All posts by Martyn

Typo corner: Warner Bros. still holding onto jonathanstrangeandmrnorell.com

In 2004, New Line were so excited to have optioned the movie rights to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, they announced it before the ink had been signed on the contract (so I’m told).

So they got registering internet domains in preparation for a movie (trilogy?) that would give J.R.R. Tolkien a bit of a run for his money.

Alas!

They left this poor little fella running after the multiple option renewals and transfers.  I think it’s pretty safe to say that Warner Bros. haven’t had the rights to JS&MN for some time…

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Note that it’s a misspelling.  It’s not uncommon for entertainment companies to register a variety of common typos alongside the principal domain to stop people from taking advantage of the brand.

It’ll be interesting to see what Warner Bros. does after October 18th this year.. unless Bloomsbury/Curtis Brown slaps them around a bit with a wet kipper.

But I found it fascinating that a little remnant of the film adaptation is still lying around.  Dormant, but still there.

I discovered this typo domain entirely by accident to see if Bloomsbury Publishing had done any polishing on the main jonathanstrangeandmrnorrell.com web site (they also own jonathanstrange.com – leads to the same content).

The Making of Harry Potter – a review

I’ve worked on five out of the eight Harry Potter films as a production systems administrator, which means that I was responsible for ensuring that the company I worked for (The Moving Picture Company)  had connectivity to Leavesden Studios; that the artists would fully equipped with workstations and all the gubbins that come with that; that data between Leavesden and Wardour Street was fully separated and protected from other facilities.

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Visitor badge during my time on one of the Harry Potter films

Starting from The Chamber of Secrets and ending on Half Blood Prince (or, as I like to call it, The Half Price Blood), working on the Potter films was both a privilege and an enormous pain in the arse.

I will never forgive Warner Bros. for many things – especially their threat to pull production away from the UK when they felt they were not getting enough tax credits from the UK government.  I remember the whole company receiving a worrying email expressing hope that things would improve, tax credits wise.  They did, of course.  But we may never have had a Making of Harry Potter studio tour if production (and VFX) moved to Eastern Europe.

On to my positive things, however.  They tidied the place up considerably since my last visit.  Look how shiny it is now:

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The entrance to the Chocolate Factory, so to speak. Notice that the stages are marked J and K.

In the entrance, there are a couple of plaques:

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Yeah, thanks for threatening some of those 4,000 jobs by demanding more free money (see http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-12-04/kill-the-hobbit-subsidies-to-save-regular-earth)

Once you’re in, you’re in a massive entrance hall with hundreds of others getting under your feet.  The one thing that made this tour a living nightmare was the sheer volume of people that pass through.  This leads to selfishness as people – families in particular – muscle in trying to keep together and get the best places.  Add buggies and pushchairs to the mix and you’ve got hell.

While the soundstages are large – they have to be to accommodate the exhibits – the number of people milling around nevertheless makes one feel a little claustrophobic.  And nowhere better experienced in Dumbledore’s office.

One thing I would say about the tour is that the guides are fantastic.  They’re clearly very knowledgeable.  Yet I struggled to hear them – especially in Dumbledore’s office.  And people were by and large ignoring them.  My advice: ask them questions.  They don’t bite, and I spent a very pleasant 10-15 minutes chatting with one lady who writes her own screenplays and hoping find a place somewhere within the film industry.  This came about when I asked about this thing:

It's HUGE!
It’s HUGE!

which I first saw poking out of a soundstage at Shepperton Studios whilst I was working on the film “Wimbledon“.   It would take one person 42 years to build this by themselves.

That’s how big that model is.

It really. really is HUGE.
It really. really is HUGE.

There were some excellent exhibits – some of them covering the work that we did.  Some concept art for the Whomping Willow sequence, for example:

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Then there were the creature effects:

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The Hogwarts Express made an appearance too.  I originally saw that at the York Railway Museum back in early 2014, but here you could take a look inside the passenger carriages.

Diagon Alley was very impressive:

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Overall the tour didn’t last long.  I’d recommend keeping a steady pace.  This isn’t helped by the number of people battling to see things, but you’ll find that you’ll have completed the tour much sooner than expected.  I had 90 minutes to kill afterwards before catching the bus home (I thoroughly recommend the Golden Tours Harry Potter package – picks you up at London Victoria and takes you back again – also includes cost of the tickets).

Perhaps the best way of getting to and from the studio tour is through Golden Tours.
Perhaps the best way of getting to and from the studio tour is through Golden Tours.

Overall, this is very expensive, and I’m not sure whether it justifies the cost.  Just for myself it set me back a whopping £63 inc. VAT – but that does include the transportation (the entrance ticket is around £35).

You’ll need to weigh up whether such cost can be justified.

If you’ve worked on the Harry Potter films, don’t expect a discount unless you’re above the line, and VFX folk that worked on these films may, like me, get angry with WB about their stinking attitude towards the British film industry  back when the films were being made.  Let’s hope whichever party gets in next treats the UK tax credit system well, otherwise I can assure you, WB and their ilk will leave this country faster than a speeding bullet.

My complete Flickr photo album of The Making of Harry Potter can be found here.

My verdict on the BBC’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

1st episode begins on Sunday 17th May, 9pm – BBC One
American viewers can watch from June 13th via BBC America

BFI Q&A video

BFI has finally re-instated their video featuring the April 13th Q&A session with Marc Warren, Bertie Carvel, Peter Harness, Nick Hirschkorn and Toby Haynes.

Exclusive YouTube clip from episode 1

Launch trailer

24th Aprilin lieu of BFI’s decision to make the Q&A video private, I strongly recommend people head over to this article by vickster51 who sums on the Q&A session beautifully (including audience questions) as well as their own view on the preview.  (UPDATE: the video’s back – see above)


I’ve been waiting ten years to see this happen, following the adaptation from its origins at New Line (optioned twice), then at Amber Entertainment (formed by former New Line execs that originally optioned JS&MN), then back to Cuba Pictures – the film/TV division of Curtis Brown, Susanna’s literary agents.

During the time JS&MN was briefly a film (at least in principal), it  went through two Oscar winning screenwriters (and countless many drafts) before Peter Harness finally came on board and cracked the code that had defeated everyone else.

So now I’ve seen the first two episodes at the recent BFI screening, well, I can honestly say – hand on heart – that this is one of the finest television dramas I’ve ever had the privilege of watching.  It sits right up there amongst Breaking Bad and Fargo – two of the very best television series I’ve clapped my peepers on (I’m excluding Game of Thrones because, quite frankly, it’s getting far too complacent and far too effects heavy – I absolutely see it heading towards virtual sets & general silliness which, as an ex-VFX person, drives me nuts – a story can be visual and gorgeous, yes, but is nothing without substance – whereas something like JS&MN strikes exactly the right balance, and the folks behind it know this).

So Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, to me at least, is significantly more than just “good”.

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While we only got to see the first two episodes of the forthcoming BBC adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, it was enough to tell me that what I saw is a faithful adaptation of the book.   But one must always remember with these things is that this isn’t the book.  You can’t put a book through a television shaped hole.

This is a television series based on the book.  So bits do get left out (footnotes mainly), turned around, new bits added and so on.

For people that claim the book is slow, you’re going to find this adaptation kicks things into gear.  Trust me, Peter has managed to put things in order to get the story pootling along a fair old pace.

You’ll still need 7 episodes to get everything (that’s important) across, but even so, better 7 episodes than 32 (which is how long Simon Prebble takes, in hours, to read the novel).

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Multi-episodic television was always going to be the best medium to present this epic 800 page turner of a book visually.  Peter Harness has achieved the impossible – a magical transformation in itself – in conveying everything that we (should) love about the story into seven one-hour long episodes.

I won’t go into any detail of the episodes themselves.  I’ll just say that the performances are some of the best I’ve ever seen.  Eddie Marsan and Bertie Carvel, in the leads, work wonderfully well.   Special mention goes to Charlotte Riley as Arabella Strange – she and Bertie work so well together.  It’s so natural and fantastic.  Paul Kaye as Vinculus is a stand out performance – manic, frightening, menacing.  Enzo Cilenti as Childermass is commanding.   Ariyon Bakare’s Stephen Black is enchanting.  Samuel West as Sir Walter Pole is cast perfectly, as is Alice Englert, Pole’s poorly wife who is brought back from the brink of death by a malingering faerie.

The said malingerer, Marc Warren as The Gentleman With The Thistledown Hair, is absolutely spot on in my eyes. He brings a considerable amount of menace (bloody hell – that STARE), plotting and mischievous to the character that few else could do.  I’m sure it was just the cinema’s air conditioning, but felt blasts of cold air whenever The Gentleman was on screen.

There are so many other supporting characters and actors I could mention, but I end up waffling.   Just know that everyone that appears in this TV series is nothing short of fantastic and it is a credit to them and the rest of the crew (including Toby Haynes the director, and Nick Hirschkorn the producer), that their love and care of the story has come through in the finalised episodes.

Peter (Harness) tells me that there is something that I’ll appreciate in episode seven.  He won’t tell me what, so I’ll just have to wait and see.  As for when the episodes will air – that’s still unconfirmed other than it’ll be May.

In summary: it is as close to perfect as you’re going to get.

BTW, I’m not sure whether this was deliberate or not – but my mind started racing when Honeyfoot & Segundus’ coach went through the hole in the wall surrounding Norrell’s Hurtfew Abbey.  In Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, there is a wall in which, once crossed, leads to a magical realm full of magic and mysterious creatures.  And Susanna Clarke DID write a story set in Wall that featured the Duke of Wellington..

BONUS FEATURES!

Bloomsbury Publishing was very kindly giving away free copies of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell at the screening.  This special TV tie-in features a new preface by Susanna Clarke, written late last year which details some of her experiences of watching characters she created come to get life in front of her eyes.

Thanks Bloomsbury!

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Londinium or Bust: Tourist Time

With less than two weeks away until I head over to the BFI Southbank to be one of the first to watch the first two episodes of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, I decided that given I’ve waited 10 years to see this, I’d treat myself.

So I’ve splashed out on three days at a reasonably priced, but good quality hotel near to the BFI and the Southbank as a base to explore London over the weekend and throughout the day leading up to the screening itself.

One thing I’ve been meaning to do for a while is to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour.  Having worked on the 5 out of the 8 films, and having been to Leavesden a number of times throughout – it’ll be interesting to see what they’ve done with the place.

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All this will give me a chance to take the new camera for a spin, and to get me out and about of the house.

I’ll report back on my activities as and when.  I’ll be filing a complete report on the Harry Potter Studio tour, along with various anecdotes from my own experiences at Leavesden back when they were filming.  It’ll be interesting to compare what’s what.