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David Yates has plenty of experience on the small screen, but "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is the director's major motion picture debut. When TODAYShow.com talked to Yates, the British filmmaker didn't seem intimidated at all by making his first movie for such a devoted fan base...
TODAYShow.com: "Order of the Phoenix" is the longest book, but shortest film. How did you decide what stayed and what went, especially when you consider how particular Potter fans can be about every detail of the book?
It was kind of tricky on one level because you don’t want to let everything go. If Warner Brothers had given me a billion dollars to make the longest film in history, I probably would have done it.
We really concentrated on Harry’s story in the movie because we all got really excited about that particular strand, and thought it could make the most satisfying, emotionally dramatic spine.
The film has got to be as long as it needs to be. Our story felt right at this length and just personally, sometimes I think big films overstay their welcome a wee bit. I have the attention span of an 8-year-old and in a big blockbuster film I sometimes find myself fidgeting and thinking, ‘Gosh, when is this going to be over?’ We thought it was important not to overstay our welcome
One of my favorite films of all time is “Jaws,” which is two hours and two minutes long, and I think that’s the perfect length.
TODAYShow.com: If you were going to include one more scene, what would it be?
Yates: Probably one of the scenes we cut because it just felt it held things up a wee bit. There’s a lovely moment where Dolores Umbridge is standing by all these proclamations that have blown off the wall, and her hair is on fire and poor old Filch is trying to extinguish her hair.
TODAYShow.com: What was your favorite scene to film?
Yates: One of my favorites is Harry has just had his first kiss and he and his two mates, Ron and Hermione, are sitting around the fire and he talks about the kiss. It’s a really typical scene of boys and girls and their different take on the opposite sex. It feels like there a lot of truth to it.
TODAYShow.com: Besides "Order of the Phoenix," which is your favorite Harry Potter film?
Yates: I love Alfonso’s (Cuaron, who directed "Prisoner of Azkaban") film. I thought it was really slick and well-crafted and cinematic. I thought Mike’s (Newell, who directed "Goblet of "Fire") film was incredibly jolly and exciting. and I think Chris (Columbus, who directed "Sorcerer's Stone" and "Chamber of Secrets") did a great job of setting up the world. Alfonso’s was my personal favorite, but I think they’ve all been great.
TODAYShow.com It seems the director of the Harry Potter films parallels the Defense Against the Dark position in one big way — no one sticks around for the second term. You’re the first director since Chris Columbus to stay on for a second film. How did you beat the curse?
Yates: I think everyone else got a bit knackered. I think since I’m a big kid at heart, I find them energizing. The schedules are kind of tough and it’s a big marathon. It gave me energy, and I just like the way the books and movies are developing. Creatively, and as a story teller, I didn’t think I’d completed the story and had more to do.
TODAYShow.com: Did it help that you were fresh, having not read the books until landing the job?
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TODAYShow.com: Does not knowing the outcome of the final story make it difficult for you to direct the movies and develop the on-screen characters?
In a sense, no. It’s kind of more interesting. With a character like Snape, where you’re not really sure if he’s a good guy or a bad guy, that gives you a latent tension. As the story rolls out you just go with it.
I think the coolest thing you can do with an audience is deny them a little bit of information.
TODAYShow.com: We’re posing a Harry Potter Mystery Question each week. Can I ask you our fifth question, which is about “Order of the Phoenix”?
TODAYShow.com: Great, here it is: In a chapter titled "Snape's Worst Memory," Harry sees his teenage father and his friends attack the young man who would become Professor Severus Snape. Why would this be "Snape's worst memory"? What else do we know about Professor Snape's personal life?
Yates: You know why it’s Snape’s worst memory? Because it’s a kind of public humiliation and it’s quite an intense scene in the film. It’s intense because there’s the notion that his character has such gravitas and authority and such power and everyone hates him for it. But in this scene we see how weak and vulnerable he is. He would hate for everyone at Hogwarts to see that scene.