David Heyman, the producer of the Harry Potter pictures, comes from British moviemaking royalty.
His father, John Heyman, executive-produced David Lean's A Passage to India and produced Joseph Losey's The Go-Between. Norma Heyman, David's mother, produced Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons.
That should have made Heyman feel like a pure-blood prince of moviemaking.
Yet growing up, he thought himself a bit of an outsider. With his parents divorced and his father living in New York, he fell for "the romance of America" and yearned to go to school across the Atlantic even when he was studying at elite Westminster School. In love with America as the land of opportunity, the center of 1970s popular culture and the home of liberal-arts education, he ended up getting an art history degree from Harvard University.
The in-and-out feelings he carried in his head connected him to Harry Potter, the boy of half-wizard, half-"Muggle" stock, who shakes up the status quo at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
"You find my credits ... eclectic?" Heyman asks, with a chuckle, over the phone from Los Angeles.
Variety and range have been a hallmark of his career from its inception.
He entered picture-making as a runner on Lords of Discipline and Ragtime, and a production assistant on A Passage to India. He worked as a creative executive at Warner Bros. on films such as Gorillas in the Mist and Goodfellas before breaking out into independent production with such distinctive films as the superb observational comedy The Daytrippers, the directorial debut of Greg Mottola (who went on to do Adventureland and Superbad).
His experience in the mainstream and several arcane estuaries has served Heyman well in pushing the Potter franchise.
Heyman had moved back to London in 1996 and established Heyday Films when he got hold of Harry Potter. First a Heyday assistant and then Heyman thought the chronicle of a boy wizard in magic school was fantastic. Warner Bros. optioned it for Heyman's company. The tale of a bespectacled orphan who becomes the world's bulwark against ultimate evil was just the ticket for a filmmaker with a taste for the fringe. But when the series became an international phenomenon, how did Heyman maintain creative control?
It came down to a gal named Jo.
"I had established a relationship with J.K. Rowling," Heyman said Tuesday on the phone from Los Angeles, shortly before Ha rry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince would smash all known records for midnight shows. "She knew I 'got it' and was incredibly loyal and supportive to me ... so the more successful the book became, the more leverage I got."
When Heyman enlisted Steve Kloves as screenwriter, "Jo was immediately comfortable with him. Also, when Steve was writing his first Potter script and Jo was writing her fourth Potter novel, they found themselves in similar positions." Rowling had never experienced the extraordinary pressure of producing a major work on deadline. Kloves had never transferred a global sensation to the screen.
They became comrades in arms, with pens. Heyman says Kloves, who has written all but one of the Potter scripts, has given the series more than its remarkably sinewy consistency: "Not just great dialogue and understanding of the books, but also visual descriptions that make certain things so clear to other filmmakers. He is a director, too, and it will be great to get him back behind the camera." (Heyman will produce Kloves' projected movie version of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time).
Heyman credits the remarkable stylistic elasticity of the series to the choices of each man at the helm. Chris Columbus, the director of Potter 1 (and then Potter 2), "even wrote his own draft of the script, which we never saw. He loved every word of the book." Columbus' sound foundation work included assembling an eerily apt cast and eliciting evocative settings from production designer Stuart Craig. The director also had the wisdom to eschew "a contemporary signature" in favor of "a timeless aesthetic." The movies would go on to encompass, as the books do, up-to-date social tensions, but they would always be rooted in a world of fable.
To some observers, Alfonso Cuaron, who made Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, was an odd choice to follow Columbus, because Cuaron entered the franchise after his sexually graphic coming-of-age movie Y tu mama tambien. But for Heyman, it was the perfect calling card. "Alfonso had just made a brilliant movie about the last months of adolescence; Azkaban was about children entering ... adolescence."
To Heyman, Cuaron made the Potter saga more subversive and bewitching, more international and less American, while imbuing the narrative with his unique "visual dance." Heyman says Cuaron "imposed a cinematic structure on the rest of the series. Instead of becoming a task of transposing the books into films, adapting them required telling the stories from Harry's point of view, so anything that was not about his odyssey fell away." As the books grew longer and more intricate, this choice provided successive moviemakers with more focus - and more freedom.
Still, veteran British director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) struck terror in Heyman's heart when he announced that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire would be "a Bollywood film. But by which he meant an all-out, sweeping entertainment, full of singing and dancing and so much going on." In the end, in Heyman's eyes, Newell made "the most English of all the films up to that point, overflowing with ritual and history and the ceremonies of school, life, perhaps because Mike, like myself, had gone to a school like Hogwarts [St.Albans]."
Heyman's smartest decision to date has been tapping BBC director David Yates for the final four, starting with The Order of the Phoenix, continuing with The Half-Blood Prince and culminating in the two-part Deathly Hallows.
"In Phoenix, Hogwarts was becoming more political, internal tensions were beginning to boil over, and we were becoming more aware of an ongoing war and a lot of rifts within the magic world. A director had to know how to handle politics in a very entertaining way, which David had done so successfully in [the original BBC miniseries] State of Play. He's also a great director of actors." And in The H alf-Blood Prince Yates pops your eyes with the help of cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel. "Somehow, with their lighting and their use of the wide screen, David and Bruno made Hogwarts brighter and more vivid - even more magical." The expansive compositions match the ballooning emotions of boys and girls experiencing the heartbreak, jealousies and slow burns of crushes and true loves.
As the series moves to completion, Heyman, a father himself, says "one of the great pleasures of the Potter movies is the pride and pleasure they give my parents. My father and mother were always deeply encouraging, but they also made me aware of the challenges of the industry. It's a really tough business. If I hadn't had such luck, I'm not sure I would still be here."