movie is a walk in the park. All you have to do is follow a few simple rules that every single installment adheres to. Just stick to the formula already set up by the original film series, and your movie will delight critics, audiences, and even the most avid book readers!
Disclaimer: This article is written by a genuine fan of Harry Potter, and though it pokes plenty of fun at the movies, it does so in a loving way. Honest!
Step One: The Trio
Start by opening up your digital copy of the first book. Then press Ctrl+F and search for “said Ron,” then replace every single entry with “said Hermione.” You now have your template for the film’s dialogue! Don’t worry about Ronald, that goofy little ginger will have plenty of hilarious noises to make throughout the film. Scared noises, embarrassed noises, jealous noises, happy noises, eating noises – he’ll be making ALL THE NOISES! But poor Hermione isn’t smart enough or powerful enough in the books, so she’s going to need all his lines.
“Why spiders? Why couldn’t it be ‘Follow the butterflies?'”
Harry Potter himself will largely stay the same, but feel free to add in a few quirkly little quips where he reminds everyone just how silly and British he is! You’ll also need to make him a little bit emo every few scenes, because we can’t have the audience thinking he’s a funny kid. That’s Ron’s job, with all his funny noises! Okay, that’s pretty much all of the film’s dialogue wrapped up. After all, the trio are the only three characters who really matter.
“Brilliant. That makes me feel loads better.”
Step Two: Quidditch, Classes, and Quibbles
Now, the only reason anyone watches these films is to see Hermione’s wonderfully expressive eyebrows and some fancy special effects. But, since the Harry Potter series is technically about a wizarding school, it’s a good idea to throw in a little bit about magical education. Y’know, stuff like classes, sports, and teenagers being teenagers. Don’t sweat it though, a scene for each will be fine. You can probably even combine them all. Or just do a montage.
“Can’t make any promises, of course. Rough game, Quidditch.”
Harry and Ron are arguing with Malfoy, Harry and Ron are arguing with Hermione, Harry and Ron are arguing with each other. The students attend their annual magic class, which will teach them the only new spell they’ll need this year, and will be crucial to the climax of the film. If you don’t have time for a Quidditch match, that’s fine. Just make sure you include a scene that involves people flying on broomsticks, that should cover it. Got them all? Great, that’s enough wizard school nonsense for one movie.
“Turn to page 394.”
Step Three: No Adults Allowed
After setting up Voldemort’s latest dastardly plan, it’s time to make way for the film’s climax. Kind old Tom Riddle has waited until the end of the academic year to launch his annual attempt on Harry’s life, so the Chosen One can at least die with good grades. But there’s one last problem: adults! Thankfully, along comes some convenient circumstances to remove anyone of responsibility from the frame.
“He’s got Padfoot at the place where it’s hidden!”
The Minister for Magic needs Dumbledore’s help! Or is removing him from power. Or is spending the evening with him watching an execution. Or has forced him into hiding. Get the Headmaster out of the way, and just have the rest of the teachers ignore silly little Harry Potter’s harebrained schemes. He was only right the last five years in a row, why would he be right this time? Now it’s just up to Harry and his friends to save the day, and surely they’ll be no match for Voldemort THIS time! Right?! Right?!?!
“Lockhart’s memory charm backfired! He hasn’t got a clue who he is!”
Step Four: Harry Saves The Day
Wrong. Despite all apparently being lost, and certain death closing in on Hogwarts’ unholy trinity, it’s miracle time! Harry is now going to overthrow Voldemort and his brain-dead minions in an awe-inspiring finale. There are many ways you can go about this unexpected turnaround of fortunes.
“Let us hope that Mr. Potter will always be around to save the day.”
Harry could be protected by his long dead mother’s love, or he can win a tug-o’-war with fireworks, or he can have some last minute help from a friend he hasn’t seen forever. But it won’t be because of said friend that Harry wins, it will be because of his bravery, or the devotion he inspires. Harry Potter is life. Harry Potter is love.
“You wonderful boy. You brave, brave man.”
Step Five: Gryffindor Win!
So, that’s all of the plot wrapped up. But the famous Harry Potter isn’t done winning yet! Whatever house, or team, or rebel group he’s in also need to win. Despite being 3000 points behind third place five minutes ago, Gryffindor have managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and claim the House Cup!
“However, recent events must be taken into account. And I have a few last-minute points to award.”
Or the Quidditch Cup. Or both. If you haven’t spent any of the film focusing on House Points or silly Wizard sports, just give Harry the Twi-Wizard Cup. Or have the Order of the Phoenix or Dumbeldore’s Army claim another victory. Harry is delighted to have won again, and have his friends. But he also feels sad. Poor Harry, he’s so damn conflicted! Oh, and before you wrap up the film, make sure you remove this year’s Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher. Another British actor needs a retirement fund!
Bonus: Clingy Voldemort, Angry Dumbledore, Book Changes
If you want to inject some extra magic into your Harry Potter movie, there are still a few more tricks you can pull out of your sleeves to make sure the muggles love you. Make Voldemort more clingy: as in, have him say Harry’s name in a really long, drawn out, whispery way a few more hundred times. If there are less desperate cries for attention from the Dark Lord than there are swear words in a Tarantino movie, you’re doing it wrong.
Next, take Dumbledore – everyone’s favorite calm, collected, and wise wizard from the books. Now make him angry! Have him shout at Harry every now and then. It will help keep the boy wizard just moody and emo enough. Finally, throw in some changes from the source material just for the hell of it. Remove whole sections, storylines and characters (make sure you uphold the hilarious ironic tradition of the fans being peeved that there’s no Peeves in the films!). Otherwise, add in a battle in the middle of the film to show how “dangerous” the world is. You’re then totally justified to remove THE battle at the end of the film.
“Did you put your name in the Goblet of Fire?!”
Great job on your first Harry Potter film! The studio loves it! We particularly love the way Hermione’s eyebrows move in that once scene. And those noises Ron makes! Hahaha, hilarious! Now, just a bit of news. We’ve decided to delay the film until next year, and split it into two, and convert it into 3D. Is that all alright? Great! The fans are going to love it, honestly!