Yesterday, I took my Dad to go see The Making Of Harry Potter. This post is not about Potter, but if you are interested, the only possible way to come close to the sheer magnitude of the thing is to actually go. Words cannot describe it.
Magnitude is the right word, and is a word I’d like to use more often when it comes to art, especially film and theatre. It’s not about being a blockbuster, but a magnitude of details. To pick just one, there is a wand shop called Ollivanders. To tell the part of the story that takes place in there, you would only need perhaps a hundred wand boxes. It would suffice.
But the crew made over 17000 wands boxes – by hand. In leather. With labels. Enough to make a three story building utterly, utterly believable. With the other tiny, tiny details involved in just one shop, it is hard to believe it isn’t real.
The lie is so utterly solid, that it feels more truthful than real life.
But a lie it is, and yet like all good lies, it is as thin as spiders silk. It will utterly shatter should I look inside a box and find no wand, or peer behind a stack of boxes and find no wall there.
The Wizard of Oz caught it exactly, with the trembling Oz behind his curtain.
The chief goal of any art, should never be to replicate real life. It’s impossible, anyway- as soon as you put an experience to paper or screen, you have to make decisions. Where to start, where to begin – every conversation we have with another human being is a story, and I would argue that art is one step beyond that again.
You are telling a story, and you have two choices. Do you want the audiences to remember it is just a story, or do you want them to forget?
To remember is to strip away all detail beyond what is needed. No costume. No set. Just actors who move about a stage, possibly speaking.
To forget, the audience need details. They could take their eye from where you want it at any second. Will there be something there to look at? A story in miniature, a passing person, a leaflet? Some rubbish, a plant, a game piece?
The world is complete, and the illusion holds.
It’s not easy, the work is immense. * But worth it.
17000 wand boxes, only to set them on fire in the last film.
*4000 -ish remain, each one labelled with a single crew member who worked on the films.