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Harry Potter and The Perpetual Writer

By Randal Stevens · June 7, 2010

As a borderline-obsessed fan of Harry Potter, I'm anxiously looking forward to the final installment(s) of the film franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The franchise, spawned by the ungodly successful books created by J.K. Rowling, is just one of many recent film franchises (Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man, Toy Story) that have helped disprove the theory maintained throughout the 1980's and 1990's that sequels and brands were largely mindless cash grabs. Granted, every studio on the planet is going to greenlight a sequel based on how much cash the execs think can be made off it, but in the last decade, it seems as though they've at least tried to not make the experience a complete waste of time by putting some A-list names behind the camera.


While Sam Raimi has tackled Spider-Man, Christopher Nolan has re-invented Batman and Bryan Singer has added his own flavor to the X-Men, the Harry Potter franchise has distanced itself from those others a bit by opening the door to a proverbial revolving door of directors who each bring their own voice to the series. This is not exactly earth-shattering; after all, the James Bond series has been doing this since back when MGM actually had money to blow. Yet the Harry Potter franchise has distinguished itself from the rest of the heap in the one consistency that no other film series can claim: with one exception, it boasts only one screenwriter, Steve Kloves, for 7 of its 8 installments.


Kloves, an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter for Wonder Boys, more than likely got the job transcribing Harry Potter's path to manhood due to the fact that The Fabulous Baker Boys, which Kloves wrote and directed, is one of J.K. Rowling's favorite films. Whether he was given a permanent job up front or he proved himself enough after the first few films that Warner Bros. married themselves to him later, the studio saw something in Kloves that appealed to them enough where he's been the only credited writer on a Harry Potter script (with the exception of Michael Goldenberg, who snagged the gig for Order of the Phoenix when Kloves took time off to work on a personal project). This is quite a coup for a screenwriter. In an age where screenwriters have to keep working to go from project to project, with the possibility that they'll have to write 5 to sell 1, it's practically unheard of to hear of a case such as Kloves', which seems to hearken back to the Golden Age of cinema when screenwriters, directors and actors were indentured to a studio. It doesn't matter if Kloves only wrote 5 or 500 screenplays before he got the job writing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone – with the bank he's making, he'll never have to write another screenplay again. Hell, he could probably create a vault for the sole purpose of swimming through piles of cash a la Scrooge McDuck if he wanted. His story is the kind dreams are made of.


On the other hand, it's also a testament to just how important the directors – for good or for ill – are to the Harry Potter series. You see, while Kloves has probably collected enough cash to put a down payment on the children I don't yet have and sell them into slavery, he'll forever be under-appreciated for his work on Harry Potter. As is the plight for all screenwriters, when a film is great (such as Prisoner of Azkaban), the director, in this case, Alfonso Cuaron, will almost always receive all the credit. When a film is bad – at least relatively in regards to the rest of the series (such as Goblet of Fire) – then suddenly Kloves becomes the enemy. When it was noted that Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets were a little bit too literal of adaptations, Kloves was blamed. When he paired down the darkness and brought out the light in Half-Blood Prince, people instead praised the cinematography. So what's the deal with Kloves? Does his work get lost amongst the egos of the directors brought in to shoot his pages? Or are the directors brought in to try and salvage his mediocrity?


Well, neither really. Kloves is, if nothing else, consistent. His talent and the quality of the work he's produced during the Harry Potter series has remained the same, but the interpretation by the varied directors have either helped or hindered the product that appears on the screen. Think about it – sure, the first two films in the series were essentially visual reproductions of the book, but did Chris Columbus do anything to add an extra element to them? No. Was Prisoner of Azkaban great? Yes, but Alfonso Cuaron helped make it so great with the interpretation he brought. Just read the Azkaban script here: As you read, you'll see that a lot of scenes have been omitted and a few additional elements and bits of dialogue, which added nothing to the film, were ultimately removed. In short, Cuaron helped shape up the film considerably. By saying this, I'm neither tying to take away nor add anything to Kloves' credit – I'm simply saying that he creates a quality product that the directors can either translate or bring to the next level.


As I've said before, Akira Kurosawa has stated that you cannot have a great movie without a great script. The fact that Cuaron and David Yates have been able to take their respective films outside of the realm of juvenile literature are as much a testament to their skill as directors as it is a testament to Kloves' efficient writing.