On the 7th of October, we went to the Harry Potter Studios Tour at Warner Bros Studios, Watford in London. This was an opportunity to gain a large insight of what happens 'behind the scenes' of a film (in this case, the eight films that make up the Harry Potter franchise). We also were given the opportunity to learn more about the marketing department of the film industry and what techniques of advertising will make a film stand out from all the others.
WHAT WE DID ON THE TRIP
At the start of the tour, we watched a series of interviews with some of the films' crew which included an interview with David Heyman (one of the franchise's recurring producers). These interviews consisted of opinions and answers surrounding the first film: The Philosopher's Stone. This was interesting because it gave us an insight on how the idea of adapting a - what was at the time - recently released children's story about a young wizard was taken onboard and spawned one of the most successful movie franchises ever. We then entered a small cinema room where we were introduced to the studios by the three leading actors; Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. They explained to us their experiences of growing up with the community of thousands of people involved in the films, calling them their 'second family'. This short clip included montage of backstage footage of the trio interacting with fellow actors, camera crew and production staff stating how each member of the community was important to the making of the films.
As soon as the screen rolled up, we were taken aback by the iconic doors enclosing the Great Hall.
Once these doors opened, this was the start of the tour of costumes and props. This idea of introducing us to the 'world of Harry Potter' was really original yet fab because this location was one that I can picture in my head clearly and associate with the films. At the front of the hall was a nostalgic collection of costumes that the main teachers of the school wore. Once we were given the freedom to explore, we walked into the main studio area which was the home of many of the franchise's props. Ranging from the ice sculpture that featured in The Yule Ball in The Goblet of Fire to the entrance door to the serpent's lair in The Chamber of Secrets, each prop was used in at least one of the films. Some of the props, particularly the costumes, frequently featured in the franchise (one example is the magical revolving staircase that was used in the foyer leading to the house rooms in Hogwarts). After a short time to take pictures and briefly explore, we then met one of the tour's guides, Will, who gave us a lesson on Marketing. (This is explained in further detail later.)
After the lesson, we then went outside to the refreshments area which also housed some of the famous vehicles and buildings. This was an ideal photo zone with places including the Weasley's Ford Anglia, the purple double decker bus that Harry travelled in at the start of The Prisoner of
Azkaban and Harry's house at Privet Drive. We were also given the opportunity to buy a glass of Butterbeer. Then, we entered the second soundstage through the Creature Shop: a room that contained some of the masks and mannequins used in the films. There were also the animatronic heads of creatures and characters that were used (as the rest of their body was most likely created using CGI). Then, we walked down the main alley of shops in Diagon Alley. This was a great photo opportunity and one of my favourite moments of the trip. After capturing elements of the street, we walked into a gallery of artwork and sculptures of pre-developed CGI characters and locations. We then entered a room which only contained this gigantic model of Hogwarts which was used for panoramic shots in the films. This model was absolutely spectacular as seen in the picture below. The final room that we saw was the Ollivanders wand box room dedicated to every single person who contributed to any of the films - actors, production, camera crew, art department, musical department, etc. Each person had their own wand box with their name printed on the edge of the box.
I thoroughly enjoyed this lesson on marketing because it expanded my understanding and appreciation for other areas of the film industry too. Will's extensive talk on how many career opportunities were available just from one small prop such as a polystyrene piece of debris used in Deathly Hallows Part 2. I learnt that there must be at ten different workers who were responsible for this prop: from designing the prop, the transportation of the prop to the shooting location to the people who are in charge of positioning the prop in the correct position for each shot.
Before any marketing campaign, there has to be a pitch for an idea. The idea of producing a film just for fun may appeal to amateurs but not for serious film producers who hope to receive a long-term return. Therefore, they have to pitch their idea to a distribution company such as Warner Bros (the company that funded Harry Potter), Universal and Paramount. We were taught a key method to use when planning a pitch. This is the list of factors that should be mentioned when selling an idea to company figures:
- The film's genre(s)
- Two main actors that will be involved in the film (actors that are capable of portraying characters from the genre, audience may not approve of Jason Statham appearing in a rom-com for example)
- Basic plot summary (not a synopsis!)
- Period of film (when it is set)
- Enigmas behind plots (can sequels/prequels be produced?)
If a successful pitch is made, a company can then fund an idea and help it develop into a film. One of the departments where funding is crucial is marketing.
There are many forms of marketing, e.g.; posters, trailers, P&R stunts, features in fictional programmes and other films, social media, fan-based events, etc. We were given brief descriptions of the less obvious forms of marketing. P&R stunts are interviews with actors for an audience (whether that is in print or in movable text such as the news or factual, cultural programmes). Fan-based events are cult gatherings dedicated to fans of fiction. The event does not have to be based on that particular film that a marketing department wish to promote. The event can be ideal to attract new interest for the film because if the film and the event fall under the same genre, producers are highly likely to receive a large amount of appeal from people who enjoy that particular genre. Another form of marketing is sponsoring where product placement allows a partnership between a film and a company such as Coca Cola or Apple to occur. By featuring an advert for/a competition relating to a film on the packaging of a product, the film can legally feature that product in scenes.
One type of marketing that we received an example for was a teaser trailer. This is a minute's preview of a film which usually contains many enigma codes. The usual structure that producers of these trailers follow is that the plot dramatically reaches a climax before disclosing any further information to show the title sequence and other important details like the date of release/premiere or a tag line. To suit the place where we were, we were shown the teaser trailer for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. This trailer followed the structure through the increase in music volume and conflict between the cast before the memorable melody and the typography that has been used in all of the films. This trailer highlighted an importance for consistency in campaigns, particularly if the film will spawn sequels and prequels.
Another, and less obvious type of marketing, is a tag line. This applies to final sequels of films because fans can easily distinguish a finale when a tagline uses the word 'end' or 'finish'. It can also appeal to audience members who have not seen the previous films and choose to before they decide to watch this final instalment. A successful tag line is one that is still recognisable by a wide audience years (even decades) after the film has been released. Some tag lines are now considered a part of cultural nostalgia, one particular example being Star Wars' 'A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away'.
MY TOP TEN MOMENTS OF THE DAY
Here is a list of my top ten favourite moments of the day (no particular order):
- The model of Hogwarts because it was just absolutely spectacular and an example of great artistry.
- Diagon Alley because it brought back many memories of the films and this room made me feel like I was an extra.
- The amount of small props that I saw highlighted the importance of every single prop within a film. One prop that highlighted this significant importance was the labelled packet of cufflinks that were a part of Kenneth Branagh's costume in The Chamber of Secrets.
- The Ollivanders Wand Room because it was a dedication to every single member of the cast and I feel that this sense of community and loving co-operation was one of the biggest reasons why the Harry Potter films were such a huge success.
- The 'Rock' prop discussion during the Marketing lesson because it helped me to appreciate the huge number of career opportunities that are available in the film industry and it helped me to think about my future in an industry which I wish to pursue a career in.
- The darker costumes because they were tailored so that audiences can distinguish the mysterious, evil characters in the franchise.
- The pre-developed sculptures of Hogsmeade because it helped me to appreciate the artists who provide the ideas behind the fictional locations and the computer-generated characters.
- The effort made for Hagrid to be his incredible size: I never realised that they used an incredibly tall extra who wore an animatronic head of Robbie Coltrane to do the stunt work and the physicality of the character. I thought that Robbie Coltrane was just wearing stilts.
- The inside view of some of the classrooms and scenes because it allowed us to feel like a visitor to some of those areas.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Harry Potter trip not only because of the sights but because of the knowledge and skills that I gained from the experience that will help me for further media projects. I learnt that consistency is extremely important for an idea's success. Suddenly changing even the smallest area of a character's costume in a sequel can be picked up by audience members and this lack of continuity can discourage them from watching future sequels. Without the loyalty of die hard fans, profits in the long-term may eventually develop into a loss.
I also learnt that every element of a film needs to be planned and produced thoroughly. Evading important stages could lead to huge, costly mistakes and when in such a competitive environment, gaining funds from a major distribution company is so difficult to achieve in the first place. From visiting the studios, I realised that even for the smallest of props, a huge amount of detail and work has occurred in order for that prop to be shot in the film. Being able to mass-produce that amount of detail is also very important and, once again, links to my previous point of consistency.
I thought that the method taught to deliver the perfect pitch will help me when I'm producing my future projects because planning an idea's genre(s) and basic plot will help me to list and include codes and conventions that will influence my future work. These two factors alongside the time period/era will hopefully help me to focus on the most important reason of a media text's success: the audience's response.