David Yates, In Conversation

When David Yates, famed for directing Harry Potter began his talk by saying how as a kid he’d make movies in his head using a swan vesta box as it was anamorphic, I knew I was in for a treat with this session.

In the earlier part of his career he took some rejection and gave up writing himself as he had no discipline for it and found it hard work but he does love the writing and development stage of a project and loves working with writers. Great writing, he said, has great character. There are, he warned periods in a screenwriting career when things can stop and he made corporate videos for a while but at the same time searched for a screenwriter to work with for a feature project.

As you can imagine nowadays he reads a lot of screenplays and says “You can tell in twenty pages if it’s a strong script.” When he hasn’t found them strong that’s usually a case of him being able to see the mechanics of what the writer is going to do, it’s a combo of feeling too familiar and being able to see the structure an pattern for what lies ahead. A unique voice, when something is fresh and original is a great calling card. He’s very positive to new writers.

He spoke a little about some of the work he’s done in the past. For State of Play the script was very good and he insisted on directing the full series himself. The writer oly had the first three parts so didn’t know where it was going himself and ther’s incredible adrenaline writing in the moment. When looking back at the scripts it was slender on plot and driven by character and intrigue. He’s certainly very passionate about his work and the work of the writers he’s worked alongside. Filming many things back to back though can take a toll and he was put on three days bed rest shortly before Sex Traffic was due to begin filming for exhaustion. True to his project he did script editing in bed.

It was during a period of preparing to do Brideshead Revisited that he was talked to about taking on Harry Potter. It was at a stage when the characters and audience were growing up and because of his more serious work believes that’s why he was given the job, despite giving an awful pitch as to how he’d film it. Though the Harry Potter books are difficult to adapt after the first draft was finished they refined it for about three months to find a working script. Potter was a very collaborative and supported project and he was given free reign to grow the films up a bit. Interestingly the decision to split part seven into two films was once of both finances and wanting to keep the films on a scale they’d been used to achieving. The cost of what David wanted to do was too much for one film. Plus it was a huge book and there was an element of not wanting to let go of the franchise having become such a family on it, but knowing that the films would each be good in their own right it made economic sense to split the material and afford to do things right. During the films he worked 6-7 day weeks and there were juggernaut deadlines to reach. There’s certainly a lot to achieve filming back to back.

For the future David wants to do a mixture of small independent films and larger. Very big budget ones. He speaks with such passion about both the work he does and the people he works with that whichever he chooses I know he’ll make the absolute maximum impact with it. “Know what is crucial and arterial to the story..” he says. Good advice for anyone to follow.

Questions continued in the script chat afterwards, and the morning pep talk from Chris paid off when I found myself asking a question that was dear to my heart and the payoff for that bravery was hearing the answer I wanted to hear.

Leilani Holmes
Festival Blogger

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