1. In 1997, film producer David Heyman searched for a children's book that could be successfully adapted for the screen. He initially planned to produce Diana Wynne Jones' novel The Ogre Downstairs, but his plans fell through. Then his staff at Heyday Films suggested Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which his assistant believed was "a cool idea." Heyman took the novel home with him, opening it for the first time late that evening. It was gone 4am when he realised he'd been reading all night.
Convinced this was the story he was searching for, Heyman pitched the idea to Warner Bros.who began negotiations with author J.K. Rowling. Rowling was hesitant to sell the rights because she "didn't want to give them control over the rest of the story" by selling the rights to the characters, which would have enabled Warner Bros. to make non-author-written sequels. In 1999, after multiple clauses were written into the contract on Rowling's insistence (including that the principal cast be kept strictly British) she sold the company the rights to the first four Harry Potter books for a reported £1 million.
2. The first name linked to direct the film was Steven Spielberg, who did indeed initially enter negotiations. Spielberg reportedly wanted the adaptation to be an animated film, with American actor Haley Joel Osment providing Harry Potter's voice. He also felt the film should incorporate elements from subsequent books, rather than following the narrative of the debut novel.
Later, stories would circulate that J.K. Rowling vetoed Spielberg from the production, however Rowling insists that she had no role in choosing directors for the films and that...
"Anyone who thinks I could (or would) have 'veto-ed' [ sic ] him [Spielberg] needs their Quick-Quotes Quill serviced."In fact, it was Spielberg who withdrew himself from contention, deciding to direct A.I. Artificial Intelligence instead. He holds no regrets as he felt that Harry Potter was like...
"...shooting ducks in a barrel. It's just a slam dunk. It's just like withdrawing a billion dollars and putting it into your personal bank accounts. There's no challenge."
3. After Spielberg left, talks began with other directors, including: Chris Columbus, Terry Gilliam, Jonathan Demme, Mike Newell, Alan Parker, Wolfgang Petersen, Rob Reiner, Ivan Reitman, Tim Robbins, Brad Silberling, M. Night Shyamalan and Peter Weir.
Petersen and Reiner both pulled out of the running in March 2000, and the choice was narrowed down to Silberling, Columbus, Parker and Gilliam. Rowling's first choice director was Terry Gilliam, but Warner Bros. chose Columbus, citing his work on other family films such as Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire as influences for their decision.
Columbus pitched his vision of the film to Warner Bros. for two hours, stating that he wanted the Muggle scenes "to be bleak and dreary" but those set in the wizarding world "to be steeped in color, mood, and detail." He took inspiration from David Lean's adaptations of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, wishing to use "that sort of darkness, that sort of edge, that quality to the cinematography," taking the colour designs from Oliver! and The Godfather.
He also knew exactly who he wanted to play Harry Potter!
4. The problem was, it wasn't just Columbus' choice.
Susie Figgis had been appointed as casting director, and she worked with both Columbus and Rowling in auditioning the lead roles of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Open casting calls were held for the main three roles, with only British children being considered, as Rowling had stipulated. Thousands upon thousands of children tried out for the roles. It was Figgis' job to cut them down to a more manageable number of potential candidates who would audition for Columbus.
The principal auditions took place in three parts. Firstly, those auditioning would have to read a page from the novel, then they would be asked to improvise a scene of the students' arrival at Hogwarts, and finally they would read several pages from the script in front of Columbus.
Columbus rejected them all, time and time again. Eventually, on July 11th 2000, Figgis left the production, complaining that Columbus did not consider any of the thousands of children they had auditioned "worthy".
Because Columbus knew exactly who he wanted to play Harry Potter!
5. Columbus wanted a then very unknown 10 year old called Daniel Radcliffe. The director had seen him in his debut on-screen role as the young David Copperfield in the BBC's Christmas 1999 production of the Charles Dickens story, broadcast long before the open casting sessions had taken place, and even before Columbus had signed on to direct the film.
Columbus had instructed Figgis to invite Radcliffe to audition for the role, but the actors protective parents would not allow their son to take the part as they had been told that it would involve six films shot in Los Angeles. Columbus wasn't taking no for an answer and offered Radcliffe, subject to successful audition and Rowling's casting approval, a two-movie contract with shooting in the UK.
However, Radcliffe's parents were concerned that their son would be too exposed to media intrusion if he took on such a high profile role. Heyman and Columbus successfully managed to convince them otherwise, and they agreed to let him play Harry.
All this took place whilst Figgis was auditioning thousands of other children. Columbus later explained that his persistence in giving Radcliffe the role was responsible for Figgis' resignation, but who could argue against Columbus' choice? J.K. Rowling agreed and approved of Radcliffe's casting, stating that...
"Having seen [his] screen test I don't think Chris Columbus could have found a better Harry."
6. Robbie Coltrane was Rowling's first choice for the part of Hagrid, having had him in mind when first writing the character. But, according to Figgis, soon after the production was announced Robin Williams had personally expressed interest in playing Hagrid, being a fan of the novel.
Williams wasn't the only American to hope for a role, before Julie Walters was cast as Molly Weasley, Rosie O'Donnell contacted Columbus about playing the part. Both the actors were prepared to take the roles without pay, that's how much they loved the series! Yet, ultimately, both offers were turned down because of the "only British" rule.
7. As perfect as he might seem for the part, Alan Rickman was not Columbus' first choice for Severus Snape, the Potions Master and head of Hogwarts' Slytherin House. That was Tim Roth who was offered the role but turned it down to make the Tim Burton Planet of the Apes monstrosity.
Rowling had wanted Rickman all along, though, and after his casting she gave him personal instruction about his character, even providing the actor with vital details of Snape's back story not revealed until the final novel.
8. As with many book to film adaptations, when it came to writing the screenplay several minor characters had to be removed to make the story fit a suitable running time. Most prominent among those characters is the spectral History of Magic teacher, Professor Binns. Also, other characters were cut in post-production and editing, including Peeves the poltergeist.
Rik Mayall had been cast as Peeves, in what would've been a recurring role across multiple films. He wasn't upset, though, that his part was cut, as he explains below...
"I got sent off the set because every time I tried to do a bit of acting, all the lads who were playing the school kids kept getting the giggles, they kept corpsing, so they threw me off. Then they asked me to do it with my back to them and they still laughed. So they asked me to do it around the other side of the cathedral and shout my lines, but they still laughed so they said they’d do my lines with someone else.9. The movie is known as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone everywhere except the USA, and so every scene in which the Philosopher's Stone was mentioned was filmed twice (once with the actors saying "Philosopher's" and once with the actors saying "Sorcerer's") or redubbed (notably, one of the times Hermoine says it in the library, her face isn't shown).
I was in the film for around three weeks... but I still got the money. So that is the most exciting film I've ever been in, because I got the oodle and I wasn't in it. Fantastic.
The film, with respect ... no, with no respect at all... the film was shit!"
The reason for this was to keep the films consistent with the book series: the US publisher, Scholastic, had changed the title (and corresponding text) to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, fearing that American children would not want to read a book with the word "philosopher" in the title!
The original novel title change was done with the consent J.K. Rowling, but she has since said that she regrets having granted permission, but as a fledgling author she wasn't in a strong enough position to fight it at the time.
10. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone had its world premiere on November 4th 2001, in London's Leicester Square. It broke the then record for the highest-opening weekend ever, both including and excluding previews, making £16.3 million with and £9.8 million without previews.
In the U.S. the film made $32.3 million on its opening day, breaking the single day record previously held by Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. On the second day of release, the film's gross increased to $33.5 million, breaking the record for biggest single day again. In total, it made $90.3 million during its first weekend, breaking the record for highest-opening weekend of all time that was previously held by The Lost World: Jurassic Park. It also had the highest grossing 5-day (Wednesday-Sunday) Thanksgiving weekend record of $82.4 million, holding the title for twelve years.
In total, the film earned $974.8 million at the worldwide box office, which made it the second highest-grossing film in history at the time. It is also the second highest-grossing of the original Harry Potter films, only bested by the final instalment, Deathly Hallows - Part 2, which grossed more than $1 billion worldwide.
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