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Few film franchises live to see six installments, let alone the eight that J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books will have produced by the end of 2010.
In July, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" faces the challenge of sharing the title hero's spotlight with a cluster of crucial story lines and brings a new major character to the screen. Producer David Heyman, who has been with the "Harry Potter" movies from the beginning, understands the charge of staying loyal to the source material while keeping the screenplays trimmed enough to flow for new audiences.
"The sixth film is very different," Heyman told MTV News, citing the multiple plot threads in "The Half-Blood Prince" that set it apart of the more Harry-focused "Order of the Phoenix."
"We're following Harry and his relationship with Dumbledore and his search for this past and the puzzle and the key to defeating Voldemort," the producer said. "We're seeing some of Voldemort's backstory; we're seeing the budding romantic relationship between Harry and Ginny Weasley and the one between Ron and Hermione, as well as Malfoy."
Giving each of the central characters their due attention, in addition to the romantic developments within Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, demanded that director David Yates and the film's producers made a few difficult decisions. In the interests of streamlining the story, they chose to weed out some of the book's flashback sequences, several of which provide key insights into Voldemort's history.
"The most difficult choice was to edit out some of the flashbacks in the memories that Harry explores," Heyman explained. "Each film has to exist on its own terms, and alas, within these memories, they're really significant and actually in the whole body of the series play a very significant part, but within the film they are detours in a way, going into a story about Voldemort, who doesn't really appear in this film."
Paring down Harry's mystic visions was also necessary to make way for another source of revelations in "The Half-Blood Prince": Professor Dumbledore's old colleague Horace Slughorn, played by Jim Broadbent, a newcomer to the "Potter" movies who Heyman credited as an easy casting pick.
"He was absolutely our first choice," Heyman recalled. "You look at Jim's eyes, and you can read so much into them."
As dark as the "Harry Potter" saga gets with "The Half-Blood Prince," the romantic and humorous notes Rowling originally included are just as important leading into her final volume, "The Deathly Hallows," which is currently being filmed in two parts.
"What there also is besides great drama is great humor and great humanity," he said. According to Heyman, nailing Slughorn's casting was crucial to balancing out those dimensions in the sixth movie.
"We wanted Slughorn to be a source of humor," the producer said. "You wanted a character who had airs of grandeur but at the same time was really sympathetic and tragic."
Now that "The Half-Blood Prince" is set for its July 15 release date, Heyman and his latest director David Yates will get to see how far their separate story lines have come, surpassing even Heyman's original expectations.
"The truth is, when I began with [director] Chris Columbus, I thought I was making one film — and if I was lucky, two," Heyman stated. Since moving on to director Alfonso Cuarón and later to Mike Newell before settling on Yates for the series' final three sequels, Heyman has plenty of confidence now that "The Half-Blood Prince" is ready to make its summer debut.
"One of the great things about working with David Yates is that he's a wonderful director and he's incredibly open and communicative," Heyman said. "He's incredibly ambitious for the franchise, just as I am."
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