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Old 12-01-2002, 12:26 PM
Here is an article from the L.A. Times about the changes in the third Potter film and the problems that may occur around Hogwarts.....

Now that "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" has scared up monstrous box-office numbers, just like the first movie, here's how the plot thickens in coming episodes:

Warner Bros. has been forced to hire a new director for the third installment. The original one burned out after the breakneck pace of back-to-back productions. The planned release date has been delayed because the parents of the actor who plays Harry wanted him to attend a prestigious school rather than being tutored on the set.

Meanwhile, the fourth J.K. Rowling adventure book is so fat -- 734 pages -- no one is sure it can be shaped into a single movie without slicing scenes, which could alienate the protective author and her fanatical young readers.

As for book No. 5, it's still in the works -- and even longer than the last one.

On top of all this, the clock is ticking for the three young stars of the "Potter" series, who already are beginning to outgrow their roles, raising the dicey issue of whether adolescent audiences would embrace a new Harry, Ron and Hermione.

As successful as the "Potter" film series has been so far, it also has become arguably the most complicated and uniquely unpredictable movie franchise ever undertaken. Warner Bros. President Alan Horn calls the effort "a Herculean task."

No other long-running movie series -- not "Star Wars," James Bond or "Batman" -- has been forced to juggle the competing interests of literary loyalty, artistic license and commercial considerations on such a grand scale.

"It's a unique balancing act," studio Chairman Barry Meyer says -- one that gets trickier, not easier, as the franchise stretches toward the end of the decade and possibly beyond.

"Things you think may be a slam dunk may not be," says media analyst Tom Wolzien of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

In all, Warner Bros. plans on making seven movies based on Rowling's completed and pending books about a bespectacled boy and his pals at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where young witches and wizards learn the finer points of potions and wands while tumbling into frightening adventures.

The studio got into the game early and cheaply. Just before the first book -- "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" -- became an international sensation, Warner Bros. paid Rowling a meager $50,000 for the right to keep rivals at bay. The following year, the studio paid an additional $500,000, this time to exercise its option to make a movie.

Since then, "Sorcerer's Stone" has generated an estimated $1.5 billion in revenue for the studio and its corporate parent, AOL Time Warner Inc., from worldwide box-office receipts and DVD, television and merchandising sales. "Chamber of Secrets" appears headed down the same road to riches, grossing an estimated $87.7 million in North American theaters last weekend.


Movie a Year Planned

The initial plan was to maintain a schedule that would allow the studio to release a movie every year, keeping audience anticipation high. For the first two films, the strategy worked. Not so for No. 3, which won't be out until 2004 -- proving that nothing can be taken for granted when working with young stars on an ambitious scale.

Production on "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" was delayed until February when the parents of leading boy Daniel Radcliffe, 13, asked for a recess. They told the studio and London-based producer David Heyman their son had been accepted into a top-drawer school and they would like him to attend the first semester. The parents of co-star Emma Watson, 12, who plays precocious witch Hermione, wanted their daughter to study in a real classroom too. For two years, the young actors had been tutored on the set.

"The kids wanted a break," studio chief Horn says. "We're talking about real people here."

Their director, however, wanted to drop out completely.

Chris Columbus, whose works include the mainstream hits "Home Alone" and "Mrs. Doubtfire," had planned on directing all seven "Potter" pictures. But last summer, halfway through shooting "Chamber of Secrets," he told the studio he was simply too spent to even contemplate a third movie, let alone four more after that.

The normally indefatigable Columbus has spent three years filming in London, uprooting his wife and their four children (ranging in age from 5 to 13) from their San Francisco home.

After beginning production on "Chamber of Secrets" just three days after the debut of "Sorcerer's Stone," Columbus says he couldn't imagine starting another grueling regimen of 16-hour days.

"I didn't think I could give the actors the same amount of energy ... and I wanted to spend more time with my family," Columbus says. "I had the insanely naive vision that I would direct all seven movies. But ... I realized that if I even attempted to do the third movie, I might not make it."

Breaking the news to the studio was tough, but not nearly as hard as telling the young actors with whom he had grown so close, especially Radcliffe.

Still, Columbus won't be heading back to the Bay Area soon. To ensure a smooth transition for the youngsters and their new director, Alfonso Cuaron, he agreed to stay on as a producer until "Prisoner of Azkaban" is completed late next summer.

"My only rule is that the set has to be a completely comfortable place -- no screaming, no angry outbursts, no selfish behavior," Columbus says.

The change in directors also could have a dramatic effect on the look and tone of the franchise. Although Cuaron has been lauded for his artistry, he has never shepherded a huge commercial success or directed a big-budget, complicated production with lots of visual effects. The first two "Potter" movies each cost about $140 million to make.

What the studio did see in Cuaron was his distinctive style and range. He directed this year's sexually explicit Spanish-language sleeper "Y Tu Mama Tambien," a coming-of-age story about two teenage boys who become intimate with the same older woman. On the other end of the spectrum, he directed Warner's visually enchanting but financially disappointing 1995 children's movie "A Little Princess," which is set in a New York girls' school.

"He has a great sense of magic, boundless imagination, a real compassion for children and a keen understanding of teenage life and its nuances," "Potter" producer Heyman says.

Cuaron's biggest challenge may be one out of his control, one that sets the "Potter" franchise apart from any other movie series.

Although the young stars were supposed to age one year with each movie -- as the characters do in the books -- the plan has gone awry. With production delayed, their ages will be out of sync by the third movie, a gap that is expected only to widen with each new installment.

"We're experimenting with cryogenic techniques to simply freeze the actors until we're ready to go again, but so far there's no scientific evidence to suggest that it's a workable plan," Horn jokes.

The child actors in the "Potter" franchise are unusual because they have given face to literary characters cherished by millions of young readers.


Casting Challenges

It will be tricky enough to replace Professor Albus Dumbledore, portrayed in the first two "Potter" movies by Richard Harris, 72, who died last month. But the thought of replacing Harry or his closest cohorts is enough to unnerve Warner executives fearful of breaking the spell with fans.

Horn says he hopes he will not confront that decision. But if he does, there'll be only one option. "We'd have to find new kids," he says.

At this point, Radcliffe, Watson and 14-year-old Rupert Grint, who plays Harry's sidekick Ron, are under contract for only one more movie. They have not been asked to sign up for No. 4, according to Horn, because production isn't slated to begin until spring 2004.

With so much money riding on the advancing ages of the children, there is little room for the kinds of creative and strategic delays that typically plague Hollywood productions. As a result, pressure is mounting to keep the productions on track.

The studio only recently closed a deal with screenwriter Steve Kloves to begin adapting Rowling's lengthy fourth book, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." If Kloves can't figure out how to squeeze the material into one movie, the studio might have to make two, Horn said. And that would further distance the actors' real ages from those of their screen characters.

Then again, condensing the voluminous book into one movie carries its own problems. Harry Potter audiences expect to see every twist and turn from Rowling's books leap from the page to the screen.

The status of "Harry Potter" No. 5 is even murkier, raising concerns about just how long the momentum can be maintained.

Warner had hoped Rowling would be done writing "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" by last summer because the studio wanted to release the video and DVD of "Sorcerer's Stone" at the same time the book was published.

So when will Warner get a peek?

"Zero idea," Horn confesses. When he saw the author at the London premiere of "Chamber of Secrets," "she didn't mention it and I didn't ask."

According to a spokeswoman at Scholastic Inc., Rowling's U.S. publisher, the author is "putting the finishing touches" on her fifth book. And though that may be good news for the studio, Rowling has told her publisher that book No. 5 will be "one chapter longer than [No.] 4."
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